Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Here’s Ms. Marvel!
by Alan Kistler | 4:15 pm, February 6th, 2014
Have you read the new Ms. Marvel #1? Seriously, you need to. What a wonderful book and it needs your support, so don’t just hope your store has copies, call in and pre-order. Let them know they need to carry this book. Okay, enough lecturing. It’s time we took a look at those women who have worn the heroic name of “Ms. Marvel.” Let’s start the action!
So first a little context. During the Golden Age of Comics, a little publisher called Fawcett created a superhero called Captain Marvel. He was a kid named Billy Batson who would speak a magic word “Shazam” (also the name of the wizard who chose him to be a hero) and a mystical lightning bolt would then transform into the “world’s mightiest mortal.” This was how the word Shazam entered the English language. His whole deal is something we’ll discuss in a later column.
In the 1960s, Billy Batson wasn’t appearing in comics. Marvel Comics figured, “Hey, if anyone publishes a guy called Captain Marvel, it’s gonna be us.” So they introduced an alien warrior named Mar-Vell, who was indeed a captain of the militaristic Kree Empire and whose green and white uniform convinced Earth people he was a new superhero. Mar-Vell, called Captain Marvel, eventually did become a hero and then got himself some increased power and a better costume.
Captain Mar-Vell was introduced in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 in 1968 (this was before DC Comics got the trademark on spelling “superhero” with a hyphen). Mar-Vell very quickly assumed a human identity of “Dr. Walter Lawson” at a NASA facility. The very next issue introduced supporting cast character USAF Major Carol Danvers, head of security at the NASA facility.
Carol initially seemed to be a classic trope, loving the alien superhero whom she instantly trusted while giving his civilian alter ego a hard time. But as the stories went on, she revealed other layers and wanted answers rather than blind faith. When she later met the Avengers, she treated them with respect but also demanded they work with her rather than just save the day themselves without explanation. Carol became an ally to Mar-Vell, risking her career at times and eventually learning his secret. During one adventure, she was held hostage by another Kree warrior named Yon-Rogg and exposed to the strange radiation of a wish-granting machine known as the Psyche-Magnetron (you gotta love how comics come up with names like that). At the time, there seemed to be no ill effect.
Mar-Vell’s series never really picked up steam with readers, ending in 1970. After that, he appeared in different stories here and there, now on his own rather than having Carol at his side. In the 1970s, superhero comics really got into topics of social change, including women’s liberation. The title of “Ms.” became a proud thing, encouraging the idea that a woman’s marital status didn’t need to be immediately advertised any more than a man’s. Marvel decided to spin-off Carol into her own book in 1977, titling it Ms. Marvel.
CARVING HER OWN PATH
After having lost her career due to the various strange and unexplained alien attacks at her NASA facility, Carol reexamined her life and discovered an interest in writing. She quickly became known for her exposes on sexism, even publishing a book. In Ms. Marvel #1, she was hired by J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle, to be editor of Women Magazine. He later came to regret this decision when he realized Carol would not be delivering puff pieces but serious journalism and editorials, and that she was a lady who was not intimidated by his manner. The series made it clear Carol was not going to be anyone’s sidekick or reliable hostage and we also learned more of her past. As a teen, her father had decided the family only had enough money to send her brother to college, arguing that Carol didn’t need education to land a husband. Carol responded by joining the Air Force.
Carol didn’t know it at the time, but she was also now secretly acting as the hero Ms. Marvel. At times, she would have black-outs and then would assume her Ms. Marvel identity. Apparently, the radiation of the Psyche-Magnetron some time before had granted her desire to be more like Mar-Vell. It accomplished this by adding Mar-Vell’s super-powered DNA with her own, making her a unique hybrid of Kree and human. Eventually, Carol faced the truth about her alter ago and embraced it, now truly carving out a life as her own hero.
Let’s talk about this first costume. It’s fun but not quite there for me. The scarf is pretty whimsical and I dig that. The short shorts work (though I’m not fond of seeing it drawn as something closer to a bikini bottom. But that top design. That’s just odd.
