From Ms. Marvel to Binary to Warbird to Captain Marvel: The long, strange trip of Carol Danvers

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

March 7, 2019 -- Captain Marvel is heading “higher, further, faster” with a record-setting opening weekend. Audiences will be rewarded with a lot of really cool stuff from Carol Danvers’ long history, including the Starforce, the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree, arch-enemy Minn-Erva and even a glancing take on one of Marvel’s most famous storylines, the Kree-Skrull War.

But there’s a lot of things from the character’s storied history that you won’t see – because they are, for the most part, really stupid. Here are five:

5) CAPTAIN CLONE

Carol Danvers was introduced by her commander in 1967 as “the finest head of security a missile base could want!” This was said to a robotics and missile expert named Walter Lawson – who was secretly Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree, Marvel’s first Captain Marvel, who initially came to Earth as a spy before changing teams.

Danvers was definitely ahead of her time. Despite the year, she was no delicate flower. A hard-nosed military officer, she was on to Lawson/Mar-Vell from the start.

“Somehow I can’t help feeling,” she thought, “that Walter Lawson is hiding something! If he is, I won’t rest until I know what – and why!” And true to her word, she dogged Mar-Vell’s civilian identity until he abandoned it, the missile base, and Earth itself a few years later.

In the process, though, Danvers was exposed to a device called the Psyche-Magnitron, which gave her Captain Marvel’s super-powers. Not right away – they emerged in 1977, in Ms. Marvel #1. Which made her, unfortunately, little more than a distaff spinoff to a male character, instead of an independent character in her own right. She took a variation on his name, and even dressed like him.

All together now: Bleah.

Marvel righted that ship last year, by revealing that Danvers’ mother was a Kree, Carol’s powers are inborn and her birth name is, believe it or not, Car-Ell. Since Mar-Vell has been dead for decades, we can now pretend that Danvers is the most important Captain Marvel there has ever been – if not the first.

Art by John Romita Sr. Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Captain Marvel #1 (1977) had plenty of navel engagement.

4) YOU SAY YOU WANT AN EVOLUTION

As a character that hasn’t been particularly successful sales-wise (until recently, anyway), Carol Danvers has been subject to a lot of tinkering over the years to find a winning formula. And some of it is … strange.

We’ve explained Ms. Marvel – a name she took because she thought she was somehow connected to Mar-Vell, who was still using “Captain Marvel” at the time. And she wore a horrible version of his costume that, for some reason, exposed her belly button. Yes, that’s just the sort of thing women want to wear into combat.

But she eventually came up with a unique outfit that fans still remember fondly. It was essentially a black one-piece swimsuit with a yellow lightning symbol, plus a black mask, thigh-high boots and a red sash – a colorful, well-designed uniform that, if nothing else, protected her midriff.

But the changes didn’t stop there. Eventually she ran off into space with the X-Men and started drawing stellar powers from a white hole. (Long story.) Calling herself Binary, Danvers suddenly had red skin and a head that looked like a star constantly going nova. At this point she was wearing a white variant of her previous look, although when you can fly through interstellar space unprotected you probably don’t even need clothes.

“Binary” didn’t last, and before long Danvers was back in black, back with the Avengers, and back calling herself Ms. Marvel. Oh, wait, at this point she was calling herself Warbird. That’s probably the coolest name she has had.

“Warbird” didn’t last either, and Danvers returned to Ms. Marvel in the oughties, despite that name being pretty dated. (It’s currently being used by a teenage superhero in New Jersey – where it remains dated, but is kinda charming.)  Finally, in 2012, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick ditched all those missteps, gave Carol Danvers a modified Kree battlesuit and re-named her what she always should have been: Captain Marvel.

It only took 35 years for Marvel to finally get it right.

 

Cover art to Uncanny X-Men #164 by Dave Cockrum. Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Between “Ms. Marvel” and “Warbird,” Carol Danvers was called by the stellar term “Binary,” and had an exploding-star look to match.

3) DEMON IN A BOTTLE

Back when she was going by Warbird, Danvers was wearing a variation of her groovy black outfit and hanging with the Avengers. Oh, and one more thing: She was an an alcoholic.

She got counseling, and remains to this day a recovering alcoholic. Which is cool. But here’s the funny thing: In the comics, so is Tony Stark. And he’s one of the people who counseled her.

In the movies, Stark isn’t an alcoholic, despite the wink-wink-nudge-nudge drunk scene in Iron Man 2. He is, however, suffering from PTSD.

Why the change? At a guess, I’d say that alcoholism is too big, too difficult and too complex  an issue to wedge into the corners of a two-hour action movie. That wouldn’t do justice to the battles real recovering alcoholics face, nor would it substantially add to a movie plot.

I suspect Carol will follow a similar route.

2) WOMAN TO ‘WOMAN’

Remember when Carol was “the finest head of security a missile base could want”? That was in 1967. Ten years later, her next job was exactly what you’d expect from a successful career military officer.

She became a magazine editor.

Yes, years after the male Captain Marvel left the Florida missile base in comic book limbo, and Carol with it, Danvers re-surfaced in Ms. Marvel #1 as the newly hired EIC of New York-based Woman magazine. And the guy who hired her? J. Jonah Jameson.

One assumes this move was made to give the new book a Spider-Man connection to boost sales. Couldn’t hurt, right? Anyway, Jameson was at his braying, misogynist worst and when this inexplicable career move was later dropped, you could hear the sighs of relief all across Marveldom Assembled.

Cover art to Ms. Marvel (second series) #35 by Patrick Olliffe. Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Ms. Marvel’s second look raised the wow factor, enhanced by a name change to Warbird.

1) THIS ONE ISN’T FUNNY

Clearly, Marvel has made a lot of mistakes trying to make Carol Danvers more interesting. In 1980, though, they published a Ms. Marvel story so awful I’m actually loathe to bring it up.

In Avengers #200, Danvers was kidnapped by a cosmic being named Marcus, the son of a time-traveling, poorly defined character named Immortus. Marcus brainwashed Danvers, and somehow impregnated her with … himself. Danvers gave birth to baby Marcus days later, who grew to adulthood in record time, and convinced the still brainwashed Carol to date him. 

I don’t even remember the point of all that. I do remember thinking, “OMG, she’s being raped!” And the Avengers? They did nothing. They thought she was in love, and celebrated her happy romance.

Ugh. The story didn’t last long – Marcus continued to age quickly and died an old man – but the ickiness still sticks.

Readers were, of course, outraged. Later stories tried to course correct. But there’s really no way to fix something so vile, so repugnant. Let’s all just pretend it didn’t happen.

Are we done? Rats – I haven’t even gotten to the story where the X-Men’s Rogue stole Carol’s powers and memory! (Don’t worry, she got better.)

Man, maybe we should just forget all of these stories, and pretend that Carol’s comic book history began in 2012. Better yet, let’s all go to the movies and see the character done right. God knows Marvel tried everything wrong to get there.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).

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