Carol Danvers is about to make her big-screen debut next year as Captain Marvel in Marvel’s first female-led film, and we can’t wait to see our girl fighting Skrulls in the ‘90s set to what we’re guessing is going to be an amazing soundtrack. While we await the magic, though, there’s a whole slew of Carol Danvers stories in the Marvel comics universe dating all the way back to her first appearance in 1968.
Of all the Marvel superheroes, Carol might be the one that’s been through the most drastic changes over her 50-year history. She began as an officer of the Air Force, became a women’s magazine editor, took up the mantle of Ms. Marvel, was brainwashed into marrying an abuser who was also kind of her son (?), had her psyche pretty much destroyed by the X-Man Rogue, became Binary, suffered alcoholism, quit drinking, and, ultimately, became Captain Marvel (after a stint as Warbird). Yipes!
What we’re saying is, this is a character that, although not always written to the fullest of her potential, has gone through the grinder and come out on the other side a hero. For better or worse, we’ve been here all along the way, watching Carol Danvers rise up as one of the greats of the Marvel universe. Here are some of her proudest moments.
MS. MARVEL VOLUME 1 #19
The original Ms. Marvel series gave us a very young and inexperienced Carol Danvers, struggling to understand her powers, looking at her peers with starry-eyed hero worship, working as the editor of a women’s magazine, and befriending Mary Jane Watson, all while battling supervillains. The journey made for a great read, but Issue 19 was the moment Carol seemed to finally come into her own as the character we know and love. The whole series is worth reading, but this issue is essential for understanding her early characterization.
Ronan the Accuser comes to Earth to round up the few Kree on the planet, and when he encounters Ms. Marvel, the two of them engage in a no-holds-barred brawl. Unfortunately, Carol is no match for him, and she is captured. When Captain Marvel arrives to save the day, he is so surprised by her costume that it gives Ronan time to take him out. The two of them have to team up to escape, at which time they reconcile and leave off as friends. Ms. Marvel keeps her codename, but soon after changes to her more iconic lightning bolt costume.
AVENGERS ANNUAL #10
One of the most troubling of all the problematic comic book stories is the Marcus storyline in the Avengers, in which Carol Danvers is partnered up with a man named Marcus via a long and traumatizing brainwashing process while the Avengers do nothing to help her. In-depth analysis from writer Carol Strickland called out the story because Marcus had essentially raped Carol Danvers and then coerced her into a relationship with him, and the rest of the Avengers had been less than helpful as they cheerfully wished them on their way. It is highly recommended that all readers skip the Marcus story, as it — not surprisingly — does not make for a fun read. Former Ms. Marvel writer Chris Claremont heard and agreed with Strickland’s criticism of the story, and rather than allowing it simply to fade into the ether, he chose to give Carol a rarely seen moment of catharsis for survivors of abuse in Avengers Annual #10.
Carol Danvers attempts to heal and recuperate from Rogue attacking her psyche after she’d barely freed herself from Marcus’ hold, an action that would go on to bear years of repercussions for both women. Carol works with Professor Xavier to regain a semblance of normalcy. When the Avengers come to visit, they are surprised when she lashes out at them, angry that they had allowed Marcus to hurt her and furious that they still failed to acknowledge that she had needed them and they had failed her. When their apologies are inadequate, she asserts, “You screwed up, Avengers. That's human. What is also human is the ability to learn from those mistakes. To grow. To mature. If you do that — even a little — then perhaps what I went through will have a positive meaning. It's your choice.” Although she is traumatized again in Avengers Annual #10, the issue marks a defining moment in her character growth. For years, Carol would be a loner and a wild card who struggled with addiction. This comic is important to bridge the gap between her youthful self in Ms. Marvel and her later more troubled persona without actually having to read the Marcus story, and it brings a brief moment of catharsis when Carol is allowed to speak to those that unintentionally aided her abuser. There is no excuse for the Marcus story, but this issue at least gave Carol the opportunity to set the record straight.
