For Captain Marvels one to four, as well as what Carol Danvers was up to pre-1993, click here.
The fifth Captain Marvel: Genis-Vell (1993)
Some quick context. Comics annuals (which usually contain an extra-long story and a couple of shorts) often sell fewer copies than their parent books. This can be because the readership feels like the stories are self-contained and won’t matter, or that they’re fill-ins by another writer/artist and will be of lower quality (a reasonable concern in some eras!) or simply that not buying expensive annuals is a good way to economise. So in the late 1980s and early 1990s DC and especially Marvel tried to encourage readers to buy annuals, often by running multipart stories or attention-grabbing crossovers in them. In 1993, for whatever reason, both Marvel and DC decided that this year every annual would feature the debut of a new hero or villain that (they hinted) was sure to become important. Almost none of them were. 1993 annuals are infamous for a glut of characters with every 1990s cliché foisted on them, and the vast majority never appeared again. Aside from the new Captain Marvel, the one with the longest legacy was Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman, who got a 60-issue series in the late 1990s and is probably my favorite long-running series Ennis has done.
Genis-Vell didn’t start off as the new Captain Marvel. Initially Genis-Vell named himself Legacy once he discovered he was the son of Mar-Vell, though when he got a truncated series in 1995 he chose the name Captain Marvel (possibly for those all-important trademark reasons). While that only lasted six issues, he was revived by Peter David for a run that ran for about 60 issues (albeit spread over two series). And remember Rick Jones, friend of Captain Mar-Vell? He shows up in this series too, immediately getting into the same entanglement with the nega-bands and Genis-Vell as he did with his father.
The series is fun, though I haven’t read it in a long time. Like most of David’s work it’s engaging and quippy, and deftly able to switch between the comedic and serious. I can’t remember much of it aside from the extended period when cosmic awareness drove Genis-Vell… not ‘mad’, as the comic put it, but reenvisioned him as more of a sadistic cosmic trickster, creating situations to demonstrate to Rick Jones and various alien races the limitations of their moralities and ideologies. Catnip to a teenager, though I’m a little worried about rereading it in case it doesn’t live up..
While this was going on Carol Danvers was…
…joining the Avengers again. But not as Binary. She burnt out her Binary powers saving the Sun from a Nega-Bomb (made by tapping into the antimatter portal inside a pair of nega-bands, apparently), and considering that the Nega-Bomb later killed 98% of the Kree across an intergalactic civilization, this is a pretty impressive feat.*
By the way, I forgot to mention a strange scene Binary had in the obscure Starjammers miniseries. (As proof of its obscurity, the miniseries gave the Starjammers a whole bunch of interpersonal enmities and a new status quo, none of which were remembered by any subsequent creator. This is no great loss.) In it, the Starjammers are attacked by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, which for simplicity’s sake I’ll call the superteam of the Shi’ar, who at this stage are on orders to capture or kill Lilandra. Most of these Imperial Guardsmen are parodies of members of DC’s Legion of Superheroes (its leader, Gladiator, is essentially a purple-skinned Superman with an enormous mohawk), but there’s one new character who goes after Binary. He’s called Zenith, and his special power is that he can access the maximum potential of the powers of whoever he’s fighting. So if he fought, say, Cyclops, he’d get the most powerful optic blasts Cyclops could ever hope to achieve.
Now, the best way to beat Zenith would surely be to have him fight the weasel-like Cr’reee, and while Zenith has the maximum potential of a weasel, someone else clubs him over the head from behind. But not Carol. No, all she needs to do is turn up. Whereupon Zenith discovers that Binary has no maximum potential; her power is limitless. Which means there’s no limit he can copy, so he’s rendered powerless.
I don’t think that quite makes sense, but whatever. She later quips, “He was defeated by higher math,” which I think makes the whole scene make even less sense. But I do like the sheer weirdness of the Zenith/Binary pairing, and it’s the most memorable thing in the miniseries. Except for the chapter where Cr’reee visits his homeworld populated entirely by cute alien weasels. Dave Cockrum’s art is great.
Anyway, Carol lost her Binary powers, so when she rejoined the Avengers it was in her old Ms. Marvel swimsuit costume with the new codename ‘Warbird’. But after a few issues it was revealed she was an alcoholic and eventually became such a liability she was kicked off the team…
Look. Alcoholism storylines are fine if done well. David Micheline and Denny O’Neil have gotten great mileage out of Tony Stark’s problems, and this storyline serves as a strong bonding point for Carol and Tony. But given that Carol Danvers is a strong candidate for ‘teammate most screwed over by the Avengers’, I’d have thought one would think very carefully about Carol being forced to leave the team again, only this time it’s her fault. There are uncomfortable implications there that I doubt were intended.
