I wasn’t expecting to be writing this article originally. Or at least not in this form. For those who missed the marathon of advertising recently Captain Marvel is one of the Marvel Comics superheroes who just recently got her own film as part of the currently ubiquitous Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU.
But she didn’t always have this level of popularity. Or even success. I feel it’s my duty to give you something of a history lesson about Carol Danvers and the Captain Marvel lineage. Plus she made me, from a nerd interested in comics or comic characters but not one likely to consciously buy any, to an actual comics fan. You could see this as my take on one of Sgathich’s more in-depth or investigative articles which I highly recommend.
Part One: Fawcett, DC And Trademark Troubles
Carol was not the first Captain Marvel. The first one didn’t even belong to Marvel. They belonged to Fawcett Comics in the 1930s and 40s. The story for those comics involved a child called Billy Batson being given powers by a dying magical wizard. His powers were named after various ‘immortal elders’ as they were called and his magic phrase was Shazam! Wisdom of Solomon, Strength of Hercules etc. This allowed the boy to transform into Captain Marvel and be one of the first ever superheroes. As well as being one of the first comic characters to make his way to live action courtesy of 1940s film serials he was considered the main rival to DC’s Superman and was even outselling him considerably at one point.This popularity hurt the character as DC sued Fawcett over perceived similarities to Superman and won. Not long after they bought out Fawcett altogether and so now own Billy Batson who just got his own film. Legally however although they can use the name Marvel or Captain Marvel in the comics themselves he has to be called Shazam in all the marketing. This is because DC let the trademark on the name lapse. This hit them hard in the 1960s because Marvel – by this stage their main competitor for quite some time – bought the trademark…but who did they create?
Part Two: Mar-Vell, The Kree And Carol Danvers Air Force Commander
No you haven’t read that wrong. In order to use the name Captain Marvel, they created an alien character called Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell was a part of an alien race called The Kree. The Kree are something of an infamous race in Marvel’s cosmic or space stories. They are known for being famously imperialist and militaristic – basically the British Empire in space with blue skin and their own version of the Inquisition – as well as for worshipping something known in the Supreme Intelligence…which for quite a long time in the comics took the form of a giant floating head. No I am not kidding.
Unlike most other Kree, Mar-Vell was quite a heroic figure. When he arrived on Earth he began fighting injustice almost immediately. He wasn’t exactly popular with the readership however. He was considered a lower tier hero by them from the beginning. So in other words way less important than any comic book character your average person will have heard of. They kept ending his various different series in various different ways and bringing him back to keep the name but he was never popular.
But how does this relate to Carol Danvers? Carol first appeared not long after Mar-Vell. She was not depicted as the self-confident monster smasher she is now but more as a classic Lois Lane type. In other words she was regarded as something of a Mar-Vell fangirl or the closest thing he had to a girlfriend. She didn’t exactly do much during this period but her back story was interesting.
Despite her attitude to Mar-Vell she was known as a Commander in the US Air Force. In other words one of the highest officer ranks you can attain. Thus showing she had a lot of acumen in her own right. In fact if you follow the time frame for how long it takes your average soldier to attain that rank she must be canonically in her very late 30s or very early 40s at the earliest. Interesting to imagine when you see the modern depictions of her. Or…in fact any depiction of Carol.
Part Three: The Psyche-Magnetron, Ms Marvel And The Death Of Mar-Vell
If you are anything like I was when I first read it, your reaction would have been ‘Psych-what?’ The Psyche-Magnetron was a Kree energy weapon which happened to explode with Carol being caught in the cross-fire. As a side-effect of the explosion, Carol’s genetic structure was made to meld with Captain Marvel. This effectively made her a human-Kree hybrid on a biological level and gave her powers of her own similar to Mar-Vell’s.
This was the creation of Ms Marvel. Ms Marvel was introduced during the 1970s when Carol received a series under that name. Carol as Ms Marvel proved to be a relatively popular character among the writers and fanbase during this period – certainly more popular than Mar-Vell – and had frequent guest appearances in comics with The Avengers, Spider-Man and Iron Man among others. She was also used in self consciously ‘progressive’ stories for the time although they can be hard to read looking back at them now.
It did not take long – despite the efforts of some writers – for Mar-Vell as Captain Marvel to become pretty much irrelevant compared to his distaff counterpart. Eventually in the 1980s it was decided to stop bringing Mar-Vell back and give him a proper send-off. This was done in the appropriately named ‘The Death of Captain Marvel’ which led to a sizeable contingent of fans asking the obvious question. Why not have Carol take the mantle of Captain Marvel? This question would not be properly answered for twenty years because editors and writers can be incredibly stupid and not see the obvious solution.
Now it is time to discuss something very tasteless but unfortunately very important.
More of that tomorrow….