Captain Marvel is a superhero moniker that many people may recognize. The people who have used that identity, however, are a lot less commonly known. It is telling that the MCU film Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, who is only the most recent person to take up the title.
There have been numerous people to call themselves Captain Marvel -- even a few to call themselves Ms. Marvel. To those unfamiliar with the character, all this can be a little overwhelming. However, when you consider all the characters to have donned the title, it becomes easier to rank all the Captain Marvels in levels of importance. For the following list, we will count every major character to have donned the title of Captain Marvel, as well as a couple who have called themselves Ms. Marvel, in the Marvel Universe. Sorry, Shazam fans.
By the time Khn'nr started impersonating Mar-Vell, the hero had been dead in real life for decades. Many, including Khn'nr himself, believed that Captain Marvel had returned from the dead to continue the good fight.
In actuality, Khn'nr was a Skrull who merely used Mar-Vell's DNA to properly imitate the hero's power. However, in the process, Mar-Vell's personality took over the Skrull's mind, effectively turning the invader into a hero combating his own kind. While the existential dread of becoming your greatest adversary is fascinating, Khn'nr truly feels like an extension of the late hero's character arc rather than an original, new character to take on the name of Captain Marvel. As such, it is hard to justify him being any higher in a ranking of all the Captain Marvels when, logically, he's just Mar-Vell reborn.
Son of the original Captain Marvel, this Kree was raised to believe he was the son of Starfox, when, in actuality, he was born as a means to preserve the Mar-Vell legacy. Genis-Vell grew up to possess a truly alien perspective on the universe, often coming in conflict with other heroes until, eventually, everyone turned him away.
While Monica Rambeau graciously handed over the mantle of Captain Marvel to Genis-Vell after a long conflict, his sister, Phyla-Vell, would later take the mantle of Captain Marvel herself. While Genis-Vell is more remembered as a villain, he did attempt to do good by his father's name. It just happened that he was too alien and too strange to ever really fill the role.
Daughter of the original Mar-Vell, Phyla-Vell has used multiple monikers over the years. Captain Marvel was just the first. Phyla-Vell took the title of Captain Marvel away from her insane brother, Genis-Vell, assuming the title so her brother would no longer tarnish their father's glorious name. As a hero, she partook in the epic Annihilation event, joined the Guardians of the Galaxy, and even romanced Moondragon.
However, later on, she would end up falling down a dark path, and, eventually, was slain in the War of Kings arc, only for her soul to be trapped within the Soul Stone. Recent history has not been kind to Phylla-Vell, but many fans hold out hope that, in the future, she might be able to return to her former glory once again.
PREVIOUSLY: 10 Comics to Read Before Captain Marvel
Noh-Varr, also known as Marvel Boy, was a bisexual Kree soldier shot down and captured by SHIELD. Over the years, he would be used and manipulated by those in power over him, first by the Kree and later by SHIELD director Maria Hill in order to capture the Runaways during the Civil War story-line.
During the Secret Invasion, he encounters Khn'nr, disguised as the original Mar-Vell, who, in his dying breath, convinces Noh-Varr to take up the mantle of Captain Marvel. Noh-Varr manages to brutalize the invading Skrulls, which draws the attention of the man who gave Noh-Varr a chance to take up the mantle of Captain Marvel: Norman Osborn.
Noh-Varr fought in Osborn's Dark Avengers, and, ever since then, has been struggling to figure out his place in the Marvel Universe. It's telling that, after being disillusioned with the Dark Avengers, he dropped the moniker Captain Marvel.
4. Monica Rambeau
Following the passing of Mar-Vell, a new hero had to rise to the ranks of Captain Marvel. Enter Monica Rambeau, the second Captain Marvel. For all the backlash against increased diversity in comics, it remains incredibly important from a cultural standpoint that the patriarchal Mar-Vell was replaced by a woman of color.
Monica Rambeau, however, should not be written off as just an attempt to diversify the Marvel Universe. After being exposed to cosmic energy, Rambeau discovers she can convert her body into pure energy, able to absorb and release it at will. Taking the moniker Captain Marvel, she joins the Avengers -- and soon becomes its leader. Throughout her decades-long stint as Captain Marvel, she defended Earth from the Kree-Shi'ar War, her nemesis Moonstar, and fellow Captain Marvel Genis.
Out of respect to the fallen Mar-Vell, however, she would retire from the role of Captain Marvel, though she remains a hero to this very day, most notably her stint as leader of the Mighty Avengers.
It may seem blasphemous to some to place the original Captain Marvel only at rank three in a ranking of all the Captain Marvels, but it is inevitable he takes this placement. Mar-Vell's legacy is storied and incredible.
Mar-Vell is a Kree spy sent to Earth to invade and conquer the Earth, but soon begins to realize he admires the Earth and its people. He decides instead of conquering to join the Earthlings, helping the Avengers fight in the great Kree-Skrull War.
But Mar-Vell's legacy was sealed when it turned out that, during his great battle against evil, he had terminal cancer. In the touching graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel, friends and foe alike stand vigil as Captain Marvel dies of natural causes.
2. Kamala Khan
Kamala Khan is technically not a Captain Marvel, so putting her on a ranking of all the Captain Marvels might seem like blasphemy. However, it seems wrong to not include her on a list of the most iconic Captain Marvels, as she herself exists as a legacy character to Carol Danvers, the most famous Captain Marvel.
Kamala Khan gained her powers thanks to the Terrigen Mists from the "Inhumanity" story-line. This granted Khan the abilities to shapeshift and resize her body as she saw fit. Having idolized superheroes all her life, especially Carol Danvers, this led to her adopting the moniker Ms. Marvel for herself. Kamala is a breath of fresh air in countless ways. She's a fan of heroes, directly inspired by her heroes, and, perhaps most notably, one of the first Muslim-American superheroes to gain both mainstream popularity and critical acclaim.
1. Carol Danvers
There's a reason she's the star of the new Captain Marvel film. Carol Danvers has been a mainstay in the Marvel Universe since the '60s, where, during a chance encounter with Mar-Vell, her DNA became entangled with Mar-Vell's Kree DNA, granting her incredible superhuman powers. After making a name for herself as Ms. Marvel, Carol lost her powers when Rogue, the mutant who would later join the X-Men, stole her abilities. This left her powerless, only for her to regain her old strength, and become greater than ever before.
But part of Danvers's appeal comes from how for years, she languished in obscurity (and, frankly, misery) until she was able to live up to her potential as a hero, and, quite frankly, excel. Fewer characters struggled or suffered quite like Carol, and few have risen from frank obscurity to becoming the hero of women everywhere.