Captain Marvel’s iconic red, blue and gold costume is on full display in the first trailer for her upcoming stand-alone Marvel Cinematic Universe debut, but the flight-suit inspired look might not exist at all if not for a dumb bet that writer Kelly Sue DeConnick made with artist Jamie McKelvie.
When Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel in the comics, it wasn’t her first time as a superhero. She’d already been doing the saving the world gig for years, under a few different names — but mostly as Ms. Marvel. Her Ms. Marvel outfit was basically a swimsuit, thigh-high boots and a sash, not really the look the new series was going for.
DeConnick is the writer who forged Carol’s relaunch as Captain Marvel, which drove the character to a new prominence among Marvel fans and likely inspired a lot of the movie. She told Polygon that getting the right costume design was not an easy process, because Carol and the Captain Marvel name just didn’t have the cache they do now.
Basically, there wasn’t a lot of money to spend on “pre-production.”
“So [editor Steve Wacker] sent some designs that were done in-house and I did not love them. And I was like, ‘Can we get Jamie McKelvie to do this?’ And he was like, ‘No, we don’t have the budget for it.’”
McKelvie (The Wicked + The Divine, Young Avengers) is a comics artist whose work is characterized not just by his draftsmanship but by a keen eye for contemporary fashion and design, an important tool in defining a character for the audience even when they’re not in a superhero costume. At the time, he was also a regular contributor to Project Rooftop, a blog created by comics industry folks as “a catalyst to improve costume design in the industry.”
So there were very good reasons for DeConnick to want him to design for Carol.
“I like to say I’m good at taking no for an answer, but I’m really not,” DeConnick told Polygon. “And so I kinda kept pushing for it. And Steve was like, ‘No. But you know … if Jamie were to do a redesign … just on his own, and you were to happen to come upon it and send it to me … I might be able to get Marvel to pay for it.’
“And so I called Jamie and was like, ‘Alright, I want you to make a bet with me. I bet if you do a Carol Danvers redesign for Captain Marvel that Marvel will buy the design from you. And if I win this bet, then I get a redesign and you get paid. And if I lose this bet, I will pay for the redesign.’”
DeConnick said she still has no idea whether McKelvie would have actually taken her up on that money, but her plan was to pay for it out of pocket if necessary. She admits that the whole thing didn’t make a lot of sense.
“My husband would have murdered me, because you don’t front money for billion dollar companies. I mean, I would have murdered me, that’s nonsense.”
Fortunately for DeConnick, she won the bet: McKelvie published his redesign and Wacker convinced Marvel editors to buy it.
“It was extraordinary,” she said, “because he’s probably the best designer working — as far as the look of contemporary hero costumes goes … He knocked it out of the park.”
McKelvie’s flight-suit inspired look used the classic Captain Marvel’s colors and emblem, topping it all off with a collapsible helmet that sweeps Carol’s hair up into a badass pseudo-mohawk (we finally saw it in action in the first trailer for Captain Marvel). It even had a sash, in homage to her classic Ms. Marvel look.
Carol’s new costume struck such a chord that there was already fanart of her in it before Captain Marvel #1 (written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Dexter Soy) hit shelves. Choice pieces of art were even featured in the issue. Fans of the new Captain Marvel — largely, but not exclusively, women — knitted hats, got tattoos and spread their love of comics in the name of the Carol Corps.
And, eight months later, Marvel executives had a script for a Carol Danvers movie on their desks.