Gather ‘Round, Padawans: That’s COLONEL Danvers to You

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c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics (editorial note: full disclosure, it’s the villain who called her “broad”)

Haha. That’s funny, Cap.

*mumble mumble mumble jerk*

Because a rose by any other name, right? Call Carol whatever makes you feel manly, Steve?

Yeah. No. That isn’t going to work for me. Or, it seems, for the colonel.

Deal with it, Rogers.

I’m not the first person to write about the incongruity of character names in comics nor will I, I’m certain, be the last. The nomenclature issue is persistent and its social relevance continues to grow. Because if you can’t handle addressing a woman by her proper, earned rank, Cap, what are you going to do when it comes time to address a woman as Madame President?

(Yes, I know. I’m mixing reality and fiction but (1) I’m making a point and (2) Obama and Trudeau have both shown up in Marvel comics in recent years, as have the current presidential candidates albeit in more subtle fashion; it’s a reasonable assumption if Mrs. Clinton is elected, she’ll make a presidential cameo. Also, for the record, this doesn’t seem to be an issue for Sam Cap).

I want to pause for a second to thank GeekDad Mordechai Luchins for suggesting the subject of this week’s Padawans. As it happens, I was reading Brian Michael Bendis’ Civil War II #5 the other day and wondering, once more, why Carol Danvers is “Captain Marvel” rather than “Colonel Marvel” when he pinged me and thus, what you are now reading was born.

Back to business.

Does “Captain Marvel” roll off the tongue a little more easily? Sure. Did Carol inherit the mantle for Mar-vell, who at one time, went by the “Captain” sobriquet? Sure. But remember, Carol didn’t start her superhero career as even Captain Marvel. When she first donned the mask, someone, somewhere decided she should be called “Ms. Marvel.”

Is there anything inherently offensive about the term Ms.? Nope. I use it, when I use a prefix on my name at all, because Mrs. Sondheimer is my mother-in-law (and she’ll tell you Mrs. Sondheimer was her mother-in-law). The difference between me and Carol? She worked her later rather exposed butt off to earn her prefix (fair enough, I’ve worked my butt off to earn a couple of suffixes, but that’s not what we’re talking about here): the only daughter in a traditional family, Carol’s father sent one of her brothers to college over her, despite her superior grades, because he had the dangly bits. He got an education and Carol got a sales job she held until she could enlist at eighteen. She worked her way through the ranks and was recruited into military intelligence entirely on her own merits. And then NASA requested her as their new head of security, a promotion which came with the rank of colonel.

Yes, some stuff happened afterward that tanked her NASA career but that doesn’t change the fact she retired from the Air Force a colonel but was, as a hero, promptly demoted to “Ms.” And don’t get me started on the bathing suit.

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics

Carol’s first appearance as Ms. Marvel was in 1977.

She didn’t make Captain again until 2012.

What. The. Cheese?

I’m sorry, Cap, how did you earn your rank again?

Right. *slaps forehead* You got shot up with steroids, let Howard Stark experiment on you, and beat up one Nazi.

I love ‘ya, Cap, but pull your head out of your star-spangled butt and have some respect.

Also? No one addresses James Rhodes as “Captain,” do they? No. No, they do not. Because he is a colonel. Out of the super-suit, he’s Colonel Rhodes. His hero name isn’t Mr. Patriot or Mr. Machine. It’s War Machine. Doesn’t get that much more badass than War Machine, does it?

No. No, it does not.

Of course, Carol Danvers is far from the only female superhero to suffer such indignity. Pathetically far.

There are some notable exceptions to the problematic schema: Wonder Woman. Spider-Woman. Batwoman. But for each of those, we have a myriad Power Girls and Hawkgirls (fine, she was briefly Hawkwoman, but has since been demoted to “girl” once more). Stargirls. Super girls. Batgirls.

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Kamala Khan being called Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales, with whom she is of an age, is already Spider-Man and Sam Alexander bears the name Nova with no qualifiers whatsoever. Kamala has saved her city, and the world, as many times as either boy has, risked just as much as they have. Walked away from her beloved mentor out of moral obligation. The Ms., in this case, however, indicates, however unintentionally, Kamala is less than the boys, that she is a perpetual kid while Miles and Sam are ready for greater responsibility and authority. I understand her taking the role was a passing of the torch but why not “Marvel” or something linked or something entirely new and linked to her culture the way her costume is? Why give her a name that downplays all she has achieved in her short time with the mantle? Why is the girl a kid while the boys are elevated simply by virtue of having powers?

And calling RiRi Williams Iron Heart? That’s not any better. It suggests the new Iron… Person will be ruled by emotion and all of that “girl stuff” rather than her brain. Seriously, who’s going to be afraid of Iron Heart? Emotional engagement is a positive in a hero but we know RiRi has genius level intelligence and is resourceful as heck, so please do spare us the nonsense and give us an Iron Name as complete as the woman bearing it.

