Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Marvel’s Captain Marvels Part Two!
Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.
Last week, we looked at the first two Marvel Comics heroes called Captain Marvel. This time around, we’re going to explore the later heroes to use that name: Genis-Vell (son of Mar-Vell), Phyla-Vell (daughter of Mar-Vell) Khn’nr (a confused Skrull), Noh-Varr (teenage Kree from a parallel universe), and Carol Danvers (original Ms. Marvel and all-around bad-ass).
Anyway, let’s meet the Captain Marvel Jr. Wait, no, that’s not his name. His name is . . .
Genis-Vell debuted up in the pages of Silver Surfer Annual #6 in 1993, written by Ron Marz and with art by Joe Phillips, Bob Almond and Ericka Moran, with Ron Lim doing the cover art. The oddly named Genis was the son of Captain Mar-Vell and Elysius, an artificially created woman from Titan, home of a sect of the long-lived and powerful Eternals (that’s Thanos’ people, by the way). Mar-Vell had met Elysius during his superhero days and the two fell in love. After his death, she couldn’t handle the grief and loneliness and decided she would have Mar-Vell’s child. With genetic samples of Mar-Vell and advanced tech, she conceived Genis. Later on, she got worried that the captain’s enemies might want to harm the kid, so she raised him in isolation and sped up his aging with sciency things to ensure he could defend himself sooner. This sounds right up there with the misguided parenting seen in Frozen. Have you seen Frozen yet? It’s wonderful.
Anyway, Genis-Vell wound up a young adult in just a few years and was then given a pair of Nega-Bands created for him (Mar-Vell’s bands were buried with him and then used to create a bomb). Wanting to be a hero like his old man, he went out and branded himself with the name “Legacy,” following the popular 90s habit of adopting a codename referencing a concept or object. The first few times we saw him, he wore an outfit that is very in keeping with the late 80s, early 90s idea of giving superheroes an “off-the-rack” look that involved stylized civilian clothing rather than customized bodysuits sans seams. So we’ve got a blue, then red-and-blue jacket, along with simple boots and red trousers. I’m assuming he bought the sleeveless Captain Mar-Vell shirt at a local gift shop. Two things I might lose are the head gear (it’s not attached to anything and serves no purpose) and the fact that Genis rolls up his jacket sleeves. Did he see Miami Vice? Ok, ok. All kidding aside, this look actually suits the casual and naive Genis-Vell pretty well.
In 1995, Marvel gave Genis-Vell the Captain Marvel name (because why should Monica Rambeau be allowed to keep it?) and put him in his own series by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Ed Benes. Along with his own series, Genis got a new costume. Or two new costumes stapled together. And a jacket that didn’t button or zip up. And a butt sticker. Wait, what is this?
Let’s break it down. Genis ditched the sleeveless shirt and trousers for a bodysuit that matched his boots and attached to his cowl. That’s a nice change. But then he throws on the jacket, rolling up the sleeves again and this time he tucks it into his belt. Why did someone make a jacket that didn’t zip or button in front? More importantly, who the Hell tucks their jacket into their belt and/or trousers? Did his mom Elysius teach him that? Frankly, I can’t figure out her fashion sense either. As you can see from below, she evidently really liked Viper AKA Madame Hydra’s look and decided, “Hey, I’ll just copy that.”
Seriously, though, I want you to understand what’s going on with Genis-Vell’s trousers. Those are not red and black trousers. Notice the weird clasps underneath the belt? That’s to keep the loose red cloth attached to the black body suit he’s wearing underneath. Just as he threw on the jacket to add some color, he bizarrely decided to attach red pieces of cloth to his trousers too. As if it weren’t weird enough that he put a sticker on his butt that said “Kiss Me, I’m Kree.” Also, why is the sticker in English? The first costume was all right, but this is just really odd to me.
Anyway, Genis-Vell’s ongoing series did poorly in sales and critical reception. It lasted only 12 issues then ended.
RICK JONES REUNION
In 1998-99, Marvel released the continuity explaining/revising maxi-series Avengers Forever, by writers Roger Stern and Kurt Busiek, and artists Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino. The story introduced a new version of Genis-Vell from the near future, who had a different appearance and operated with cosmic awareness like his dad. At the end of the series, weird circumstances forced the present day Genis-Vell to merge with Rick Jones in a similar way to how Rick and Mar have been merged years before. Now, only one of them could exist in Earth’s dimension at a time, switching places through clanging the Nega-Bands. A side-effect of this merging was that it gave Genis the appearance and enhanced power of the future him we had met in Avengers Forever. This led directly into a new Captain Marvel series written by Peter David, that ran from 1999 to 2002.
