Whether you are a casual movie goer or deeply involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fandom, you are probably aware that Marvel’s first female-led movie, Captain Marvel, is now in theatres. And with the head of Marvel Studios making comments about Captain Marvel being front and center and leading the next phase of the MCU, she is definitely a character you will want to know more about. As a member of the Carol Corps (yes, we Captain Marvel fans have our own name), I invite y’all to jump right in and learn more about Captain Marvel in this introduction to Carol Danvers, both the comic and movie character.
Who is Captain Marvel?
Several characters have taken on the name Captain Marvel throughout the years (for further reading, check out this deep dive), but today, the title belongs to Carol Danvers. As a full bird colonel in the Air Force, Carol outranks Captain America in the comics, and she frequently enjoys reminding him of this fact. Before taking on the title Captain Marvel, Carol used several different aliases, including Binary, Warbird, and her original moniker, Ms. Marvel (currently being used by Kamala Khan).
Carol Danvers is a tough, stubborn, smart, fiercely loyal, independent, Star Wars–loving hotshot pilot. Behind all her superpowers, though, is a need to prove herself and her abilities. Kelly Sue DeConnick, who wrote Captain Marvel from 2012–2013, sums up Carol perfectly in this quote from an interview with Polygon: “Carol falls down all the time, but she always gets back up—we say that about Captain America as well, but Captain America gets back up because it’s the right thing to do. Carol gets back up because ‘F**k you.’”
What is Captain Marvel’s backstory?
Carol Danvers was originally introduced in 1968 as a colleague of Walter Lawson, the human alias of a Kree spy and hero, Mar-vell. She was the Security Chief of a restricted, military base (NASA) and officer in the Air Force. Carol was involved in an explosion with a Kree weapon, but was rescued by Mar-Vell, which resulted in some fused DNA, and made her a human-Kree hybrid. Your basic superhero origin story!
Carol took on the name Ms. Marvel, and in 1977 got her own comic book, which was marketed at the time as a progressive, feminist take on superheroes. Through the years, she has joined the Avengers, worked with the X-Men, and teamed up with Alpha Flight and the Guardians of the Galaxy. As with many superheroes who have been around for over 40 years, she has gone through some changes, including (but not limited to) losing her powers, regaining her powers PLUS some, losing memories, having memories returned, time traveling, several romances, and a tweak or two to her origin story. In 2012, Carol Danvers was given a costume update (by the wonderful Jamie McKelvie) for her solo comic relaunch and officially took the Captain Marvel name.
For more information on Carol’s comic history, check out our primer, complete with comic recommendations!
What are Captain Marvel’s powers?
As a hotshot pilot, Carol has always been a badass. But now with superhuman abilities and superhero powers, she is damn near unstoppable. Let’s break it down!
Her mutated DNA gives her superhuman strength, dexterity, stamina, and reflexes. She can also manipulate molecules, no big deal.
She can create and produce energy, which she channels as energy blasts through her hands. They don’t call her Princess Sparklefists for nothing.
She still pilots a jet (or spaceship) from time to time, but Captain Marvel can achieve flight all on her own now—including going faster than the speed of sound, and into space. The helmet is purely a fashion choice, she can breathe up there just fine without it.
And of course, we save the best for last: Captain Marvel’s binary powers, allowing Carol to essentially become as powerful as a white hole, generating and controlling any form of radiation and gravity.
How powerful is Captain Marvel?
The short answer: VERY. She ranks as one of the fastest, strongest, most durable, and most intense characters in the Marvel universe. She can go toe-to-toe against iconic characters like Captain America and has no problems punching dinosaurs. According to Kevin Feige, she will be “by far” the most powerful superhero in the MCU.
Who plays Captain Marvel in the movie?
Academy Award–winning Brie Larson is the actress stepping into the role of Carol Danvers in the Captain Marvel movie.
Like other Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, Carol’s origin story will be streamlined and changed for the film, though how exactly is anyone in fandom’s best guess. We do know that the movie is set in the ’90s and features a younger, two-eyed Nick Fury, so how exactly Carol fits into the MCU timeline is going to be interesting to see. Between the pager shot of the post-credit scene in Avengers: Infinity War, the time vortex reference in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and that pesky Time Stone, I think it’s safe to speculate that some sort of time travel will be involved.
