Creator Spotlight: Kelly Sue Deconnick

by GregFahlgren

Examining the career of comic books brightest and fastest rising star.

Greetings! A little while ago, I wrote a profile piece of the incomparable Gail Simone (link in the sidebar) that has since become my most popular post here on Wizzley. It was a lot of fun, and as such, I have been itching to do another one, and decided that there would be no better subject to another of my absolute favourite writers in the world, Kelly Sue Deconnick.

I first started reading Kelly Sue’s work with the series Avengers Assemble. The book was first scribed by long time Avengers writer and comic book legend Brian Michael Bendis as his last work with the Avengers (for the foreseeable future anyway). Kelly Sue was brought in to replace him, starting with a story entitled Science Bros, that is hands down one of my favourite comic book stories ever. With that one story, I became a fan of Kelly Sue. I immediately read her work on Captain Marvel, and was blown away by every issue. Since following her on social media, I have discovered she is a fierce, intelligent, kind-heart, and wonderful lady who is as giving to her fans as anyone I’ve ever seen. But what’s the story behind one of comic book’s brightest stars? I’m going to try my best to tell you, and hope I do a good enough job to do right by her.

Breaking In

From Editor to Writer, from Manga to Comics

After graduating from the University of Texas, Kelly Sue began working at the publisher Tokyo Pop, where she began editing and translating many of their manga works into English. Over time, she started to gain respect among her peers, and was eventually asked to co-author 30 Days of Night: Eben and Stella for IDW Publishing.

From there, she began writing for the larger publishers, penning one-shots for Marvel, the most famous being for Lady Sif. DC also reached out to her, hiring her to pen the final Supergirl books before the New 52 relaunch. Her work was getting a lot of positive feedback, and there started be a little bit of a buzz around Miss Deconnick. This all lead to Marvel giving Kelly her first limited series, Osborn: Evil Incarcerated.

Osborn: Evil Incarcerated

Inside the mind of a Psychopath

Kelly’s first major work of note, Osborn took place directly after the events of Siege, during which Osborn was revealed as the maniac he’s always been in front of the world. Removed from his position as the head of HAMMER (evil SHIELD), the Dark Avengers, and sent to prison, Osborn’s life was about to hit an all new low. While other creators took care of the rest of the world of Marvel, Kelly Sue was given the task of telling us what happened to Norman on the inside.

Jumping at the opportunity, Kelly Sue wowed audiences with her interpretation of the former Green Goblin, getting to the core of his mind in a way that few have ever accomplished. One review on Good Reads described her writing as, “...compelling. She does an absolutely artful job of capturing the malice, the just-beneath-the-surface threat that Norman Osborn poses in this era of Marvel - not scenery-chewing, not drooling or screaming, not killing wantonly - but menacing through his control of the beast that lives inside his head.”

The subtlety Kelly displayed when writing Norman has since become a hallmark of her work, especially with villains. With Kelly Sue, you’re not going to get screaming, crazy, murdering villains whose sole purpose in life is to destroy everything and everyone in their path. Her villains have goals, desires, and are just as motivated by their own experiences as the heroes they fight against. She made Norman relatable, which in turn made him all the more terrifying, an example of what a person can become when the demons inside him take hold. This idea is not as common as it should be in modern comics, but Kelly Sue showed through her writing of Norman Osborn how effective it could it be.

Osborn got rave reviews, and was a major launching point for Miss Deconnick, allowing her to begin her journey as one of comic books’ newest and brightest stars.

Captain Marvel

Becoming the Star she was Meant to Be

Carol Danvers is one of Marvel’s oldest female heroes, and easily one of Marvel’s most recognizable heroines for over forty years, even more so than Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel and the hero her stories spun out from. Despite this, she has often been treated less-than-respectfully by some creators. There is a larger discussion there, the treatment of women and women characters in comics a long, horrible, and infuriating story, but for now, let’s just say Carol’s had a rough time of it.

Over the last decade or so however, she’s come back with a vengeance, leading her own book Ms Marvel, becoming one of the Avenger’s heaviest hitters, a focal point for their books, and forging one of the funniest and most endearing superhero friendships with Spider-Woman. With her popularity at an all time high after the mega-event Avengers vs X-Men, the time had come for a new series for Carol, but who would take that series and what would happen was up in the air.

During the Women of Marvel Podcast, Kelly Sue described how she got writing Carol, “...I wanted to pitch something to Marvel... asking around for what they might be interested in fielding pitches on...” She called Steven Wacker, an editor for Marvel, and ask if she could do a pitch for Carol Danvers. Wacker gave the go ahead, and Kelly pitched the idea of Carol coming back to her roots as a pilot, and not the law and order character that she had become since the events of Civil War, and in the process of that, give Carol “her swagger back”.

