Superhero Academy 101: Six Captain Marvels for the Price of One

Updated on October 5, 2019
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Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.

Six Captain Marvels from left to right, Phyla-Vell, Captain Marvel (Shazam!), Monica Rambeau, Captain Mar-Vell, Carol Danvers, and Genis-Vell
Six Captain Marvels from left to right, Phyla-Vell, Captain Marvel (Shazam!), Monica Rambeau, Captain Mar-Vell, Carol Danvers, and Genis-Vell

Captain Marvel: The Name Every Hero Wants

Part of me really didn't want to write this article. Another part of me realized that I had to.

Today, I going to talk about Captain Marvel.

This mission and topic are by the nature of its "Captain Marvel-ness" fraught with complex issues. For example, when I talk about "Captain Marvel," any comic book fan worth their salt would ask, "which one?"

Which one?!

The media blitz for the two blockbuster movies would suggest there are only two Captain Marvels in all comicbookdom. I'm going to talk about, at least, six. I've heard some speak of at least 16.

No, I'm not joking.

The Captain Marvel who SPLIT!
The Captain Marvel who SPLIT!

Do you know that M.F. Publications (a competitor of DC and Marvel in the 1960s) had their own Captain Marvel? Okay, it was a stupid concept to have a hero who could fight his enemies by shooting his extremities at them with his battle cry "SPLIT!", but there you have it—another Captain Marvel. And trust me, you really don't want to know any more about him.

As I said, there are more than you'd want to know about.

I'm going to talk about six of them. They are Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, and... oh yeah, Captain Marvel.

Let's begin with Captain Marvel.

With one magic word the power of SHAZAM!
With one magic word the power of SHAZAM!

1. DC's Captain Marvel

It's only right that I begin with this guy. He was the first.

Back in 1939, a comic company called Fawcett Comics had their answer to Superman. They created a character who was big and strong and could fly. The thing was, he was different from other heroes because he was like Superman, but he was magic, too.

He was Billy Batson. You see young Billy after getting royally screwed out of his inheritance by his Uncle Ebenezer when his parents orphaned him was out on the street. A dark and mysterious stranger took him aboard a strange underground train and led him to a mighty wizard. The wizard was looking for a champion for justice and good. He told him he would offer him the power. The powers would give him the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. All Billy had to do was speak his name... SHAZAM!

Anytime Billy spoke the wizard's name, a bolt of magic lightning would strike him and transform him into the mighty Captain Marvel. Eventually, Captain Marvel would find others to join his fight—like his sister Mary, who became Mary Marvel and his sickly friend, Freddie Freeman who through Billy gets some of his powers by saying "Captain Marvel" and becoming Captain Marvel, Jr. (thus becoming the only hero in the DCU unable to say his own name without losing his powers).

The Marvel Family: left to right: Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, Uncle Marvel, Hillbilly Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Tall Marvel, and Fat Marvel
The Marvel Family: left to right: Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, Uncle Marvel, Hillbilly Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Tall Marvel, and Fat Marvel

The Marvel Family has non-powered members, too. There is "Uncle" Marvel, Billy's "Uncle" Dudley who has played along with the entire Shazam motif but has no powers and changes clothes into his version of a Marvel. He lies to his Marvel friends to say that he can't do most of the feats because his "Shazam-bago" is acting up. There is also Mister "Tawky" Tawny who is a pookah tiger come to life.

Along with those Mary and Freddy, there are lieutenant Marvels. Why lieutenant Marvels? Well, why be a Captain Marvel when you can't outrank anyone? In any event, three other boys (called Tall Billy, Fat Billy, and Hill Billy for nicknames and to tell each other apart) became the Lieutenant Marvels, Tall Marvel, Fat Marvel, and Hillbilly Marvel—each is only a quarter as powerful as Captain Marvel.

Cap's most frequent antagonist is Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana. A Lex Luthor like scientist with a family of misfits of his own made up by his children Magnificus, Beautia, Sivana Jr., and Georgia Sivana.