When is the Captain Marvel release date?
After years of waiting, watching for the original release date, and living through several rescheduled dates, I am so pleased to say Captain Marvel’s movie release date was last week: March 8, 2019.
Can Captain Marvel beat Thanos?
I suppose we’ll have to wait until Avengers: Endgame hits theatres on April 26, 2019 to know the answer for sure. As far as this Carol Corps fan’s thoughts on the matter, well, she’s saved the world before in the comics universe. I don’t think saving the galaxy at the last minute would be any different.
Those of you familiar with the layout of the adult collection on the second floor of the library will know that our Fiction (FIC) section is only part of our fiction collection.
Genre fiction is a part of fiction, of course, but fans of certain genres like to be able to browse books it their particular area of interest. As we can’t stand the idea of not being as helpful as possible, certain genres have been separated out from the rest so that readers can do just that.
Graphic Novels, Mystery, Romance, Speculative Fiction (an umbrella term that covers Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror) and Westerns all have there own area.
It can get a little confusing sometimes when a book could fit into more than one category – genre crossovers and mash-ups were always a part of certain genres (hence grouping sci-fi, fantasy and horror together under Speculative Fiction) but they are only becoming more common – so, if you are not sure what section to look in just ask.
Female superheroes are where it’s at. Just ask Wonder Woman (but we don’t speak of the Justice League movie). I’m glad film studios are finally realizing people want to see movies starring female heroes. I’ve been waiting for this adaptation since they announced it in, what, 2014? Carol Danvers is kickass in every way you can be. Smart, strong, powerful, and hilarious – she’s a kick ass, smart ass badass. Whether she’s beating baddies from outer space or palling around with the rest of the Avengers, she’s always got a zinger up her sleeve. She is tied with Wonder Woman for my favourite superhero and I cannot wait for the movie. To help hold me—I mean you—over until the movie, here are 20 Captain Marvel quotes!
“My name is Carol Danvers. Ever since I was a little kid, I didn’t fit in. See, I always wanted to fly.” —Captain Marvel Primer Pages (2017)
“Even with my back against the wall—I don’t give up!”
—Ms. Marvel Vol 1 #17
“You don’t have to thank me. I absorbed you. We’re practically related.”
—Captain Marvel Vol 7 #8
“I don’t need a power-up to kick your ass, slimeball. I got some moves”
—Captain Marvel Vol 8 #14
“This isn’t a question of what I’m not. This is a question of who I could be.”
—Giant-Size Ms. Marvel Vol 1 #1
“I couldn’t tell them the truth…it wasn’t that we couldn’t go back…it was that I don’t know if I wanted to.”
—Mighty Captain Marvel Vol 1 #9
“Yeah, laugh it up, Mr. Potato Head. Let’s see, which tiny appendage should I rip off first?” —Ms. Marvel Vol 2 #17
“I’m sorry…sorry I’m a badass.” —Captain Marvel Vol 7 #16
“These are not the droids you’re looking for. …It was worth a shot.”
—Captain Marvel #1
“Don’t you ‘lady’ me, son. I’m an avenger.”
—Avenging Spider-Man 9
“Preeeetty sure nothing bad can happen when I’m wearing my lucky hat.”
—Captain Marvel #9
“But being the best you can be…That’s doable. That’s possible for anybody if they put their mind to it.” —Ms. Marvel Vol 2 #50
“Now if you’ll excuse me…I need to go punch a dinosaur.”
—Captain Marvel #9
“No one steals my flerken cat!”
—Captain Marvel Vol 8 #2
“Have you ever seen a little girl run so fast she falls down? There’s an instant, a fraction of a second before the world catches hold of her again…A moment when she’s outrun every doubt and fear she’s ever had about herself and she flies. In that moment, every little girl flies.”
—Captain Marvel Vol 8 #1
“Make the coffee and I might let you live.”
—Captain Marvel Book 2: Stay Fly (#7-11)
“Fear is not a choice. What you do with it is.”
—Captain Marvel #10
“Let’s rewrite some history, shall we?”
—Captain Marvel #2
“You wanna be excellent? Really excellent at what you do? Then be excellent every day, in every part of your life. That’s how the great ones do it.”
—Avengers (2018) #11
“Well…First there was nothing, then there was everything…Then the good lord saw fit to bring me into the world to kick the asses of those who need it most. So get ready ’cause this day or the next, it’s coming.”
