Carol Danvers: Just another Captain Marvel?

News CJ Wheeler 22 Mar 2012 - 09:30
Captain Marvel Carol Danvers Ms Marvel Wondercon July 2012

Marvel have announced a new ongoing series granting Ms. Marvel the rank of Captain. CJ and Jennie wonder if this decision has the character at heart...

 

This July, after 35 years as Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers will be taking up the title of Captain Marvel in an ongoing series by writer Kick-ass Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Dynamic Dexter Soy. A redesigned costume has been provided by UK artist Joltin' Jamie McKelvie.

Putting the creators involved in the new series aside, the House of Ideas' decision to alter the Ms. Marvel character's name and appearance is a mixed blessing. Den of Geek was made aware at February's London Super Comic Con that the character would be getting a new outfit, but we never expected it would look quite so much like Mick Anglo's Miracleman.

There's also the danger of Carol Danvers getting lost in her latest alter ego's jumbled lineage. The Captain Marvel name has been used by a number of characters from different comic book publishing companies over a period of 70 years, and influenced other heroes such as Prime and Superior.

Yet there's only one real Ms. Marvel, regardless of Moonstone and Ultra Girl taking up her old costume in recent years. Let's take a look at why Marvel's decision to put aside Danvers' distinctive identity is worrying for the character.

That cover

Ed McGuinness provided fantastic covers for Brian Reed'sCaptain Marvel limited series in 2008. It's slightly disconcerting to look at McGuinness' cover for Captain Marvel #1. The Rosie the Riveter pose and late '90s David Beckham hairdo scream that Marvel are marketing this change in appearance as a feminist rebirth, after years in a bathing suit. We have to ask - do all women have to look and act like blokes to be on an equal footing?

We're a female and male writing pair who both agree that Wonder Woman looked better in trousers, but we think that by presenting this particular character this way Marvel have misunderstood what makes a decent female superhero. Yes - we're using the word decent with double-meaning.

McKelvie's initial redesign for the costume is more casual than McGuinness' cover, yet very striking, and instantly recognisable as it incorporates elements of Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. Our preference would have been to stick to the predominantly red colour scheme of the Mar-Vell and Genis-Vell outfits and avoid Miracleman's blue, but inverting the colours is just another move way from the Fawcett Captain Marvel now owned by DC.

The new colour emphasis does manage to reflect Danvers' background in the US Air Force, and they've kept the officially badass red sash that's now synonymous with the character. Gone is the fantastic lightning bolt with its sense of motion though, replaced with Captain Marvel's starburst chest insignia.

The Captains Marvel

Choosing a woman to take up the dormant mantle of Captain Marvel might seem innovative, but it's not. Monica Rambeau was a female, African-American Captain Marvel with an extremely cool costume in the early 1980s. In the 2000s, Phyla-Vell, the lesbian daughter of Marvel's first Captain Marvel wore a version of her father's suit. Not only is there a legacy of female, diverse Captain Marvels at Marvel, but there have also been four and a half male heroes with that name at the company.

The first was an alien Kree, the ingeniously monikered Mar-Vell. Debuting in 1967's Marvel Super-Heroes #12, Mar-Vell fought interstellar injustice until he was trapped in the Negative Zone. After that, he could only get out if he exchanged places with a young human, Avengers and Hulk hanger-on Rick Jones. Eventually, Mar-Vell succumbed to cancer in the landmark Marvel graphic novel, 1982's The Death of Captain Marvel.

Mar-Vell's death was symbolic and his title would bounce around the company for decades without the longevity to compare with Ms. Marvel. The next male Captain Marvel would be Mar-Vell's son, Genis-Vell. Introduced as Legacy in 1993, Genis's turn lasted over several volumes of Captain Marvel and Thunderbolts between 1999 and 2006. For a while, Genis was also bonded to his father's old friend and career-sidekick Rick Jones.

Civil War and the follow-up crossover Secret Invasion introduced a seemingly returned Mar-Vell. This version was revealed to be a Skrull imposter, Khn'nr, but one who fully believed his conditioning and acted like Mar-Vell. Khn'nr died fighting his own species during their invasion of Earth, but influenced an alienated young Kree to take up the Captain Marvel legacy.

Grant Morrison had introduced that Kree, Noh-Varr, in the 2000s miniseries Marvel Boy. Noh-Varr briefly became Captain Marvel a few years ago in Brian Bendis' Dark Avengers, sleeping with an imposter posing as Ms. Marvel before realising the team were really criminals masquerading as heroes. He then became known as Protector, appointed by the Kree Supreme Intelligence to safeguard Earth. Noh-Varr was being groomed to take over as Captain Marvel under a new identity - or so it seemed.