The Monster Society of Evil
The Monster Society of Evil

Captain Marvel has a huge rogue’s gallery with a few characters that have origin stories like his. There is Black Adam, Shazam's first champion, who allowed his power to corrupt him. Then there is IBAC, Lucifer's champion who gave Stinky Printwhistle the powers of Ivan the Terrible, Cesare Borgia, Attila the Hun, ad Caligula to become a strong evil guy. Then there is SABBAC who is Timothy Barnes after he says his magic word to get the powers of Satan, Aym, Belial, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, and Crateis. He breathes fire and causes all kinds of chaos.

Aside from the villains that yell magic words to get their powers, Captain Marvel has tangled with Mister Mind, the world's wickedest worm, who is a tiny worm-like alien who speaks through the assistance of a tiny radio speaker. Mister Atom is an invincible radioactive robot who is a legitimate threat against the Marvels and there is also King Kull, the beast man, and the champion of fascism, the super-strong Captain Nazi.

As a comic book reader, you should understand that the original flavor, up until the mid-eighties, was that these stories were generally fun adventures of a boy who could turn into a superhero and had a menagerie of characters that could appeal to young adults without getting too dark.

The light-hearted tone of the comic book, for the most part, comes from a combination of empowerment of a young boy and the values that such a character would have if armed with the wisdom of the ages. When you think about it, he is a poster-boy for the Mason. A boy who is essentially a tabula rasa is transformed from a child to an adult to become powerful. Knowledge is power. Words are power. With the words that are spoken and lived we have a transformation into a mighty force. Does Billy hoard this power to himself? No, he shares it. He shares it with his sister, his sick friend, and his peers. All of this is in the name of fighting evil and protecting the populace.

What I'll say about Captain Marvel, or Shazam as they're calling him nowadays, is that the stories, while a bit more serious for a grimmer DC Universe have invited a bit of speculative fiction to creep in. Now that all the heroes are within a common universe/multiverse, Captain Marvel's magic fueled powers can challenge the magically vulnerable Superman when he can strike the man of steel with magic lightning that will fry him as easily as the real thing would do to any human.

Marvel one time flagship character - Captain Mar-Vell
Marvel one time flagship character - Captain Mar-Vell

2. Captain Marvel, The Kree Captain Mar-Vell

I must admit that I have a soft spot for this guy. He was my personal favorite.

Of all the characters out there who use the moniker of "Captain Marvel," this character has the most character of the bunch. I won't ignore the blatant similarities between him and his DC counter-part. While Mar-Vell's origins started with one-part science-y "Captain Video, Space Commander" and then got an injection of superhero badass powers. There is also the element of a teen-ager transforming into a mighty hero.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's talk about Mar-Vell. A Captain in the Kree Military sent under the command of Colonel Yon Rogg, a petty rival in love with Mar-Vell's main squeeze Medical Officer Una, to spy on Earth for the Kree Supreme Intelligence. (I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the Supreme Intelligence. If you want to know more about him I have more details in my "Super Geniuses of the Marvel Universe" article.) Under the guise of gathering intelligence for gaining yet another foothold for the Kree Empire, Mar-Vell impersonates Doctor Walter Lawson, a scientist at a military base.

Mar-Vell's powers were quite ordinary at this point. He was a Kree and with that he was 1) marginally stronger than any human and 2) had problems breathing the air on Earth. Throughout his missions, which were constantly being sabotaged by Yon Rogg, Mar-Vell (or Captain Marvel, as his name fell prey to the Earth tongue) grew to admire the Earth people, specifically the security chief of the base, Carol Danvers.

After Yon Rogg's treacherous acts were exposed, the Supreme Intelligence honored Captain Marvel with a new uniform (the red and blue one), and shortly thereafter Marvel becomes trapped in the anti-matter universe known as The Negative Zone.

Negabands clang together and Rick Jones switches atoms with Mar-Vell in the Negative Zone
Negabands clang together and Rick Jones switches atoms with Mar-Vell in the Negative Zone

Meanwhile, teen sidekick to practically everyone, Rick Jones was psychically led to find a pair of bracelets known as Negabands. Once he put them on, he was prompted to slam them together. That act caused his atoms to be exchanged with Mar-Vell's in The Negative Zone. They were now in constant psychic contact as their two souls became intermingled. What's more, Mar-Vell now had a method to gain access to the positive universe. Mar-Vell could switch places with Jones when the need arose to fight any super-powered menace that threatened the common good.