—Avengers Vol 5 #19
And a bonus from the movie trailer:
“I’m not going to fight your war. I’m going to end it.”
The comic book industry has lost another legend. On November 12th, Stan Lee, former writer, editor, and publisher of Marvel, passed away at the age of 95, after an astonishing 79 years of being professionally involved in comics.
Lee was unquestionably the most famous single individual ever associated with the medium, and tributes have poured in from around the world. But the in-industry tributes are notably more measured, more complex, and more restrained than the broader entertainment ones. This speaks not just to the difficulty comics pros and fans are having with reconciling the loss of someone whose influence and brand have permeated the field so completely, but to the fact that over the decades, Lee has become an increasingly controversial figure, one whose contributions are impossible to measure as much for their murky origins as for their extensiveness.
First, the facts: Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922 to Romanian Jewish immigrant parents, and grew up working class in New York City. In 1939, at the age of 17, he was hired as an assistant at Timely Comics, the company that would become Marvel, doing things like filling inkwells and fetching lunch. He wrote his first stories in 1941, using the pen name “Stan Lee” to hide his real name, since comics were considered unsavory at the time. That déclassé reputation and the attendant lack of competition served him in good stead when he was named interim publisher just before his 19th birthday, although the fact that he kept the company afloat during the tumultuous decade just goes to show what a boy wonder he was. He would remain editor-in-chief until 1972, when he took over as publisher.
After a (non-combative) stint in the military during World War II, Lee returned to Marvel, writing across genres from romance to science fiction. According to popular lore, he was considering leaving comics by the end of the 1950s, but DC had just kicked off the Silver Age with their reinvention of the Flash, and publisher Martin Goodman asked Lee to create a superhero team in response. Lee’s wife Joan suggested he go nuts with it, since, after all, he was going to quit.
And thus Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four, a team of flawed, humanheroes who bickered constantly. They went on to create the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man; with Steve Ditko, Lee co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange; with Bill Everett, he co-created Daredevil.
At the risk of reiterating an oft-told story, the characters Lee created were shockingly different from the gleaming, square-jawed perfection of their DC counterparts, even if it is hard to look at Reed Richards from the lens of 2018 and see much difference from Barry Allen. The assortment of characters listed above were neurotic. They worried about money. They fought with their loved ones. They pined for impossible romances. Some of them, most notably the Thing, the Hulk, Spider-Man, and of course the X-Men, were shunned by society or trapped in monstrous bodies or both.
They were astonishing. They were spectacular. They were uncanny.
They changed comics.
How, you may ask, did Stan Lee manage to write every Marvel comic for years on end? Well, True Believer, therein lies both the brilliance and the problem. Lee and his artistic collaborators, like Kirby and Ditko, used an approach that’s been dubbed “the Marvel Method.” Lee and the artist in question would discuss the plot of the issue, or Lee would provide a synopsis. The artist would draw the whole dang thing, Lee would request any necessary changes, and finally, when the art was finished, Lee would fill in the dialogue. (Here are a few really fun depictions of how this worked from old school Marvel comics themselves, although please take them with the requisite grain of salt.)
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko poking fun at Lee’s reputation.
The problem was, as Marvel got bigger and Lee’s responsibilities grew, he had less and less time to collaborate. Increasingly, artists were writing the comics too, especially trusted ones like Kirby and Ditko, and Lee was just coming along and tweaking the dialogue. (Sometimes this put the art in opposition to the words, as the fascinating blog Kirby Without Words painstakingly explores.)
In other words, Lee wasn’t really writing the comics anymore, but he was still taking full credit for them—especially because the public at large didn’t (and still doesn’t) really understand how comics are made. Even when an artist is provided with a full script, as was happening at DC then and with most comics now, people unfamiliar with the process tend to assume that the writer is doing all of the creative labor, and the artist is just putting someone else’s genius on paper.
And whatever else Lee was, he was 5’11” of pure charisma, as anyone who’s seen one of his cameos in a Marvel movie knows. He was the voice and the face of Marvel Comics—of the industry, really, because there was never anyone at DC to rival him. He did the interviews. He responded directly to the fans in the letter columns. He splashed his name all over every book.
