Get ready, Carol Corps! With Captain Marvel coming to the big screen, now is the perfect time to read up on her many adventures as an ace fighter pilot, head of NASA security, Avenger, and more. Carol Danvers has had several different monikers and spent many years without a book of her own, so it can be hard to figure out where to start. This is by no means exhaustive – Carol’s tendency to crop up in other books and her time as an Avenger mean that she has spent time across the whole of Marvel. But if you want to get to know Carol Danvers and dive deeper into her past, these are her greatest hits.
Marvel has a tendency to restart again with new issue #1s with great frequency, which means that Carol has had about a half dozen issue #1s since 2012, all of which can be quite confusing for fans. Recently, Carol’s Captain Marvel-era content has been rebranded into a collection of trades called Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero. This makes it easier to read all of her latest Marvel Comics adventures in order, but if you’ve purchased a few issues or trades in the past, be sure to check what’s being collected so you don’t double-purchase. The Earth’s Mightiest Hero series of books largely breaks up in logical places so that those who bought books under previous incarnations won’t get the shaft.
Ms. Marvel – 1977-1979
I know, I know, this is supposed to be about Captain Marvel. But before she took up that mantle, Carol Danvers went by Ms. Marvel (and many other titles to boot). If you are interested in the very beginnings of the character, the work of writer Chris Claremont and several artists is gathered into two pricey Marvel Masterworks hardcover books. Those are also available as much more moderately priced e-books. If you’re a completionist or considering purchasing the hardcover versions, you’re better off with Captain Marvel: Ms. Marvel – A Hero is Born, since it contains everything in both of those volumes, plus six more issues from 1972-1974.
These early days include Carol Danvers getting her powers, meeting the Avengers, Mystique’s very first appearance, the first of many appearances from the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Carol fighting Ronan the Accuser, which is particularly interesting given his appearance in the Captain Marvel movie. These are definitely stories from a different era, but Carol does manage some progressive moments, like negotiating her pay as the editor of Woman magazine with J. Jonah Jameson.
Binary – 1980-1998
After losing both her powers and her memory to Rogue, Carol moves into the X-Mansion, where Charles Xavier works to recover what she’s lost. Unfortunately, while he can revive her memories, he cannot bring back emotional attachments. She is eventually experimented on by the Brood, which results in her having the powers of a white hole. She can now generate the power of a star, has red skin, calls herself Binary, and fights alongside the X-Men. When Rogue joins the X-Men, Carol leaves the X-Men and goes to space (something of a theme with her…) with The Starjammers.
Carol’s time as Binary can be found in some out-of-print and (beware!) pricey Marvel Masterworks collections.
The Warbird years – 1998-2006
Carol reemerges with the Avengers as Warbird. Her Binary powers recede and she struggles with alcoholism as a result of the various traumas she has experienced, with her friend Tony coming to her aid. This is also when the House of M storyline happens, an alternate reality in which Carol is Captain Marvel, a well-respected hero. Unlike others, she keeps these memories, which in some ways haunt her, but also spur her on to be even greater.
You can see a bunch of Carol’s time as Warbird with the Avengers in the pages of Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s excellent Avengers Assemble run.
Ms. Marvel – 2006
While Carol was always envisioned as a feminist hero, her earlier incarnations still had some painfully backwards moments, like the infamous rape plot where the Avengers were happy that she and the rapist road off into the sunset together. But this run is much more modern, even if her bikini costume was still the subject of much criticism. Captain America, Spider-man, Deadpool, and Jessica Jones – one of Carol’s closest friends – all make appearances.
This run includes stories from the first Civil War, and Secret Invasion, which involves a secret Skrull invasion, of which Carol may or may not be a part. Remind you of any movie trailers you’ve seen lately? From what we can tell so far, the Captain Marvel movie isn’t taking from any one comic storyline wholesale, but rather borrowing concepts from here and there throughout her history. Still, it’s cool to read as many of the potentially relevant plots as you can to get inspiration and spot Easter eggs as they come.
You can read this run in the conveniently packaged Captain Marvel: Carol Danvers – The Ms. Marvel Years volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Captain Marvel – 2012
It’s surprising, but Carol Danvers has only been called Captain Marvel for a few years. Her first series under the name is a fun one – the time travel aspect ties a few threads together across time, and features some of Carol’s best and oldest companions, including Helen Cobb and Tracy Burke, the latter of whom is from the original Ms. Marvel days. Carol’s longtime friend Jessica Drew makes frequent appearances both as Spider-Woman and her civilian self, and Captain America is actually the one who “suggests” that Carol take up the Captain Marvel mantle.
If you’re a first-time Carol Danvers reader, this is a great start, since it’s the version of Carol that made her the pop culture force that she is today. There’s a clear explanation of how Carol got her powers, and while at this point in her timeline, Carol is already an Avenger, her identity has recently been outted and she has just changed her costume. Over the course of these issues, she meets one of her best companions for the first time, Wendy Kawasaki. For those who too often feel like they’re behind or missing information in the world of comics, Captain Marvel has the benefit of being a time of great change for a character who’s already well developed. That is to say, there aren’t so many growing pains of figuring out who she is as a character, what the book is about or what her powerset is, but there’s plenty of new ground that you and Carol cover together.
The Enemy Within
This Captain Marvel/Avengers Assemble crossover is among Carol’s very best, but I think it’s a much better ride if you start with Vol 1 of the 2012 edition, which flows directly into this one. The crossover can be read stand-alone, but it’s more impactful as a culmination of the story DeConnick started with her 2012 run, due to the interwoven plot threads and the way the setup of the earlier (non-crossover) issues pays off so brilliantly and emotionally in the final issues of the story. If you read it in Volume 2 of Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero, there are a few more issues of both Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble that round out the emotional impact of the story.