THE BROOD SAGA
Uncanny X-Men had already had its share of groundbreaking stories, but The Brood Saga was one of the darkest yet. Played as a horror story more than anything, it showed us a team that was completely ravaged and wrecked by the alien entities known as the Brood, who had possessed multiple members of the team and turned them into host bodies for their young. Although they became most strongly associated with the X-Men, the Brood had been an enemy to the original Captain Marvel early on. In the middle of all this, a powerless Carol Danvers is experimented on and granted the powers of Binary, leading to a name change, a costume change, and her ultimate decision to leave earth to travel with the Starjammers for several years.
Although much of the story revolves around the X-Men, the parts with Carol in them stand out as being some of the most epic in one of the best X-Men stories ever. Carol saves the X-Men’s lives, but when they ask her to join them permanently, she mournfully admits that she no longer feels any connection with Earth. For the first time of many in her life, she chooses to live in deep space. Although she and the X-Men part ways on good terms, that would soon change when the X-Men accepted the mutant Rogue to the team even after she had absorbed Carol and led to such drastic changes in her. Carol would ultimately forgive the X-Men for this betrayal, but the bitterness that came from her departure from the Avengers and her disillusionment with the X-Men led to years of confusion and pain.
THE MIGHTY AVENGERS #1-6
Although this is more an Avengers story than a purely Carol Danvers story, it’s one of the first times we see her acting in a leadership capacity. In Mighty Avengers, she was put in charge of perhaps the least stable Avengers team of all time, featuring characters such as a tortured Sentry, an openly sexist Aries, and an incredibly condescending Tony Stark. Her cagey conversations with Stark and her inner monologue while she deflects his superficiality and digs deeper to find the answers she needs are prime Carol Danvers and gave us a return to her character that we sorely needed after years of instability and name changes.
The major villain of this arc was Ultron, who took on the appearance of Janet Van Dyne and immediately caused massive, city-wide destruction. Carol’s role as the leader is undermined throughout the arc, subtly by Tony and openly by Aries. Carol refuses to bend to either of them and insists on retreating despite Aries screaming in her face about it over many several panels. Her relationship with Wonder Man falters and stalls, and even though her friend Spider-Woman returns to active duty with the team it soon turns out that she’s really the Skrull Queen, using Spider-Woman’s identity to infiltrate the team in the lead up to Secret Invasion. Unfortunately, Carol didn't last long in a leadership capacity here, but her outstanding morality under incredible pressure helped redefine her for new stories going forward.
WAR OF THE MARVELS
While Carol Danvers was believed to be dead, and the villainous Norman Osborn had taken control of much of the Avengers and SHIELD, a new Ms. Marvel emerged in the form of the villain known as Moonstone. Otherwise known as Karla Sofen, Moonstone had been a longtime member of the Thunderbolts, and her morally dubious nature made her an excellent minion for Osborn. As Ms. Marvel, Karla caused a great deal of trouble for Marvel superheroes from within, but over time, she began to soften and grow attached to her new guise.
However, it was not meant to be. When Carol Danvers returned from the presumed dead, she had a lot of feelings about the “imposter” who took her place. The two of them took to the sky for an epic fight that stretches first across Los Angeles and then the rest of the country as they battled it out to determine the true Ms. Marvel. There’s some twists and turns along the way, but if you’re in the mood for a real knock-down drag-out superpowered brawl, War of the Marvels is one of the greats. While Moonstone’s good turns tend to be temporary (she was back in jail recently), she remains one of Marvel’s most intriguing female characters due to the inability to ever really tell where her allegiances truly lie. Still, most Captain Marvel megafans were thrilled to have Carol back in her old costume by the end of the story.
A-FORCE VOLUMES 1 & 2
One of the truly great things about Carol Danvers has always been her close female friendships. Although occasionally a bit dismissive of characters like the Wasp (whose openness seems to make Carol insecure), many of Carol’s best appearances have been those that pair her with other female superheroes as a friend they can count on when the chips are down. When Jessica Jones needs somewhere to stay in the Return of the Purple Man story arc, it’s Carol she turns to. Carol and Spider-Woman are best friends, and Carol helps her significantly before and after her pregnancy in Spider-Woman Volume 6. Then, in A-Force, we really get to see Captain Marvel’s loyalty and her compassion shine as one of the members an all-female team of Avengers.