Stan Lee’s cameo in Marvel’s Iron Man
Therein lies both his tragic flaw and his greatest contribution. Because by branding Marvel Comics with, well, himself, Lee wasn’t just self-aggrandizing. He was giving it a human face. Yes, the face was his own—but that branding did for Marvel as a corporate entity what Peter Parker’s neuroses and the Hulk’s self-loathing did for Marvel as creative entity. It made it real. In an era when DC was aiming for six-year-olds who couldn’t have cared less who Mort Weisinger or Julius Schwartz were, and Disney fans were still referring to Carl Barks as “the good duck artist” because he was forbidden from signing his work, Marvel proudly proclaimed that its comics were made by real people, with quirks and flaws and goofy nicknames. (Smilin’ Stan! King Kirby! Jazzy Johnny [Romita Sr.]!) Check out those Marvel Method comics linked up above. Don’t they endear you to the creative staff, as ridiculous as they are?
Lee helped the readers see the Marvel team as real people…and made it clear that he saw the readers that way too. While DC’s letters at the time are mostly pedantic kids trying to catch DC out on continuity errors (plus ça change…), Lee struck a conversational (if hyperactive) note, and cultivated a playful us-versus-them attitude by referring to Marvel fans as “True Believers” and to DC, tongue firmly in cheek, as both “the Distinguished Competition” and “Brand Ecch.” Under Lee’s reign, comics weren’t just a piece of disposable entertainment you bought for a dime and rolled up in your back pocket. They were an identity. You weren’t just a kid who sometimes read comics (i.e. basically every kid at the time). You were a Marvel fan. You were a True Believer.
Combine that approach with Lee’s (and Kirby’s, and Ditko’s, and so on) cast of outcasts, misfits, and neurotics, and is it any wonder that comics increasingly became a place for readers who felt like they didn’t belong anywhere else? If you felt geeky or monstrous or just plain ordinary, Marvel gave you a place full of people like you, on and off the page. A place to fit in. And yes, this clubhouse for outcasts eventually fostered a community of intensely toxic gatekeeping that we’re still dealing with today (hello, Comicsgate!), but it’s also the reason that comics became an industry supported by passion above all. That’s a complicated thing, but it’s not solely a bad thing. (It’s also worth noting here, would-be gatekeepers, that Lee co-created the first black superheroes in comics with Black Panther and the Falcon, as well as the X-Men with their message of tolerance and acceptance of the Other, and frequently railed against bigotry and hatred in his letter columns. Ahem.)
An anti-racism editorial from Lee in 1968.
And here we return to The Problem, because in branding all of Marvel with his own name, Lee elided and overshadowed the massive contributions made by his cohorts. As much as he praised his collaborators—he frequently referred to Kirby as “the greatest artist of all time” and was the one who dubbed him “the King”—he also made sure that his own name always came first on the masthead. In his telling, he’d be struck with another lightning bolt idea and assign it to Kirby to draw…but to wax rhapsodic, as he frequently did, about how the Fantastic Four came to him belies the obvious fact that they look a heck of a lot like the Challengers of the Unknown, who Kirby created for DC four years prior. In fact, Kirby later claimed to have come up with the original ideas for both the Fantastic Four and the Hulk.
Credit wasn’t just a sticky issue for Kirby—Ditko left Marvel four years after co-creating Spider-Man, by which point he and Lee were no longer speaking to one another, and other contemporary artists such as Wally Wood have taken potshots at Lee for stealing credit—but it looms largest in Kirby’s legacy. This is partially because of his own massive output—he drew over a hundred pages a month for Marvel at its Silver Age peak, a volume that gives me carpal tunnel just to think about—and partially because for the past posthumous quarter century, Kirby’s own star has been on the rise. Many consider him to be, as Lee breezily called him, the greatest comic book artist of all time, an auteur who nearly single-handedly shaped the medium as we know it without ever doing anything so gauche as to say that’s what he did. It helps that the irascible combat veteran, born in poverty and plugging away without recognition for decades, makes a damn fine underdog. Comic book publishers are also notorious for fleecing creators out of the royalties they’re owed for breathing life into billion dollar properties like Superman and the X-Men—and Stan “the Man” Lee, editor and publisher to Kirby’s mere freelance staffer, was literally The Man. Kirby was the exploited genius; Lee was Marvel the Corporate Entity, turning Kirby’s bombastic metaphors for the human condition into breakfast cereal and raking in the cash.
