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What's the deal with Captain Marvel's Doctor Minerva?
Carol Danvers has been around for a heck of a long time to have such a sparse rogues' gallery, especially considering how many bridges this lady has burned in her life. This is from a place of love, but Danvers is a scrapper. You would think there would be a pretty strong arch-nemesis presence in her life, but most of Carol’s stories are either about Kree stuff or relationship drama. This is an issue that has plagued most female superheroes over the last several decades — indeed, it effected most female characters of the ‘70s, including Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, and, of course, our girl Carol. It wasn’t until Mystique that Danvers got a truly iconic villain, but that was at the end of her first series and recently there has been little in the way of interactions between them.
Even Doctor Minerva, who is being introduced to the big screen along with her longtime comic book partner Mister Atlas in this year's Captain Marvel, isn’t a Carol Danvers villain so much as she’s a general Avengers villain. She has had one memorable fight with Carol in the comics, but that was as recently as 2016 during Civil War II. In most of her appearances, she is used as an interchangeable C-list villain, so there isn’t a lot of information available on her. On the other hand, she has the potential to be so much more, so it’ll be exciting to see where the movie takes her.
Doctor Minerva made her first appearances in comics in the original Captain Marvel series, about a warrior named Mar-Vell from the far-off planet Kree-La, home of the Kree. Coincidentally, Minerva was also from Kree-La. In her work as a geneticist, she deduced that Mar-vell would be her ideal mate and that together they would create a physically perfect specimen. This is highly uncomfortable subject matter, but definitely not unheard of for comic book villains of the ‘70s. She kidnapped Rick Jones to trick Marvel into following her to her spaceship. For regular people, being kidnapped and used as bait in some kind of intergalactic Tinder hook-up would be a really weird and traumatizing thing to have happen, but for Rick Jones, it's just another Tuesday. Eventually, Minerva was ordered to leave Marvel alone, but when she refused she was attacked and he did end up saving her, although he did not impregnate her and thus did not “increase the evolutionary potential of the Kree.” This is probably because that’s not how genetics actually work, but more on that later. In the end, Minerva and Marvel go their separate ways.
Fast forward several years into the early ‘90s and Minerva made a slight comeback alongside Mister Atlas. The two of them teamed up against the hero Quasar, but their plans went nowhere and they ended up mostly amicably parting ways with him after he very casually defeated them. They showed up again later in the sprawling crossover Operation: Galactic Storm in which several of Marvel’s cosmic properties collided in the exact kind of brightly colored mess readers can generally expect from crossovers. She and Atlas appeared as Avengers antagonists in the loosely assembled team known as Starforce. Helping the alien invaders known as the Shi’ar over their own people, they were later seen to be exiled as traitors of the Kree in the Annihilation story. While this shocked Atlas, it had been part of Minerva's plan all along. Atlas attempted to commit suicide out of shame for his part in Kree genocide, and although neither of them actually died at the time and both came back later, Atlas is again currently believed to be deceased.Since these few appearances, Minerva showed up in Spider-Man briefly to battle Peter Parker and Ms. Marvel. In Civil War II, she finally fought Carol Danvers, but the fight was brief and served as a minor part of another massive crossover that prevented us from really ever learning much about Minerva’s motivations. Even now, beyond wanting to manipulate Marvel into a relationship and then later making some half-hearted attempts at evil deeds with Atlas, it’s hard to say definitively what Minerva’s motivation is. She does keep coming back in slight capacity, but hopefully, in Captain Marvel, we’ll find out a little bit more about what she’s about.
Minerva is incredibly powerful, and her amoral belief system could make for a truly great villain for Carol Danvers, who definitely needs a rogues' gallery that doesn't just consist of casual debates with Tony Stark or bitterly feuding with Mystique, who appears to have lost interest in their feud quite a while back. At present, without any development, she’s a jumble of cliches. For instance, there are many female supervillains whose sole purpose is to become impregnated by the hero, only to become incredibly angry when the hero does not concede to their plan. (Other villains that fit this trope include Talia al Ghul and Maxima.) Even if not for the bizarre purpose of creating a perfect heir, most female villains sought to drain the male hero’s power through sex well into the '80s at least, including everyone from Amora to Poison Ivy and beyond. Female villains rarely showed up to fight a male hero as an equal, instead choosing to either seduce or steal power from them. Generally, the two things were intertwined.Minerva’s characterization isn’t great, and through a modern lens, we can see that her plans and her scientific ideology are strongly inspired by the practice of eugenics. If you wish to create a completely unsympathetic and irredeemable character, having them promote eugenics is generally the way to go, but with Minerva, there isn’t much commitment to the theme and explanation of her scientific process is sparse.
Although it is seldom discussed by comic book writers in these stories, attempting to breed a superior physical specimen is indeed eugenics, and casually dropping it in as a character-defining trait without commentary on the significant provable hazards of attempting to “breed perfection” is at least somewhat irresponsible on the part of the creators. It's fascinating that these stories are dismissed as just a woman being a little too forward for her own good when in truth they're espousing some of the most harmful scientific misconceptions of the last century, not to mention the violation of consent implied by the plan. Thankfully, those specific parts of her persona have not been brought up at any length since her appearances in the original Captain Marvel series.
Minerva was created during a time in which stereotypes of women whose only interest in life is having babies even if they happen to be leading scientists permeated the landscape of superhero comics. Likewise, nearly every female villain of the first many several decades of North American mainstream superhero comics was primarily motivated by her desire to trick and seduce the male hero. What this says about the individual writer's views on women is generally splashed across the page quite plainly and we needn't belabor the point here. In the same breath, it's important that this trope goes away and never comes back because it's offensive and it limits the storytelling potential of these female characters.
Regardless of what direction they take Doctor Minerva, the filmmakers of Captain Marvel have a pretty good chance of giving audiences a much more definitive and interesting take on her than we’ve seen to date. We’re definitely stoked to see Carol in all her heroic glory, but here’s hoping we finally get to see a more interesting rogues gallery develop for her as well. If anything, Minerva might be the key to that.