There’s a series of complex, interrelated antagonists, including one with a Kilgrave-esque flair elaborate takedowns. Some of Carol’s rogue’s gallery is revived, which is also fun for longtime fans. But don’t let the dinosaurs and time travel fool you – this is a deeply human story, and one that challenges Carol because it’s her least favorite foe: something she can’t punch. For my money, it’s the single best end-to-end story in Carol’s timeline. Since it involves memory issues, sentinels, and one of Carol’s greatest enemies, it’s also great potential fodder for big screen adaptations.
Captain Marvel – 2014
If you’re reading the Earth’s Mightiest Hero collected editions, you should flow seamlessly into the 2014 Captain Marvel series with Volumes 3 and 4 to get all 15 issues of the run. This is the second run of Captain Marvel with Kelly Sue DeConnick writing, and the one whose artwork more often comes up when you look for Captain Marvel comic books. It will always have a special place in my heart since it’s how I fell in love with Carol, and it’s a great showcase of her personality and the kind of adventures she loves, but for those who prefer to understand the who, what, when, where, and why of their heroes, the 2012 series is a better starting point.
If you don’t mind being dropped in the middle of a firefight and figuring out Captain Marvel’s powers by deduction, then this is a great way to figure out what makes her tick. DeConnick packs a ton of character development into every writing choice, and the artwork lets you sink right into her world. This is also among my favorite visual portrayals of Carol because she looks like an athlete rather than a Barbie doll.
Carol starts this series off going to space after the fallout from The Enemy Within. She runs into the Guardians of the Galaxy, helps refugees stand up to the man, saves her cat’s babies, helps an inhuman intergalactic pop star out of an arranged marriage, and briefly stops back on Earth to save Santa Claus. As Carol says, that’s what an Avenger calls a Tuesday.
Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps – 2015
If you’ve already read Captain Marvel 2012, it’s very cool to see this alternate universe version of the 1944 Banshee Squadron. If you haven’t, you can still enjoy this all-women group of fighter pilots, one of several groups of all-women fights that Carol helms throughout her career. This story closes out Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero Vol. 4 or you can read The Carol Corps on its own.
A word of warning: The Carol Corps, which graciously donated its name to all Carol Danvers fans (welcome!) came about as part of the Marvel-wide Secret Wars storyline. If you follow that main storyline or at least read some sort of summary, Carol Corps makes more sense. Out of context, though, suddenly seeing a twentysomething Kit as a brainwashed Thor in a predominantly female (though still somehow patriarchal) society that looks like it’s out of The Giver is a real shock to the system.
You can just roll with it an enjoy the Carol of it all for the few short issues, consider diving into the whole of the Secret Wars, or just read a few brief summaries online so it makes more sense. We have a guide to all the weirdness of Secret Wars right here if anyone needs it. If nothing else, The Carol Corps storyline, brief though it is, contains one of the best instances of Carol’s tag line: Higher, further, faster, more!
Captain Marvel – 2016
Kelly Sue DeConnick bid a fond farewell to Captain Marvel, and writers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters stepped up to the plate. This run has two major stories, Rise of Alpha Flight and Civil War II, which can be bought as separate editions. If you follow the Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero books, which are the easiest path from 2012-on, this will just be volume 5 of that series.
Captain Marvel once again takes to space, this time to lead a ragtag group known as Alpha Flight. They’re earth’s first and best line of defense from alien threats, and Carol is their boss. With her identity out in the open (it has been since the 2012 run) and a huge fandom (the result of the events of The Enemy Within, and it’s only grown since then), there’s a Captain Marvel TV show back on earth, which is just one of the obligations Carol is running from.
The Alpha Flight team is a fun mix of (mostly) new characters, plus a new take on Wendy Kawasaki. What stays the same is Captain Marvel’s stubborn insistence on saving the planet at her own expense and her equally strong loyalty to her team. This also includes elements of Civil War II (you’ll need to check out the main Civil War II book for it to all make sense) which pits Carol and Tony against one another to devastating effect.
Mighty Captain Marvel – 2017
New York Times best-selling author Margret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures) takes over writing for Princess Sparklefists. The fun Alpha Flight team returns while Carol deals with the fallout of Civil War II and later, the infamous “Captain America is Hydra” situation. Alpha Flight takes on new recruits and teams up with the Ultimates and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who are longtime friends of Captain Marvel from all her time adventuring/hiding from her problems in space.
Carol gets up to her old time-traveling ways again. These stories have taken some criticism for being more YA-oriented, especially with the addition of Alpha Flight’s new recruits, but it’s not too jarring a departure from the 2016 era if you go in order. They’re fun, but not exactly required reading.
Life of Captain Marvel – 2018
This run, still from author Margret Stohl, changes up some key parts of Carol’s story. It seems like some of those changes might be to reconcile the comics with that’s going to happen in the movie, but that’s still speculation. You can read the first collected edition of this run on Amazon.
Marvel’s Captain Marvel Prelude – 2019
This little five issue run is specially meant to orient fans for the movie. It’s a bit of a mix, with the first issue summarizing some of the events of the Avengers movies (with a bit more Carol-related information and hints that weren’t on screen) to refresh your memory. From there, it collects a grab bag including the first issues of some of Carol’s most pivotal runs – Ms. Marvel 1977, Ms Marvel 2006, Captain Marvel 2012, and Life of Captain Marvel.
Be aware that you’re getting a bunch of beginnings of stories that don’t necessarily connect to the issue that comes after them. It should give you a sense of who Carol Danvers is a character and Captain Marvel’s history and powerset, but it won’t be a traditional narrative story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Captain Marvel opens on March 8, 2019. The full schedule of upcoming MCU movies can be found here.