Wacker obviously liked this idea, as he took it to the higher ups at Marvel to get the go ahead. Kelly was nervous about this, often remarking in interviews, “I had no faith that it would go past six issues,” and was shocked when the book got a full order. Even more shocking, she described during a podcast that when she was called about the book she was told that, “’re not going to be writing Ms Marvel... you’re going to be writing CAPTAIN MARVEL!” Carol Danvers, one of Marvel’s biggest, most recognizable and popular female characters was getting a promotion, finally taking her rightful place as Mar-Vell’s successor. More than that, a costume redesign was ordered (complete with pants), and a new age for Carol, and Kelly Sue, had begun.

The book became an instant success, Kelly’s earnest writing of the cocky, flawed, badass and sometimes rather impulsive Carol Danvers wowing fans. Instead of just writing Carol as someone who punches stuff (though punching was still a primary solution to most of her problems), Kelly put Carol in situations where he couldn’t just punch her way out, and had to find new ways to overcome both her enemy’s and her own insecurities. The book’s success also sparked a movement among Carol’s legion of fans, known as the Carol Corps. This group of fans have held rallies in honour of Carol, Kelly Sue overwhelmed by how much this book has meant to people. The book also raised Carol’s stock considerably, Kelly’s depiction of her bringing her to the upper echelon of super-heroes, many mentioning he in the same breath as Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Batman, and the X-Men. In fact, this resurgence has lead Marvel Studios to launch a movie based on our favourite badass Colonel. Upon hearing the news, Kelly Sue had this to say,  "I feel so proud of her, like Carol is this person who lives in my head, and 'look what you did, girl!'" and "It feels like a friend just got a promotion."If that isn’t validation for Kelly Sue’s work on the character, I don’t know what is.

Sadly ending soon, there is no denying that Kelly Sue’s run on Captain Marvel should be considered one of the best runs in recent comic book history. Under her pen, Carol regained her swagger, and punched a whole right in the sky to become the star that everyone always knew she could be. The same could be said for Kelly Sue, Captain Marvel earning her the notoriety and success that she rightfully deserves for such exceptional work. I hope she can return to writing Carol again someday, but until then, the work can and will speak for itself.

Avengers Assemble

A Lighter Side to Earth's Mightiest Heroes

After Avengers vs X-Men, it was announced that Brian Michael Bendis would be leaving the line after an incredible 8 year run. His final book in the franchise was Avengers Assemble, taking the pen one final time for eight issues, using the story as a bridge for the new Guardians of the Galaxy series he was launching. A replacement was needed, and that replacement came in the form of Kelly Sue. Tom Breevort, Managing long time Editor for the Avengers line, called her and asked her to pitch for the book. She pitched, he caught it, and all of a sudden Kelly Sue became the scribe for one of the most entertaining and fun Avengers titles in years.

While Jonathon Hickman handled the big, universe changing storylines in the main Avengers books, Kelly Sue focused more on the Avengers themselves. Her stories, some of my favourites by the way, were heartfelt, personal, and laugh-out-loud funny. They delved into the minds of the Avengers, showcasing her amazing kill at finding out the best and worst parts of her characters, taking them to places they’d rather not go.

What was more, she made the Avengers fun. The team in Kelly’s book were a group of funny, kind, determined individuals, all wanting to do the right thing no matter the consequences. Each of her stories took them through personal hardships, while at the same time making the reader love them in spite of all their flaws. By far the best story however was the Spider-Girl arc entitled Forgeries of Jealousy that closed out the series, making me desperately want a Spider-Girl book (she called Black Widow a princess and took fashion advice from Wolverine. Who wouldn’t love that girl!?) This was one of those books that just demanded to be read. Not because it’s stories would have a long lasting effect, but because they were fun, plain and simple.

Sadly, Avengers Assemble got caught up in three straight crossovers, The Enemy Within (which Kelly wrote in conjunction with Captain Marvel), Infinity, and Inhumanity. The last crossover was a more compartmentalised story (the above mentioned Spider-Girl arc), but the sales were dropping, the book being lost in the shuffle like many when massive crossovers are dominating the market. However, the book is still a wonderful example of what a great writer can do with great characters, talented artists, and the freedom to make comics what they should be: fun.

Pretty Deadly

Western Horror

Aside from her work with the major publishers, Kelly Sue has found amazing success for her creator owned work, the first of which was the western horror epic, Pretty Deadly. Along with artist Emma Rios, Kelly drew inspiration from the Sergio Leone westerns (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly for example), while also combining elements of horror, fantasy, and science fiction to create a unique world for the reader to step into. Starring Death’s daughter Ginny, the tale weaves a dark, psychological adventure, where the lines of good and bad are not as clear as we’d like them to be.

