By Eli LaChance with Kat Golden
It would be impossible, or at least unwise, to write a comic book blog this month without talking about Captain Marvel. With a new film due next month, many newcomers may be wondering who the heck is Carol Danvers?
I’m approaching this material with a great deal of trepidation. Simply put: dudes, Captain Marvel isn’t for us . I didn’t want to risk mansplaining a feminist icon. To the fuming neck beard blowing up our comments about SJW pandering: just because it isn’t for us doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it; for example-I’m not really the target market for Spice World, but you can bet your fedora I know every damn word to Spice Up Your Life. Most of the history of comics and comic book movies have been made by and for white men. That’s part of why this character is so groundbreaking, it took too damn long.
The modern Captain Marvel is such an icon already that it may surprise people that she’s a relatively recent development. The woman we see today wasn’t always the Captain and the revolving door of characters who were called Captain Marvel weren’t exactly A-listers. It wasn’t until 2012 that Kelly Sue DeConnick introduced the world to the hero about to take flight on the silver screen. In anticipation for the new film we’re going all in with two posts; with the first covering Carol Danvers’ bronze age history which builds up to our next post on the 2012 comic revolution that’s likely to be remembered as one of the most important works of pop-culture from this decade.
Digging into 50 years of comic book history isn’t easy. Starting off, my Carol Danvers checklist was light. I’d read some vintage Ms. Marvel, an X-men issue, and Avengers stuff. Fortunately, my partner Kat is a collector of all things Carol and had a ton of input to set me in the right direction. I couldn’t have written this without the guidance, enthusiasm, and help she provided. Her comic book collection literally covers the entire history of Carol Danvers, so I got to read many of them, ads and all!
Our story begins in 1968. Roy Thomas never intended for Carol to become a hero. In an off the record conversation he once told me had he known she was destined for heroics, he would have reconsidered naming her Danvers due to the competition’s well established Danvers(AKA Kara Zor El. AKA Supergirl). In the pages Marvel Super-Heroes #13 we’re told, “Even the shock-resistant senses of Captain Mar-vell are stunned by the awesome sight they behold scant seconds later.” Standing in full view is their new chief of security, a blonde woman in her early 20s. Okay, maybe ‘ol Roy was referring to the incapacitated Kree sentry behind our future hero but, somehow–we doubt it.
In the beginning, Danvers was only ever intended as a romantic interest of sorts for the “original” Captain Marvel(Mar-Vell). The story continues in Captain Marvel #1 where the blonde is rescued from that big robot in the picture above. We even get a pretty cheesy my hero moment a few issues later. After 18 issues of being a plot contrivance, an accident traps our would-be hero in Psyche-Magnetron explosion. Captain Marvel shields her from the blast before going off to defeat Yon-Rogg(the future villain of the Carol led Captain Marvel) and his Mandroid. I wish I could tell you Carol’s story continues in the following issues; that she embarks on this deeply personal journey to becoming a hero– but that would be a lie. As far as icons go, she was a late-bloomer. The character was more-or-less forgotten for 8 years.
“THIS FEMALE FIGHTS BACK!” To those who’ve read the wrong issues of the 1970s Ms. Marvel, this axiom might feel like a hollow promise. At the time Marvel was pushing for a female hero due to the popularity of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, as well as the corresponding sales boost she gave the comics.(ironically familiar, isn’t it?) In those days, the female hero was Marvel’s self-aware attempt at manufacturing a feminist icon. Debates over the feminist merit of a female character built around the existing legacy and identity of a male hero showed up in the Ms. Prints letters column of the comic. Modern readers might not realize that in 1977 the honorific Ms. was cultural sign-post signally to readers that this was a feminist character. Despite best intentions, much of the 1970s Marvel bullpen was incapable of delivering a social message unless it was served with all the subtlety of a psyche-magnetron explosion. Minority superheroes were written by white men and as such was frequently reduced to a sounding board for the hot button issues of the day. Most of Ms. Marvel’s hot button issues, such as equal pay for women in the workplace, are still relevant today.
1977’s Ms. Marvel #1 kicked off the long tradition of Carol Danvers struggling to remember things.(seriously, Wolverine has nothing on her) In NYC, sightings of a new superhero conveniently correspond with the young editor’s memory blackouts. Oh yeah, she’s no longer chief of security but the editor of Woman’s Magazine. At this point she’s essentially the Marvel Universe’s Mary Tyler Moore; as we said previously–it’s pretty ham-fisted. Fortunately for Carol, J. Jonah Jameson has newly discovered feminist sympathies after being rescued by Ms. Marvel, saving Woman’s Magazine from cancellation.
In the next issue, Carol visits a psychiatrist who puts her under hypnosis; this is where get our recap and learn that way back in 1969 when that Psyche-Magnetron doohickey exploded, Carol’s DNA was fused with the Kree DNA of Captain Mar-Vell. One issue later, Ms. Marvel gets bonked on the head and Carol remembers everything about her super heroics except why the hell she chose this outfit?
It’s then crime fighting as usual, and by usual we mean she gets the crap kicked out of her…a lot; and by some of the lamest Marvel villains imaginable. The series still has some memorable highlights and established the character, but this isn’t the feminist triumph Marvel Co. was hoping for. There was great talent here as well with Gerry Conway handing over the reins to Chris Claremont at issue three. Despite its shortcomings it manages to be a landmark series, especially towards the end and there are several notable keys throughout its 23-issue run: the first appearance of Ms. Marvel, the origin of Ms. Marvel, and the first cameo and the appearance of long-time X-men adversary Mystique. The hero also gets her first big costume change, finally getting to cover her tummy, as Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum started taking the feminist ideas the character was supposed to represent more seriously. Sadly, the series was canceled just as it was getting good.