Soon after, Marvel and Jones were dragged into the Kree/Skrull War. During the conflict Jones and Marvel had found a way to exist in the positive universe together, however at the climax of the war, the Supreme Intelligence tapped Jones to release the tremendous psychic powers (which apparently exist within all humans) known as the Destiny Force to put an end to the war. Unfortunately, the powers proved to be too much for Jones, and the experience threatened to kill him. As Jones lay dying, Marvel used his own life force to re-enter the Negative Zone and rejoin their shared existence. Jones and Marvel were now linked again.

Here, we enter one of the best comic arcs ever written under Jim Starlin. Thanos, the mad Titan, began a campaign to wipe out all life in the solar system and because Thanos is Thanos his best path to doing that was to become God. This was a lifetime before anyone chose to use an "Infinity Gauntlet." What Thanos did was the same thing the Red Skull did, he decided to use The Cosmic Cube. Unfortunately, no one knew where to find it—well, practically no one. Thanos discovered, by yet unrevealed means, that somewhere buried in the subconsciousness of Rick Jones the location of the cube was hidden.

After kidnapping Rick Jones (and Mar-Vell for that matter) and beating the snot out of Drax the Destroyer, Thanos extracted the location and got the cube. It was during this time that Mar-Vell was whisked away by the cosmic entity Eon. Eon was tasked with one mission—to find and make Mar-Vell the new cosmic protector and grant him cosmic awareness to stop Thanos from killing everyone.

Yes, everyone.

Eon gives Captain Marvel cosmic awareness (and changes his hair to blonde)
Eon gives Captain Marvel cosmic awareness (and changes his hair to blonde)

In the process of doing this, Mar-Vell forsook the way of the Kree Warrior life and began a path of peace. The cosmic awareness granted him a sense of things that were significant (it was like playing a video game and knowing the object that glinted briefly was the thing you needed to defeat the big boss). Much like Spider-man's spider-sense and Mantis's psychic vibrations it warned him of danger, although cosmic awareness was greater in scope than either. Eon tightened already hair trigger reflexes within Marvel and gave him an abundance of humility and a pinch of grandeur to prepare him for the task of stopping Thanos.

What I need to stress here is that Mar-Vell—Captain Marvel—from this point onward became a potent badass. What's more the gospel he was preaching was 1) war is bad, 2) inner peace is good, 3) violence is a last resort, and 4) life must be protected. Through the baptism of blood that Eon gives him, Marvel defeated his own inner demons of his warrior codes and embraced a life of being an apostate of it.

Here's the thing—through the actions of Rick Jones, Captain Marvel fought Thanos and lost at a man to god fight because of course he did. However, Cap won by understanding the nature of Thanos's power and used his cosmic awareness—not by fighting him—but by cutting his power off at the source.

Death comes to Mar-Vell after his battle with cancer
Death comes to Mar-Vell after his battle with cancer

Captain Mar-Vell was the first guy to beat Thanos.

I urge you to get your hands on a trade copy of "The Life of Captain Marvel" or "The Life and Death of Captain Marvel" which has the best work of Jim Starlin's Captain Marvel work in it. If you can't get your hands on that buy The Essential Captain Marvel volume 2. It's all the good stuff but in black and white print.

I will not talk about the ultimate scheme of the Supreme Intelligence involving Jones and Captain Marvel, but it's worth noting that there was one. What I will talk about is Mar-Vell's eventual death. In what is perhaps one of the most heart wrenching single one-shots and the first real graphic novel Marvel Comics published, "The Death of Captain Marvel" is one of Jim Starlin's best works. Captain Marvel has retired from his public life to the utopian moon of Saturn, Titan. While focusing his cosmic awareness inward, he discovered he has what the Kree call "Black End"—which in Earth terms is cancer. This story is important because it shows how even a hero like Marvel must face an inevitable foe he cannot beat. We see the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance of death. It is in this story we see the true meaning of being a hero and how one man had the courage to face his fate.

This is why Captain Marvel... Mar-Vell... is my favorite Captain Marvel and hero.

Carol Danvers as Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Warbird
Carol Danvers as Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Warbird

3. Captain Marvel, aka Ms. Marvel, aka Binary, aka Warbird

I figured this was as good a place as any to introduce the current Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers.