Unlike many comic books where the writer leads the reader by the hand to tell the story, Kelly Sue took a different approach. She paced it much like one would pace a novel, not revealing information until it was needed, and keeping the reader in the dark, forcing them to turn the page to find out what happens next. This approach is often frowned upon in modern comics, but Kelly Sue wanted to do something different, and what resulted was her first Eisner nomination for Best Writer, one of many that the book garnered.

Still ongoing, Pretty Deadly has become one of Image’s best books, and continues to wow audiences as Kelly and Emma continue Ginny’s journey in a weird, exciting world that they created.

Bitch Planet

To Be Non-Compliant

Kelly’s second creator-owned work, Bitch Planet is a futuristic dystopian feminist romp that takes a hard look at the exploitation and portrayal of women in the media and entertainment. Of how the project came to be, Kelly described it, “...born of a deep and abiding love or exploitation and women in prison movies of the 1960s and 70s.”

The book, taking place on a planet converted into a massive prison for disobedient women, describes the life and trials of the prisoners, many forming into gangs to fight against their oppressors. The term “Non-Compliant” became a rallying cry for the prisoners, the term being changed from a shame inducing insult to a badge of honour, the women not allowing those running the prison to define them by their warped standards. The book deals with issues such as body image, sexuality, and the male dominance of a society obsessed with how women should be subservient to men, and only behave how men feel they should. Bitch Planet has become a mega-success both commercially and critically, it’s first issue in particular gaining heaps of praise, Jeff Lake of IGN calling it, “ of the best first issues of the year.”

Still ongoing, Bitch Planet has amassed a legion of followers, inspiring tattoos of the Non-Compliant symbol as a show of sisterhood. Lauded as a reclamation of the exploitation genre for women, Kelly’s Bitch Planet has become a fan favourite book, challenging the perception of women in the media, and throwing down the misogyny today’s society projects and slapping it across the face.

Other Work

Like any comic creator, Kelly has worked on a multitude of projects other than those she’s most known for. Some were fairly short stints, like her run on Supergirl, while others were a part of a anthology style projects, like Legends of Red Sonja. She has also enjoyed a brief run on Ghost by Dark Horse comics, as well as numerous credits on one-shots by Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, the most famous being Prometheus: Fire and Stone Omega. She was also chosen to pen the scripts for the Castle graphic novels, which have been received with rave reviews by comic book fans and fans of the show alike. Any time she comes onto a project though, no matter what it is, the book almost instantly improves, adding to her already impressive legacy of awesomeness.

One of my Favourites

I’m going to blunt for a moment: Kelly Sue Deconnick is one of my favourite comic book creators, period. I started reading her work with Avengers Assemble, and since then have been an avid fan no matter what book she’s on. Following her on social media, watching her fight for her characters, fight for women in her industry, and fight for women’s rights to love and enjoy comic books is an inspiration. Yes, there have been many women creators in the history of comic books, but they have had to fight for decades to get the same rights as their male counterparts. Kelly Sue continues that fight, kicking the door down and holding it open for other women to follow. Along with women like Gail Simone, Marjorie Liu, and a host of others, Kelly Sue has led the charge for women in comics and nerd culture against decades of misogynistic BS.

When asked why she does this while on a convention panel, she replied, “I am willing to make people uncomfortable so that my daughter doesn’t have to!”

She followed up on this statement in 2014, explaining, “I don't think it's a goal to make other people uncomfortable. It's something I'm willing to do. I do purposefully try to push myself out of my comfort zone. Which is fairly cliché, but one of those clichés that got there for a reason.”

This desire to step outside of the box and challenge the pre-existing tropes and conceptions about women in comics and nerd culture, is why I am such a huge fan of her. She doesn’t care that there are people out there who don’t like how nerd culture is changing, becoming more inclusive than ever before. She continues to add more diversity to her books, continues to push the boundaries what she’s “supposed” to write in her stories, and continues to put out badass book after badass book, changing the game just by writing honestly with herself.

Kelly Sue Deconnick is a champion among warriors in the comic book world, and I sincerely hope that she will continue her work for many, many years to come.

Where is She Now?

Shining Star Getting Brighter

So, having said all that, I bet some of you are wondering, what is comic book’s fastest rising star doing now? Well, she’s contributed to the new A-Force book for Marvel, lending her hand when needed. She’s continuing her work with Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet, both of which have become massively popular. I haven’t been able to find out any upcoming projects she may be involved in, but the nature of the comic book industry is pretty secretive, so that’s no surprise.

Whatever is on her plate though, I have no doubt that the work will be exceptional in every regard. Kelly Sue has risen from editing manga books and writing little one shots for the Big Two, to becoming one of the biggest stars in comics today, and this has happened for no other reason than she is DAMN good at what she does. Don’t believe me? Click on the links I’ve posted, and check out her work. If you do, you will realize what I realized the first time I read her work, and that’s that she is one of the best comic book writers going today.

Updated: 01/03/2016, GregFahlgren
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