Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel 29.jpg
Captain Marvel #29 (November 1973).
Art by Jim Starlin.
Publication information
PublisherMarvel Comics
First appearanceMarvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967)
Created byStan Lee
Gene Colan
In-story information
Full nameMar-Vell
SpeciesKree mutate
Team affiliationsDefenders[citation needed]
Avengers[1]
Legion of the Unliving
Notable aliasesDr. Walter Lawson
Abilities
  • Superhuman strength, speed, agility, durability, reflexes, and endurance
  • Solar energy absorption, manipulation, and projection
  • Regenerative healing factor
  • Cosmic Awareness
  • Flight
  • Use of Nega-bands

Captain Marvel (Kree name Mar-Vell, Earth alias Walter Lawson) is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and designed by artist Gene Colan and first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967). He is the original bearer of the name "Captain Marvel" within the Marvel brand.

The character debuted during the Silver Age of comic books and made many subsequent appearances, including a self-titled series and the second volume of the Marvel Spotlight series until his death in 1982, which has since remained largely permanent within mainstream continuity and most other media, with Carol Danvers becoming the primarily featured Captain Marvel in the modern age.[2]

Annette Bening portrayed a re-imagined female version of Mar-Vell (Wendy Lawson) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Captain Marvel (2019).

Publication history

From 1940 to 1953 Fawcett Comics published comics featuring their popular character Captain Marvel, and thus held the trademark to the name "Captain Marvel". Fawcett ceased publishing the comics in 1953 due to a 1951 copyright infringement suit from DC Comics, and their trademark ostensibly lapsed. Taking advantage of this situation, Marvel debuted its new Captain Marvel character in 1967 and quickly trademarked the name.[3] Marvel was not the first company to try to capitalize on Fawcett's lapsed trademark; in 1966 the small publisher M. F. Enterprises released a short-lived Captain Marvel series.[4] Due to the title containing its company name, Marvel had convinced M.F. Enterprises to cease their Captain Marvel series after five issues, paying M.F. a settlement of $4,500.[5]

Marvel's character debuted as the lead feature in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967), written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Gene Colan.[6][7] Although usually credited as co-creator, Colan had no involvement with Captain Marvel's conception, and in fact has voiced an intense dislike for the character and especially his original white-and-green costume: "It was awful – just an imitation of any of the other costumed characters I'd ever done."[8]

Shortly thereafter, Captain Marvel was given his own series, commencing with Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968). These appearances established Captain Marvel, or "Mar-Vell", as an alien of the Kree race who had come to earth as a spy before coming to identify with his human neighbors.[3] The series failed to register with readers, and was revamped by writer-artist team Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in issue #17 (October 1969).[9] The character was given a new uniform, designed by Kane and colorist Michelle Robinson, and greater abilities. An added plot feature was the introduction of sidekick Rick Jones. Jones and Marvel "shared molecules" allowing only one to exist in the real world at a time.[10] Thomas stated that the intent of the change was to create a more science-fiction oriented update that was reminiscent of Fawcett Comics's original Captain Marvel, who similarly had an alter-ego that could not co-exist with the superhero.[11]

The change, however, was not successful, and the series was published only intermittently from 1969.[3] It was initially canceled with issue #21 (August 1970), though the character appeared in the Kree-Skrull War storyline in Avengers #89 – 97 (June 1971 – March 1972), also written by Thomas. The Captain Marvel series recommenced with issue #22 (September 1972). Plotter and artist Jim Starlin decided to revamp the character with issue #25 (March 1973).[12] Comics historian Les Daniels noted that "In a brief stint with Marvel, which included work on two characters [Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock] that had previously never quite made their mark, Starlin managed to build a considerable cult following."[13]

A spin-off series, Ms. Marvel, was launched in 1977, but sales remained modest, and the series was published on only a bimonthly basis until it was ultimately canceled in 1979.[3] The continued publication, however, kept the trademark current. This had the effect of requiring DC Comics, which in the meantime licensed the original Fawcett Captain Marvel for publication, to print its new comics under the trademark Shazam![14] Comics historian Don Markstein states, "Marvel didn't seem to quite know what to do with him—but they did put his comic out every other month through most of the 1970s, if only to maintain their trademark on his name."[3]