When we first meet Carol Danvers, she was the security chief of a military base and befriended Doctor Walter Lawson (secretly Mar-Vell of the Kree). Her initial involvement within the plot was as one third of a love triangle for Mar-Vell—the other member was Medic Una of the Kree and whose untimely death haunted Captain Marvel for years. Things came to a head with Mar-Vell, when Yon Rogg kidnapped her. His psyche-magnetron exploded in front of Mar-Vell and gave Danvers half of his Kree physiognomy. Her powers manifested much later after the accident. We don't hear from Carol Danvers for a while. She turned up later again when the villain, Nitro, stole the weaponized nerve gas, Compound 13, under her watch as security chief. Mar-Vell managed to recover the gas before it leaked enough to cause a major catastrophe, but in the long run, it was a carcinogen that gave him the cancer which killed him.

Ms Marvel was violated and no one knew
Ms Marvel was violated and no one knew

Things to know about Carol Danvers was she was an air force fighter pilot and met Logan (Wolverine) during a military operation—they've been friends since.

When Danvers began her superhero career, it was under the guise of Ms. Marvel. Her hybrid Kree/Human physiognomy gave her strength, speed, endurance, and can fly at approximately six times the speed of sound. She also has a precognition "seventh-sense" which like Captain Marvel's cosmic awareness and Spider-man's spider-sense gives her a limited warning of danger.

After a long career as Ms. Marvel (as well as an editor position for a magazine under the Daily Bugle), she was mentally seduced and raped by an incarnation of Immortus, Lord of Time, who took the guise of Marcus. Marcus eventually impregnated Danvers with another version of himself—which she gave birth to and eventually left our dimension with. As the mental manipulation and aggressive brainwashing was too subtle for her Avengers team mates, they assumed she left freely. This was not the case. Marcus had used alien technology to bend her will. Danvers returned after Marcus passed away of old age and revealed she was an unwilling participant of Marcus and was truly violated.

Carol Danvers as Binary
Carol Danvers as Binary

Shortly thereafter, she fought the mutant (and future X-man), Rogue. In what was a life-changing event, Rogue fought her too hard and managed to absorb all of Danvers powers and memories permanently. Later, Professor X helped restore her memories (albeit without much of the emotional attachment she'd had to past relationships—like the one with her parents). After an adventure in space, the alien race, The Brood, had captured her and did experiments on her.

Life sucks for Carol... until...

She gained phenomenal cosmic powers fueled by a cosmic white hole, gaining the energy of a dying star release. Renaming herself "Binary" she gained the ability to manipulate stellar energy with all the heat, light, and radiant energy that go with that. With that energy, combined with her hybrid-Kree genetic structure her strength increased to help her press approximately 92 tons.

Her career as Binary came to an end when the connection she had to the white hole was severed. The experience was enough to restart her Kree powers and she resumed her super-hero career under the name "Warbird"—from her connection with old fighter pilots. It was during this time when she developed a destructive drinking habit and recognized she'd become an alcoholic. Soon after the "Live Kree or Die" storyline, she left the Avengers with some of her team mates.

Carol Danvers after assuming the mantle of Captain Marvel
Carol Danvers after assuming the mantle of Captain Marvel

Danvers return to the superhero community came with the "Civil War" over the Superhuman Registration Act where she joined with Tony Stark and his pro-registration community and eventually led "The Mighty Avengers" team (filled with the strongest Avengers to be recruited—Wonder Man, Iron Man, The Sentry, Ares, Black Widow, and Danvers). She eventually turned away from the team after the Skrull "Secret Invasion" conflict and the entirety of the hero community was led by Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R.

Danvers began calling herself "Captain Marvel" after she deemed herself worthy of the mantle of Mar-Vell and changed her costume to reflect the change as her costume is an amalgamation of a Kree captain's uniform as well as Mar-Vell's old design.

Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel joined the Avengers and eventually led the team
Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel joined the Avengers and eventually led the team

4. Captain Marvel, aka Photon, aka Pulsar, aka Spectrum

Chronologically, Monica Rambeau was the second person to call herself "Captain Marvel". Actually, that's wrong. Rambeau didn't start calling herself "Captain Marvel"—apparently the media dubbed her with the title shortly after she acquired her powers through a standard Marvel origin story involving exposure to extradimensional radiation for unexpected beneficial effect.

