Didn’t Captain Marvel Used to Be a Man? Comics Explained
Photos: Marvel Studios (left), DC Films (right)
Greetings again, Marvel fans! It’s time now for another Marvelous Movies exploration into the rich history of comics that inspired the movies we all love so much! We just got this letter from a fan:
Dear Marvelous Movies,
I watched Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame this year, and I’m sorta confused about Captain Marvel’s character. Didn’t she used to be a man? I’ve read a few old comics that my cousin gave me, and I actually thought Captain Marvel was a dark-haired man, a blond-haired man, and somehow a black lady too. I didn’t even know girls could be superheroes! So how come she’s a blond white lady now?
Levi Larson of Hurricane, West Virginia
Great question, Levi! The story of Captain Marvel is a long and somewhat convoluted one–but isn’t everything in comics? Let’s see if we can help clear things up for you!
Although it sounds strange, the first Captain Marvel wasn’t even published by Marvel, but by its lesser rival, DC! Marvel Comics #1 was released waaaay back in October of 1939–and right off the bat, DC began on its now-long-standing tradition of trying to rip off Marvel’s best ideas. Recognizing Marvel as the superior company and wanting to capitalize on its success, DC created a character named Captain Marvel just a few months later in December of 1939. He was actually a young boy named Billy Batson, who could magically transform into the heroic Captain Marvel.
Of course, Marvel wasn’t too keen on DC using their name, so they decided that two could play at that game! A few years later in 1941, legendary comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby joined forces to create Captain D.C.–a colorful, patriotic crusader based in the nation’s capital, and fighting off all kinds of wartime threats to the country. However, the companies using characters with each other’s names quickly led to a number of disputes. Soon lawyers got involved, and both companies were forced to rename their characters. So, DC renamed their Captain Marvel to “Shazam” (as seen in this year’s movie Shazam!), and Marvel renamed their Captain D.C. to “Captain America“. In-story, the character quickly realized that Washington, D.C. wasn’t a place that any heroic or noble person should associate himself with, so he instead began championing the country as a whole–a much more moral and upstanding place, apparently.
Once the names had reverted back to their rightful companies, Marvel was free to create a new version of Captain Marvel! They launched a new Captain Marvel series in 1967, starring Mar-Vell, a Kree alien fighting to defend Earth from invaders. This version had plenty of space-faring adventures until his death in 1982, as shown in the legendary Marvel Graphic Novel #1. And he didn’t even die by a supervillain or a space battle or anything, but just to cancer! It just goes to show that alien superheroes are human too. In fact, Marvel thought that using cancer as a superhero’s weakness was such a great idea that they later decided to give cancer to other popular characters such as Venom, Deadpool, and She-Thor too! They even made a whole Cancerverse–just like Spider-Verse, but with more cancer!
But of course, nobody stays dead in comics for long. This was when Marvel revealed that the alien Kree could actually regenerate, just like in Doctor Who! So rather than dying, Captain Marvel simply transformed into a black woman, premiering as this version later in 1982. The newly regenerated Captain took on the name of Monica Rambeau, who had a minor role in this year’s film Captain Marvel. However, this version of the character eventually changed her superhero name about twelve more times and ultimately faded into obscurity.
Meanwhile, to capitalize even more on the character’s success and make sure their company branding was super-recognizable, Marvel had also introduced Ms. Marvel back in 1977. Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenage girl living in Jersey City. She’s also an Inhuman (basically “space mutants”) with the power to stretch and “embiggen” her body. Inspired by the very first Captain Marvel, a young boy who transforms into a grown man, the writers had Kamala figure out how to enlarge her body into an adult shape, in which she dons the name of Ms. Marvel and takes on the grown-up secret identity of Carol Danvers.
The Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel persona soon became wildly popular among fans. In fact, DC thought it was such a great idea to have a blond, flying white lady named “Carol Danvers” dressed in red, blue, and yellow, that they decided to create a blond, flying white lady named “Kara Danvers” dressed in red, blue, and yellow, and just hoped nobody would notice the similarities! Apparently they thought that giving her her own TV show on a major network was the best way to fly under the radar there.
Kamala/Carol fought crime as Ms. Marvel for many years. But then, when the previous Captain Marvel was temporarily “killed” with a time-displacement gun shot by arch-nemesis the Crimson Cranium at the end of the Domestic Conflict storyline, it was suggested that Ms. Marvel take on the mantle of Captain, since no one else was using the name at the time. (Would you believe that was suggested by Captain America of all people?) So, in 2012, Carol Danvers was promoted from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, although she still remains Ms. Marvel in her Kamala Khan persona. She’s got even more identities to keep track of than Moon Knight!
So there you have it, Levi–the marvelous history of Captain Marvel! Ultimately, it seems today like “Captain Marvel” is just a concept that can and should be represented by every possible demographic–male and female, child and adult, black, white, and brown, human and alien, Marvel and DC. In this spirit, we’re really pulling for the next iteration of Captain Marvel to be a short, pudgy, middle-aged Hispanic or Asian man with a talking dog sidekick also named Captain Marvel. Wouldn’t that be something?
Got questions about Marvel movies or comics? Send ’em in to firstname.lastname@example.org! Until next time, ’nuff said!