Kirby wasn’t shy about calling Lee out, either. After he left Marvel in the ’70s, he wrote and drew the Fourth World saga for DC: four interlinked series that many consider his magnum opus. In Mister Miracle, he introduced a wheeler-dealer and impresario named Funky Flashman, a false-mustache-and-toupee-clad leech described as “the driven little man who dreams of having it all!!!—the opportunistic spoiler without character or values who preys on all things like a cannibal!!!—including you!!!” (His treatment of Lee’s protégé Roy Thomas, depicted as the sniveling servant “Houseroy,” is even more vicious.)
Funky Flashman and Houseroy in Kirby’s Mister Miracle.
Some Kirby partisans take Funky Flashman pretty much as literally as possible. It’s hard to avoid the temptation. After all, Kirby died in 1994 and Ditko spent the last three decades as a furiously objectivist recluse before dying earlier this year, while Lee popped up in movies and on red carpets and across dozens of branded projects. Someone needs to speak up for the guys who aren’t entering rooms to the tune of their own theme music. (Side note: for more on this history, please read this excellent Lee obituary by Spencer Ackerman.)
And yeah, it can be maddening to see Lee still receiving the lion’s share of the credit for Marvel’s…everything. I’ve seen him hailed for everything from creating Captain America (he was still filling Kirby’s inkwells when Steve Rogers debuted) to the 2012 marriage of Northstar and his husband Kyle (characters he did not create, decades after leaving Marvel). He’d gleefully take credit for ridiculous things, too, like creating the first gay character in comics…because a character he revamped in 1960, the Rawhide Kid, was depicted as gay in a 2003 miniseries.
And yet it was hard to get too angry about it. My reaction to Lee and his spotlight hogging was always less fist-shaking and more your grandpa lying to you about leading the invasion of Normandy. Like, “Aw, Grandpa, that’s not true at all! Here, have another Werther’s.” Heck, I had to go back and revise almost every paragraph of this article when I realized I’d referred to Kirby and Ditko by their surnames throughout, but to Lee as “Stan.” I’m just fond of the guy. I think most of us always will be.
The truth is, it’s impossible to say who “really” created those all those wonderful comics half a century ago, because comics are a truly collaborative art. There’s no separating the story from the pictures, because the pictures are the story and the story is the pictures. Add in the time that’s passed and the fact that everyone involved told a slightly different story in every interview they gave, and you’re looking at leads that went cold decades ago. Besides, if the marriage wasn’t seamless, the comics wouldn’t have been so damn good.
It’s just as impossible to say to what degree Lee took credit or had it given to him, or how much he was motivated by ego, or a shrewd understanding of what was needed for Marvel to thrive, or spite, or simple involuntary charm. Only Lee knew for sure…and honestly, maybe not even him. What matters now, I think, is not assigning credit or blame, but appreciating what all of these creators gave us—and applying the lessons learned to ensuring that creators today get their due, especially in the face of the vastly larger IP factories they work for.
I’ve heard people say that Stan Lee’s death marks the end of an era, but I don’t think that’s an accurate statement. An era is a stage of being, a period in time, a slice of the pie, and Lee wasn’t only a stage. He was there at the beginning; he was here until this month. I don’t know that comics knows how to be comics without him.
What we have as we move into this brave new post–Stan Lee world are the characters he gave us, but perhaps more importantly, the community he built. We have the belief that comics can be smart and incisive; that they can be a place to belong; that heroism lies within the overlooked and the ostracized. He gave us all that great power, and he left us with a great responsibility—and if there’s a chance to wield it more wisely than he did, well, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?
Excelsior, Stan. May your memory be a blessing, always.
Stan Lee poses with Spider-Man during the Spider-Man 40th Birthday celebration in 2002 in Universal City, California. MICHEL BOUTEFEU/GETTY IMAGES
Born as Stanley Lieber to immigrants, he was an avid reader who dreamed of literary fame. He found his way into comics. First, he filled inkwells in the years when the medium was considered a public menace.