The history of the character only gets more complicated from here. We’re going to make this as brief as possible but there’s still a lot to unpack; while it’s important background, it’s a poor primer for one of the best and most interesting characters in the Marvel stable. After the Ms. Marvel series, Carol becomes an Avenger. These are undeniably the darkest of times for Ms. Marvel. This is widely due to the Avengers sanctioned rape of Ms. Marvel that was outlined in Avengers #200. This story is probably the single best argument for why dudes shouldn’t be writing female superheroes.
We find our heroine in the middle of a mysterious pregnancy that comes to term in three days. She claims it’s not her baby and she’s been used. The baby grows up freaky fast, like almost immediately. He reveals he’s a man named Marcus and explains he mind-controlled the Avenger with dubious sci-fi techniques so he could impregnate(rape) her. He did this so she could give birth to him because she reminds him of his aunt. You didn’t miss anything, it’s really that confusing. The victimized hero has a sudden change of heart. She goes all maternal on Marcus and decides to leave with him while the Avengers happily bid her farewell without questioning the fact that she’s leaving with the man that just admitted to mind-controlling and raping her so he could be his own father.
Long term Ms. Marvel scribe Chris Claremont deserves some credit for noticing and confronting this situation with one of the most important comic book keys of the 80s, Avengers Annual #10. The issue begins with a Jane Doe being found by Spider-woman in the San Francisco Bay, who turns out to be Carol Danvers. It’s revealed her mind is in an “infant stage” and she’s lost her powers. The fallen hero gets put in Chuck Xavier’s care who helps her get back some of her memories, but not her emotional attachment to them…which is a creepy thought. The Avengers come to visit forgetting the fact that they ignored a rape and encouraged a forced relationship. Carol lets them have it in a powerful moment, but I also feel the Avengers got off kind of easy here.
“You screwed up, Avengers. That’s human. What is also human is the ability to learn from those mistakes. To grow. To mature. If you do that — even a little — then perhaps what I went through will have a positive meaning. It’s your choice.”
The shocking mystery guest is Carol, and this is not a happy reunion.
The backup in Avengers Annual #10 also reveals why Ms. Marvel lost her powers and memories. Under Mystique’s direction, Rogue goes to kill Ms. Marvel and literally absorbs her; powers, mind and all. Having two minds really freaks the mutant out and she throws Ms. Marvel into the San Francisco Bay. Having Ms. Marvel’s mind in her head is a big part of Rogue’s character for a long time and this is also why she flies in the cartoon you remember from the 90s.
Having left the Avengers, the de-powered hero decides to hang with the X-men for a while. What’s a fighter pilot with no powers going to do having joined a team of mutants? Go to space, naturally. Of course, alien experiments by the Brood merge her with the power of a white hole(uhh..what?) and she takes up the name Binary. The new champion then proves her worth to the team by saving their collective asses in the Brood debacle. The X-men honeymoon doesn’t last, as the former Ms. Marvel ends up feeling betrayed by the X-men when Rogue joins the team. Carol puts a beat down on the new member and pretty much tells the team to go to hell after Chuck gives her a peace, love, and forgiveness speech. Binary blasts off into the sky.
Sometime later she loses her space powers and…I feel like we’re forgetting something. Oh, HER MEMORY. At this point, the poor woman has probably spent more time with amnesia than without. She returns to being Ms. Marvel and an alcoholic. She trades the old name in for the new call sign Warbird.
The longest lasting and most stable Carol led series was Ms. Marvel Vol 2 which ran for 50 issues beginning in 2006. This era has some pretty significant moments for Ms. Marvel, fleshing out her friendship with Spider-woman and re-establishing her as an Avengers regular. She sides with Iron Man in the Civil War crossover, (BOO!) and the Secret Invasion story has some difficult times for the hero as her close friend Spider-woman and mentor Captain Mar-Vell are revealed to be shape shifting aliens known as Skrulls.
A simple glance at some covers from this era might suggest that these comics still failed to hit the lowest bar for a feminist superhero. It’s worth noting that up until this point, most if not all of the creators handling Ms. Marvel were men.
This sets the stage for a revolution. The 2012 series that sees Carol adopt the name Captain Marvel along with some amazing new threads was nothing short of lighting in a bottle. She is nothing like the character we’d seen in previous incarnations, yet she’s written with a fondness for deep continuity that you can’t help but admire. The book was a sleeper hit and the character’s popularity spread like wildfire. No one expected it would succeed. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick promoted the hell out of it and it resonated with readers. The story provided exactly the kind of superhero many comic fans were starved to see. Carol Danvers was finally a feminist superhero. Nothing can stop her now.
Join us next week as we continue to celebrate Captain Marvel with PART 2!
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Carol’s awesome kitty, Chewie (renamed Goose for the film). We’ve been inspired by Carol’s love for her weird, weird cat and want to do something heroic too, but we need your help. On Sunday, March 10th at 12 pm we will be holding a cat adoption pop-up to celebrate the release of the Captain Marvel film. Be a hero to a kitty in need, you never know–she might turn out to be a rare and advanced alien species for you to have adventures with. While egg-laying pink tentacled monsters aren’t guaranteed with every adoption; we can guarantee she will be a great friend.