Know Your Captain Marvel from Your Captain Mar-Vell
We haven’t even seen Avengers: Infinity War yet, but everyone is already getting hyped for the post-Infinity War status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one that will include Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in a solo film that’s shooting even now and will hit theaters March 8, 2019. And then there’s DC’s Captain Marvel, who usually goes by the name Shazam these days. He’s getting his own movie as well. And that’s just the beginning of the Captain Marvels…
So with two different movies based on these characters in the works, now would seem to be a good time to take a look at the many people that have used the Captain Marvel moniker over the years. Confused yet? No? Let’s begin anyway!
FIRST APPEARANCE: Whiz Comics #2, February 1940
ABILITIES: Wisdom of Solomon, Strength of Hercules, Stamina of Atlas, Power of Zeus, Courage of Achilles, Speed of Mercury
ORIGIN: Also known as Shazam after the exclamation he makes to transform from young Billy Batson into the “Big Red Cheese,” this Captain Marvel was also dubbed the “World’s Mightiest Mortal” and starred in comics from Fawcett and later DC Comics. He has a long and rich mythology with a feature film on the way starring Zachary Levi…but he’s the one Captain Marvel on this list that won’t be influencing the MCU adaptation for obvious reasons. DC pretty much dropped the Captain Marvel name in recent years in favor of Shazam because, after all, it would be like having a member of the New York Mets named “the Yankees.” It doesn’t work!
HISTORIC HEROISM: Perhaps his greatest feat was eventually overcoming a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement of Superman and still going on to have a long and varied career.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Marvel Super-Heroes #12, December 1967
ABILITIES: His Nega-Bands translate psionic energy into all the usual bodily enhancements, later he also obtains cosmic awareness
ORIGIN: The first to use the Captain Marvel name in the Marvel Universe itself, Mar-Vell is a Kree spy sent to observe Earth, but turns against his people. He later bonds with former Hulk sidekick Rick Jones via a pair of wrist-worn Nega-Bands that allow them to trade places into the Negative Zone. He becomes one of the many illustrious heroes of the Marvel Universe until a chance encounter with the nerve gas-wielding Nitro affects him in a way that will have lasting and eventually fatal consequences. Jude Law will play a version of the character in the upcoming MCU movie.
HISTORIC HEROISM: He faced his greatest challenge in the very first Marvel graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel, when he succumbed to cancer caused by exposure to Nitro’s nerve gas.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Marvel Super-Heroes #13, March 1968 (as Carol Danvers); Ms. Marvel #1, January 1977 (as Ms. Marvel); Avenging Spider-Man #9, September 2012 (as Captain Marvel)
ABILITIES: The usual superhuman powers, a seventh sense, and her pilot skills as well as a bewildering array of other abilities
ORIGIN: Danvers went through a number of superhero identities after her initial introduction as an Air Force officer way back in 1968, from Ms. Marvel to Binary to Warbird, before she took on the Captain Marvel mantle. Her long career as Ms. Marvel – one of the early examples of an empowered 1970s lead superheroine that had her own title alongside all of her many male counterparts – began when her DNA was linked with Mar-Vell’s. A feminist icon almost from the moment of her debut, Danvers’ history is also intertwined with controversial storytelling, including a rape storyline in the Avengers.
HISTORIC HEROISM: Although she’s been part of many significant Marvel Universe events, we’re going to hazard a guess that with her feature film and new upcoming title, The Life of Captain Marvel (starting in July), her most historic accomplishments are ahead of her.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, 1982
ABILITIES: She can transform into any kind of energy and project those energies as well
ORIGIN: A former New Orleans police officer, Rambeau served for quite a while as Captain Marvel and joined the Avengers, even leading the team for a time. When Genis-Vell turned up, she voluntarily changed her codename to Photon…then Genis-Vell took that too (honestly, Genis-Vell!). She then became Pulsar, and now serves with the Avengers again as Spectrum…and her original costume was truly awesome.
HISTORIC HEROISM: She once planned to destroy an entire alternate Earth to save the Marvel Universe’s primary Earth (good ol’ 616) but hesitated when she found children living there. Her decision cost her, but demonstrated her balance of power and empathy.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Silver Surfer Annual #6, 1993
ABILITIES: In addition to Mar-Vell’s abilities, he has heightened powers and vast cosmic awareness
ORIGIN: A genetically grown son of the late Mar-Vell and Elysius, Genis-Vell also went by the name Legacy and briefly bonds with Rick Jones via the Nega-Bands as his father had done. Genis dies, comes back (you know the drill), changes his codename to Photon while working with the Thunderbolts, then gets scattered through time when it turns out that the universe might end due to his existence. What a life.
HISTORIC HEROISM: He saves Rick Jones’ life during the Destiny War by re-establishing the Nega-Band bond that Jones once shared with Mar-Vell.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Captain Marvel Vol. 5 #16, January 2004
ABILITIES: Energy projection and “sponging,” cosmic awareness, the usual superhuman enhancements
ORIGIN: An alternate universe sister of Genis-Vell that he himself creates when restoring the universe (it happens), she also adopts the identity Quasar and later joins the Guardians of the Galaxy. At one point, she reveals that she’s attracted to Moondragon.
HISTORIC HEROISM: Like other folks that once served as a Captain Marvel, Phyla-Vell’s life ended abruptly. In her case she died while operating under the name Martyr, which tells you all you need to know about how that went down. Let’s just say Thanos was involved.
FIRST APPEARANCE: Civil War: The Return, March 2007
ABILITIES: Seemingly the same as the original Mar-Vell
ORIGIN: Turning up in Civil War, this apparent returning Mar-Vell was instead revealed to be a Skrull sleeper agent, although his programming was so botched that he retained the heroic identity with which he was imprinted, prefers it to his own, and dies saving Earth from the Skrulls.
HISTORIC HEROISM: Embracing his false memories was his finest hour, as was entrusting the legacy of Mar-Vell to his successor, Noh-Varr…
FIRST APPEARANCE: Marvel Boy #1, August 2000
ABILITIES: A Kree with insect DNA enhancements, including the ability to suppress pain and a triple-jointed body, who also has an ingestion ability a bit like Matter-Eater Lad (if you remember that guy)
ORIGIN: Taking the name Captain Marvel when joining the Dark Avengers, he also went through a period as the Kree Protector of Earth, but lately he’s been with the Inhumans; Noh-Varr gets around.
HISTORIC HEROISM: He uses his Nega-Bands to almost single-handedly end the Skrull attack on Earth in Secret Invasion.
Still other Captain Marvels turn up in the Ultimate universe as well as many other alternate timeline/universe Marvel events and miniseries. Hey, it’s a popular moniker! Captain Marvel, the MCU movie, arrives on March 8, 2019.
Find Arnold T. Blumberg on Twitter at @DoctoroftheDead.