How Many Captain Marvels Are There, Anyway?

Captain Marvel Carol Danvers
The Kelly Sue DeConnick/Jamie McKelvie redesign of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. Image via Marvel Comics.

There are four Captain Marvel characters from Marvel Entertainment. Wait, five. Wait, maybe six?

It’s complicated.

It’s as complicated as the backstory of Carol Danvers herself, subject of the first Marvel movie to have a woman in the sole leading role. Carol started her superhero career as Ms. Marvel, lost her powers and memory because of Rogue, became Binary, became Warbird, became Ms. Marvel again, and, finally Captain Marvel.

Brie Larson Captain Marvel
Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in the upcoming movie. (Possible first costume inspired by the Kree of several Captain Marvels?) Image copyright Marvel Entertainment

Meanwhile, not only have there been successors to the original Captain Marvel, more accurately called Mar-Vell, but there’s also been a Marvel Boy. Okay, several Marvel Boys. And, of course, there is a new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. (And DC has their own Captain Marvel aka Shazam and Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior but we’re talking Marvel Marvels here, okay?)

Confused yet? Let’s sort them out, somewhat by their order of appearance. (Oh, by the way, the costumes keep changing….)

Mar-Vell aka Original Recipe Captain Marvel

Rick Jones and Captain Marvel
Mar-Vell and Rick Jones exchanging places via Nega-Bands. Image copyright Marvel Comics

Creators: Stan Lee, Gene Colan

Mar-Vell was a Kree warrior sent to Earth to oppose the Skrulls. But he felt people on Earth should not be caught in the crossfire, so he protected Earth and was declared a traitor by the Kree. In the course of this battle, Carol Danvers, Air Force security, received powers as a result of the explosion of some doomsday Kree device. (But more on Carol later.)

Mar-Vell, now an alien estranged from his people,  became a hero on Earth.

Later, he shared a body (it’s complicated) with Rick Jones, a former friend of Bruce Banner, former one-time sidekick to Captain America, and savior of humanity during the Kree-Skrull War. (Really. You can look it up.)  When Rick banged his Nega-Bands together, he swapped places with Mar-Vell, who was floating around the Negative Zone. My first Captain Marvel comic was one that featured Rick and Mar-Vell doing the body swap.

The death of Captain Marvel
Mar-Vell dies with dignity. Image via Marvel Comics

But, let’s face it, what Mar-Vell is known best for is dying, in the first mainstream superhero original graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel. This Captain Marvel has stayed dead, making him unique among the pantheon of dead superheroes. He is apparently going to be played by Jude Law in the Captain Marvel movie, though, in that case, I wouldn’t be surprised if he dies. It’s kinda his thing.

Essential Stories:

Captain Marvel Masterworks Volume 1 by Roy Thomas Arnold Drake and Gene Colon

The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin

Carol Danvers: Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warbird/and, Finally, Captain Marvel

Creators:  Roy Thomas, Gene Colon

The star of the upcoming movie, Carol Danvers, as stated above, received her energy powers, which include flight, near-invulnerability, and the ability to shoot energy at opponents, in an explosion of a Kree weapon.

Simple enough origin, right? Except since she’s been around since 1977 as Ms. Marvel, and she’s gone through many, many changes. SO MANY.

Ms. Marvel #1 1977
First issue of her own series. Nice color scheme, costume is a bit on the skimpy side. Image via Marvel Comics

Highlights: Ms. Marvel #1 in 1977 was a decidedly feminist series, though the costume on issue #1 has not aged well. (Neither has the hairstyle, for that matter.)

Lowlight: The series was soon canceled.

Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel
The lightning bolt costume worn by Carol for most of her career as Ms. Marvel. Image copyright Marvel Comics

Highlight: Ms. Marvel joined the Avengers and her cool costume with the high black boots, and lightning bolt became the standard.

Lowlight: Ms. Marvel was kidnapped, impregnated by Immortus, and then supposedly was “in love” with him after she gave birth to him. (Yes, this story is that bad, so bad it’s probably one of the worst stories featuring a female hero EVER, especially since the rest of the Avengers seemed to think this was a love story. It is BAD. SO BAD.)

Lowlight: Carol arrived back on Earth, recovering from the damage done by Immortus in his dimension, and was attacked and nearly killed by a then-evil (well, misguided) Rogue who was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants at the time. Carol lost her memory and her powers. (This would not be the first time Carol lost her memory.) Carol did get her memories back, most of them.

Highlight: Aliens experiment on Carol during an X-Men run but this is a highlight because she gets powers again and takes them out. Yay, Carol. She becomes Binary, capable of generating the power of a star. Great.

Carol Danvers as Binary, in the X-Men comics
Carol Danvers as Binary. Image Copyright Marvel Comics

Lowlight: No more Binary powers. Boo!

Highlight: Carol, because of alien experimentation, regains powers and becomes Binary. Boo alien experimentation, yay new powers as Binary.

Eventually Carol returns to Earth, takes the codename Warbird, and rebuilds her life. All seems good.

Lowlight: She supports the Superhuman Registration Act.

Highlight: July 2012: Carol finally takes on the mantle of Captain Marvel, gets a new costume, and a new creative team, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy, thought it was McKelvie who redesigned the Captain Marvel costume for Carol. This comic is feminist, fun, and revitalizes the character, pushing her to the forefront of Marvel heroes. It also creates a fandom called the Carol Corps.