While personalities in the team clash, for instance, She-Hulk and Medusa are unable to accept the other’s attempts at leadership, Carol’s specific form of teamwork comes into focus in the two volumes of A-Force. She stays clear of any bids for leadership, instead of working more often with her own team of scientists and engineers to get a grasp on the problems the team faces. As the Avengers leader, Carol was constantly challenged and all of her decisions had to be based on keeping control of her own team, in A-Force she was allowed to hang back and make her contributions via a knack for making the tough choices and taking responsibility for them individually for the good of her friends. Seeing Carol as a leader is always great, but A-Force stood out for giving us a version of the character that maintained a level of unshakable confidence regardless of her role in the team.
CAPTAIN MARVEL: HIGHER FASTER FURTHER MORE
Of all the different takes on Carol Danvers, perhaps none are quite so influential as that of Kelly Sue DeConnick, who helped launch the version of the character that is best known to wider audiences and who by all accounts greatly influenced the film version of Captain Marvel. Although her entire run is well worth the time, this is the story that gives us the strongest definition of who Carol is as a person. After all the many changes she had undergone, a definitive arc was sorely needed for Captain Marvel, and DeConnick, along with the artists who worked on her run of the book, gave us exactly that.
In Higher Faster Further More, we see a Carol who had undergone that defining character arc to emerge as a whole woman. She had begun a relationship with James Rhodes (War Machine), and her life had become stable. The comfort of her situation makes her incredibly restless, and when the opportunity arises for her to go off-planet, she takes it. She bids an understanding Rhodes farewell, and takes to the skies, encountering the Guardians of the Galaxy among others. Dragging her cat along for the ride, Carol’s clashing need for stability combined with her need for adventure came into subtle focus here and added an extra element of depth to her. Carol’s strength as a character has come from her ability to keep surprising us, and her conflicting needs behind her travels here gave longtime fans yet another facet to ponder.
THE LAST DAYS OF MS. MARVEL
The Last Days of Ms. Marvel occurred at the end of the first volume of G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel before the Secret Wars crossover, at which time many Marvel series received cancellations or reboots. The heroes of the Marvel Universe were struggling to delay or stop the end of reality as they knew it as Doctor Doom attempted to remake the galaxy in his own image. While the Carol had gone on to claim the title of Captain Marvel, a young Captain Marvel fangirl named Kamala Khan took on the name of Ms. Marvel without consulting with Carol, much the same way Carol had claimed the Marvel title from a then still-living Mar-Vell without his approval. In this story, Kamala and Carol Danvers finally meet.
While this story is unquestionably more of a Kamala Khan story than one for Carol, Kamala is extremely endearing as a true fan of superheroes, and we get to witness how exactly Carol responds to the pending apocalypse. While she is stressed beyond belief trying to stop reality from just ending, she still takes the time to bond with Kamala, who at one point rushes forward and gushes, “Everything sucks except for you!” When Kamala asks for reassurance, Carol can’t freely give it, but she stays with her for a time and enlists her help, which makes Kamala happy. Carol is many things, but seldom does she get to be a role model. In this surprisingly adorable story, she gets the chance and proves to be a natural at it.
THE LIFE OF CAPTAIN MARVEL
While we previously had glimpses into Carol’s early life, including snippets of an abusive father who led her to leave home and join the Air Force at an early age, we had never really gotten into her formative years before The Life of Captain Marvel. In July 2018, a mini-series by Margaret Stohl set out to change that and to clear the air for Carol going forward. Although this series has yet to wrap, its deep dive into Carol’s history, the focus on her painful childhood and how it continues to affect her, and the clarity of vision behind the story have all been compelling so far, and much as redefinitions of her character has been needed often in the past, a deep look into her traumatic early years to glean a better understanding of her life’s trajectory couldn’t be more timely.