Friday, March 8, 2019

Captain Marvel Stakes Her Claim

You try to invade Earth, you gotta deal with her
Captain Marvel hits theaters this weekend, so I thought it would be a good time to write up an article I’ve been thinking about doing for some years now. Carol Danvers, the longtime Marvel Comics character rose from the role of a supporting character and, over the course of thirty-five years, claimed prominence as one of the company’s premiers heroes. There has been some pushback from some fans against Captain Marvel as a major character but, unfortunately for them, if this upcoming film does well it will forever cement Carol’s place as one of the top comic book properties for the foreseeable future. Which is cool.

But Carol’s is a shaky history, as I can think of very few characters that Marvel has done dirty worse than her. The fact that she’s managed to still be a relevant, let alone major, character all this time is a minor miracle. For those who are looking forward to this new flick I thought today would be a good time to look back and recall, somewhat briefly, the history of the good captain. The good bad, and the ugly (i.e. Avengers #200).

Before we start, I think it’s worth noting that there exists a different character, owned by DC Comics, who is also known as Captain Marvel who is also getting a movie in 2019. I think this topic deserves its own blog, so I won’t go into too much detail (how long until SHAZAM comes out?). Short version: the original Captain Marvel was created in 1939, one of many superhero characters published in the wake of the success of Superman. Despite the character being super rad, DC successfully sued the comics’ publisher, Fawcett Comics, and thus ending the Captain’s comic despite being massively popular at the time. By the late-60s Marvel Comics stepped in a acquired the trademark to the name “Captain Marvel” but did not get the rights to the character himself. Instead they created a brand-new character with the name, whom we’ll talk about shortly, and have been publishing comics with that title ever since. Meanwhile DC did acquire the rights for the original Captain Marvel…but couldn’t get the now Marvel-owned name and thus regularly published the character under the "Shazam" name (though up until recently he was consistently called “Captain Marvel” in the comics themselves).

Confused? Just know that both Marvel and DC own a character called "Captain Marvel" who have literally nothing to do with each other.

Anyway, enough of the legal; a look at Carol Danvers after the jump.

She Can Do It!
Since Marvel first got the “Captain Marvel” trademark there have been seven (SEVEN?!) characters to wear the mantle; Mar-Vell, an alien Kree spy turned hero with the stupidest real name in the history of comic books, Monica Rambeau, a character whom I’ve spoken on in detail, Genis-Vell, Mar-Vell’s son with an overly complicated backstory, Phyla-Vell, Marvel’s daughter with an overly complicated backstory, a Skrull sleeper-agent named Khn'nr who thought he was a time-displaced Mar-Vell, and another Kree named Noh-Varr who got tricked into joining an evil, fake version of the Avengers. And then, finally, Carol.

Going back to Mar-vell, Carol was originally a supporting character/love interest in his book in 1968. Originally, she was a pilot in the United States Air Force who had since been working at NASA alongside Dr. Walter Lawson, the alias of the undercover Mar-Vell. During one of Marvell’s battle with an enemy, Carol was caught in an explosion of a Kree device known as the Psyche-Magnitron, and as a result some of Captain Marvel’s energy was absorbed into the former air force pilot which altered her DNA and caused her to become a Kree/Human hybrid with various superpowers. In a far more recent retcon, it was revealed that Carol’s mother was actually a Kree warrior sent to Earth who fell in love with a human and decided to just live her life as a normal Earthling, meaning Carol has always been a Kree/Human hybrid and therefore perhaps the accident that she thought granted her her powers actually awakened her sleeping alien potential rather than gifting them to her. But I digress.

Do you think she stopped wearing this outfit because it got too cold?
Anyway, whatever her origin, Carol’s powers eventually kicked in and, having since left NASA on bad terms, decided to follow in her friend Mar-Vell’s footsteps, donning a terrible costume in the process and calling herself “Ms. Marvel.” Interestingly, Carol’s transformation into a superhero and a distaff counterpart to Captain Marvel was a partially a result of Marvel attempting to join in the progressive women’s equality movement during the 1970s. If that’s the case then I would guess that her name, Ms. Marvel, was probably a reference to the feminist magazine Ms.

Another aside; it should be pointed out that despite Captain Marvel being the main hero and Ms. Marvel being the spin-off, Carol has greatly eclipsed the Kree hero in popularity and notoriety in comic book history, years before she took his name in fact. Mar-Vell was, sad to say, not a particularly interesting character, to the point that the biggest claim to fame he has was that he very famously died of cancer in 1980. What’s really weird is that Carol didn’t take up his name in the ensuing decade. Instead Monica Rambeau took up the name, despite having literally nothing to do with the guy. All respect to Monica, but Carol played a key role in Mar-Vell’s life since practically the beginning and if anyone should have been the new Captain Marvel, it was here. Marvel dropped the ball on this one and they wouldn’t pick it up until 2012.

