With the movie coming up soon, it’s a good time to ask “Who Is Captain Marvel?” As with most comic book characters who have been around a while, the answer is both, “It’s complicated,” and “Which one do you mean?” Carol Danvers, about to star in the latest Marvel Studios blockbuster, isn’t the first one to use the name, and Marvel isn’t the first company to have a character with that name. I’m going to touch lightly on the others of that name, and then focus on the character about to be featured in the movies at the end.
The first Captain Marvel was published by Fawcett Comics. He got so popular, he rivaled Superman. In a fairly low trick, DC filed suit against Fawcett, claiming the good Captain was too close to Superman. Winning the suit, DC nearly bankrupted Fawcett, and later bought up all their characters, bringing Captain Marvel into the DC Universe. In some interesting timing, the character, now called Shazam, has his own movie coming out April 5th, roughly a month after Carol’s. He has been in many tv shows, radio programs, movies in the black and white era, and cartoons. Young Billy Batson says the magic word SHAZAM to turn into an adult with physical powers to rival Superman, plus greatly enhanced wisdom and magic lightning.
Remember how I said DC played a dirty trick? Well, karma can be nasty. DC somehow let their copyright slip. The details on how this happened vary with several different versions. The end result was Marvel Comics was able to create their own new character with the same name, confusing comics fans for years. Marvel has had many characters of this name, in roughly this order:
Mar-Vell: An agent of the Kree Empire, Mar-Vell was sent to Earth to spy on the planet. Gradually, he came to sympathize with the people of Earth, changing his allegiance to them and being a branded a traitor by the Kree Empire. He became a renown hero of Earth, allying with the Avengers and being stuck in a weird partnership/bonding with Rick Jones. He faced off with Thanos several times, opposing the Mad Titan. Mar-Vell was exposed to toxic nerve gas while fighting the villain Nitro, which later led to his death from cancer. The Death of Captain Marvel was Marvel Comics’ first graphic novel, and a big seller. Mar-Vell could fly, fire photonic bursts from Nega-Bands, survive in space, and was stronger than human, as well as a skilled warrior.
Monica Rambeau: A New Orleans police Lieutenant, Monica gained hugely powerful
energy abilities, able to transform herself into any form of light, energy, or radiation. She joined the Avengers and was one of their powerhouses for several years. Her abilities changed off and on over the years, and she went by the various codenames Photon, Pulsar, and most recently Spectrum. In her energy form she can fly at up to light speed, and in human form can fire energy blasts of nearly any kind. She has been a member of several Avengers teams. Her name has been seen painted on the name of a jet in the background of the forthcoming Marvel movie.
Genis-Vell: Mar-Vell had a lover among the Eternals of Titan, Elysius. Genis was created from the two of their genetic material and aged to physical maturity. He had a spotty heroic career, replete with mental issues, questionable alliances, and several name changes, including Captain Marvel, Legacy, and Photon. He had powers similar to his father’s. He became linked to the end of the universe, and sacrificed himself to prevent the end of all life. He worked occasionally with Rick Jones and later with the Thunderbolts.
Phyla-Vell: Sister to Genis, she was created in a time anomaly when Genis tampered with the nature and history of the universe. She had a brief heroic career, and was romantically linked with the Avenger Moondragon. She, too, had powers like her father and brother. For a time, she became a second Quasar, taking that hero’s energy weapons when he died. She briefly became an avatar of the cosmic being Oblivion, taking the name Martyr. She died protecting her last team, the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Khn’nr: During the Civil War, one of the big surprises was that there was a superhuman prison in the Negative Zone. Even more surprising, it was apparently run by Mar-Vell, long believed dead. Eventually, it was revealed that that this “Captain Marvel” was a sleeper agent from the shapeshifting Skrulls, sent to infiltrate Earth’s heroes. His mind conditioning was screwed up, he forgot who he was, and believed he was actually Mar-Vell. He sided with Earth’s heroes against his own people (like the original Mar-Vell) and eventually died defending Earth.
Noh-Varr: Another Kree, Noh-Varr came to Earth by accident and clashed with the villain Dr. Midas. Reckless in the use of his powers, Noh-Varr also later ended up fighting with SHIELD before they captured and imprisoned him. He became part of Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers. Later, he was made a special agent of the Kree Empire by the Supreme Intelligence and took the name Protector. His DNA was experimented on and combined with insect DNA, giving him various physical enhancements.
Carol Danvers: This is the character the movie will focus on, and she has a long, complicated history. Carol Susan Jane Danvers was a USAF Colonel who got blasted by radiation from a Kree device while she was working with Dr. Walter Lawson, the undercover human ID of Mar-Vell. It took a few years, but she developed powers, and even her DNA changed to read like a human/Kree hybrid. Carol, inspired by the man she fought beside, took the name Ms. Marvel and became a superhero. She worked with both the Avengers and the Defenders. Then things got… weird. A being from another dimension, Marcus, came to our world via a false pregnancy in Carol (I said it got weird, and it gets worse). Marcus came to Earth to romance Carol, who refused him at first. Later, he “succeeded with a subtle boost from his machines.” He mind-controlled her into a relationship, and she agreed to go back to his home with him, with the Avengers waving her goodbye, cluelessly. This was, rightly, a hugely controversial storyline. Carol came back to Earth and her luck got arguably worse. In Avengers Annual 10, she was ambushed by Rogue in her first appearance. Rogue’s powers were new to her and out of control, and Rogue mindwiped Carol, leaving her a vegetable and permanently stealing her powers. She was thrown off the Golden Gate Bridge, saved from dying in the fall by the last-minute arrival of Spider-Woman Jessica Drew. Carol was brought to the X-Men, where Professor X managed to restore her memories, but not her powers. Carol was kidnapped along with the X-Men by the alien Brood. Fascinated by her DNA, they experiment on her, and she gained new powers, becoming far more powerful. Taking the name Binary, she became a being of god-like power, linked to a star with Hulk-level strength, able to fly through space on her own, fire massively powerful energy blasts, and absorb energy. Disgusted when the X-Men took in Rogue, Carol went to space and joined the intergalactic pirate/rebels the Starjammers. Eventually, she reverted to her original powers, but kept some of the energy absorption. Eventually, she rejoined the Avengers under the codename Warbird. At this time, it was revealed she was an alcoholic. She starred in her own title for a while, went through many changes with the Avengers, and eventually renamed herself Captain Marvel. Currently, she can fly, is stronger and tougher than human, fire and absorb energy, survive in space, and has a low-level danger sense. For never explained reasons, she can absorb magical energy as well as “normal” kinds. Her power levels have been all over, although the hints about the movie make it sound like she’s more towards her Binary persona. Carol is a skilled combatant with and without her powers, and an ace pilot of just about anything that flies.