Shazam and Miracleman

We touched on the legacy of DC's Captain Marvel lightly when it was announced earlier this month that the character would be going by Shazam from now on, and the rights to the name Captain Marvel must have come into the decision to rename Ms. Marvel too. At one point in the heyday of US comics, Captain Marvel was the most recognised superhero in America.

Marvel acquired the name Captain Marvel in the 1960s when Fawcett Comics ended publication of their series featuring the original Captain Marvel character. DC later bought the rights to the Fawcett character, years after their lawsuit claiming Captain Marvel had plaigarised Superman helped to drive Fawcett out of the declining comics business in the pre-Silver Age.

Thanks to Marvel's business decision, DC had to publish their Captain Marvel's adventures from under the name Shazam!. As Geoff Johns pointed out recently, many people know the original Captain Marvel by that name now, and DC are running with it after toying with Captain Thunder during last year's Flashpoint crossover. It appears DC feels they have a much-loved character regardless of his name.

To add to the complicated history of the Captain Marvel handle, British writer-artist Mike Anglo had invented a Fawcett Captain Marvel analogue called Marvelman in the 1950s. The hero would later be renamed Miracleman for the US and was acquired by Marvel Comics in 2009. So now, Marvel owns the name and a character extremely similar to the original Fawcett character, as well as decades' worth of its own Captain Marvels.

As long as Marvel Comics publishes a book featuring Captain Marvel on a fairly regular basis then their copyright on the Captain Marvel name will stand. Noh-Varr is Protector, Genis is still scattered around the cosmos, Phyla was apparently killed by the mad Titan Thanos, and Monica Rambeau is operating as Pulsar.

Who can take up the mantle of Captain Marvel? You'd imagine Marvel would jump at the chance to revive Marvelman as a full-blown Captain Marvel; a decision that would have enough oomph to provide a challenge to DC's Before Watchmen this summer.

Nope. Barring a brief return by Mar-Vell or someone posing as him in Secret Avengers #27 in May this year, we know it's Carol Danvers. They burdened Ms. Marvel with the convoluted Captain Marvel publishing history instead.

That's 'Ms.' Marvel

Carol Danvers was introduced in 1968 as a US Air Force officer in the issue after Mar-Vell, Marvel Super-Heroes #13. She became a superhero in 1977's Ms. Marvel #1. Her powers were gained in an explosion that introduced Kree DNA into her body. With her piloting background and alien abilities it could be said that she's the Marvel universe equivalent of DC's Silver Age and current Green Lantern, Hal Jordan.

The character's sometimes tortuous personal history is as serious as that of any male superhero such as Spider-Man or Batman, which makes it a shame that her years of heroism out of the deceased Mar-Vell's shadow will now fall under the Captain Marvel banner. Arguably, few of the others claiming that name have had the charisma of Carol Danvers; although Peter David did a sterling job with Genis, Rambeau shone in Warren Ellis' Nextwave, and Paul Jenkins' concept of a Skrull Captain Marvel could have made for an absorbing ongoing series.

Ms. Marvel's managed a few name and costume changes before. She transformed into Binary in 1982's Uncanny X-Men #164 - at roughly the same time the first female Captain Marvel was introduced - which accompanied a vast power boost and a flaming head. After a while Danvers took on the identity of Warbird, a strange choice. During the House of M event's altered reality she even enjoyed brief global fame as Captain Marvel, her ideal career as a superhero, but kept her Ms. Marvel suit.

As Ms. Marvel, Danvers has been through a lot both individually and as part of teams too. In Avengers #200 she was abducted and forcibly impregnated, an issue Marvel's then Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter later apologised for. After writer Chris Claremont revived Danvers in Avengers Annual #10 she was immediately drained of her powers and memories by Rogue, who later used the flight and superhuman strength she pilfered to the point that people started to forget where they came from.

Strugging to cope with losing her Binary powers in Operation: Galactic Storm, Kurt Busiek eventually wrote Danvers into an alcoholism storyline that ended in her embarrassment during 1998's Live Kree or Die. She was suspended from the Avengers. After returning to her original name, Ms. Marvel's identity was usurped by the supervillain Moonstone during Dark Reign. Marvel shouldn't fold a character with her own history under the name of another, particularly one so disputed.

Captain Marvel is dead, long live Captain Marvel

Make no mistake - we'll still be buying the heck out of Captain Marvel #1 in July and encourage you to do the same. Carol Danvers is one of the best superheroes Marvel has and any book with her in deserves support, and hopefully this change will do the character justice and last a long time. Kelly Sue DeConnick explains on her blog why pre-ordering the book will help to support it.

It's great to see a new Captain Marvel title that's in good hands. It's just a shame it's really a Ms. Marvel comic. As Shakespeare said though: that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

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