For a superhero that shares the name of the very company that publishes their adventures, the Captain Marvel identity has been surprisingly inconsistent over the years. Indeed, the first Captain Marvel wasn’t owned by Marvel at all, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Marvel had its own version of the character.
But Mar-Vell, who you may have heard of, was only the first in a long line of heroes who took the name – a line which culminates with Carol Danvers hitting cinema screens as the star of the Captain Marvel movie.
Here’s a rundown of all the characters who have donned the Captain Marvel persona:
Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (1967)
Created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, Mar-Vell was an officer in the Kree military sent to observe and influence events on Earth to benefit the Kree – at least until he betrays his superiors and declares himself protector of humanity. A revamp of the character saw him linked to Rick Jones (of Incredible Hulk fame), and the two swapped places whenever the Nega Bands they wore were slammed together, with one occupying our world and the other trapped in the negative zone. During this overhaul, Mar-Vell’s uniform switched from a Kree white and green one to the familiar red, blue, and yellow incarnation.
Marvel’s master of cosmic storytelling (and creator of Mar-Vell’s arch-enemy, Thanos) Jim Starlin later took the reins of the character and turned him into a protector of the entire galaxy, but audiences remained ambivalent throughout the 1970s. In fact, Starlin’s biggest influence on Captain Marvel was to kill him. In the company’s first-ever large-format graphic novel, 1982’s The Death of Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell succumbs to cancer, unable to be cured despite the combined resources of every Marvel scientist around him. It speaks to his fairly tepid history – or perhaps Starlin’s genius – that this remains the character’s defining appearance.
2. Monica Rambeau
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982)
Quick to realize that there was room for a new Captain Marvel, Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. debuted Monica Rambeau in 1982’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16. A policewoman from New Orleans, Rambeau gained the ability to transform into energy after being exposed to extra-dimensional radiation. After the media dubbed her Captain Marvel, Ben Grimm (The Thing of the Fantastic Four) assured her Mar-Vell wouldn’t have minded her taking the name.
This Captain Marvel joined the Avengers and, notably for MCU fans, had a number of significant encounters with the space-pirate Nebula. Rambeau at one point even led the Avengers, though she retired after an incident that nearly killed her and temporarily robbed her of her powers. Although she never had her own series, Rambeau remained the incumbent Captain Marvel until the ’90s. She later took the superhero names Photon, Pulsar, and (currently) Spectrum.
Silver Surfer Annual #6 (1993) [as Legacy], Avengers Forever #1 (1998) [as Captain Marvel]
Created by Ron Marz and Ron Lim, Genis was genetically engineered by Mar-Vell’s lover, Elysius, using a combination of her own DNA and Captain Marvel’s. Calling himself Legacy, Genis encountered the Silver Surfer and had a rocky relationship with his deceased father’s friends because, let’s face it, he was a punk with a bad attitude. This did change when a selection of Avengers from throughout history were recruited to fight the Time-Keepers, including a version of Genis from the future who called himself Captain Marvel.
At the conclusion of the story, Rick Jones, who had been aiding the Avengers, was merged with the Genis-Vell of the present day. Finally ready to honor his father, Genis took the name Captain Marvel and began working as a superhero with Rick’s guidance. Although they didn’t initially ask her, Monica Rambeau formally handed the name to Genis.
Separated from Rick, Genis later joins the Thunderbolts and relinquishes the name Captain Marvel, taking the name Photon (and thus really, REALLY annoying Monica Rambeau, who had taken that name after he took her last codename) and is later killed by Baron Zemo (admittedly, to save the universe) in Thunderbolts #100 (2006).
Captain Marvel #16 (2004) [as Phyla], Captain Marvel #19 (2004) [as Captain Marvel]
During Genis-Vell’s somewhat outlandish adventures, he accidentally re-created the universe and in doing so brought to life a sister of his own named Phyla-Vell. She claims the name Captain Marvel from him but later becomes the new Quasar. Phyla was created by Peter David and Paul Azaceta and took several superhero names before dying in Guardians of the Galaxy #24 (2010).
Civil War: The Return #1 (2007)
Keen to continue the adventures of Captain Marvel, Marvel seemingly brought a past incarnation of Mar-Vell to the present day following the conclusion of the fan-favorite Civil War crossover. However, despite believing himself to be the original Captain Marvel, it later emerged that he was a Skrull brainwashed to believe he was this version of the hero. But his conditioning was so strong that he rejected his Skrull masters and their attempted invasion of Earth. Mortally wounded in a battle with the Super-Skrull, Khn’nr crashed to Earth and asked Noh-Varr to take the Captain Marvel name (Secret Invasion #6). He was created by Paul Jenkins and Tom Raney.
Marvel Boy #1 (2000) [as Marvel Boy], Dark Avengers #1 (2009) [as Captain Marvel]
Initially called Marvel Boy, Noh-Varr was created by Grant Morrison and JG Jones. When Norman Osborn publicly defeated the Skrull queen, he was placed in charge of all registered superheroes and created a team of “Dark Avengers,” which was made up of mostly villains assuming existing heroic identities. Osborn enlisted Marvel Boy as the team’s Captain Marvel, but when Noh-Varr realized the ruse, he deserted the team and gave up being Captain Marvel permanently.
7. Carol Danvers
Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (1968) [as Carol Danvers], Ms. Marvel #1 (1977) [as Ms. Marvel], Avenging Spider-Man #9 (2012) [as Captain Marvel]
Finally, we reach the current and likely permanent Captain Marvel! Created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan as a supporting character for Mar-Vell’s cast, she was seriously injured by an explosion. However, it was later revealed that this explosion fused her DNA with Mar-Vell’s, granting her superpowers of her own. She became Ms. Marvel, a trademark-protecting female derivative hero along the lines of She-Hulk and Daredev-elle.
Ms. Marvel operated as a superhero for several years until being written out in Avengers #200 (1980). Chris Claremont brought the character back into circulation shortly after and had her spend time with the X-Men under the identity “Binary” where she developed incredible cosmic powers. When these powers were lost, she rejoined the Avengers under the name “Warbird” and later reverted back to Ms. Marvel. She finally, FINALLY took the name Captain Marvel in 2012, along with the new costume you’ll recognize her in today. Phew!