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Captain Marvel, a Fighter Pilot in a Flight Suit, an Inspiration to All Generations of Women

Captain Marvel comic cover.

If you live on planet C-53, you’ve probably heard a lot about Captain Marvel lately, discussing everything from her origin story in the comics to anticipation for the film. For me, none of that has been louder than my mom’s excitement when she called me after she first saw a trailer. “Captain Marvel! She isn’t wearing a bathing suit! She’s wearing a flight suit! She’s a pilot!”

My mom read Marvel comics when she was a kid, before she was crowded out of the space by those narrow, gendered expectations that encouraged girls to be flight attendants rather than fighter pilots. She always dreamed that she could fly and be a superhero. My grandfather was a pilot and built planes in the garage, so my mom grew up around the pursuit of flight. She didn’t grow up to be a fighter pilot (although it wouldn’t surprise me if she decided to take it up like, tomorrow), but if there was ever a superhero who reminded me of my mom, it’s Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel flying and about to do some damage in the comics.

The tagline for the Captain Marvel film is “Higher. Further. Faster.” This is more than a declaration of intention for the film. This is a nod to the Kelly Sue DeConnick run of the comics, and although there is a Vol. 1 entitled Higher, Further, Faster, More, the idea (and indeed, the line itself) comes from In Pursuit of Flight, the earlier Vol. 1 written by DeConnick, with art by Dexter Soy and Emma Rios.

This is when Carol Danvers gets a cool new haircut, trades in her classic bathing suit for the now-iconic flight suit (good work, Jamie McKelvie!), and goes from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel. Anyone who wants to keep riding the high of their excitement for this film should start here.

In Pursuit of Flight knew what it was up against in audaciously updating an established woman character, and meets the naysayers head-on within the very first pages, in which Captains Marvel and America team up to fight comic book bad-guy and real world misogynist jerk stand-in, Absorbing Man. (I’d say the metaphor practically writes itself, but that would be selling short the fabulously punchy dialogue by DeConnick.)

This fight scene also serves as a vehicle for one of my favorite friendly reminders: For Carol, Captain is a title, not a rank. She’s technically a full-bird Colonel and thoroughly outranks Steve Rogers. At least, she does in the military. As an Avenger, she isn’t quite sure where she fits in yet.

Captain Marvel and Captain America talking about how she outranks him in the comics.

This volume of Captain Marvel is about Carol trying to figure out what it means for her to take on the new role. She’s examining where she came from to understand where she wants to go from here. She looks to her mentors and inadvertently (through misadventure involving time travel because, comics) becomes a leader herself.

This is a book about women working together to remove the boundaries in their way. Some of those boundaries were placed there by other people, but some are built out of their own self-doubt. Carol’s mentor Helen Cobb had to work around the rigid gender roles of the mid-twentieth century to become a record-breaking pilot and all-around BAMF.

And while Carol’s powers have significantly moved the goalposts and raised the stakes, that doesn’t mean everything special about her comes from those powers, or that they make things any easier for her. In Pursuit of Flight is about unlocking the potential of our power, not simply how much of it or what kind we have.

Captain Marvel firing energy blasts and talking about changing history in the comics.

I gave my mom In Pursuit of Flight, along with some other comics written by DeConnick. (We have matching non-compliant tattoos now, a reference to the Image series Bitch Planet co-created by DeConnick and artist Valentine DeLandro). Helping my mom rediscover her love of comics, and to see how much it means to her that a woman can be a fighter pilot in a flight suit (not a swimsuit!) and an eponymous superhero in one of the biggest pop culture franchises in the world, has been pretty special.

There’s a lot of talk about what this sort of representation means to our daughters, but I think sometimes we forget how much a superhero like Captain Marvel can mean to women like our mothers, and all the women who helped us “be the stars we were always meant to be.”

(images: Marvel Comics)

Tia Vasiliou is a senior digital editor and comics content specialist at comiXology. She is eternally grateful to her mom, Louise Palermo, for showing her how to punch holes in the sky.

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