Soon, he was writing comics. He split his first name into two in the credits (he legally changed his name in the 1970s) of his earliest works, implying that his new comics imprint, Marvel, had more writers than it really did. And those credits appeared on stories about heroes who were a little more human than the caped crusaders that dominated the comic book shop shelves. Spider-Man might save the day, but he still has to do his homework. The Fantastic Four were a formidable fighting force that couldn’t stop bickering at times. And Wolverine … well, was Wolverine.
The characters also lived in the real world, and Marvel comics sometimes addressed social issues of the time.
Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately.
It wasn’t Lee’s political stances that earned him professional ire, though. From The New York Times:
Mr. Lee was often faulted for not adequately acknowledging the contributions of his illustrators, especially Mr. Kirby. Spider-Man became Marvel’s best-known property, but Mr. Ditko, its co-creator, quit Marvel in bitterness in 1966. Mr. Kirby, who visually designed countless characters, left in 1969. Though he reunited with Mr. Lee for a Silver Surfer graphic novel in 1978, their heyday had ended.
Many comic fans believe that Mr. Kirby was wrongly deprived of royalties and original artwork in his lifetime, and for years the Kirby estate sought to acquire rights to characters that Mr. Kirby and Mr. Lee had created together. Mr. Kirby’s heirs were long rebuffed in court on the grounds that he had done “work for hire” — in other words, that he had essentially sold his art without expecting royalties.
The Marvel characters didn’t stay in the comics forever. As we all know, the screen adaptations of Spider-Man and, later, the Avengers, found gigantic audiences on screen. Marvel now generates billions of dollars in ticket sales with each new blockbuster. The comic books that were once a menace are now a goldmine. And the characters that were once for kids are now for everyone.
Stan Lee may have lived an American story, but then he ended up creating them.
Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders, and his lifemate Leetah. Wendy Pini
ElfQuest is something unique in the world of comics: It’s one of the longest-running fantasy series ever — and it’s been the passion project of just two people for its whole life.
There there were few comics shops, fewer conventions, and not a lot of women were making comics when creators Wendy and Richard Pini began their epic quest in 1978. But now that quest is over, and they’re on a farewell tour called Forty Years of Pointed Ears.
ElfQuest is an old-fashioned comic. It isn’t dark, it isn’t gritty. It is what says on the cover: A four-decade saga about elves. Elves with big eyes, bigger hair, and really great abs. On a quest.
“The quest is to find out who this race of beings are,” says artist and co-creator Wendy Pini,”where they came from, and how they can best fit into this world that they’re on, that is not their true home.”
Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders, is the central character — and it’s his quest for home and community, his hero’s journey, that drives the story.
It’s easy to snark about the hair, the abs, and how incredibly earnest Cutter and his kin can be. But the comic is utterly addictive — start flipping those vintage black and white pages and you won’t stop. And a lot of that is down to Pini’s art, influenced by her love of Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby and Japanese artists like Osamu Tezuka.
“Tezuka … he is considered the Walt Disney of Japan,” she says. “He created Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion … and from Tezuka I learned the line of beauty. It’s a curving, sweeping kind of line that you see throughout Asian art that is so aesthetically, spiritually soothing and beautiful. And to take this soothing artwork and then apply it to action scenes where the characters are just literally going through hell creates such an amazing tension.”
Pini was already a working fantasy illustrator when she started drawing ElfQuest. It was 1978, and the time was right: Star Wars was huge, Lord of the Rings was on everyone’s shelves, so a comic about elves seeking a home on a planet not their own seemed like a sure bet. But there was just one problem: How do you get your comic into people’s hands when there are hardly any comics stores?
The very first issue of ElfQuest, from 1978. Wendy Pini/IPS
Greg Bennett is the co-owner of Big Planet Comics in Bethesda, Md. — and an ElfQuest fan — and he says that when the Pinis first started making the comic, modern distribution systems just didn’t exist. “That’s daring as heck, because there was no way to get that stuff out there then other than to go to conventions, sell it yourself, go store to store to store and hand sell it.
The hand-selling worked; ElfQuest took off. In its 80s heyday, the Pinis say it was one of the first comics to make it into mainstream bookstores. These days, ElfQuest fans can be a little harder to find — it’s mostly a word of mouth kind of thing. But luckily for me, we have one here at NPR: Morning Edition supervising editor Melisa Goh.
“Everyone has a story, a movie, a book, something that was very influential in their lives at a young age, and ElfQuest was mine,” Goh says. “There is a community aspect to ElfQuest that I liked a lot. The idea that you were looking for your own kind, so that you can take community and shelter and solace in each other.”
