Captain Marvel: The Many Careers of Carol Danvers

What did Carol Danvers do before becoming Captain Marvel? A lot of different jobs...

Long before she became Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers kept busy with a whole litany of careers. She has worked for various real and fictional parts of the U.S. government, like the Air Force and Agents of SHIELD, and has teamed up with everyone from the X-Men and the Ultimates to the Starjammers and Operation: Lighting Storm. Whether in costume or not, Carol has always been one of Marvel’s hardest working heroes.

Captain Marvel Comics - Filene's Basement

Filene’s Basement

Even (future) superheroes need after-school jobs. As a kid from a working-class family – in most of her incarnations – Carol needed to work for her pocket money and possible college funds. As a kid from the Boston area, Carol worked retail at the now-defunct local institution Filene’s Basement. I wish we could have seen her during the famed Running of the Brides!

Captain Marvel Comics - Pilot, US Air Force

Pilot, US Air Force

As a young girl, Carol Danvers always dreamed of being a pilot and flying to space. In spite of a tumultuous home life thanks to her alcoholic and sometimes abusive father, she got great grades and even went on to graduate as Valedictorian. Unfortunately, none of that mattered much because Carol’s father only had enough money to send one of his three kids to school, and he chose one of Carol’s less academically-inclined brothers. After all, a girl will be well taken care of once she finds a husband, Mr. Danvers reasoned.

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Heartbroken and pissed off but never one to give up, Carol enrolled in the Air Force as soon as she could as a way to pay for college and get in the air right away. She had a meteoric rise in the Air Force, rising the rank of Major (I guess Captain just sounds better?) Carol would rely on her military training for the rest of her life, piloting just about anything that flies and relying on her hand to hand combat training in her early days as Ms. Marvel.

At some unspecified point, Danvers was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be given to an individual serving in the US armed services for valor against an enemy force. Presumably, Carol earned it at some point during her service in the Air Force.

Captain Marvel Comics - Carol Danvers as a Spy


Before she worked at NASA, Carol Danvers fell into life as a spy after a failed mission left her grounded and introduced her to Agent Michael Rossi. At various times, she was referred to as working for the CIA, DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and USAF Special Operations (the Air Force’s intelligence service). Continuity error or ultimate deception to keep her cover? Tomato, tomahto.

Carol travelled the world in this capacity, going to places like Berlin, the USSR, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. She worked with Nick Fury (before he was Director Fury or either of them even worked for SHIELD) and Agent Logan before he was Wolverine. At one point, Danvers was captured by a man named Ghazi Rashid when Tony Stark’s new plane didn’t live up to the promise of being invisible. He tortured her, but she outsmarted him and fought her way out, killing for the first time.

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Her spy career eventually ended after a mission went sideways, resulting in Carol being trapped in the Soviet prison Lubyanka. Michael Rossi and Logan both broke protocol to rescue her, but she had been captured and tortured too many times and was done with the spy game.

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Captain Marvel Comics - Carol Danvers as NASA Security Chief

NASA Security Chief

Carol was NASA’s youngest security chief when fans first met her 1963. She is sometimes said to work for the fictional Cape Kennedy, and other times Cape Canaveral, both of which are located in Florida. This job is how Carol first encountered Cavourite Crystals and of course Dr. Lawson, AKA the Kree warrior Mar-Vell.

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Mar-Vell had been sent to earth as a spy but wound up falling in love with the planet and its people, opting instead to protect them both. It was while working for NASA that Carol gained her powers, in an accident with a Psyche-Magnitron and the Kree villain Yon-Rogg, who was trying to attack Mar-Vell at the time.

Unfortunately, in the first few issues of Ms. Marvel (1977-1979), it was revealed that her inability to capture Mar-Vell had tanked her reputation at work. Carol later revisited NASA during her time travels, using her knowledge of the place to break in and achieve her aims.

Captain Marvel Comics - Carol Danvers as an Avenger


Carol has been a member of the Avengers in various incarnations on and off since her first solo series was cancelled in 1979. She even led the team alongside Tony Stark—though that didn’t stop her from later coming to blows with Tony and putting him in a coma in Civil War II.

