This week sees the hotly anticipated release of the first MCU film to be led by a female superhero, with Brie Larson taking on the role of Carol Danvers, A.K.A Captain Marvel. To mark the occasion, let’s take a look at the history of Carol Danvers and how she came to hold the mantle of Captain Marvel.
The alias of ‘Captain Marvel’ has been held by a number of various characters across variations of Marvel comics since the first Captain Marvel made an appearance in 1967. From alien beings (the first, Mar-vell) to New Orleans police lieutenants (Monica Rambeau) to genetically engineered offspring (as you do), we could be here for days taking a look at every individual who has thrown a photon blast or two in Marvel Comics’ past.
Instead, we figured we’d take a look at the woman of the hour: Carol Danvers. With the film deciding to focus on Danvers as the first big-screen Captain Marvel, it’s worth giving an overview of Danvers’ history within Marvel comics, leading up to her finally taking on the mantle herself in 2012, a whole 44 years after her first appearance. There’s bound to be many a clue as to how the character will be portrayed on film within here, so let’s get to reading up true believers!
Carol was first introduced in ‘Marvel Superheroes’ Issue 13 and was created by writer Roy Thomas and penciller Gene Conlan. She was first established as an ally of Walter Lawson, the human alter-ego of the original alien iteration of Captain Marvel. She was an officer of the United States Air Force, an element which remains prevalent in many of her rebooted back-stories and has been used once again for her introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Her ties with Captain Marvel soon led her to become established as a superhero in her own right in the form of Ms. Marvel. After a freak explosion, Carol was, of course, gifted with superhuman abilities not dissimilar to those possessed by Captain Marvel, what with the explosion merging their DNA’s together. These powers saw her gain superhuman strength, increased endurance, and a rather handy precognitive ‘seventh sense’ as well as a resistance to poisons.
Danvers under her new superhero alias of Ms. Marvel was given her first comic-book series in 1977 at a time where female superheroes were beginning to gain much more traction both at Marvel within the ‘X-Men’ line, and at DC, what with the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series hitting TV sets across the globe.
As a result, Ms. Marvel was very much written with the intention of tying into the feminist movements of the 1970’s, from the very name including ‘Ms.’ to Danver’s also following a career as a journalist and fighting for equal pay, often calling out her editor (one J. Jonah Jameson) out on his sexist tendencies. Under Gerry Conway’s pen (he wrote the first three issues, often closely with his wife, Carla, on the concept) Ms. Marvel was forged as a hero for young girls to look up to, a feminist role model to show girls that comic-books didn’t just have to be for boys. Sadly, the future had an odd turn in store for Carol.
The Avengers / When Things Got Weird
After Conway left Marvel for DC after just three issues, Chris Claremont overtook responsibility of the character for a further 20 issues. His tenure of the character was very much in keeping with the work of Conway. It is the character’s inclusion in a run of ‘The Avengers’ that marked a particularly troubling point in the character’s history.
In ‘Avengers #200’ written by written by Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton and David Michelinie, CArol becomes pregnant seemingly out of the blue and gives birth to a son called Marcus, who precedes to rapidly age into an adult. As it turns out Marcus comes from an alternate dimension, one where he has already bought Carol and seduced her in order to impregnate her with himself in order to travel into her original dimension (we warned you it got weird). The initially story ended with Carol seemingly convinced that she loved Marcus, with the Avengers helping her travel back to his dimension with him.
The storyline was met with disgust and anger, both from within Marvel (Claremont went on to undo the story, having Carol returning after realising Marcus had brain-washed her, quitting the Avengers in resentment and joining the X-Men instead), and with critics, most pointedly expressed in the infamous piece from comic-book historian Carol A. Strickland entitled ‘The Rape of Ms. Marvel.’
The rather callous use of Carol within this Avengers storyline, along with a growing concern over the character’s revealing costume, began to make many people question just exactly it was Marvel was doing to a character that had begun life with such noble intentions. A change for Carol was sorely needed.
From Binary to Warbird to Ms. Marvel Again
Once again under Claremont’s pen and now with the X-Men, moves were made to distance Carol from her past as Ms. Marvel and start afresh. In 1982, Uncanny X-Men #164 the name Ms. Marvel was done away with after an alien experiment by the Brood left Carol with new abilities, allowing her to absorb and manipulate cosmic energy. With this new power came a name change to Binary, and the character enjoyed regular appearances in the likes of the X-Men and The New Mutants.
Binary only appeared sporadically, and had her powers somewhat reduced in the 90’s to be more in line with that of Ms. Marvel. Although she kept an element of her energy manipulation, her reduced abilities saw her once again receive a name change, ‘Warbird’, as well as a battle with alcoholism.
Often playing a key part in the Avengers storylines, Carol as Warbird became more of a key figure within a number of storylines, leading to the decision to re-launch the Ms. Marvel solo comic line in 2006, with the aim being to atone for the sins of the past and make the character a significant part of the Marvel Comics universe.
Along with her solo line, Carol also played a major part in the New Avengers, the ‘Civil War’ storyline, and the ‘Secret Invasion’ story from 2008. This latter narrative is likely to prove the most pertinent to the upcoming film, what with them both featuring the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race, who may or may not be posing as some of your favourite characters!
While Ms. Marvel continued to be a common member of the New Avengers, it wasn’t until 2012 that she finally took the mantle of Captain Marvel in a series penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick and inked by Dexter Soy.
It is this version of the character that has been most drawn upon for the film, according to cast and crew, and it is not difficult to see why. With increased powers (now including light speed travel) making her one of Marvel’s most powerful characters, and a new, much more practical red and blue jumpsuit, this line of comics saw Carol explore her own past, as well as come to terms with what the mantle of Captain Marvel truly means to her.
Many revelations and discoveries are made along the way for Carol as she explores her own origins, namely discovering that her mother was in fact a member of the alien species Kree, and that the explosion that she once believed gave her her powers only awakened the dormant alien abilities within her.
We will have to wait and see whether it is this origin that makes it to film, but the element of Danvers reclaiming her own narrative, as well as the the head-strong and bravado attitude of her character, very much seems to be elements that the film has a great interest in portraying.
Carol Danvers history across the comics has been fraught with more confusion and bad decisions than your average comic-book character. Many writers have grappled with her position as a feminist icon and inspirational figure for young women, some clearly better than others. She is a character that has often deserved better than what she has been given, with her reinvention in 2012 feeling like a culmination of a long history of figuring out not just the look of the character, but also what she stands for in the ever-expanding Marvel Universe.
We now wait with feverish anticipation to see just how Carol will enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the materials provided by trailers et al, the influence of the 2012 run is more than evident, and Brie Larson is a talent more than capable of delivering that ideal mix of bravado and compassion. Here’s to hoping it’s a home run for Carol, God knows she deserves it.
Captain Marvel is released in cinemas on 8th March 2019.