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When you hear the name Captain Marvel, what comes to mind? I’m sure most of you would think of the latest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brie Larson is set to take up the mantle of the cosmic champion March 8, 2019 and, for many, the excitement is palpable. But who is Captain Marvel? Well, the answer to that really depends on whom you ask. And, if they’re a comic book fan, it probably depends on when they started reading comics and, most importantly, whether they’re a Marvel or DC fan.
You see, there have been a couple Captain Marvels. Well, more than a couple. Seven, actually. And that only counts the ones that have been published by Marvel Comics. There’s also a DC superhero by the same name, and a legal fight between DC and Fawcett Comics over this character back in the 50s was integral to Marvel decision to create their own character by that name.
One of the dirty little secrets of the golden and silver ages of comics is that there was a problem with plagiarism. A big one. Just think about it. How many comic book characters can you think of that are basically carbon copies of other characters from other companies? Specifically, from Marvel and DC we have Deadpool and Deathstroke, Black Cat and Catwoman, Hawkeye and Green Arrow, Namor and Aquaman, the Nova Corps and the Green Lantern Corps, X-Men and the Doom Patrol, and many more. Superman has several clones as well, but I don’t mean actual clones. I mean, there are several of those, but that’s a topic for another episode.
One of those clones was the very first Captain Marvel. A year after Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman for Action Comics in 1938, C.C. Beck and Bill Parker created a character called Captain Marvel. Cap was first published in Fawcett Comics in 1940. For anyone unfamiliar, Cap is basically a magical Superman. On the surface, he doesn’t seem all that similar. He’s not an alien. He’s actually a young boy who is granted superhuman abilities by an ancient wizard. His powers are derived not from Earth’s yellow sun, but from ancient gods like Hercules, Hermes, and Atlas. The problem is he looked really similar to Superman. So much so that DC, who now owned the Superman character, sued Fawcett in 1953 for copyright infringement.
The case eventually settled and it was found that, while Captain Marvel was indeed a ripoff of Superman, DC hadn’t done its due diligence to maintain the copyright. That meant they couldn’t stop Fawcett from publishing Captain Marvel-related comics. But Fawcett did stop. Waning comic book sales coupled with the prospect of future legal costs convinced Fawcett to get out of the comic book industry. Fawcett’s Captain Marvel eventually found his way to the pages of DC, but not before Marvel Comics decided to create their own Captain Marvel character.
See, by the time all these legal issues had been settled, Marvel was really starting to come into its own. The 1960s were the Golden Age of Marvel, and with the recent availability of the name, it made sense for Marvel’s writers to strike while the iron was hot.
In 1967, the first iteration of Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #12. This character, whose secret identity was a Kree warrior aptly named Mar-Vell, became the champion and protector of Earth after betraying the Kree Empire to align with his newly adopted world. The character’s popularity rose and fell through the years, leading to changes that writers hoped would attract new readers. Eventually, Mar-Vell graduated from Earth’s guardian to a cosmic guardian after Eon, one of the oldest and most powerful cosmic beings in the Marvel Comics universe, appointed him Protector of the Universe. After a few years, Mar-Vell finally met his end — not at the hands of some galactic-level calamity like Thanos or the Celestials. No, what finally ended Mar-Vell’s long battle was something with which many of us are probably familiar — Cancer. In 1982, The Death of Captain Marvel chronicled Mar-Vell’s cancer diagnosis and his eventual death. It was Marvel’s first long form graphic novel.
After Mar-Vell, several other heroes took up the mantle of Captain Marvel. Monica Rambeau was the first. She had energy manipulation powers and was a member of the Avengers. She eventually joined another superhero team and took on the name Pulsar. Next was Mar-Vell’s genetically engineered son Genis-Vell. A genetic clone of his father, Genis utilized the same powerset and equipment. He eventually changed his name to Photon and, because of an issue with his resurrection that was tied to the destruction of the universe (I know, I know), his body was scattered throughout the cosmos to prevent a universal cataclysm.