As for the costume, this is a winner right here. This is a very cool, cosmic update of the classic Mar-Vell design. The star field is a great idea and it’s a wise decision to just give him trousers rather than the dated shorts outside of trousers look. Genis-Vell now had cosmic awareness and this guy here really looks like someone connected to the heart of the universe. Yet he maintains a classic, romantic superhero style. Seriously a great job. My only thought for a possible tweak is that, while I’m glad he lost the ponytail, I think Genis should have looser hair since he’s not really a serious, militaristic guy. Just my own thought.
This Captain Marvel series was heading for cancellation, along with other books of the time. Marvel then did a U-Decide campaign where fans were allowed to vote on a few books that would get relaunched. Genis-Vell scored enough votes and so yet another Captain Marvel ongoing series began in 2003 that ushered in a whole new story arc. The premise now was: what if someone as powerful as Genis-Vell went nuts?
Opening himself totally to his cosmic awareness, Genis-Vell (who didn’t exactly have a stable upbringing) was pushed to a mental edge by the stress of being aware of many disasters across the universe and knowing he couldn’t be in two places at once. At one point, he decided to end a war while allowing a person to die elsewhere. Then his cosmic awareness showed him that the person he failed to save would have ushered the universe into a new age of peace and understanding. Genis snapped and started abusing his power. Pretty soon afterward, he approached the Kree Empire and basically signed up with the military, adopting one of their uniforms and assuming the official rank of captain.
So we’ve got the star field idea continuing here, which is nice and solves the problem Mar-Vell had of looking identical to other Kree soldiers. The modernization of the old Kree uniforms is interesting. Most artists just do the original Mar-Vell design and add shoulder pads and belts while losing the shorts over trousers look. The standard color now became green, which may make more sense but I do miss the Power Rangers color coding. Genis-Vell’s modernized suit takes things a step further. It’s sleek and implies a society unlike any Earth military. The strap across the chest is a nice echo of the ringed planet on Mar-Vell’s shirt. The one thing I’m not wild about is the belt buckle design. I just never enjoy superhero or villain costumes that have a belt buckle but no belt. What’s it there for?
Things got strange in Genny’s life. At one point, he destroyed the universe but then was able to reboot it back into existence. However, doing so resulted in a couple of small alterations. For instance, the new reality now said that Genis-Vell had a sister: Phyla-Vell. (Get it? Genis and Phyla? I’m telling you, Elysius was a weird mom.)
Anyway, since Genis was still nuts, Phyla adopted a Captain Marvel suit of her own and her own Nega-Bands (wait, how easy is it to duplicate those things?) and went to stop her brother. Gotta say, that suit looks really good on her and I think the crewcut suits her better than it does her brother. Making her bands and star symbol white are a nice way to differentiate her from her brother. Phyla considered herself the new Captain Marvel, since her brother had gone nuts and tarnished the name. She never officially took on the role, but she’s worth mentioning.
After a few more issues, Genis got his head clear again and found a new balance with life. Symbolizing this, he returned to his first cosmic look but now exchanged the red with white. Not a bad change at all and a nice clue that he was more at peace with himself. After this, there were some more adventures and a time travel trip where Genis-Vell had to kill his own son in the future. But low sales led to the series ending yet again. The final issue cracked the fourth wall in several places and wrapped up the story threads, along with Genis and Rick finally being separated for good thanks to the intervention of a cosmic entity called Expediency. When Phyla appeared again in comics, she was chosen to become the new Quasar, whose Quantum Bands had been the model on which the original Nega-Bands were based. The first Quasar had been Mar-Vell’s visual and spiritual successor in his own ways, so it was fitting that Phyla take on the mantle. In the process, her Nega-Bands merged with the Quantum Bands, as cosmic weapons sometimes do. SCIENCE!
In 2005, Genis showed up in the pages of Thunderbolts (which was temporarily retitled New Thunderbolts), written by Fabian Nicieza and Kurt Busiek and with art by Tom Grummett. Genis worked alongside the team of villains turned heroes and got seriously injured. So he got inside a funky cocoon to heal, which is a trick that Adam Warlock does at an alarming rate. This cocoon, created by the mystic moonstones, enhanced Genis’s recovery by feeding him energy from the end and beginning of the universe. SCIENCE! When Genny finally woke up, he had absorbed the Nega-Bands into his body and now had a new appearance.