In Rambeau's case, she found she could change herself to any form of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum. When she uses her powers, she inherits all the aspects of that radiation, more or less. She can choose to remain visible or invisible and she can move as quickly as those energy sources. For example, she can move with the speed of a radio wave or she can shine as brightly as white light in a room. She can become tangible or intangible, allowing her to walk through walls. She can project this energy from her body for offensive destructive use and she can cast holographic illusions of herself at will.

Monica Rambeau, the second hero in the MU to use the name Captain Marvel
Monica Rambeau, the second hero in the MU to use the name Captain Marvel

A byproduct of her superpowers is she is practically immortal as energy can neither be created or destroyed.

She applied to be an Avenger to help her control and master her powers and, eventually, led the team.

When Genis-Vell began to use his father's mantle as Captain Marvel, she, after some reluctance, gave him the name and took on the title of Photon. After Genis-Vell gave up using the title of Captain Marvel and switched to Photon, she changed her name to Pulsar—which she preferred.

Currently, she's using the code name "Spectrum" after abandoning her Pulsar name while in the covert team of Nextwave.

Genis-Vell in the three phases of his hero career
Genis-Vell in the three phases of his hero career

5. Captain Marvel, aka Legacy, aka Genis-Vell, aka Photon

Some characters have big shoes to fill, Genis-Vell is one of them.

In life, Mar-Vell only fathered one child "the old-fashioned way". You see there was this tryst he had with a Skrull princess, and well... Hulkling has to deal with some issues. I'm not going to talk about Hulkling. I'm going to talk about Mar-Vell's half clone, half Titan Eternal son, Genis.

You see toward the end of his life, Mar-Vell fell in love with and partnered with Elysius - a Titan-born artificially through the massive computer intelligence ISAAC (Integral Synaptic Anti+/Anionic Computer). After Mar-Vell died of cancer, Elysius decided she was going to have his baby.

You can laugh if you want to; I did.

She used the advanced technology of the Titan eternals with Mar-Vell's genetic material. One of the things she later realized was the best thing about kids was making them. Why raise a child when you can artificially age them into adulthood and give them artificial memories to keep them from going insane? The good news is you get to have an adult kid who is physically close to your own age, the bad news is that when you need to blame your kid for having a delinquent adulthood full of booze, babes, and gambling, you can't yell at the computer for failing to raise him right.

Rick Jones gets bound to Genis-Vell
Rick Jones gets bound to Genis-Vell

Genis as the super-human known as Legacy (implied that he is the Legacy of Mar-Vell) was a social misfit and jerk. Considering that Eros was supposed to be guiding his growth, it's no surprise that Starfox dropped the ball.

However, there was some hope.

Rick Jones, former sidekick of Mar-Vell, became embroiled in an event called The Destiny War. You see that "Destiny Force" that the Supreme Intelligence triggered in Jones during the Kree/Skrull War—well, Supreme Intelligence got him to use it again against Immortus and his army of miscreants. This time, instead of dying immediately afterward, he could pluck out a team of heroes from different time periods. One of the heroes is Genis from the not-too-distant future who has his act together.When the Destiny War concluded, Rick Jones found himself wearing a set of negabands like the ones he wore when he was partnered with Mar-Vell. When he banged them together he switched places with Genis as Legacy who immediately transformed into a version of the Captain Marvel in the Destiny War.

Neither was happy with the situation.

The other hitch with this situation was Genis's face manifested itself full of stars. This is a manifestation of cosmic awareness. When Mar-Vell used this power, the same thing happened to his face. Genis did not know how to use this power at all.The other thing was that Rick and Genis could switch places. What they later found out was that Genis was not in the Negative Zone, he was in the Microverse—which had a different set of dangers.

Father and son
Father and son

Rick and Genis had their set of adventures where Rick, through the experience of being a veteran sidekick to Mar-Vell, the Hulk, Captain America, and Rom the Space Knight was the brains of the two.

Things got crazy when Genis tried to start using the full scope of cosmic awareness and when temporarily insane.

When Rick and Genis were finally separated from each other, Genis, taking the name Photon, joined the Thunderbolts—a team of reformed villains turned heroes. Through the unfortunate planning of Baron Zemo and the time energies he used to help Genis recover, he found that it was unavoidable to stabilize Genis without ending the universe and trapped Genis while separating parts of his body in different moments in time effectively trapping him for eternity.