When Captain Marvel was cancelled with issue #62 (May 1979), there were five as-yet unpublished issues already complete or near-complete. The series Marvel Spotlight was revived for the express purpose of publishing them (specifically, in issues #1-4 and 8).[15] Starlin wrote Mar-Vell's death in Marvel's first graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel (1982).[16]

Following the character's death, Marvel published several comics with new characters taking up the "Captain Marvel" moniker, thereby maintaining their trademark on the name.[3] The character returned, although not in a living capacity, in storylines in Silver Surfer vol. 3 #63 (March 1992) and Captain Marvel vol. 5, #5 (March 2003). The limited series Captain Marvel vol. 6, #1–5 (January–June 2008) was released as part of the 2008 "Secret Invasion" storyline and supposedly heralded the return of the character, although it was eventually revealed that this "Mar-Vell" was an alien Skrull called Khn'nr.[17][18]

Mar-Vell was one of the featured characters in the 2011 three-issue limited series Chaos War: Dead Avengers.[19]

Fictional character biography

1960s

Mar-Vell on the cover of Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968)Art by Gene Colan
Mar-Vell on the cover of Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968)
Art by Gene Colan

After the Kree's first encounter with humans,[20] Captain Mar-Vell is sent to spy on Earth and decide if it is a threat to the Kree empire.[7] He adopts the identity of a recently deceased scientist named Walter Lawson, but occasionally dons his Kree military uniform to protect the people he's observing. The first time he does this, people hear him incorrectly pronounce his name as "Captain Marvel". His job is made difficult by his jealous commanding officer, Colonel Yon-Rogg, his growing affection for humanity, and his fake identity's criminal past.[21]

After aiding humanity several times, Mar-Vell is found guilty of treason against the Kree Empire and sentenced to death by firing squad. Mar-Vell escapes in a stolen rocket, but becomes lost in space. After drifting for 112 days, he is weak and on the verge of madness. He is manipulated by Ronan the Accuser and Kree Minister Zarek into helping them overthrow the Supreme Intelligence. To better help them, Mar-Vell is given a new costume and enhanced abilities. After the conspiracy is foiled, Mar-Vell tries to return to Earth. On the way, he is hit by a blast of radiation that traps him in the Negative Zone.[22]

The Supreme Intelligence enables Mar-Vell to telepathically contact Rick Jones, which he uses to lead Jones to a set of "nega-bands" at an abandoned Kree base. When Jones puts on the bands and strikes them together, he trades places with Mar-Vell and is encased in a protective aura in the Negative Zone. The pair discover they are able to maintain telepathic contact. Using this method, Mar-Vell can remain in the positive universe for a period of three hours.[9][23]

1970s

After brief encounters with the villain Scorpio[24] and the Hulk[25][26] Jones uses Mister Fantastic's portal to the Negative Zone to free Mar-Vell, who then becomes embroiled in the Kree-Skrull War. As a result of the war, Jones is left near death and Mar-Vell re-merged with Jones in order to save his life.[27]

Mar-Vell's consciousness begins to resurface weeks later as Jones's body becomes unable to house both his own and Mar-Vell's life energy. Photon ray treatments by a Professor Savannah stabilizes the situation and brings Mar-Vell's body and consciousness to the surface.[28] After battling the atomic-powered Megaton, Mar-Vell is trapped in the Negative Zone once again until released by Jones via the nega-bands.[28][29]

Mar-Vell aids the Avengers against the Grim Reaper and the Space Phantom.[30] Mar-Vell allies himself with Mentor and Eros against the death worshipper Thanos and his forces in a war for the Cosmic Cube.[12][31][32][33] Seeing the magnitude of the threat, the cosmic entity Kronos aids them by creating Drax the Destroyer, whose sole purpose is to kill Thanos.[34] Another cosmic being, Eon, transforms Mar-Vell into the "Protector of the Universe". This provides the hero with new abilities, including "cosmic awareness".[35] Thanos gains the Cube and uses it to make himself omnipotent. Thanos' spirit leaves his body, and Mar-Vell uses the opportunity to shatter the Cube, which was still in Thanos' hand. This undoes Thanos's actions.[36][37]