Worst. Costume. Ever.
Anywho, after being the superhero game for a while, Ms. Marvel joined the Avengers and for a few years things were fine, but then eventually we came to Avengers #200 (and a bit from Avengers #199). What was supposed landmark issue ended up becoming one of the most controversial and widely panned superhero stories of all time.

Reminiscent of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Child”, Carol find herself mysteriously pregnant and ends up going through the whole pregnancy in three days. While she is understandably freaked out about this, her teammates seem bizarrely tone deaf about the who situation (Wasp tells Carol she should feel “lucky”, Beast offers to be a teddy bear for the baby). She gives birth to a son and, like her pregnancy, his development is impossibly accelerated. Marcus, as he calls himself, becomes an adult and explains that he is an extradimensional being from Limbo who used technology to kidnap and mind control Ms. Marvel into having sex with him, at which point his essence, or something, is transferred into her womb so that he could be born on Earth and escape his home dimension. And no one blinks at this. Hell, the Avengers act like it’s a tragedy. In the end his plan fails and he is forced to return to Limbo, but Carol, claiming her feelings from their earlier encounter still lingers in her mind, goes with him.

Never mind that Marcus literally admitted to brainwashing her and therefore this is a clear-cut case of rape, the Avengers just shrug their shoulder and let he head out with her rapist. Thanks for nothing, 1980 Marvel Comics!

Ms. Marvel managed to escape Limbo on her own and had her mind fixed by Professor Xavier. At which point she told off the Avengers for their callousness and inability to understand that she was being kidnapped. She then quit the team and started hanging out with the X-Men. And then everything was good for Carol forever…I mean, until Rogue, member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (and eventual member of the X-Men) stole her powers and memories, leaving her a shell of her former self. Did Marvel hate Carol Danvers during the 1980s?

Professor X apparently restored Carol’s memories but, unfortunately, he could not restore the emotional connection she had for her former life, meaning she essentially stopped giving two shits about basically everything. As such, she continued hanging around the X-Men, acting as their pilot. Eventually the team battled a new alien threat, the Brood, and Carol was captured and experimented on by the evil creatures. They ultimately manage to unlock the hidden potential of her Kree genes, transforming her into the immensely powerful Binary, allowing her to draw upon the power of a White Hole. After the Brood are sorted out Carol, still with no emotional attachment to her life, decided to stay in space and have adventures.

Carol retained the powers of Binary for some years until she ended up burning them out nearly completely during the Operation: Galactic Storm storyline, her powers now scaled back down to standard superhero fair, though Carol can occasionally to this day access these abilities when in a desperate need. Binary is kind of her Super Saiyan mode these days. Anyway, with the temporary loss of her Binary powers Carol returned to Earth and re-joined the Avengers. Eventually she took on the new name of Warbird because…um…it sounds cool, I guess? Also, during this time period, she developed a drinking problem in the fallout of her loss of powers and general memory issues.

I'd love to see a Binary vs. Phoenix crossover story
The 2000s finally saw Carol’s luck turn around, starting with the House of M crossover. During that comic Carol got to see a world where she, as Captain Marvel, was renowned as Earth’s greatest champion. Being exposed to a level of potential she had never seen in herself, Ms. Marvel set off to try to become that kind of hero on her own world. This seemed to be part of Marvel’s plan to increase Ms. Marvel’s name value, changing her from a second-tier hero at best to someone who wouldn’t look out of place with the likes of Captain America or Thor.

This intuitive would continue with various forms of success until 2012, when Ms. Marvel was rebranded as Captain Marvel. After some convincing from Captain America, Carol finally decided it was time to carry on the mantle of her long-deceased friend, Mar-Vell, and finally achieve her years long goal; recognition as one of Earth’s greatest heroes. Since then Marvel has been very clear that they consider her among their premier heroes and she has consistently maintained a self-titled series and has also stared in the crossover Civil War II…for better or worse; a lot people did not like that comic.

Some people do not like Carol’s accession into the role, some because of an irrational disinterest in change in the medium and some perhaps because they preferred past Captain Marvels. For my money, Carol is the best character to hold the title and, though I love Monica Rambeau, the former Ms. Marvel should have inherited the mantle decades ago.

Also, the current Ms. Marvel is her biggest fan
This will all culminate with the release of her first film which, much like Carol’s ascension to Captain Marvel, is long overdue. That it has taken eleven years for Marvel Studios to release a female staring superhero film is ludicrous. But the long wait is finally over, and I can see no character more worthy of this achievement than the one true Captain Marvel.

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