It’s not bad, but it really resembles one of the costumes worn by the bearded hero Starboy of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who is pictured above. I also think incorporating the Captain Mar-Vell star three times on the costume is a bit much. Genis called himself “Photon” at this time, so there’s no need to visually connect to Captain Mar-Vell. And the white color and design actually makes this costume look a little winter themed to me. In any event, we later found out that Genis’s existence threatened reality because of the energies he’d absorbed while healing. So he had to be killed for the good of everyone. And by “killed,” I mean “dismembered and then had his body parts scattered across another dimension.” Comics, people. Basically, just like with his dad, it feels like Marvel didn’t know what to do with this Captain Marvel. His death happened in 2006, around the same time that DC Comics first tried rebranding their Captain Marvel hero simply under the name Shazam.
After Genis-Vell died and before Noh-Varr adopted the name Captain Marvel, we met someone who seemed to be Mar-Vell, sent forward into the future, years after his own death. This led to some weird encounters, such as when Carol Danvers came across the guy and was torn between suspicion and wanting to believe that somehow this really was her old friend. In the end, it was a fake-out and it turned out that this version of Mar-Vell, outfitted in the classic red and black suit, was actually a Skrull named Khn’nr. Along with being shape-shifters, Skrulls are long-time enemies of the Kree and have tried a few invasions of Earth.
Khn’nr was supposed to be a sleeper agent, genetically altered and given near-replicas of the Nega-Bands, but his programming went off. He believed himself to really be Mar-Vell and then fought against the Skrulls even after learning his true identity. This tragic hero then met his end.
NOH-VARR AND ULTIMATE MARVEL
In 2000, just as Genis-Vell and Rick Jones were getting used to being bonded on an atomic level, writer Grant Morrison and artist J.G. Jones did a mini-series called Marvel Boy. The name and basic concept, an alien boy coming to Earth, was a revival of the first Marvel Boy hero from the 1950s. The protagonist was Noh-Varr, a young and very brash Kree warrior from a parallel universe. In Marvel Comics, the mainstream reality is designated Universe 616, whereas Noh-Varr comes from Universe 200080. The teenage Kree was an ensign on the dimension-traversing ship Marvel. Unlike the average Kree, Noh-Varr’s biology was engineered to have insect traits, making him very powerful and resilient.
In Universe 200080, some Kree officers of his universe had costumes similar to Mar-Vell’s classic look but with the colors of his first costume, as you can see in the picture above which features Noh-Varr’s father Captain Glory and his mother Star Splendor. Although he had the same color combination as his father, Ensign Varr outfit resembled his mother’s design more. It consisted of a short sleeve shirt and matching bermuda shorts that were complimented by good, sturdy boots and golden gauntlets. He had a funky eye design on his chest, as well as on each side of his belt buckle and on the weird helmet he sometimes wore. Not a fan of the helmet and I wonder if there’s a better symbol for Varr than that eye, but this is a very cool and funky look for an angry, alien teenager.
Now you may wonder, why are we talking about “Marvel Boy”? Well, this mini-series was originally supposed to take place outside of Marvel canon, but writer Brian Michael Bendis brought the character and story into the mainstream Marvel Universe in the 2007 mini-series New Avengers: Illuminati, just a year after Genis died. That comic had a group of Earth’s heroes talk to Noh-Varr and discuss that he could be a hero instead of planning war against humanity. They brought up Mar-Vell, another Kree warrior, as an example he could follow. Noh-Varr started appearing in other comics afterward, before winding up as a team member in Dark Avengers, where operated under the name Captain Marvel for less than a year. He wore the same costume he’d worn as Marvel Boy, except that his shorts now extended into trousers, hence why he made it into this column.
Later on, the Supreme Intelligence told Noh-Varr that he was to protect Earth just like Mar-Vell and gave the kid a new costume (as he had done with Vell years before) and a pair of new Nega-Bands (which had different powers and were white) created just for him. Ironically and weirdly, this prompted Noh-Varr to abandon the Captain Marvel name and adopt a new title: Protector. That Protector costume. . . I’m not sure. On a basic level, I see that it resembles Mar-Vell’s Kree uniform and I think it works fine on its own or for another Kree character, even if some of the elements make it seem busy. But why would Noh-Varr want to emulate that and not the cosmic protector of humanity red and black suit, especially now that he’s been chosen to fill a similar role and has his own Nega-Bands? Also, I think the utilitarian design (goggles, multiple belts, seams), along with the guns, diminishes the idea that Noh-Varr is himself a living weapon whose bracers provide even more power by themselves. Noh-Varr didn’t keep this look or the Protector title for long, later deciding to just go by his own name.