Basically, the Captain Marvel runs by DeConnick and various artists are why we now have a Captain Marvel movie. You should check out volumes one and two for this series.

Essential stories:

If you want to go way back: Captain Marvel Carol Danvers: The Ms. Marvel Years

And Carol as Captain Marvel:

Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero: Volume 1

Monica Rambeau aka Captain Marvel/Photon/Pulsar/Spectrum

Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel
Monica as Captain Marvel. Image copyright Marvel Comics

Creators: Roger Stern, John Romita Jr.

As I was researching, I found out Monica is almost as old as Carol Danvers, having first appeared in 1982.

Like Carol, Monica’s long and confusing history, with incredible highs, such as her leadership of the Avengers under the hand of her creator, Roger Stern. But after that time period, she suffered horrible lows–depowered, constant name-changes–those are part and parcel of how Marvel editorial sometimes seems confused as to what to do with female character, never mind a black female lead character.

Which is to say once Stern stopped using Monica/Captain Marvel, she was tossed around the Marvel Universe, seemingly used at the whim of different creators who had different ideas what to do with Monica, hence the many name changes, which were also due to the new Captain Marvel who showed up.

Monica Rambeau and Carol Danvers
Captain Marvels have a talk in Carol’s Captain Marvel series. Image via Marvel Comics

But Monica is a fascinating character, once a member of the New Orleans Harbor Patrol, a former leader of the Avengers, and possessed of the ability to become all kinds of energy, a power that can make her near omnipotent.

There is some excitement over the casting of DeWanda Wise in the Captain Marvel movie, with those of us who love Monica hoping for the best.

Essential Reading:

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E The Complete Collection by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immomen

The Mighty Avengers Volume 1: No Single Hero by Al Ewing and Greg Land

Genis-Vell/Captain Marvel/Legacy/Photon

Creators: Ron Lim, Ron Martz

Genis’s origin is simple enough: he’s the son or the original Kree Captain Marvel. All right, not so simple because he was conceived after Mar-Vell’s death via alien insemination technology, and artificially aged and given false memories by his mother Elysium, who is more machine than human herself.

He was also kind of a jerk and given his upbringing, it’s not hard to figure out why. He’s also more well-known for the controversy surrounding the cancellation of his series. However, he did sport a costume that is a reworking of Mar-Vell’s original Kree costume and bears a resemblance to what Brie Larson is wearing in the set photos.

Genis-Vell Kree costume
Genis-Vell in Kree costume. he also wore one where the color scheme was black/green. Image via Marvel Comics

Essential Reading:

Captain Marvel: First Contact by Peter David and Chriscross

Phyla-Vell/Captain Marvel/Quasar/Martyr

Creator: Peter David

The daughter of the original Mar-Vell, she was apparently created when her brother, Genis, altered time for, um, plot reasons. However, she is more well-known as Quasar and also well-known as one half of one of Marvel’s few lesbian couples, with Moondragon as her lover. The pair were most associated with the comic book Guardians of the Galaxy and, hey, there are sequels yet to come for that franchise, so we might see both of them someday.

So that’s five.

However…

More Captain Marvels

Number six would be Khn’nr, a Skrull but pretend Kree sleeper agent who claimed to be the original reborn. That didn’t end so well for him.

Number seven is Noh-Varr, who was originally known as Marvel Boy and then Captain Marvel and is now known as Protector. His best appearances are in the excellent Young Avengers series by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie, where he and Kate Bishop (Hawkeye) had a relationship. He’s a Kree from another universe with some insect DNA–enhanced speed, strength, etc. He’s been mostly portrayed as confused by humans and has been manipulated in the past. He loves the Ronettes “Be My Baby.”

Don’t Forget the Marvel Boys!

How many are there? Well… a lot. A whole lot.

Original Marvel Boy Martin Burns who was a Golden Age Jack Kirby/Joe Simon creation.

Robert Grayson, who is a Stan Lee/Russ Heath creation who appeared as a villain originally in Fantastic Four, seemingly disintegrated, but finally came back in the fantastic Agents of Atlas series.

Wendall Vaughn, a super-nice geeky Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who inherited the supposedly disintegrated Grayson’s quantum bands and eventually became the superhero Quasar, whose series is a forgotten classsic.

Noh-Varr, but we’ve already mentioned him.

Plus, Vance Astrovik of Young Justice, who later changed his name to Justice.

Long Live Ms. Marvel!

What? Haven’t you read Kamala Khan’s series? The series that proved that a lead female hero could be a success, that a non-white lead female could be a success, and that a story that wasn’t all about punching could be a success.

My favorite panel of Ms. Marvel. Of EVER. Property of Marvel Comics

Go. Read. You should!

So which hero is the true Captain Marvel?

There are fans of Mar-Vell, Carol, and Monica, and the other characters as well, but those tend to be known better under names other than Captain Marvel.

With the movie coming, it seems certain Carol will keep the name for the foreseeable future but Monica should not be forgotten. Here’s hoping if it is her role that’s been cast in the Captain Marvel movie, it will lead to a new prominence for a terrific but used-too-little character.