Alternatively I could stick to a surface read and conclude that Carol should never ever join the Avengers again. Stay in a solo book! It’s much safer!
Anyway, at least the writer who gave her alcoholism (Kurt Busiek) did so as part of his long-term story arc. She left, went through rehabilitation and rejoined, staying as a member of the core team for a further forty-odd issues. Her most notable issue of this period was during Kang the Conqueror’s invasion of Earth, when she got stuck in an arctic base with an alternate version of Marcus Immortus. The story itself was okay (and provided the grounds for losing his favor with Kang, which hastened his downfall) but thoroughly awkward. On the other hand, she did manage to single-handedly destroy Kang’s orbiting spaceship Damocles (in the shape of a massive sword, naturally) by flying into its power core. Because while she doesn’t have access to her Binary powers anymore, her body apparently still has the ability to absorb and re-channel huge amounts of energy.
Anyway, after a while she left the Avengers to become Chief Field Leader at Homeland Security. I guess they’re not worried about her writing another tell-all book when she leaves.
*That said, she also appeared in the Starblazers crossover as Binary after this. I’ve never read it – I had no idea it existed until just now – and since the Marvel wiki describes her losing her powers “saving Earth’s sun,” it’s conceivable that she actually saved the sun and lost her powers in Starblazers instead. I think it’s a suitably minute point I’m not going to worry about it too much.
The sixth Captain Marvel: Phyla-Vell (2004)
Genis-Vell’s sister. She took the mantle of Captain Marvel from him because he wasn’t as worthy as her… something like that. I haven’t read much of her, and most of what I’ve read was several years ago. My main impression is that she and Moondragon made a good couple in Abnett & Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy run (which is the comic that assembled the team of Rocket Racoon, Groot etc that you’d recognize from the films).
You see, Moondragon is usually convinced that she’s the smartest and wisest person in the room, and has sufficient psychic powers that she can take over said people in the room and wave them around like puppets if they don’t follow her instructions quickly enough. (She did this to both the Avengers and Defenders on separate occasions, and at one point Odin put a circlet on her head that was supposed to stop her from doing this sort of thing. She found a way around it.) I seem to recall Phyla-Vell being a handy blunting tool to Moondragon’s first instincts, and it was a pity that their relationship met the fate of practically all romances in long-running superhero comics: one party turning evil, getting killed off or both.
While this was going on Carol Danvers was…
Still mostly working at Homeland Security. She helped the New Avengers a few times, either running into them during a fight or as part of an all-hands-on-deck call. And then the Civil War crossover happened. The bare bones of it aren’t too different from the Captain America film. An accident with civilian casualties is the catalyst for the Superhero Registration Act, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers disagree on whether this is a good idea, they form their own teams and fight each other. Since Carol is more than comfortable working with the government, she’s on the pro-registration side, and when they win she’s a member of the government sanctioned Avengers team.
This also, incidentally, provides an ironic echo for ten years later when the big crossover Civil War II (yes, it’s really called that) puts Carol and Tony on opposite sides of the ideological divide, this time essentially on whether Minority Report-style precrime is a good idea. Carol is for it, for some reason. Haven’t read it, but reviews are pretty poor.
The seventh Captain Marvel: Mar-Vell again?! (2007)
Spoilers. Though given this return was caustically greeted by fandom from the moment it was announced, and the character only got a six issue miniseries before dying, I don’t mind discussing it. He appeared in one of the Civil War tie-in comics, presenting himself as a Mar-Vell who’d fallen through a hole in time, and who knew that one day he’d have to travel back and die in The Death of Captain Marvel. Except it wasn’t actually him, but a shapeshifting Skrull named Khn’nr. This was all part of a later big crossover, Secret Invasion, in which it was revealed that the Skrulls had replaced several heroes as setup for a mass invasion.
This, incidentally, is the main interaction between the Skulls and Captain Marvel that I know about. I’ve generally avoided spoilers for the upcoming film, and though I know Skrulls will feature, I don’t know how they’ll appear and if they’ll be mimicking any particular comic story (no pun intended). But I very much doubt the film will have anything to do with this odd back-eddy of continuity, especially since Carol had nothing to do with it.