Genis was super strong, could fly, and could fire his quantum energy bolts. In addition to them, he had cosmic awareness that he never could fully master. The downside of getting that kind of influx of pure cosmic information is you really need to be prepared for it when it comes.

Phyla-Vell, daughter of Mar-Vell
Phyla-Vell, daughter of Mar-Vell

6. Captain Marvel, aka Phyla-Vell, aka Quasar, aka Martyr

Ever have a secret sister? Me, neither. It turns out that Elysius like to make kids with Mar-Vell's DNA. Phyla-Vell is Genis's secret lesbian sister.

No, I'm not kidding.

Phyla revealed herself to be the rightful successor of Mar-Vell as Genis had technically gone insane. She told Genis she was taking the mantle of Captain Marvel and Genis in so many words told her to "blow it out her ass."

At some point, she took the title of Captain Marvel and manifested low level cosmic awareness. Here's what Phyla-Vell likes to do—she likes to take other people's legacies. It's not her fault. It's the way she was artificially raised. She was just lucky enough to take the cosmic quantum bands from the original Quasar (who got them from the golden-age hero Marvel Boy) that usually come from Eon or his offspring Epoch to give to whomever is the protector of the universe at the time.

Phyla-Vell as Quasar
Phyla-Vell as Quasar

She does an adequate job between saving the Kree Empire, running with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and having a full-time relationship with Moondragon in their love that dare not speak its name.

She got killed once by Maelstrom and was resurrected as the entity Martyr. As Martyr, she proves to be unstable and disruptive and later got herself killed again by Thanos.

Gamora raised her from the dead with the use of the Infinity Stones and now she's working with The Guardians of the Galaxy again.

Phyla has a not unimpressive array of powers partly derived through her genes and partly derived from the quantum bands she wore. She had a weaker form of cosmic awareness—which was probably for the best and that awareness assisted her in battle. Her quantum bands could manufacture light constructs and fire force bolts.

In addition to that as Martyr, she created a light sword that could cut practically anything. Whether she has acquired any new powers since her resurrection remains to be seen.

Khn'nr, the Skrull who thought he was Captain Mar-Vell
Khn'nr, the Skrull who thought he was Captain Mar-Vell

Oh, the Marvels of this world.

Please hold your rotten tomatoes, you'll never find me.

There are so many.

Leaving alone the Marvel Family from DC, there are also Marvel Boy (Robert Grayson, Noh-Varr, Vance Astrovik, and Wendell Vaughn), Marvel Girl (Jean Grey, Valeria Richards, and Rachel Summers), Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers, Sharon Ventura, Karla Sofen, and Kamala Khan), Marvel Man (also known as Miracle Man), Blue Marvel, and Black Marvel.

There's even another Captain Marvel with Noh-Varr when he joined the Dark Avengers. And far be it for me to even mention Khn'nr, the Skrull who thought he was Captain Mar-Vell during the Secret Invasion storyline. So much so that he sacrificed his life in a way and fashion that would have done Mar-Vell proud.I don't think the Captain Marvel from the Ultimate Universe should count toward this, but at the very least, he should be mentioned.

There are Captain Marvels a-plenty. They're just marvel-ous. Quite a marvel.

Okay, I'll stop now.

Noh-Varr, Captain Marvel of the Dark Avengers
Noh-Varr, Captain Marvel of the Dark Avengers

Initially, I began writing this article to educate people about a character that was near and dear to my heart. His name was Captain Marvel and I was introduced to him when I was six-years old.

I came across Captain Marvel issues 27 through 30 at my cousin's house. The issues were read thoroughly, the stamps on the reader's page were cut out, and they were surrounded by other comics that were covered with so much graffiti (Yes, my older cousins drew mustaches and devil horns on the covers) that a collector would scream in horror.

However, I remember reading them as a child and finding Starlin's artwork compelling. Of course, no six-year old could fully appreciate what he'd done or articulate the drawings properly outside of "Wow!", but I was captivated by his work. The first image I can remember was in issue 28, when Rick Jones is standing in the Avengers Mansion and simply says "Let's get this show on the road, eh?" and then clanged the negabands together switching to Marvel's battle shredded costume from his fight with the Superskrull on Titan.