Mar-Vell teams with Spider-Man to battle the Basilisk[38] and later encounters a new villain named Nitro. While defusing a bomb placed by Nitro, Mar-Vell is exposed to a powerful nerve gas called "Compound 13". Mar-Vell collapses due to the exposure, but recovers when given an antidote. The gas, however, would eventually prove to be carcinogenic and cause Mar-Vell to develop cancer.[39] During this time, Mar-Vell has an encounter with Living Laser.[40] Mar-Vell investigates Nitro's allies, who are revealed to be the Kree "Lunatic Legion", leading to a series of protracted battles and the eventual trial of the cosmic entity Uatu the Watcher for constant involvement in Earth's affairs.[41] After ending the threat and aiding Uatu the Watcher, Mar-Vell briefly separates from Jones and has an encounter with a space parasite that assumes the form of former lover Una.[42]

Mar-Vell travels to the Kree homeworld of Hala, and through a protracted series of events that almost kills Rick Jones, frees himself from the manipulation of the Supreme Intelligence. During this period Mar-Vell also encounters the cosmic entity the Stranger.[43] Returning to Earth, Mar-Vell encounters stranded Kree scientists who attempt to retrieve an inactive Kree Sentry located on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. This proves unsuccessful when the Sentry activates but fails to follow direction, going on a rampage. A new villain called the Cheetah attempts to manipulate the Sentry, although both are eventually defeated by Mar-Vell. The hero locates the Kree scientists, and briefly battles Ronan the Accuser, who was left with the mind of a child after a previous encounter.[44]

Rick Jones is visiting Avengers Mansion when the robotic villain the Super-Adaptoid attacks. During a battle with the Avengers, Jones trades places with Mar-Vell, with the Super-Adaptoid eventually mimicking Mar-Vell's Nega-Bands. Mar-Vell then brings the Super-Adaptoid's pseudo bands together, exiling the robot to the Negative Zone and freeing Jones.[45] Mar-Vell bids Jones farewell and encounters Mercurio the 4-D Man, who tricks Mar-Vell into returning to his home dimension, hoping to coerce the hero into building the Omni-Wave Projector. Mar-Vell, however, defeats Mercurio and returns to Earth.[46]

Mar-Vell continues to have dealings with the Kree, preventing scientist Doctor Minerva from killing Rick Jones and battling High Council member Phae-Dor[47] before travelling to Hala and, with King of the Inhumans Blackagar Boltagon ("Black Bolt") as his ally, preventing the "War of the Three Galaxies" by exposing a Skrull infiltrator.[48] After another encounter with Nitro,[49] Mar-Vell briefly attempts to adopt the Walter Lawson identity once again and works at an observatory. This plan is abandoned when forced to become Mar-Vell to stop an energy vampire named "Deathgrip".[50][51] After an encounter with the Thunder God Thor,[52] Mar-Vell is forced to fight off Drax, who has been driven insane due to being unable to fulfill his purpose and kill Thanos.[53] Eventually convincing Drax to aid him, Mar-Vell enters into a war against ISAAC, the sentient computer that served Thanos and now directs his forces. After a series of protracted battles, Mar-Vell convinces ISAAC's female minion Elysius to join him, causing her to fall in love with Mar-Vell; he subsequently defeats ISAAC's other pawns Chaos and Tarterus and the warrior Stellarax on Earth.[54][55][56][57] Mar-Vell eventually defeats ISAAC by entering the supercomputer's programming and forcing it to experience life.[58][59] Mar-Vell meets Eon once again and reflects on the events of recent times.[60]

1980s

The Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel (1982). Cover art by Jim Starlin.