While this was going on Carol Danvers was…
Starring in a solo series! Yes, for fifty issues she starred in a new Ms. Marvel comic (returning to that name and dropping ‘Warbird’, though keeping the costume). In theory this would provide me with all kinds of things to talk about… but I haven’t read much of it, and Carol Danvers’ entry on the Marvel Wiki barely mentions it.
She’s also on the Avengers, though not for long. Following Secret Invasion, where the heroes are discredited for letting this happen, the whole team quits en masse. And this leads to…
The eighth Captain Marvel: Noh-Varr
So, the next big crossover event after Secret Invasion was Dark Reign. (And if you think yearly crossovers interrupting stories are bad, parts of the 2010s can be worse. There’s an eighteen issue Loki series that gets interrupted by no less than three unrelated crossovers, all of which distract attention from the tone and storylines in progress.) Dark Reign’s one of the better crossovers though. Norman Osborn (yes, the villain with a penchant for green from the Spider-books) has become director of SHIELD following Secret Invasion. And when the existing Avengers quit in protest, he creates his own team of Avengers, taking villains and putting them in the heroes’ old costumes. So Venom becomes the new Spider-Man, Wolverine’s son Daken becomes the new Wolverine, Osborn himself dons a spare Iron Man suit as the Iron Patriot etc. It’s a solid idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was used as the overarching plot for phase five or six of the MCU.
So, Carol’s Ms. Marvel identity gets given to Moonstone, a fascinating sometimes-sorta-reformed villain that I’m not got to get distracted by. But after this team of villains forms, an actual hero asks to join: Noh-Varr.
I don’t think recapping his backstory’s all that useful. Frankly, he tends to have a completely different personality depending on what the current writer wants to do with him, and I don’t think his history makes a ton of sense when you string it together. Put simply: he’s Kree, like Mar-Vell, but from a different dimension. He wandered the line between villainous anti-hero and straight-up villain before being imprisoned. Then he found a dying Khn’nr, and was so inspired that he decided to reform as a hero, taking Khn’nr’s Captain Marvel name.
Anyway, he soon figured out the Avengers (who appeared in a comic titled ‘Dark Avengers’) were actually evil and left. Not long after he changed his name to the much more generic ‘Protector’ for some reason. Still, he had a great run in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers.
While this was going on Carol Danvers was…
…beating the tar out of Moonstone for stealing her name. The Dark Avengers lasted surprisingly long – all the way to the next crossover, Siege – but eventually the goodies beat the baddies and the real Avengers were restored. Carol stayed with the New Avengers for a while; I think she didn’t quit until she left Earth in 2014.
And then, in 2012…
The ninth Captain Marvel: Carol Danvers
This is where Carol’s current fandom really took off. Part of it’s the sharp new costume; designed by Jamie McKelvie, with elements from her previous costumes while giving her a distinctive look and a sweet helmet. And partly it’s Kelly Sue DeConnick’s script, where over thirty-odd issues she made her a compelling character, emphasizing her Air Force roots and drawing on Chuck Yeager as a partial inspiration. I enjoyed the series, and if you’re curious to read some comics about Carol Danvers, these are the ones I’d recommend. My favorite is a two-parter where she teams up with Monica Rambeau. They’re delightful together.
She’s done plenty of things since then – some that aren’t so great, like the aforementioned Civil War II – but I think it’s safe to say that Carol Danvers will occupy an important role in the Marvel Universe for a long time to come. Some of it comes from the new fan attention in the wake of DeConnick and subsequent creators’ work on the character. But a larger part will come from more meta-elements: the fact that she’s had a big budget film. It’s the same way that Iron Man tended to be a B-list title (if not lower) before the first film came out. Or how Guardians of the Galaxy were an obscure team I’d never heard of, literally distant from the Earth of the Marvel Universe, and now they frequently come back and interact with the rest of the MU.
In this way – and as long as the film doesn’t completely tank – Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel will be an important part of the Marvel Universe. She’s even being treated as famous in-universe nowadays – she’s Kamala Khan’s idol and inspiration for becoming a superhero herself, Ms. Marvel (an excellent comic, by the way). With one foot in space-based adventures and another in terrestrial superheroics she’s a versatile character, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Though I still hope she’ll revive Woman magazine sometime. What other superhero can claim they’ve done that?