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‘Captain Marvel’ #2, Aliens, and Alien

‘Captain Marvel’ #2, Aliens, and Alien

Captain Marvel 2

Captain Marvel #2
Written by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters
Art by Kris Anka
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics

This week, Captain Marvel investigates an alien ship… and Captain Marvel pays homage to Alien.

It says a lot that, more than 30 years later, our sci-fi visual language is still so reliant on Alien’s and Aliens’ legacy. There are probably entire articles–maybe entire books?–to be written about the fact that you still can’t tell a “small crew investigates an abandoned spacecraft” story without consciously or unconsciously evoking those decades-old movies.

As she boards her mysterious derelict, Carol Danvers quips that she’s “seen that movie” and the sequels. Like this entire issue, this is a joke that’s trying to work both ways: as fourth-wall breaking in-joke and as horror-movie foreboding. And like this entire issue, having it both ways somehow… just works?

Like issue #1, Captain Marvel #2 really benefits from its strong artistic team. Colorist Matthew Wilson has a lot of fun with different palettes to color different rooms on the alien ship, and Kris Anka continues to expressively bring Carol’s endearing supporting cast to life. Anka’s cut-out, geometric style isn’t ideally suited to gross-out body horror, but he makes up for it with his easily emotive cartoon facial expressions and big, pretty panels. When he’s at his best, Anka has a way of making every comic cell look clean, simple, and iconic.

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Captain Marvel #2 has two interlocking subplots: Carol, Alpha Flight, and Wendy investigate the creepy corpses and squishy organic tech on the derelict ship while Abigail Brand juggles diplomatic tensions onboard the space station. This is more than just a cute spoof of a sci-fi classic: the tension ramps up quickly, and the plot thickens. Between a labor dispute, a mysterious explosion, and an escalating international (interstellar?) incident, Captain Marvel seems to be in over her head. She’s the nominal leader of Alpha Flight, but she keeps rushing into space to fight battles and solve problems that she doesn’t fully understand. And I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if she’s been manipulated into this situation by the archetypically clever Brand, who always seems to have a better handle on a given crisis than she’s letting on.

In Alien, we feel horror not just at the titular alien creature, but at very familiar and very human bureaucratic nightmares. Whether they’re dealing with contracts, bonuses, corporations, or the military industrial complex, Ellen Ripley and her ill-fated teammates are usually butting heads with farcical human ineptitude as well as black, slimy monsters.

Now, I’m a sucker (or should that be face-hugger?) for a good Alien homage. (Heck, I’m a sucker for a bad alien homage.) Writers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters are more than just “in on the joke”–they’re milking it for all it’s worth. This writing team are veterans of television’s Agent Carter writing staff, so I can’t resist making this comparison. Agent Carter performs a delicate juggling act, balancing a boatload of Marvel backstory, tongue-in-cheek genre spoofery, earnest character drama, and a disarming cleverness about all its source material. In a similar vein, Captain Marvel #2 somehow manages to have its cake and eat it too–it’s a pastiche of space cliches that manages to be funny and scary, earnest and smart, with every turn of the page.

I’m calling Fazekas and Butters’ Alien adaptation “smart”–at least for now–because they’re not just winking at a famous, influential movie. They’re stripping it down to its most essential elements. The bio-techno-horror on the derelict ship isn’t just scary because it’s inhuman, but because it exposes the inability of human science, culture, and justice to deal with it. It’s not just scary because it’s alien: there are things about the ship that uncannily recall Carol’s past… and maybe her future. And it’s not just scary because of what’s on the ship, but because of what the “human” (I’m using this term pretty loosely, but oh well) team brings home with them. Wendy falls sick after inhaling a mysterious gas, and then Brand accuses her of being a traitor, of working with the alien or aliens targeting Alpha Flight.

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And, perhaps most frightening of all, Carol has been wounded after a tussle with some alien insects. Despite her long history of inner turmoil, it’s unusual–disturbing even–to see Carol Danvers scratched up and bleeding, her iconic uniform in tatters. As usual, her worst alien foes aren’t nearly as formidable as her enemies within.