If you were a fan of Starlin's work from the "Life of Captain Marvel," you could appreciate issue 29. The entire breaking down of Mar-Vell's warrior persona and how fighting for love and honor was pointless. Indeed, there were deeper issues at heart when a child could see through the weirdness that there is no honor in killing your brother and fighting to bring your lover back to life is worthless if you can't recover her soul as well. Leave alone that we saw Mar-Vell get his butt kicked by the Controller when he pulled half of the Avengers mansion down on top of him.

Mar-Vell rallying the Avengers against Thanos
Mar-Vell rallying the Avengers against Thanos

Issue 29, "Metamorphosis," when Eon transformed Mar-Vell into the protector was pivotal. The ravagers Eon sent to beat Mar-Vell were only there to show the reader how he needed to improve and how cosmic awareness was going to help him. After Mar-Vell's transformation, he not only beats the ravagers with ease, he conquers his own former self, illustrating that the greatest obstacle in his life was himself and once he defeated it the greatest reward would be his.

In issue 30, when he faces off against the Controller again, we can see by page 4 that this new Captain Marvel is a man to be reckoned with as everything he does is calculated. Rick's girlfriend, Lou Ann, has been captured by the Controller and even when Cap and Iron man assemble to the tracker to find her Cap does not go to her rescue. When Rick derides Cap for not going after her immediately, he tells Rick that he wasn't going to act impetuously by attacking the Controller when his light-based powers would be at their lowest and he'd wait until sunrise.

Mar-Vell fought with purpose. Mar-Vell had fought as a hero because he understood what being a hero was all about. Mar-Vell did not model himself after other people or took a legacy from his people. Mar-Vell's hero template was Mar-Vell. He understood his mission because he understood the needs and way of the universe through his cosmic awareness. And when he understood his own body was his final opponent and the inevitability of death came, he welcomed his mortality and was mourned by his friends.

That's what being a hero was all about. It wasn't about being mighty. It wasn't about having a cat. It wasn't about filling a legacy.

Captain Marvel and cosmic awareness
Captain Marvel and cosmic awareness

However, what I can say about the commonality of Mar-Vell and DC's Captain Marvel is they both achieved the same thing through two different methods. DC's Captain Marvel gained power and wisdom (through Solomon) with a magic word and transformation through magic. Mar-Vell's method and theme were practically the same but through science. Where in DC Billy and Cap are the same person, Mar-Vell and Rick are two different people brought together through the science of the negabands. The wisdom Billy got from Solomon was not much different than the cosmic awareness that Mar-Vell got through his transformation by Eon.

Both characters knew what they were doing through some kind higher external knowledge base made specifically for them that they used for a type of counsel. In Billy Batson's case it came from a mythological figure who was the embodiment of wisdom; in Mar-Vell's case it came from the very intelligence of the universe itself. The thing is that while Mar-Vell could handle and filter this massive intelligence in stride, he son, Genis, could not. Cosmic Awareness is a double-edged sword.

Shazam, a name and an acronym
Shazam, a name and an acronym

In the book "Our Gods Wear Spandex," Christopher Knowles makes the case that DC's Captain Marvel embodies a sort of Jungian archetype of masonic initiate gaining wisdom. The initiate is weak and awaits knowledge or power to fill that vessel to make him powerful. This is true with DC's Captain Marvel and rather than say it is true with Mar-Vell, the real analogy comes with Captain America and his transformation used with the super-soldier formula. While it is unlikely that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby intended this model to be an initiate to be filled with liquid patriotism to make a powerful soldier, the analogy nevertheless fits.

In the case of Mar-Vell, Rick Jones is merely passing the baton for his alter-ego to step in and answer the hero's call, leaving Jones on the ethereal sidelines to watch passively. When a reader starts to look at the parallels between DC and Marvel's Captain Marvels they can find themselves tumbling down a rabbit hole.