As her popularity has risen, Captain Marvel has become a more central figure in various Avenger crossover events, like her prominent role as a pro-superhero registration enforcer alongside Tony Stark in the first Civil War, to the maybe-she’s-a-Skrull, maybe-she’s-not of “Secret Invasion.” One of her best crossover events, and perhaps the clearest sign of her commitment to the Avengers and their mission, is The Enemy Within. Captain Marvel took center stage, dealing with a brain lesion that made using her powers detrimental to her own well-being, but ultimately vital to saving New York and her teammates.

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Carol has made two notable exits from the Avengers. The first was after she emerged from being brain-washed by Marcus, a villain who then got her pregnant so she would… give birth to him? Yeah, it doesn’t make a whole lot more sense in the comic, but the worst part is that her fellow Avengers congratulated her on her rapid pregnancy and encouraged a very brainwashed Carol to leave with her captor. The Avengers viewed it as a happy ending rather than an abusive, mind-controlling relationship. When Carol was free of the mind control, she quit the Avengers, horrified and disgusted that her friends and teammates couldn’t see the situation for what it was.

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Carol’s second exit was equally fraught, but for very different reasons. After a lifetime of trauma exacerbated by losing her god-like Binary powers, she hid her wavering powers and the alcoholism she used to cope from the rest of the team. As a result, Carol endangered her teammates. When she couldn’t admit that she had a problem or take responsibility for her actions, the Avengers held a court marshal and Carol quit before they could finish voting her out.

Captain Marvel Comics - Carol Danvers as an Author

Author, freelance writer

After Carol left NASA, she spent a couple of years working as a freelance writer, including a high-profile piece about Diana Ross for Rolling Stone. She also found the time to write and sell a book on the space industry during this period. It did well enough that the royalties allowed her to afford a penthouse by Central Park.

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Later, after leaving the Avengers and going into recovery for alcoholism, Carol moved to Seattle and wrote a few novels, one of which is a “fictional” account of her time in the cosmos as Binary.

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Captain Marvel Comics - Carol Danvers as Woman Magazine's Editor

Editor, Woman Magazine

To start out her first solo series, Ms. Marvel (1977), Carol Danvers moved to New York City and took on a new job at Woman Magazine, a women’s magazine from The Daily Bugle’s magazine department. The combination of the “Ms.” in Carol’s moniker and her post at a progressive women’s magazine was a direct reference to feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who launched Ms. Magazine in 1971, with another super heroine on it: Wonder Woman.

J. Jonah Jameson was annoyed that the magazine had been focusing on, “women’s lib, interviews with Kate Millet, stories about careers for women,” while he was focusing elsewhere. He had a very specific notion of what a women’s magazine should entail: new diets, fashions and recipes. “Useful” articles. But Carol had other plans.

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One of Carol’s first assignments was to write an expose about “that Marvel dame,” (As Jonah called her), the mysterious new super-powered person in NYC, Ms. Marvel. When Carol first got the assignment, she was experiencing blackouts and her powers manifested as a separate personality entirely, with neither Carol Danvers nor Ms. Marvel knowing about the other. After a few issues she figured it out, and she, like her coworker Peter Parker before her, was in the position of having to “investigate” her own alter ego.

Carol had little patience for Jameson’s BS during her tenure with the magazine (and vice versa!), something she made clear right away by negotiating her salary of $30,000 (over $125k in today’s dollars). She was good at fielding new stories and wouldn’t like Jameson reassign her scoops to male reporters. One of her former NASA colleagues let Carol know about the first planned space shuttle with women in the crew – a great story for a women’s magazine, and one Jameson tried to give to his male Daily Bugle reporters. Carol wouldn’t budge, saying her source would only work with her.

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Carol made some great friendships through this job, including MJ Watson, reporter/love interest Frank Gianelli, and Tracey Burke, a famed photojournalist who Carol hired as her Assistant Editor. By the time they met, Tracey was already sober, and when Carol’s alcoholism developed, Tracey picked up on it and tried to intervene. She was unsuccessful, but she did talk to Tony Stark, who was able to get through to Carol.

