There’s a movie coming out in March 2019 that you may have heard about. Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson as the titular superhero, is an origin story for the character prior to her appearance in the next Avengers movie. As the second high profile female led solo superhero movie of the modern era, this is a film that has a lot of potential to bring in those previously unfamiliar with the character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself (more on this later). The first question to answer is a simple one…
Who is Captain Marvel?
That’s an interesting question, with no real easy answer. There have been numerous characters using that name over the past seventy years, one of whom was created by Fawcett Comics as a Superman analogue which is now owned by DC. You may have seen a trailer for Shazam starring Zachary Levi, the current name the character has taken to avoid a lawsuit with Marvel Comics who got the copyright for the term in the 1960s despite the character predating Marvel’s first Captain Marvel.
That’s right. Marvel’s first Captain Marvel.
You see the character appearing in the movie isn’t the first, or second, person to wear the mantle. She’s the seventh. Yup. Carol Danvers has a lot more history than you would expect, but before we get to her, let’s take a look at the other six Captain Marvels from Marvel Comics (there is a very good chance that some of these will be included in the movie, even if just a wink and a nod).
Captain Marvel: Mar-Vell
First appearing in the 1960’s, Captain Marvel was created by, who else, Stan Lee and designed Gene Colan, taking advantage of the lapsed “Captain Marvel” trademark from the Fawcett/DC character. This Captain Marvel was from a fiction alien race called the Kree, whose real name was Mar-Vell. The character became a member of the superhero teams the Defenders and the Avengers, before eventually succumbing to cancer in the 1980’s. Significantly, this is a death that has never been permanently undone (a rare occurrence in comics), though his ghost has made a few appearances. Mar-Vell briefly returned to life twice in the 2010’s sacrificing himself to save lives both times. Mar-Vell makes a surprise appearance in the Captain Marvel film.
Captain Marvel: Monica Rambeau
Debuting in 1982, Monica Rambeau is a former New Orleans police officer who, upon developing super powers in an accident, used the moniker to fight crime until ceding the name to her successor and took on the name Photon. As of this writing, she is still alive and goes by the name Spectrum.
In the film Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau is played by Akira Akbar.
Captain Marvel: Genis-Vell
Originally appearing in 1996 as Legacy, Genis-Vell is the son of the original Captain Marvel conceived through genetic engineering with DNA samples of Mar-Vell and his lover and artificially aged to maturity. Look, it’s comics. Not everything makes sense, but the Powers That Be probably wanted a biological link to the original character. Genis-Vell eventually turns insane and threatens to destroy the universe. He is currently dead, having been killed in 2006.
Captain Marvel: Phyla-Vell
Genis-Vell’s younger sister was created in 2004 in a very convoluted and confusing way (because it’s comics). She fights with her brother during his period of insanity, restoring his mind in the process. At some point she adopts the name Martyr and joins the Guardians of the Galaxy before sacrificing herself for them in 2010.
Captain Marvel: Khn’nr
A sleeper agent of an alien race, the Skrulls, who are the enemies of the Kree. He was brainwashed into believing he was Mar-Vell and subsequently dies shortly after he is introduced in in 2007. Not really worth including here.
Captain Marvel: Noh-Varr
First appearing in Marvel Boy #1 in 2000, we have Noh-Varr, another Kree soldier and crew member of the space craft The Marvel which is shot down and brought to Earth with only one survivor. Noh-Varr eventually joins a (secretly) evil team of Avengers where he takes on the Captain Marvel mantle in 2009. Upon discovering the true nature of the team he leaves and becomes The Protector.
Captain Marvel: Carol Danvers
Finally. Carol Danvers. The current Captain Marvel took up the mantle in 2012, but first appeared as a colleague of Mar-Vell in Marvel Super-Heroes #13, published in 1968. After her DNA was fused with Mar-Vell’s in an explosion, she became the first Ms. Marvel in 1977 after she developed superhuman strength, flight, stamina, durability and endurance. Carol Danvers has had a long history, often intertwined with the Avengers, the X-Men and sometimes Spider-Man. But it hasn’t been without its controversies; in an issue of Avengers dated 1980, she was kidnapped, brainwashed and married off to a villain, subsequently giving birth to his child. It was, and remains, a gross abuse of the character. In 1981, Chris Claremont took aim at those who allowed this to happen during Avengers Annual #10, and in a scathing sequence had Ms. Marvel rage at both her teammates and also the Marvel editorial that allowed the story to happen. And then he turned Carol Danvers into one of Marvel’s most powerful and interesting characters by telling some fantastic stories, taking the character to incredible heights. He also took her to some pretty devastating lows, such as when the X-Man Rogue stole her powers and memories (the memories were later restored by Professor X).
Carol Danvers became Binary in the early 80’s, when she was able to draw on the power of a cosmic phenomenon called a white hole (a reverse of a black hole) which in addition her Ms. Marvel power basically turned her into a godlike being (she was able to manipulate and absorb various types of energy and travel beyond light speed). Although it never happened, had she gone toe to toe with Superman at this time, I’d have put money on Carol Danvers. Her tenure as Binary lasted for around a decade, when the source of her powers was cut off, severely limiting her Binary abilities. With her cosmic powers gone, Danvers took up the name Warbird when her life would once again take a darker tale as she found solace in alcohol as the loss of her powers and memories caught up to her.
The early 2000’s saw an increased use of Carol Danvers as she featured prominently in several high profile crossover stories, leading the comic book commentary magazine Wizard to label her “[Marvel’s] premier heroine”. Which bring us to 2012, the year that Carol Danvers accepts the Captain Marvel name. In the past six years Captain Marvel has spent time grounded in New York City, has had adventures in space alone and as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and currently serves as the commander of Alpha Flight, the team that protects Earth from all the nasties in space.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)
Oh boy. Where to start? There have been a lot of movies released under the Marvel Cinematic Universe brand (a complete and continuously updated list can be found here), and doubtless you have heard about one or two of them. But do you need to see any of them prior to seeing Captain Marvel? Well technically yes if you’re looking at things chronologically: Captain America: The First Avenger. But that’s honestly it if you want to know what happened before the movie and while not necessary, it does provide a bit more information about certain plot points in the film.
However, Captain Marvel does have a character that longtime viewers of the MCU will be familiar with; Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, the future Director of the global peacekeeping entity SH.I.E.L.D., who has been involved in numerous movies thus far in the franchise. None of that is relevant for Captain Marvel as Fury is still a young agent when he meets Carol Danvers, so while some will find it interesting to see where Fury began, where he ends won’t be a major plot point. That’s not to say the writers won’t throw in a wink to Fury’s future, however.
Comic Book Recommendations
I lied earlier. I have only one recommendation for you if you want to read some Captain Marvel: The Life Of Captain Marvel. The book is a retelling of her origin, and by all accounts is remarkably good.