After a battle in the mystical "Dark Dimension";[61] an encounter with the Hulk[62] and an adventure on an alien world,[63] Mar-Vell discovers that his past exposure to the "Compound 13" nerve gas[39] has given him cancer. Compounding the problem are Mar-Vell's nega-bands, which keep the cancer at bay but also cause it to resist all known forms of treatment, and lack of access to the Kree Empire's medical experts since the Kree consider Mar-Vell a traitor. As Mar-Vell accepts that his life is ending, many of his friends and allies come to Titan to pay their last respects. Even his mortal enemies the Skrulls send an envoy to bestow a medal on Mar-Vell to honor him as their greatest foe. In his final moments, Mar-Vell experiences a vision in which he meets Thanos once again. Thanos has come not as a foe, but as a guide to show Mar-Vell the path to the afterlife as a mark of respect to his greatest foe, giving Mar-Vell an illusion of a final struggle so that he can die fighting rather than in a bed. As he, Thanos, and Mistress Death pass into a blinding light, Mar-Vell dies.[16][64]

His spirit is later called forth by the Grandmaster as a part of the Legion of the Unliving to battle the Avengers.[65]

1990s

When the Silver Surfer visits the Realm of the Dead, the character is counselled and aided in his escape by someone who appears to be Mar-Vell but is later revealed to be a manifestation of the selfless heroic ideal that is part of the Surfer's own psyche.[66][67] Mar-Vell's former lover Elysius also impregnates herself with his genetic information, giving birth to a son, Genis-Vell.

When Death declares Thanos to be forever barred from her realm and that she will never love him, Thanos uses the Reality Gem to restore Mar-Vell. They discuss Thanos' ability to make Death love him with the Reality Gem, and Mar-Vell convinces him not to do it. Thanos agrees, and returns Mar-Vell to death.[68]

2000s

Visiting the Realm of the Dead, Genis encounters his father.[69] He learns Elysius also gave birth to a girl, Phyla-Vell.[70] The Young Avengers member Hulkling is revealed to be the child of Mar-Vell and Princess Anelle of the Skrulls.[71][72]

2010s

During the war with the Chaos King, Mar-Vell and several deceased members of the Avengers return from the dead. He takes leadership of the group, helping protect several civilians and the comatose bodies of the main Avengers from chaos demons.[73] He is impaled from behind by the Grim Reaper and is killed once more.[74]

Some time later, Kree mystics resurrect Mar-Vell using a piece of the M'Kraan Crystal and a portion of the Phoenix Force. Controlling his mind, they use Captain Marvel against the Avengers.[75] The Vision frees Mar-Vell, who sacrifices himself to save the Kree from the Phoenix Force, which threatens Hala when it seeks to reclaim its missing energy.[76]

Powers and abilities

Due to his Kree physiology which had evolved to cope with the heavier gravity of home planet Hala, Mar-Vell was significantly stronger and more durable than a normal human. As a soldier, he was trained in all forms of Kree combat, possessed a superior knowledge of tactics, and was equipped with a device called a "universal beam" (or "uni-beam"); which was at first a handheld pistol before Mar-Vell converted it into a wrist-mounted device capable of projecting energy, emitting beams of pure darkness, and controlling magnetism.[77]

When manipulated by "Zo" (actually Zarek, the Kree Imperial Minister), Mar-Vell became greatly enhanced, having his physical abilities augmented to the point of crushing the hardest substance known to the Kree, and gained the ability to generate illusions, teleport to anywhere in the universe and fly at faster-than-light speeds.[78][79] With the exception of strength, these abilities are lost when Mar-Vell gains the nega-bands,[23] which convert Mar-Vell's psionic energy into greater strength, durability, speed, flight and enabled him to exist unprotected in deep outer space. Following the photon ray treatments, Mar-Vell was able to absorb solar energy to further increase his strength. By using solar energy, Mar-Vell was able to recover faster than an average human being.[80][81] After his encounter with Eon, Mar-Vell used solar energy to fly, leaving a sparkling trail of photons in his wake.

Once named the "Protector of the Universe" by Eon, Mar-Vell gained "cosmic awareness", which allowed him to detect direct threats and perceive changes in the universe.[35] This awareness was also used internally, and alerted Mar-Vell to his terminal cancer.[64]