I’m not a fan myself of superhero costumes revealing midriffs. Just a personal preference. But this top is odd because it has the stomach exposed and the back partially exposed but the shirt still attaches to the shorts via the sides. Really, what’s with that? If you’re going to expose the stomach and the back, then embrace it, don’t put these strips down the sides.
Please note, however, that this odd costume in no way diminishes my love of Carol Danvers. Starting with issue #1, she was already proving she would be that rare spin-off character who outshines the original. Mar-Vell was a formidable hero but also a little sullen and too serious at times for my tastes (which is odd, I realize, since I love Batman, but it’s how I feel). Carol knew she was good, enjoyed that she was good, and thought you should know it too. I dig that.
After several issues, Carol got herself a different top and now the costume was coming together. It seems like a solid look and not something that somehow lost some areas of fabric. This costume is sleek, fun, speaks of classic superhero idealism, and is sexy in a fun way (although that changes when some modern artists draw this as looking more like Carol’s wearing underwear or a thong instead of shorts).
This is also the suit that Carol rocked out in the recent cartoon series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which you can find on Netflix. If you’ve not checked it out, do so as soon as you finish reading my ramblings. Seriously, it is an amazing adaptation of the comics that should never have been cancelled. Carol is awesome in it and has great thigh-high boots.
LIGHTNING AND LEATHER
I just realized that “Lightning and Leather” is a pretty good band name. Or maybe it works better as an album title. Something to think about later. Anyway, in Ms. Marvel #19, Mar-Vell made a guest appearance and was surprised to learn that Carol now had super-powers and was being a bad-ass superhero whose series was about to outlast his own. Starting with the next issue #20, Carol ditched the costume that emulated Mar-Vell and got herself a unique look.
It’s important to note that although Carol’s first costume is sometimes described as blue and red with a gold star, this isn’t technically true. Like Mar-Vell’s classic design, it was meant to be red and black with some blue coloring used to show texture, as was often done with comics until we got better inking techniques. So this black leather outfit actually uses the same colors as Carol’s previous design. The star has been altered into a lightning bolt. Not a bad change, Carol is a powerful woman and lightning is a classic symbol of power in myth and comics. The red sash is a nice touch to me because as originally designed and drawn, it is evocative of military uniform sashes. Even if she were no longer working for NASA, Carol was a military woman at heart and so I understand her adding such a touch to her outfit.
This costume is pretty killer. Alas things didn’t work out too well for Carol soon afterward. Her series was cancelled and then she showed up in an Avengers story where she was taken hostage by Marcus, son of the cosmic time villain Immortus. Carol was then returned to Earth, impregnated with a baby that rapidly grew into a new version of Marcus. The guy explained that he and Carol had a love affair in his other dimension, where time moved differently, and that this had enabled him to continue his lifespan in a new way. He also admitted that initially Carol wasn’t down for romance, so he’d given her a “subtle boost” from technology he had that could affect minds. Carol then went off with Marcus to live happily ever after and the Avengers wished her well.
Later on, folks realized, wait, if Marcus used mind control to give Carol a “subtle boost” that led to her liking him enough to carry his child, then that’s rape. So Carol later showed up again in the Avengers comics, now de-powered and mad as Hell. She told the Avengers off for not recognizing that she was under Marcus’s mind control and lectured them that superheroes can’t just focus on fighting but also on improving the world and inspiring people. She revealed that she had returned to Earth later when her will reasserted itself, but then had lost her powers due to facing a new villain named Rogue. Rogue was the adopted daughter of one of Carol’s recurring enemies, a shape-shifter named Mystique. Mystique and Rogue later became major characters in the X-Men comics. Carol had also lost her memory along with her powers, but was later able to regain her knowledge thanks to the telepathic Professor Charles Xavier.
