Monday, February 25, 2013

Black Superheroes: Monica Rambeau

Monica Rambeau lies flies all the time
Name: Monica Rambeau

First Appearance: The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982)

History: As a lieutenant of the New Orleans Harbor Patrol Monica Rambeau was an experienced, and dedicated, law enforcement agent. One day she finds herself caught in the middle of a fight between her family friend, scientist Andre LeClare, and a South American dictator over an experimental super weapon. During the ensuing adventure Monica was hit by the weapon’s extra dimensional energies. The energy altered Rambeau’s body, giving her the ability to covert her body into any form of energy along the electromagnetic spectrum. Soon afterwards she sought out the Avengers in the hops they could help her hone her new found powers. Eventually she would join them and after a while rise up to become their leader. The press would refer to her as Captain Marvel.

Beta Says: Originally she was known as Captain Marvel in a key case of Minority Replacement though she had absolutely nothing in common with her predecessor at all. At some point she took up the identity of Photon. Later still she started calling herself Pulsar, because Photon just wasn’t generic enough. There might have been a few others but those three are the big ones that come up. So yeah, thirty-one years later I’m fairly comfortable in just calling her by her real name.

Anywho she was created by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. Actually Romita wanted to base her appearance on Pam Grier but apparently that got vetoed because someone at Marvel didn’t think Grier was pretty enough. Oh Marvel. Interestingly there were several new 80s members of the Avengers many of whom went on to do absolutely nothing worthwhile in the grand scheme of things. Yeah I know Tigra has her fans but I’m not sure there are many folk who fondly remember alleged rapist Starfox. Historically I’ve lumped Monica in with that lot and tend not to think of her too much. But some years ago I changed my tune and now I’m a big fan of the character.

More on Monica Rambeau after the jump.

So I guess 1982 was actually 1976, if that costume is an indication
The first time I ever saw Monica Rambeau was in a trade paperback copy of The Secret Wars, which was one of the first giant company wide crossovers (that happen way too often these days). At the time I had no idea who this version of Captain Marvel was. Hell, I barely had a concept of Captain Marvel at the time but I knew he wasn’t a black woman. In fact it was a little weird to see the top heroes of the Marvel Universe all in one spot…and this lady. That’s pretty much my thought process regarding her in the ensuing time. So she joins the Avengers and eventually takes over leadership from The Wasp, which is really cool because I don’t know how many instances we have a black leader of the Avengers. She eventually leaves the team and sort of just floats around the superhero community for years. She does participate in some storylines but her stock greatly fell to the point that Marvel gave away her code names.

Now in theory I didn’t care. Like I said she’s a third string Avenger and there’s no character in superhero comic books I care less about than third string Avengers (looking at you, Triathlon). But what made Monica different was two simple words: Warren Ellis. Actually just one word: Nextwave.

It would take be 3,000 words to tell you how much I loved this comic
Nextwave was one of the funniest comic books titles ever written and one the contenders of my personal favorite series of the 2000s. It’s a bit hard to put into words why I loved this series so much but essentially it was warren Ellis being allowed to write a team of third string Marvel characters and pretty much do whatever he wanted for the sake of comedy. And it was amazingly awesome and hilarious. In the book Monica was leader of a squad of rogue superheroes and former superheroes who rebelled against their parent company when they discovered they were actually terrorists. Like the other characters Monica’s personality was greatly out of whack due to the surrealistic comedic nature of the book but I actually think that it gave her a rare genuine aura about her that you don’t see too much in superhero books. She was bossy, a pretentious (she couldn’t go too long without reminding her teammates she used to led the Avengers) and her moral compass landed solidly in the grey area. Also she had a lot of candid things to say about her time as a superhero, including how practically every member of the Avengers tried to sleep with her at some point. It was easily the most interesting she’d ever been in her thirty+ years of publication history. Sadly not only was Nextwave canceled, despite being the greatest thing ever in the history of time, it would seem that the exploits and characterization of the team is considered (at least to a certain extent) non-canon as Monica lost all those aspects of her personality as soon as someone else started writing it. But I remember it existed. Marvel should never allow me to write for her because will bring them back.

Anyway sometime after this Marvel did one of its more annoying missteps of the 2000s when they released Marvel Divas. If you haven’t heard of it it’s because it was just a miniseries that didn’t take off. Basically someone thought it’d be a brilliant idea to lure female readers in by making a book that invoked Sex and the City. Monica Rambeau was one of the book’s main characters along with the Black Cat, Firestar and Hellcat. The book was mainly about their personal lives and their relationships because writers at Marvel were under the impression that girls who read superhero comics aren’t actually interested in characters fighting crime but rather want to see them go shopping and gossip. So that didn’t work out great for them and the book didn’t lead to anything. I’m not sure how we went from her awesome portrayal in Nextwave to this is bizarre but regardless this was the last time we saw her regularly. She’s guest starred here and there, like recently in the new Captain Marvel book, but for the most part she’s gone back to being a third stringer no one really remembers.

The former Captain Marvel meets the new Captain Marvel
Monica Rambeau needs to come back full time and she needs the character traits she had in Nextwave because that was the only time she was truly interesting…and she was extremely interesting during that run. Now I’m not sure if she could be successful in a solo title but when you break down her skills and history she’s an obvious choice to lead a superhero team. Seeing as they’re about sixty-five different Avenger squads out there I don’t see why we can’t set this up. As long as she has the right writer and the right personality traits are used you’re guaranteed to have a very entertaining book. 

Next time we’ll look at the most successful case of Minority Replacement in comic book history. However for more on Monica Rambeau/Photon/Pulsar/Captain Marvel click here.

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