Carol Danvers is coming to the big screen as Captain Marvel in 2019, but she is far from the only person to have taken up the mantle, and actually went as Ms. Marvel, Binary, and Warbird before she adopted the role. The original Captain Marvel was a Kree warrior named Mar-Vell who died tragically young in The Death of Captain Marvel. Years later, however, a young woman named Monica Rambeau would be the next to take on the name.
Rambeau was a lieutenant in the New Orleans harbor patrol and captain of a cargo ship. Due to a freak accident, she was exposed to extra-dimensional energy and gained the power to change into pure energy. She decided to fight crime but didn’t know how to go about it until she ran into Captain America and the Wasp. During this era of the Avengers, the Wasp was the leader of the team with Cap as her second in command, and they both took a shine to Rambeau. Despite Rambeau's inexperience, her gusto in fights and awesome power proved to be invaluable to the team and she was rapidly advanced to full-time membership. Not only was she the first black woman on the team, she eventually became its leader when the Wasp took leave.
The Wasp is still the longest-running leader the Avengers ever had with the exception of Captain America, and her time in the role was easily one of the better runs of the book. Arguably, the team is at its very smoothest with her and Steve working together for the common good. With abrupt, straight-forward Janet as the final say, a lot of the filler was cut from plots, and the stories moved along at an exhilarating pace during her years as chairperson. When Janet went on a leave of absence, it was Rambeau who Cap asked to lead the team. His assessment was correct; no one else in the group could have successfully wielded leadership at that point. Though Cap was still there, he'd departed the team early on to have adventures in his own book, thus leaving the comparative novice without either of her mentors to guide her through the hardships that come with authority.
Worse, the Avengers team that Captain Marvel inherited leadership of was an absolute mess. Some of the most notoriously difficult members in the group comprised the entire team, with noted hotheads like Namor and She-Hulk on the roster alongside the infuriating Doctor Druid. None of them knew quite how to work together, and every time Namor’s wife Marina encountered any threat he would completely lose it. Most meetings descended into yelling matches. Even Janet Van Dyne and Captain America would struggle with a line-up like that, but Monica more than held it together for as long as she could.
She-Hulk, one of the essential feminists of the Marvel universe, was the only character that really had Captain Marvel’s back during her tenure as leader. Others grew to respect Rambeau’s leadership abilities and unquestionable bravery, but when Druid was talking down to her, it was always She-Hulk who would step in to defend her position of authority. Much of the time, she seemed to be Rambeau’s only friend on the team.
One of the best things about Monica is her fight scenes, and some of her greatest moments were during her run as leader. When Thor was distressed with the knowledge that only he could save an ailing Hercules, he took to the sky, and Rambeau flew right after him. She confronted him about the situation and insisted that he tell her how she can help. Thor refused, but Captain Marvel likewise refused to let it go. The team ends up squaring off against the Greek Pantheon of gods in an effort to save their friend. For her part, Rambeau came up against Zeus himself, posturing and trying to dissuade her. She didn't back down, ignoring his warnings completely as she walked threateningly towards him, forcing him to surrender instead.
What made Monica such a relatable character was that, despite the fact that she was facing off against gods and winning, she was always questioning herself and doubting whether she was even good enough. Characters like Namor and Thor were impressed by her refusal to back down against a threat, even when she was low on energy and struggling. Her downfall, in the end, was her willingness to let Druid slide when he called her out for her inexperience and tried to manipulate the rest of the team against her. As she struggled to maintain control over one of the most unruly lineups of all time, her one mistake was her diplomacy, which she extended to the wrong person.
Although Rambeau is great, Doctor Druid was not, and he makes a lot of Monica’s run as leader frustrating to read, constantly contradicting and undermining her due to his own ego. Believing himself to be a better choice for team leader and openly saying so on several occasions, he was the bane of many readers during that era of the book. In the end, it’s due to his mental interference that a weak, withered Rambeau relinquishes membership to him. Although she had barely survived being attacked and drained of her power, she apologizes to the team and her parents for failing them. It’s heartbreaking to read, but her mother and father both gush with approval for her and insist on nursing her back to health. Steve and Janet soon return to the book to discover Druid’s manipulations, but by then Rambeau had made other plans with her life.
Even though Druid actively gaslights Rambeau out of the leadership of the Avengers, Rambeau comes out on the other side of their feud looking great. Every time he condescendingly insists that she’s making unwise decisions, she patiently listens and even sometimes agrees with him. When he gets on her nerves, she openly tells him so. At one point, he tries to disobey orders, and she stops him cold, telling him that he’d better do what he’s told or else. He gets one over on her in the end, but only via mental manipulation.
Since her stint as the leader of the Avengers, there really just hasn’t been enough Monica Rambeau in the world. Occasional roles in short-lived team books like Heralds, The Ultimates, and Marvel Divas haven’t given her the focus she deserves. Although we got to see her grow by leaps and bounds over her time in the Avengers, her personal evolution seemed to stop some time ago in the eyes of creators. More than one of her recent appearances have been centered around her briefly showing up in a book to have a beef with someone for stealing whatever name she happened to be going by at the time, which seems reasonable but also like a bit of a waste for the character.
Monica Rambeau might not have been long for the leadership of the Avengers, but there’s always a chance she could make a comeback, and she’s overdue for one. While her time with the team was plagued with inner turmoil and problems, she more than rose to the challenges that came with the job. After leaving the team, she has only gotten wiser, and it’s likely she’d do even better now than she did before. The greatest thing about Rambeau was that we got to see her evolve from a good-intentioned amateur to full-fledged superhero, and that made her one of the most relatable characters in comics as well as one of the most interesting leaders the Avengers ever had.