The masonic analogy of Captain Marvel and knowledge making power through "Our Gods Wear Spandex"
The masonic analogy of Captain Marvel and knowledge making power through "Our Gods Wear Spandex"

For example, the wizard Shazam and the Supreme Intelligence could easily be looked at the architect of their respective heroes’ roles. The snag in that is that the motivations behind either of those two characters is vastly different. For Shazam, giving Billy Batson the power to be his champion was done for very altruistic reasons. He had seen how power had corrupted Teth Adam (Black Adam) and found that using an innocent adolescent would be less likely to turn—especially when guided by the wisdom of Solomon.

With the Supreme Intelligence, the motivation was more cold and sinister—as you'd expect from a million-year-old semi-organic alien computer. The Supreme Intelligence wanted the Kree, who had reached the end of their evolutionary ladder to climb one more rung through adding a bit of human into the mix. He'd seen the potential for psychic greatness and found that Rick Jones was the perfect vessel to merge Mar-Vell's Kree physiognomy into its matrix.

One is good and the other is... well, morally ambiguous.

Sometimes knowledge IS torture
Sometimes knowledge IS torture

The one thing I'd like you to ponder is the name, "Captain Marvel."

Why is it so popular and why do so many people want to use it? The simple answer, especially when contemplating the popularity of the latest Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, is money. There are gobs of money in that name left from a legacy of her Kree predecessor.

Marvel saw their flagship name character and saw an opening target market for young girls reading comic books. Then suddenly the marketing people of both Marvel and Disney saw this as an opportunity to blow the dust off their Ms. Marvel character and give her the spotlight. After all, Ms. Marvel was always a model for the feminist movement and as little girls were clamoring for DC's Wonder Woman, why not amp up Carol Danvers? So what if she really was a one-dimensional construct?

And, just so you know, I specifically put off publishing this article until after I'd seen the Captain Marvel movie. The best thing I can say about it was that it was "adequate," the worst was it had puke-inducing parts that made me want to scream in the movie theatre.

I mean, "good Skrulls" and "Cthulhu cats?" And don't get me started on Jude Law's character and how Annette Benning should have hung up on her agent.

There, I said it.

They weren't going to be writing the next great American novel with this comic book or character and the movie was certainly not going to be Masterpiece Theatre.

Disney and Marvel in their ever-growing mission to make more positive female role models available for profit, hijacked the Captain Marvel brand, marginalized Mar-Vell to be an obscure female Kree scientist and popped Carol Danvers to be the be-all end all of Marvel's hero line up.

I won't even pretend to be happy about that.

The three faces of Annette Bening in Captain Marvel
The three faces of Annette Bening in Captain Marvel

What I will say is this, you can take the term "captain marvel" as a sentence. The word "captain" as a verb means "to control" or "preside over." Captaining a ship would be to steer and lead it to a destination. Where? Marvel. A word here that means "a wonderful or astonishing person or thing."

Simply put, we as an audience are looking for a character to take us to something amazing. Something astonishing. Something wonderful. When we're talking about a hero, that's a lot of pressure for the writer.

I'm sure Stan Lee and C.C. Beck understood their mission. They needed to take their readers to an amazing place and they needed a new character to take them there. They needed to captain marvel. When they make that character, they can't afford to disappoint us.

*-In later issues after Starlin's run, we find both 
Mar-Vell and Jones's consciousnesses intermingling.  
This was done by design and was part of the Supreme 
Intelligence's ultimate scheme for Mar-Vell and Jones. 
What is revealed through the Jones/Mar-Vell pairing 
and Jones's semi accidental ingestion of LSD (or something 
to that effect) that Jones's consciousness, 
specifically when it is in an altered state, did 
affect Mar-Vell when he began to hallucinate. 
Therefore, it was revealed the nature of their 
symbiosis would affect the whole of their persona.  
So, the question of Mar-Vell and Jones 
being two separate individuals especially Rick's 
contraction of cancer, possibly through sharing 
atoms with a cancer-riddled Mar-Vell, in the later 
issues of Rom the Space Knight, is 
certainly debatable.

Questions & Answers

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      • cperuzzi profile imageAUTHOR

        Christopher Peruzzi 

        2 months ago from Freehold, NJ

        @LaZeric,

        I see you've been blessed with the Wisdom of Solomon.

        Thanks for the compliment.

      • trusouldj profile image

        LaZeric Freeman 

        2 months ago from Hammond

        You can call him Shazam, but he'll always be CAPTAIN MARVEL to me. Great article.

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