Reception

Critical reception

IGN referred to Mar-Vell as one of the "greatest Avengers of all time," writing, "Mar-Vell seemed destined to live out his life as a respected hero and family man, but even the greatest of heroes can meet an unfortunate end. Mar-Vell contracted terminal cancer in a battle with the villain Nitro. He ultimately perished surrounded by friends, family, and comrades. Surprisingly in a universe where resurrections happen every other hour, Mar-Vell has yet to return to life. It remains to be seen whether that will stay true, but in life or death, Captain Marvel remains one of the most influential heroes in the Marvel Universe."[82] David Harth of CBR.com described Mar-Vell as one of the "best cosmic heroes in Marvel comics," saying, "The Marvel universe always had a robust cosmic side, but Mar-Vell was the one who truly expanded Marvel's stories out into the stars. The first Captain Marvel started as a Kree soldier but became Earth's foremost cosmic defender, battling threats from outer space and beyond, vying with Thanos, and helping the Avengers when they needed it. Mar-Vell made Captain Marvel a legend. Whether he was fighting on Earth or in space, everyone respected him. His death brought heroes and villains alike out of the woodwork to mourn the cosmic champion in an unprecedented display of respect."[83]

Accolades

Literary reception

Volumes

The Death of Captain Marvel - 1982

Mark Peters of Salon.com asserted, "This is one of comics legend Jim Starlin’s greatest works, showing that a writer/artist known for his cosmic stories is just as good at telling the most human story of all. Throughout the comic, Marvel’s greatest heroes search for a cure unsuccessfully, as close friends of Mar-Vell such as Rick Jones deal with the grief and try to help their friend cope."[94] Christos Tsirbas of CBR.com stated, "The Death of Captain Marvel is still shocking, even 35 years after its initial publication because it shows the frailty and finality of the human condition without providing the comfort of a reset switch. The final fight is a dream and a metaphor. The promise of a new beginning is the last wish of a dying man. Mar-Vell’s heart stops and he is gone. It is a sobering end. This is why the greatest way to honor his legacy is to let Captain Marvel rest in peace. The gut-wrenching perfection of Starlin’s elegy to the hero will lose its impact if he is brought back to life. Mar-Vell’s greatest story—indeed one of the greatest stories in the superhero genre—will be rendered meaningless by his resurrection. Perhaps it is best to leave his mantle to those who have carried it since: Monica Rambeau, his own son Genis-Vell, and currently, Carol Danvers. After all, the moral of his story is that death is the end of all, but we can all leave a lasting legacy."[95] Marc Buxton of Den of Geek wrote, "His final story is unforgettable, chilling, and poignant. The death story was so powerful that it would be impossible for Marvel Comics to undo it. It would somehow cheapen the moment and minimize the suffering of real warriors who battled cancer. So because of Starlin’s final Mar-Vell tale, the good Captain was no more. Yes, there would be some journeys to the afterlife where heroes would meet Mar-Vell again and there was even a teased return during the Secret Invasion event of the mid-2000s, but that turned out to be a Skrull in disguise. Mar-Vell is still dead. But his legacy would live on stronger than ever. After the tragic death, the hero Monica Rambeau took up the Captain Marvel name. Captain Mar-Vell’s son Genis would take up his father’s mantle as well. While Rambeau and Genis are fantastic characters in their own right (Rambeau would become Photon and Genis Legacy), it was not until Carol Danvers took up the legacy of her friend Mar-Vell that Marvel Comics found lasting success with the Captain Marvel name. But as we enter the next phase of the Captain Marvel story, let us never forget the life and death of Marvel’s first hero that took the name that has inspired so many."[96] Matt D. Wilson of ComicsAlliance asserted, "Despite some overbearing religious imagery, The Death of Captain Marvel took a sensitive, poignant approach to Mar-Vell's battle with cancer, as well as his relationships with other heroes. There's a reason why it's a story that's stood the test of time, and it's a key reason lots of readers know of Mar-Vell at all."[97]

Other versions

In other media

Television

Film

A re-imagined version of Mar-Vell appears in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Captain Marvel (2019), portrayed by Annette Bening.[103] A Kree scientist who rejected her species' war with the Skrulls, this version fled to Earth in the 1980s, adopted the alias of Dr. Wendy Lawson, and became a physicist at Project Pegasus. Using the Tesseract, she sought to develop an experimental engine that would have allowed the Skrulls to settle beyond the reach of the Kree Empire. While she was killed by Yon-Rogg, she was able to instruct Carol Danvers to destroy the engine before he could seize it.

Video games

Collected editions

References

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