As I said, Marvel Boy was originally considered outside of Marvel canon. He was even considered a precursor to Ultimate Marvel, a comics line that took place in a parallel universe that reimagined the Marvel heroes. In 2005, the Ultimate Marvel Universe introduced its own version of Captain Mar-Vell in the pages of Ultimate Secret, written by Warren Ellis and with art by Steve McNiven. This version was named Geheneris Hala’son Mahr Vehl or just Mahr Vell for short. His uniform was a highly praised update of the original Kree military suit. This is definitely an outfit that looks to be outfitted with advanced alien tech.
This look was tweaked and, I think, improved slightly in the animated series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which you can still find on Netflix. The designs worked great in animation and it was fun to see references to the old school Kree uniform colors and celestial body designs. In the continuity of that cartoon, Mar-Vell (played by Roger Craig Smith) never defected to Earth nor got a new uniform, so the red and black Ms. Marvel outfit worn by Carol Danvers (played by Jennifer Hale) was purely her own design rather than one derived from someone else.
CAROL’S GOT THIS
Genis-Vell died in 2006. Carol then had her second Ms. Marvel series, written by Brian Reed, from 2006 to 2010. After her series ended, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick pitched a new series for Carol in 2010. At the same time, editor Steve Wacker made the case that Carol should take on the name Captain Marvel. This led to a back and forth for almost two years until both ideas were finally given a green light. Soon after Noh-Varr started calling himself Protector (for a while), editor Steve Wacker called DeConnick about her pitch and told her, “You’re NOT writing Ms. Marvel . . . You’re writing CAPTAIN Marvel!”
Carol rocked made her debut as the new Captain Marvel in Avenging Spider-Man #9. The first issue of the new Captain Marvel series released weeks afterward, the fourth volume of that title to be published by Marvel Comics. One thing Steve Wacker immediately said was that he wanted Carol to start wearing trousers. Kelly Sue DeConnick was thinking along the same lines when she was planning a scene where Carol attended a friend’s funeral. In a podcast interview with Jill Pantozzi and me, DeConnick said, “I kinda couldn’t imagine going to this somber, solemn event in a swimsuit and thigh boots. . . And then it was like, I wonder if she has a dress uniform.”
On DeConnick’s suggestion, she and Wacker told artist Jamie McKelvie their thoughts on a new costume for Carol Danvers. Jamie McKelvie designed Carol’s uniform to be a mixture of a comic book costume and military design, as if (like Mar-Vell) she belonged to a military branch of superheroes.
I think this is a fantastic look. It perfectly hits the note of “military officer” and “romantic sci-fi superhero.” I love that it flips the colors of Mar-Vell’s suit and makes it truly Carol’s own look. The black really gives her a commanding presence. Keeping the Ms. Marvel sash is a great choice in my mind, as that is a military look (as long as you draw it tight around her waist and not hanging around her thighs). Carol’s sash can also now be used as a snare and a weapon in combat. Along with this, Carol can summon an armored mask around her face, which harkens back to Mar-Vell again. Except now, the fin on Mar-Vell’s helmet has been replaced by Carol’s hair, giving her a punk rock warrior look.
Recently, Carol’s series ended, but is scheduled to relaunch very soon, providing a jumping-on point for new readers. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work on the character instantly hit a chord with fans and the series’ run exceeded her own expectations. Many fans now proudly consider themselves members of the Carol Corps, celebrating this fantastic hero and spreading the love to other new fans. It’s really quite remarkable how quickly this character went from, in DeConnick’s words, a “B +” character to an A-List hero who clearly deserves her own movie or live-action series already.
If you’re interested, go to your comic shops and pick up the trades of Carol’s first Captain Marvel series. The very first trade is entitled In Pursuit of Flight. Then tell your shops to order copies of the upcoming new series, also written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Carol rocks but she still needs your support. And check out the new Ms. Marvel series too, starring new character Kamala Khan (whom we discussed a few weeks ago).
Folks, that ends our look at the many Captain Marvels who inhabited the Marvel Universe. If you have suggestions for other characters to tackle, please feel free to write a comment or tweet at us. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is an actor and author who sometimes gets paid as a geek consultant and identifies as a feminist. He may or may not have written a movie script starring Carol Danvers, and is the author of Doctor Who: A History.
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