Carol hung out in the X-Men comics for a bit and then became a cosmic space-faring hero called Binary. After returning to Earth, Carold adopted this suit again, switching to the name “Warbird” before resuming the “Ms. Marvel” title. However, several modern day artists would draw this costume in such a way that Carol’s butt was exposed to the world and/or they’d draw the sash so loose that it would hang halfway down her thighs. I’m not wild about either of those changes. They don’t fit Carol’s persona.
Soon after Carol’s first run as Ms. Marvel ended, Marvel Comics attached the name to another character. Sharon Ventura was a love interest of Ben Grimm AKA The Thing. At the time, the Thing was working as a member of the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, which hosted wrestling matches between folks with superhuman strength. Wanting to join, Sharon underwent chemical engineering and then adopted the name of Ms. Marvel.
Sharon’s original costume bears a passing resemblance to Carol’s leather look. But evidently, Sharon worried that people wouldn’t remember her name so she threw in the initial “M” all over the place, on the boots, the gloves and the shirt. It’s a bit wacky for me, but that makes sense for a wrestler.
Later on, Sharon joined the Fantastic Four and was mutated into the She-Thing. Yes. The She-Thing. Sometimes she looked like she had a leather hide, sometimes she was rocky like Ben Grimm’s classic appearance. Her outfit was basically just a tunic and shorts with a big M on it, since she still sometimes went by “Ms. Marvel.” Sometimes she had a white sash, sometimes she didn’t. Honestly, not a great design. It’s just the Thing with a shirt and breasts.
Sharon was restored to a human appearance later on and then reappeared in a purple and green costume. These are classic super-villain colors and was one of several not-so-subtle clues in the comics that Sharon was secretly working for powers of evil at this time. This outfit recalled her first costume, now having two M monograms on the top, but other than that is very generic.
Later still, Sharon became a monster a couple more times, leading her to overtly fight the Fantastic Four and wallow in self-pity. Marvel never seemed to know what to do with her beyond putting her in bad situations that also added drama to Ben Grimm’s life. Unsurprisingly, she left the comics world by deciding she was going to go live as a hermit and not bother anyone again. A real shame and waste.
It was after Sharon totally gave up on the Ms. Marvel identity that Carol started using it again. For a while as Warbird, Carol went for a more plainclothes look, wearing simple body armor and still insisting on a mask even though her identity had been public for years. She then went back to her black leather lightning bolt outfit until finally she decided it was time for a change. For the past couple of years, she’s been rocking out as the new Captain Marvel of the Marvel Universe, rocking out an awesome new costume.
This meant, of course, that the “Ms. Marvel” name was now open for a new person to use it. This week, we saw the debut of the new Ms. Marvel series and it is absolutely fun and adorable. If you’ve been worrying about finding good comics with female protagonists for kids, go pick it up. We’re still seeing her origin unfold, but here’s the basic premise. In Marvel Comics, there’s been a society of people living apart from the rest of the Earth called the Inhumans. These folks regularly use “Terrigen Mists” on their children when they reach a certain age, unlocking latent superhuman abilities. Over time, different members of the Inhumans went out into the general population, meaning their descendants are still out there with unlocked superhuman potential. Recent events led to the unleashing of a Terrigen Mist bomb, creating new superhumans.
One of these newbie superhumans is Kamala Khan, a teenager trying to figure out how to fit in yet still maintain an identity and who enjoys writing Avengers fan-fiction. She is great, has a fun family as her supporting cast, and loves Carol Danvers. Her costume is also frakking cute. I eagerly await her new adventures and suggest you all give it a look. Props to the creative team of G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, and VC’s Joe Caramagna.
And hey, that wraps it up! Hope you enjoyed this look at Carol, Sharon and Kamala! We’ll look at the many bearers of the name “Captain Marvel” in the future. We’ll also be exploring the world of Hogwart’s! Send in any suggestions of your own! Cheers!
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is an actor/writer who identifies as a feminist and time traveler-in-training. He is the author of Doctor Who: A History.