How 'Captain Marvel' Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick Revamped the Hero
If you ask the creative team behind Marvel Studios' Captain Marvel about their inspirations, one name comes up over and over again: Kelly Sue DeConnick.
The comic book writer — known for her flaming red hair, matching lips, and tattoos — reimagined Carol Danvers in 2012, making her into an Air Force pilot with the military prowess of Steve Rogers and the cockiness of Tony Stark. Carol Danvers had existed in the comics for decades, but it was DeConnick's iteration that won over Brie Larson and convinced her to star in Marvel's first female-led solo movie.
Heat Vision breakdown
DeConnick recognizes that Captain Marvel is an important moment for the character and for young girls who will get to see themselves reflected onscreen, but notes she maintains a humble attitude as to where she fits in with it all — explaining it's almost like a friend making it big, rather than her own personal success.
In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, DeConnick also explains the origin of one of Captain Marvel's most crowd-pleasing additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Goose, the cat who maybe isn't quite what it appears to be. She also reveals there was a “crazy progressive” key moment that was left on the cutting-room floor.
Between Ghostbusters, Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, little girls are getting heroes that look like them, whereas they might have grown up as Batman fans in the past.
We're really good at cross-identifying because we've had to be. I don't think that I viscerally understood what I didn't have until I had it. When women and girls watch Harry Potter, we're not like, "I'm Hermione." Maybe a couple of people are. You're identifying with Harry because he's the hero. He's the protagonist. And we're very good at cross-identifying because we've always had to, and that's doubly so for marginalized communities? I'm a white girl, I've had more options than most, but it's still a thing.
None of us have trouble seeing ourselves reflected in white men because we've always been told that, that is the default. That's the default human being and you can cross-identify. And because of that, we are always centering their pain and their comfort. That's basic humanity. That's how we've been taught to do it.
When we see authentic culture reflecting back at us, we realize that heroism is not exclusively the domain of masculinity. There's nothing inherently masculine about power, or sacrifice, or the power fantasy, or about the sci-fi aesthetic or about the ethical ideals of these superheroes. When you actually see, what you didn't quite let yourself realize you were missing, it is a shockingly emotional experience.
What did you want to imbue Carol with that you hadn't seen before?
We don't have, in our culture, a lot of iconic military women. We can call up a whole range of different male icons. Different kinds of personalities can represent the idea of the military man for us. Pappy Boyington … In the 70s, there was a TV show about him. He was a real-life character, but an emphasis on character. He was a military man, but he was not a rule follower. He was a very American hero. And then we have the Steve Rogers and General Washington.
So what ends up happening is we still think of military women as a stereotype. Usually, she'll have a very by-the-books type of personality. Sort of like Margaret Houlihan in the early seasons of M.A.S.H. A character who is a bit of a nag and no fun. Military women icons become like "Oh, look, it's your mom. Here to stop everyone's fun."
I wanted to make a female icon that was someone you could root for. Someone who could be a very American heroine who was fallible and funny, and had a twinkle in her eye. Every pilot I've ever met loves what they do, you know? There's a kind of delightful cockiness to them. What I wanted in Carol, was someone who had swagger and was fun. And then to play with that a little bit. She's also a little silly. Her sense of humor is a little off. She makes mistakes. I love that about her. I just didn't want her to be simple.
Now that all of these years of your hard work are going to be on the big screen, how has Carol's journey impacted you from your first interaction with her as a comic book reader to now, when your creative fingerprints are all over her?
I always say that I write like an actor, because that's where my training comes from. When I'm doing the work, I'm kind of living in the heads of the characters. But once the work is done, then it's done. Carol's success doesn't really feel like my success. Which is good. The ego is the enemy.
Alcoholics and addicts, in particular, we don't want to start thinking we're important, right? We're no more important than anyone else. Everyone is important. Every thread in that tapestry is vital. You are just another thread. We pull the thread out, we leave a whole. Don't pull the thread out. But don't think that somehow your thread is like shiny or and more magical than anybody else's thread. Right, I have beaten that metaphor into the ground.
But my point is, it doesn't feel like this big win. It feels like this friend of mine or this colleague of mine, we used to work together and she's doing really well now. I'm super proud of her, and I'm super proud of what I did to help her get where she is. I know that sounds a little bit like a crazy person, but that's sort of how it feels. It feels like I've had the opportunity to work with her and be in her corner. And I'm proud of my contributions but I'm proud of her success without taking ownership of it, if that makes sense.
Carol has what looks like a cat, but is an alien named Goose in the movie. Where did that idea come from?
In the comics, Goose is called Chewy. I did not give Carol Chewy. Brian Reed did. When I took over the book, I knew from far previous issues that she had a cat at one point. And I was like, "Alright. We're bringing the cat back."
One thing I just really thought was funny was this idea that the cat was really nasty. Because at the time, I had a cat that I adored, but who was just entirely awful. He would hiss at people, and he'd fight with people. I don't know why I loved this cat. He was a monster.
But I played to this idea with Chewy. She was just really nasty and foul-tempered. So after we finished the first year, we were told that the book was going to get a new number one. They wanted to keep me on it. We had to have a reason to have a new number one. So we're like, we're going to send Carol into space. And I was like, "I just spent all of this time building Carol a support system." You know, like getting this group of people around her. It was a supporting cast, and, and now we're going to leave them all and go to space.
One of the things that I've noticed about my own writing, and you kind of get sick of your tricks, I have this tendency to write internal monologues. I love to write an internal monologue. I write Internal monologues like crazy. It becomes a crutch. It was like, well if Carol's going to be in space by herself, I am going to be monologuing to death. So, I need her to have a couple of people to talk to.
And so we made the ship an AI so she could talk to the ship. And then I had her take her cat. And the justification for taking the cat was that no one would take care of her cat because it was so nasty. They're like, "Nope." So none of the people in that big supporting cast were willing to look after the cat. The cat had to go to space with her. And so then I'm thinking, I don't know where that cat came from. The cat just shows up the same time as this interdimensional space traveler shows up. I think his name was actually Traveler. So wouldn't it be funny if the cat isn't really a cat? And so that is how that started happening.
Was there anything that sort of surprised you, or shocked you in either the filming process or a final scene that impressed you?
There is a scene toward the end, I think there are going to be women's studies and academic papers written about this scene. I have a lot of opinions about it. I think it is bold as hell and sorely needed. And then there's something that's missing from this film that I also think is crazy progressive. But I'm afraid identifying either one of those things would be a spoiler.
You have a development deal with Legendary TV. What have you learned from seeing Captain Marvel become a film that you are bringing forward to your TV work?
I was super impressed with how everyone really wanted to make a film that mattered even though this is a genre that is very easily dismissed. They were really good at balancing the intention to make something that feels real and significant and like it will have an emotional resonance with people but doesn't have to be dark or heavy. There is a tendency, in our culture, to think that in order to be important it also has to be hopeless. It has to be depressing and gloomy in order to be real or significant. And I would say to that, sometimes there are things that are more real than naturalism.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
by Aaron Couch
by Lesley Goldberg
by Aaron Couch