Captain Marvel is a name synonymous with comic books. In 1939 Fawcett comics unleashed the Big Red Cheese upon the world with the release of Whiz Comics #2 and comics would never be the same. For a time period Fawcett’s Captain Marvel would rival Superman as the most popular superhero of the time. But lawsuits and litigation with DC over copyright infringement took its toll on Fawcett comics and in 1953 their Captain Marvel disappeared from the shelves and listed into obscurity for almost 20 years before DC bought the Captain Marvel character and universe from the remnants of Fawcett’s comic publishing house. In those intervening years Marvel comics rose to prominence and if ever there was a man to strike when opportunity presented itself it was Stan Lee. In 1967 Stan realized that the copyright for Captain Marvel had lapsed and felt it only proper that Marvel comics have a character titled after the company, and in Marvel Super Heroes #12 Captain Marvel was unleashed again upon the comic universe. This Captain Marvel was Mar-Vell, a spy for the Kree who must decide if Earth is a threat to the Kree Empire. Mar-Vell soon adopts earth as his new home and defends it as Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel became a notable figure in the Marvel Universe but never a star. He was probably most prevalent during the classic Kree-Skrull Warand again when Jim Starlin came aboard the title and used it, along with its sister title Warlock,as a blueprint for what would become cosmic Marvel. Unfortunately, the book never caught on at the time, it had a strong cult following, but was never a sales juggernaut and no doubt stayed in print longer then it should have so Marvel could maintain the copyright for the name. By 1979 the comic was cancelled and Mar-Vell met his end in the tragic Death of Captain Marvel,which was Marvel’s first graphic novel. It was a sad day for fans of Captain Marvel, and interesting in the fact that it wasn’t a larger than life battle that killed the good Captain. Rather it was cancer that Captain Marvel eventually succumbed to. It was an interesting twist to the usual death in comic books and for the most part Mar-Vell has remained dead. There have been a few time travel adventures over the years and an attempted revival of a mind wiped Skrull who believed he was the real deal during the Secret Invasion event. Yet even in death Mar-Vell has had an incredible impact on the Marvel universe as his children have played vital roles over the years but there has been no more lasting impact than in Carol Danvers, who it is easy to say will be the most remembered Captain Marvel for years to come.
To say Carol Danvers has had an eclectic life would be an understatement. Carol Danvers has become more important than she was originally conceived to be. She’s become more important than even I imagined when I had my first Carol experience, which came during her first solo outing as Ms. Marvel in Ms. Marvel #20, which also happened to be the first appearance of her black costume that still may be her most recognizable outfit. I’m not sure what drew me to the comic, maybe it was one of the few on the spinner rack I hadn’t read yet or maybe it was the fact I was still new to comics and the cover drew me in or that it was one of the few female led books being published (and the only Marvel title led by a woman) at that interested me or it could be that Carol was my first comic crush and I was compelled to read her adventures. Either way I really enjoyed the comic but it was impossible for me to collect the title as I lived in a small town and I was beholden to the books the super market received and Ms. Marvel was not part of their regular shipments. It must have been fate that the issue I did pick up was sent at all and also as think back on that book I’m shocked to the level of importance that Carol now plays as Captain Marvel not just in the comics but also on the big screen and in the MCU. She could have easily been a footnote in comics history or a perpetual guest star but never the star, but luckily you can’t keep Carol down.
Carol began as a supporting character to Captain Marvel (Marvel Super Heroes #13). She was an officer in the Air Force and became an ally to Walter Lawson, Mar-Vell’s alter ego. During her time as a supporting character Carol is caught in an explosion, an explosion we later learn places Carol on the path to becoming a superhero in her own right. By the time I got into comics Carol had begun her solo career in the pages of Ms. Marvel (premiering in January of 1977). As I wrote earlier, I first picked up Ms. Marvel with issue #20 and enjoyed the tale but I really became infatuated wither her when she was folded into the Avengers. Luckily soon after I started collecting comic’s my family moved and in the larger city I soon found a comic shop where I rummaged through the quarter bins all the time and I was able to piece together many of the early Ms. Marvel issues since frankly they were not in demand at the time. I enjoyed the series, especially when Chris Claremont took over the title but in retrospect it had to be a bit jarring for early readers of Carol’s adventures to see her dropped into the pages of her solo series. First off Carol was no longer in the Air Force and now morphed into an editor of the feminist magazine ‘Woman’ published by J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle As a career path it made little sense but for the time period it was great, since Carol was able to promote equality and feminist causes through her work as well as her super heroics. It also drew in the supporting characters from Spider-Man and firmly placed Ms. Marvel into the Marvel Universe. Readers new to Carol and Captain Marvel may find these early issues a bit confusing as Carol and Ms. Marvel were different personalities and neither remembered the actions of the other. Playing off the Captain Marvel-Rick Jones dynamic in Captain Marvel where only one of the two can occupy our space at one time the Carol- Ms. Marvel split keeps the legacy of Captain Marvel. We discover that the explosion that almost killed Carol fused her DNA with Captain Marvel’s and gifted her with similar abilities. Like most books at the time Ms. Marvel’s solo adventures were usually one and done with a loose underlining connected story that played out over the series. Her early costume was a riff on Mar-Vell’s, but weirdly and suggestively with the stomach cut out. Luckily in a few issues the stomach became covered and that early costume red and black outfit is still my favorite Carol costume due to its legacy and I just liked the style. Yet her costume changed in Ms. Marvel #20 into her black body suit with thigh high boots and the red sash, which is in my opinion her most remembered costume until the current uniform. Also, over the course of this first volume the dual personality was phased out and Carol truly became Ms. Marvel and was fully aware of her actions and heroics, yet sadly even she could not save her own book as Ms. Marvel volume 1 came to an end with issue #24. Luckily there was the Avengers.