Phyla-Vell, Genis’s sister (Get it? Genus? Phylum?) became the next Captain Marvel. She later drops the Marvel name to become the new Quasar, before ultimately sacrificing her life to save the Guardians of the Galaxy. Khn’nr followed as the new Captain Marvel. Now, I say his name is Khn’nr, but I don’t actually know if that’s how you pronounce his name because it’s spelled KHN’NR. He was a Skrull sleeper agent who had his DNA combined with Mar-Vell’s. Apparently, some Skrulls don’t believe in using vowels when naming their children. If you weren’t aware, the Kree and Skrull empires have been at war with each other for hundreds of thousands of years. Khn’nr turned against his fellow Skrulls and fought to defend earth during the events of Secret Invasion.
The penultimate Captain Marvel was Noh-Vall. He was yet another Kree warrior who joined the Dark Avengers, but left that team when he discovered it was a team of villains. He renamed himself Protector when the Kree Supreme Intelligence granted him Mar-Vell’s original Nega Bands, which gave him a powerful suite of abilities.
Now, if you’re a bit confused, don’t worry! I am too. That’s just the nature of comics. Multiple people all sharing the same code name over multiple books. Captain Marvel is essentially like a brightly colored alien James Bond — just in spandex. In fact, it’s almost exactly like James Bond. Everyone remembers the first one (Mar-Vell/Sean Connery), maybe has a favorite among the middle group, and is very impressed with the latest iteration.
That’s about as good a segue as I can make to Carol Danvers. She’s a character who has existed in Marvel Comics since the 60s. She was a colonel in the US Air Force and security chief of a top secret military base. This is where she initially meets Mar-Vell, who she knew as Dr. Walter Lawson. Eventually, she is caught in an explosion of a Kree device,and nearly dies as a result. It was later revealed that the device actually merged her DNA with Mar-Vell’s, which made her a human-Kree hybrid. This gifted her a number of abilities, such as superhuman strength, endurance, stamina, and durability, the power of flight, and various forms of energy manipulation. She also had limited precognitive abilities and the benefits of an amalgamated Kree physiology, which made her immune to most toxins and poisons.
She debuted these powers as Ms. Marvel in the 1977. From the very beginning, she was a very progressive character. Her name incorporated the title “Ms.” instead of the more common “Miss” in apparent solidarity with the real world feminist movement at that time. Carol Danvers also fought for feminist causes in her civilian life like equal pay for women.
Her popularity as Ms. Marvel (and, for full disclosure, a number of other identities) ebbed and flowed for nearly 4 decades before she assumed the mantle of Captain Marvel in 2012. She interacted heavily with the X-Men and the Avengers during the 80s and 90s. Anyone familiar with the X-Men animated series from the 90s may remember Ms. Marvel making an appearance in an episode that delved into the origin of Rogue’s powers of flight and super strength. In the 2000s she sided with Iron Man and advocated for the Superhuman Registration Act during the events of Civil War.
After becoming Captain Marvel in 2012, she participated in crossover events like Avengers Assemble, Secret Wars, and Civil War II. She’s been a Guardian of the Galaxy, an Avenger, and one of the Ultimates. She had her own self-titled books as well and has spent a lot of time off-Earth battling galactic foes. She’s currently the focus of “The Life of Captain Marvel” which has been in publication since July 2018. In that story, it’s revealed that Carol Danvers’ mother is actually Kree, so the explosion that gave her powers simply awaked her latent abilities tied to her Kree heritage, rather than merging her DNA with Mar-Vell’s
She’s scheduled to be in a new volume of Captain Marvel which will have her return to Earth to reconnect with some fan-favorite, but decidedly Earthbound, heroes.
If you’re listening to this, you’re probably just as excited to see Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel make her debut on the big screen as I am. If you want to check out some essential Captain Marvel before you see the movie in March, you can pick up Captain Marvel Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight, Captain Marvel Vol. 2: Down, and Avengers: The Enemy Within from 2013, Captain Marvel Vol 1: Higher, Further, Faster from 2014, Captain Marvel Vol. 2: Stay Fly, Captain Marvel Vol. 3: Alis Volat Propriis, and Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps from 2015.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into the world of comics. I’ll try to bring you interesting topics and compelling characters as they arise. If you have suggestions on topics or characters you’d like to see featured in a future episode, feel free to contact me on twitter. You can find me at @eyeheartcomics. Until next time, this has been Comic Remastered.