Goh has loved ElfQuest since she was 11. She loved it so much, in fact, that she invented her own character.
“Her name was Triller. She wore blue. She was a musician, which was a little bit risque in the elf world that I had in my mind, because if you’re an ElfQuest elf you know that — ‘in the trees, as you please, on the ground, not a sound,’ so my character was a bit of a rebel because she liked to play music.”
It was actually kind of hard for me to pry that information loose, because Goh says she’s still traumatized about being teased for reading ElfQuest as a kid.
Comic shop owner Greg Bennett says that did happen — ElfQuest was always a little outside the mainstream, and its fans were mostly women at a time that women weren’t reading a lot of comics — so he sometimes had to deal with trash-talking customers. “And as a comic shop owner any time I heard somebody doing that I would always, first thing I would say is, well, did you ever read ElfQuest? And they would always say, well, no — I’m like OK, well, after you go read it, go read those first 20 black and white magazines, then come back and tell me ElfQuest’s no good — and any one of them actually took me up on it said oh wait, you’re right. This is really good.”
The last storyline — appropriately called “The Final Quest,” wrapped up earlier this year, 40 years to the day after the publication of the first issue. The Pinis aren’t abandoning the elves completely — they’re going to allow other creators to tell stories in their world. But they’re pretty close-mouthed about what’s coming next.
“We know what you want to know. So we’re focusing on that,” Wendy says.
“There are two strong threads, and the fans just want those threads spun out,” Richard adds. “I know, but we’re not going to cater to them,” Wendy chimes in. “We don’t know — just because we know what the fans want, doesn’t mean we’re going to take the story that way.”
If you want to join the quest, the early issues are available for free online.
To me, my comics fans! 2017 was a banner year for the medium, and our editors assembled to forge a list that covers the best in illustrated fiction and non-fiction, with 20 graphic novels spanning memoirs, family dramas, superheroes (both hopeful and downtrodden), pets, and subjects that defy classification.
Congratulations to Katie Green, as her debut memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow, is the editors’ pick for our 2017 Best in Comics and Graphic Novels. A harrowing study of a life gripped by eating disorders, Green’s story reveals itself as a narrative greater than one of abuse. Instead, this is the story of a life recaptured. Editor Adrian Liang had this to say last month when she celebrated it as a Best of the Month selection for October: “A vast number of thoughtful books about mental illness and eating disorders already exist, so it seems almost impossible that a new story could add anything more to the genus. But Katie Green does exactly that with her astonishing graphic memoir that reveals through every delicate squiggle the long-lingering anguish people in recovery live through while friends and family assume that everything is now A-OK…Artist and storyteller Green exposes buried-deep emotions through the slope of a shoulder or the slightly-too-big distance between her characters in a way that can’t be mimicked through words.”
Another startling debut, Emil Ferris’ graphic novel arrives in the form of a fictional diary—complete with faux notebook pages upon which she illustrates incredible land and mindscapes–detailing a murder mystery in the life of young Karen Reyes. Set in Chicago during the 1960s, Karen’s story is one of family and where reality and fantasy embrace. As she investigates the death of her upstairs neighbor, Karen uncovers truths about her own brother, mother, and the tenuous truths we cling to in order to cope with everyday madness. But Karen’s focus tends to wander, as she is fascinated with monster movies and pulp horror magazines, inserting creatures into the margins and, with loving detail by Ferris, as centerpieces into her journal (Karen portrays herself as an adorably fanged werewolf). It’s a singular vision with effortless humor and a brilliant form. My favorite thing is also monsters.
If any superhero ruled 2017, it’s Wonder Woman. Breaking box office records and becoming a rallying symbol in and outside of the genre, Wonder Woman stepped off of Themiscyra Island and into the zeitgeist. With 75 years of backstory to sift through, DC Comics offers new and old fans an easy entry point into her adventures with an origin story written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Nicola Scott. The result feels a lot like her cinematic debut: full of action and charm. Here, Wonder Woman is hero with brains and brawn, discovering her powers as well as the modern world. Steve Trevor and Ares are both here, and although it is confusingly subtitled with a “Volume 2,” this can be read as a stand-alone adventure to complement the film, by Hera!