Carol Danvers is the Captain Marvel that will be appearing in the 2019 film, but she wasn’t even close to being the first character in comics to take up that mantle. Not counting alternate realities, there were six Captain Marvels pre-Carol, although she did go by Ms. Marvel for quite some time.
Finally taking on the name meant a lot for Danvers’ development. Many times in the past she had expressed concern over whether or not she was worthy of the title. Becoming Captain Marvel after years of triumphs and tragedies as a superhero was her version of leveling up, and it was a change that was long overdue.
Failure as a precursor for success
By the time of her 2012 relaunch, Carol Danvers had been a character in turmoil for years. She started her career in the Air Force before experiencing a freak accident that granted her the powers of the Kree, an alien race that was in constant battle against the evil Skrulls. Danvers was inspired by the Kree Mar-Vell, aka Captain Marvel, and so she started calling herself Ms. Marvel in homage. In the Avengers, she faced a traumatic assault and kidnapping that took her off-planet for a time, and later upon her return, she was attacked by the mutant Rogue and had her powers drained. She worked with Charles Xavier to heal, but the trauma she had encountered stayed with her for a long time.
After gaining the power of a “white hole” while in space with the X-Men, Carol began calling herself Binary until eventually, those abilities also began to fade. Depressed by her slowly disappearing strength, she began drinking heavily, which led to her being forced out of the Avengers. Although she did eventually return to the team and even led it for a time, during Secret Invasion her best friend, Spider-Woman, turned out to have been the Skrull Queen in disguise. The original Spider-Woman was eventually recovered, but the breach of trust caused both characters a great deal of pain even after the Skrulls were defeated. Danvers relinquished the title of Ms. Marvel, which was taken up temporarily by the villain Moonstone. Later, Danvers took back her mantle in a triumphant story arc, but the series itself ended shortly thereafter, and she seemed in danger of disappearing to comic book limbo once more.
Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick had done significant work in comics before Captain Marvel, but it was her biggest project to date. Criticism for the book began well before the first issue hit the stands, with longtime fans angry over the costume change and the positive adjustment to Danvers’ recently quite bleak outlook. As happens so often, people were upset that the feminist character was assigned to a feminist writer.
Regardless, DeConnick was simply the creator that put the absolute most into Captain Marvel. DeConnick stabilized Captain Marvel, promoted her, and gave her the first defining arc she’d seen in quite some time. Besides that, DeConnick promoted the book out of pocket and really lobbied for it. Fans calling themselves the Carol Corps were paid tribute to in the Battleworld Captain Marvel series. Of all the creators to ever work on Danvers, DeConnick put the most personal experience and the most Danvers-inspired determination to turning her around.
The stories that make the legend
In 2012, DeConnick began what would become the most iconic run on Carol Danvers in several years, possibly ever. The first storyline of the rebooted Captain Marvel, In Pursuit of Flight, showed a self-assured Danvers who had the humility, the patience, and the inner peace to back it up. The struggles she had undergone had served to strengthen her confidence and resolve, and it was something to behold. For fans that had watched her struggle for years on end, seeing the old school Carol Danvers back in a defining character arc was more than overdue. The first issue had her arguing with Captain America over taking up the mantle of Captain Marvel, ultimately admitting her hesitance to do so was more for personal reasons than practical. Next, she went to the past, encountering WWII-era female fighter pilots, stories of which the writer herself had an obvious fondness for. DeConnick’s family background added an extra dimension to Danvers’ Air Force work and gave it a personal angle that had seldom been seen in the past.
In the follow-up storyline, Down, Danvers is forced to deal with her own mortality as she discovers she has a lesion on her brain. Due to doctor’s orders, she is forced to stop flying, and her stubbornness and restlessness predictably drive her up the wall as she’s pitted against a flying villain. Due to the Secret Wars crossover, Danvers was briefly sent to an alternate dimension, which gave us the delightful mini-series Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps, in which Danvers takes leadership over an all-female team of WWII era pilots, an obvious touchstone for the character and the writer both. Back from Battleworld, Captain Marvel resumed with the story Higher, Further, Faster, More, at which time she took to outer space and had adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy and had adventures with her cat. By the time she chose to return to Earth, it seemed she had matured even more and found an even greater peace in her relationships.
Captain Marvel’s supporting cast got significantly more interesting as she began dating James Rhodes, the hero known as War Machine. In the second volume of Captain Marvel, when she decides seemingly on a whim that she needs to go to space on a mission, Rhodes says that he won’t hold her back or ask her to stay, and she thanks him for that. At the end of the arc, they catch a glimpse of one another again, and the chemistry is still there. Besides Rhodey, Danvers is so attached to her cat that she brings it with her to space, which established her as the new favorite superhero of many cat lovers.
Becoming a major player in the Marvel Universe
During this time, Danvers joined several different superteams either part or full-time, including the Ultimates, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Alpha Flight, and A-Force, showing an aptitude for low-ego teamwork that audiences had really never seen from her, at least not since her early days in the Air Force. Showing comfort in either a team or leadership role, she proved herself to be one of Marvel’s most adaptable characters.
The relaunch of Captain Marvel stands out as being important most of all because Danvers was notoriously a character that was shelved, squandered, and underutilized for decades. Passing her over to a creator who really cared about her and wanted to see her improve was huge after years of writers who didn’t seem to know quite what to do with her, or what it was about her that made her so compelling to fans. Not only did the reboot mark a major change in DeConnick’s career going forward, establishing her as a top writer, the criticism of her feminism by readers that preferred a more demure Carol Danvers led to the creation of her series Bitch Planet. Besides what it meant for DeConnick, her run was profound for the character development of Carol Danvers, who had desperately needed such a reboot for decades. Finally, her inherent feminism took the forefront, and the comics are much better for it.
Since DeConnick moved on to other projects, the legacy of her work with Carol Danvers has continued on via other creators. Though simply absent from most Marvel crossovers for a great many years, Captain Marvel has recently become centralized in several company-wide plotlines. In the comics version of Civil War II, it was her disagreement with Tony Stark that took the center stage. Not only did the Captain Marvel reboot manage to re-establish the character for longtime fans, but it also brought a lot of new readers into superhero comics, helped foster a more positive environment for female fans and creators, and provided much of the premise for the upcoming movie, which will be Marvel’s first female-led film. The creation of the Carol Danvers-led Captain Marvel series thus led to a groundbreaking change in comics and in film, and it has unquestionably earned its own place in superhero history.