When male heroes have a “boy” as part of their name, it’s because they’re children (temporarily or perpetually). Robin, the Boy Wonder? He gets to graduate to Nightwing. Superboy? In most incarnations, he becomes Superman (the clone is another story and I’m not touching that one). “Boy” in the case of male heroes, is a developmental phase rather than a statement of purpose or place in the hierarchy. It demonstrates their potential to grow into something more.

When female heroes are tagged with a “girl,” however, it does the exact opposite: the use of “girl” casts females into the role of sidekick (usually to one of the “men”), banishes them to the realm of backup or second string. Batgirl always plays second fiddle to Batman. Supergirl is always Superman’s little cousin. Ms. Marvel (the original) is a pawn to move around rather than a retired Air Force officers with skills to burn. “Girl” sets female characters up as damsels rather than knights errant, creatures who, while powerful, are morally, emotionally, and fortitude-wise, weaker than their male counterparts. It suggests the female character will eventually need saving from something they simply can’t handle.

Carol Danvers has handled a lot. She escaped a patriarchal household, clawed her way up the ladder of a patriarchal organization, survived rape and torture, and now the tragic death of the man she loved. Anyone think Carol Danvers needs saving? That she has any less iron of a spine or will than Black Panther or Iron Man? No? Nor I. Kamala has saved her city numerous times and she’s often done it alone at the age of sixteen, despite it costing her her parents’ trust, her own safety, and possibly her best friend’s life; she hasn’t crumbled yet and, in fact, stood up to Carol, whom she has worshipped since before the activation of her Inhuman DNA. RiRi Williams reverse-engineered the Iron suit in her dorm room from scavenged parts, but by all means, let’s focus on her mushy bits.

I think not.

Being a girl is awesome. When you’re a girl (i.e., a female child). Being sweet and kind and compassionate are awesome and they are qualities I try to cultivate in myself and in my children, but they are not all that define me and they shouldn’t be used to denigrate the person I am, to make me less worthy of equal treatment and the respect due one adult to another until proven otherwise.

I am no one’s girl.

In conclusion?

c. Marvel Comics
c. Marvel Comics



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10 thoughts on “Gather ‘Round, Padawans: That’s COLONEL Danvers to You

  1. To be honest, I wish she were using Colonel Marvel, or something of the sort. Something new and unique to her.

    Yes, I know that Marvel wants to keep that name in play, and I’m familiar with the asinine fight with the Dreaded Competition over Shazam! and whatnot. Still, she deserves better. I like the evolution of how she’s being presented and represented, but it definitely still needs work.

  2. Side note– when you retire, you’re not ranked anymore. Not sergeant, not captain, not colonel. You go back to being a civilian with the appropriate civilian title. You don’t outrank anyone. When I mustered out, no one called me “Captain” the next week. Unless Carol Danvers was doing one weekend a month, two weeks a year in the Guard, she was just plain old Carol Danvers. Maybe, if we’re being respectful, it’s “Retired Colonel Danvers” to me, or “Madame Danvers.” But not “Colonel Danvers.”

    I get that there’s power in her pseudonym, and I’m all for giving her and the other female supers solid names which don’t put them in sidekick or damsel roles, but military rank doesn’t get to float along with you after you get out. You don’t get saluted anymore, you don’t get to exercise any of the perks of rank– you’re retired.

      1. Then the piece portrays that status inaccurately. If she’s active duty, then that’s a whole different ball of wax, and Cap is being poorly portrayed for ignoring the rank regardless of his feelings about the officer.

        1. If we’re making this argument, then technically Captain America should no longer be called ‘Captain’. He isn’t an active duty officer any longer. Unless I’m sorely mistaken on this point, when he was frozen, Cap would have been declared MIA or KIA, depending on whether or not the military knew he was frozen. Regardless, at some point, Cap would have been officially retired from service. So, with respect, your point goes both ways. Neither Carol nor Steve Rogers should be called by their rank.
          HOWEVER, name carries weight, which is why I’m assuming Captain America is still called ‘Captain America’ even though Sam Wilson is BY NO MEANS an active duty military officer. For Carol Danvers, again, I respectfully disagree. I’ve known officers and enlisted to still be called by their rank when they get out of the service. Now, is it official? No. But, if we’re splitting hairs here, it’s been my experience to have officers still referred to as ‘Captain’ or ‘Major’ or even ‘Boats’ (familiar term for the Navy rank of Boatswain’s Mate).
          Let’s remember this is the Marvel Universe and comic book universes like to play fast and loose with quite a bit, to include the laws of physics and continuity.

  3. I was with you right up until the Kamala Khan detour. Ms. is a title for a grown woman. It does not at all denote a lesser standing than being designated *something*-Man. If she was Miss Marvel, sure, let’s have that conversation, but Ms. is perfectly acceptable.

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