Ms. Marvel began her affiliation with the Avengers in her own series but began recurring within the team’s book in Avengers #171 and became a regular featured member until the atrocious Avengers #200 (more on that later). I’m not sure where Carol would be today if not for the Avengers since it was Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that kept her relevant going into the ‘80s. I was (and still am) a huge Avengers fan and it was these issues where I really became a fan and collector. With writer David Michelinie, and artists George Perez and John Byrne doing the majority of the issues between #171-#200 I could not get enough of the Avengers and read them over and over, until #200 which even as a young reader made no sense. Carol rose to the occasion of being an Avenger and her time with the team still to this day defines many of the character traits we know and love about Carol and Ms. Marvel. Then Avengers #200 happened.
To say that the Avengers #200 is the worst thing to ever be done to Carol is a vast understatement, “Feminist Backlash” is how Talking Comics own Bob Reyer described it to me and I feel that is a fitting description. It’s an absolute travesty and Marvel should still be embarrassed for what was done to Carol. In the story Carol is kidnapped, raped, and impregnated while in Limbo by a man named Marcus, the future son of Immortus who is an aged Kang the Conqueror. Over the course of the issue Carol’s pregnancy is accelerated, she gives birth to a baby Marcus, who ages rapidly and then Carol ‘falls in love’ with him and the two go off to live in Limbo without one Avenger raising questions about the entirety of these events. Some have dubbed the issue the ‘Rape of Ms. Marvel’ and I cannot disagree. It is an absolute atrocious treatment of any female character, it is utterly chauvinistic, and a travesty to a character who was iconic to the women’s liberation movement and a feminist icon. I remember being confused as a young reader and as I grew up I became appalled that the book even made its way through editorial (which apparently wasn’t that hard as then Marvel EOC Jim Shooter co-wrote the issue) and today the issue simply infuriates me for its misogynistic treatment of Carol Danvers. I know Marvel would love for this issue to be forgotten and luckily legendary writer Chris Claremont was equally appalled and moved quickly to rectify the situation to the best of his abilities in Avengers Annual #10 but sadly the damage was done and it would take decades to fix.
Avengers Annual #10 is an important crossroads for Carol and her Ms. Marvel identity. With gorgeous artwork by all-time great Michael GoldenAvengers Annual #10 is everything an annual is supposed to be- fun, distinct and special. The Annual is important on many facets, it not only sees Carol back in the Marvel Universe, returned from Limbo where Marcus had taken her to but also establishes the long running plotline of Carol having her memories and abilities stolen by the mutant (and future X-Man) Rogue. Claremont played with this storyline for years to come, culminating in the classic Uncanny X-Men #269 where the two personalities are finally split and the Ms. Marvel persona is killed by Magneto. The Avengers come into conflict with Rogue and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, unusual antagonists for the team, and proves to be an intriguing challenge for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. At the end of the story, which also includes Spider-Woman and the beginning of her and Carol’s long friendship, Carol is taken in by Professor X who is able to restore some of Carol’s memories but not her abilities. With her memories restored Carol is able to berate her fellow Avengers for their negligence with Marcus and how she was allowed to leave with him without a question. It created a divide that would last for years. Avengers Annual #10 is an incredible annual and one of my all-time favorites. It’s wonderfully written, beautifully drawn, and incredibly important for continuity going forward. The issue also folded Carol into the X-Men universe, where her next important evolution took place. But even as much as I love it and respect what Chris Claremont tried to do it in no way forgives Avengers #200 and Carol would struggle for years to find her way again.
I do think it’s important to say here that I am very happy that Chris Claremont took such a liking to Carol. Maybe it was the fact that writing her solo book was one of his first writing assignments and he felt a sense of attachment or maybe he, like so many others, just fell in love with Carol and didn’t want to see such a great character go to waste. Either way he brought Carol over to the Uncanny X-Men with issue #155. Claremont established a shared history with Wolverine (which will come back into play in the ‘90s) and then hadCarol join up with the Star-Jammers, Marvel’s resident Space Pirates. Carol joining a group of space pirates was a good fit for a former Air Force pilot and someone who in her early days was closely associated with the Kree. It’s amongst the Star-Jammers that Carol is experimented on by the Brood, an alien race loosely based on the Alien franchise, and is given the ability to draw energy from a rare White Hole and she becomes known as Binary for a time period. Carol ends her affiliation with the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men #171when Professor X has the audacity to allow Rogue into his school as he attempts to help the young mutant control her powers. Carol obviously and rightfully feels betrayed and makes a dramatic exit from the book and really from comics. Other than some sporadic appearances throughout Claremont’s books (Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, and Excalibur) Carol is rarely seen in the Marvel Universe again until the ‘90s, another decade that will not be kind to Carol. But more on that next week.