Carol Danvers as Chief Field Leader For Homeland Security

Chief Field Leader, Homeland Security

During one of Carol’s tenures as an Avenger (this time as Warbird), George W. Bush gives her a new job as the Chief Field Leader of Homeland Security. While Dubya himself appearing in a comic book is pretty bonkers (though not all that infrequent), the gig makes some sense, considering Carol’s background in security. It also serves to highlight her complicated relationship with government entities and authority in general. While Carol frequently fights with authority figures including heads of state and superior officers in the military, in many ways she’s still a company man. Sadly, we don’t get to see her take on this challenge.

Carol Danvers as Head of Banshee Squadron

Head of Banshee Squadron

As the only powered person in her particular corner of Battle World, Carol lead the Banshee Squadron, a group of women fighter pilots. This alternate reality “reunited” Carol with more or less the same group of women civilian fighter pilots from World War II who she had met while time-traveling. Always big on bravado and in-air theatrics, Carol messes with her squad relentlessly in the air, daring them to tag her as she flies around sans plane.

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Eventually, though, Carol & co. have too many unanswered questions about this strange world, so they work together to defy the authorities and fly past the boundaries of safety. Once again Carol dances a fine line with authority, as she is a ranking member of an oppressive regime, but doesn’t hesitate to ask tough questions, harbor a fugitive, and eventually jailbreak herself and her squad to see the truth about the wider world.

Carol Danvers as Head of Alpha Flight

Head of Alpha Flight

Alpha Flight was envisioned as Earth’s first line of defense, a top-of-the-line space station that eventually helped create an impenetrable shield to protect the earth, at Captain America’s urging since there was apparently a Chitauri invasion in Earth’s future.

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Rhodey was uncertain how a lone wolf like Carol would take to running a team. She had some issues with the bureaucratic aspects of her job at first, like dealing with the Board of Governors that included T’Challa, the president of the United States, a Canadian PM who bears more than a passing resemblance to Michael Trudeau, and several other world leaders.

The core team itself was mostly made up of Canadian inhumans, including Lt. Commander Abigail Brand, who was skeptical of Carol’s leadership skills, Sasquatch (Walter Langkowski), Puck (Eugene Judd), Aurora (Jeanne-Marie Beaubier), and scientist Wendy Kawasaki. They were frequently visited by the Guardians of the Galaxy and eventually joined by a scientist from Tony Stark’s arctic lab.

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Alpha Flight came to an end after the “Secret Empire” story arc. Unbeknownst to Carol and everyone else, Cap was an undercover Hydra agent. He locked Alpha Flight, the Guardians, and the Ultimates outside of the shield while they were fighting off that Chitauri invasion, to keep them from being able to meddle in his plan for world domination back on Earth.

That combined crew up on Alpha Flight spent months outside the shield, fending off the Chitauri and trying to find a way back to Earth to help. Eventually they sent Alpha Flight into the earth’s shield – not the first time Carol destroyed her expensive post – and were able to get back to Earth, but Alpha Flight was shuttered not long after the dust settled.

Carol Danvers as a TV Show Consultant

TV Show Consultant

Captain Marvel became incredibly popular as a result of the events in The Enemy Within. So when they needed more funds to keep the Alpha Flight space program operational, T’Challa came up with the idea to capitalize on Carol’s popularity with a television show about her life as a superhero.

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Called Cap’n Marvel, the show drew extreme ire from its inspiration, who disliked the sexy take on her costume and the emphasis on a fictional love life, with a guy who always seemed to be more powerful than the title character. The rest of Alpha Flight was included in the cast, although Lt. Commander Abigail Brand was turned into a dog with green fur to match her green hair. Ouch.

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Carol dodged her duties with the show whenever possible and threatened her friends that if they pissed her off she’d get them written into the show. When the cats and crew went up to Alpha Flight space station to get a more “realistic” take on the show, they got a lot more than they bargained for and cancelled it.

Captain Marvel is now in theaters. Find out more about the film here. 

Delia Harrington a freelance writer and photographer focusing on social justice and pop culture through a feminist lens. Read more of her work for Den of Geek here.