In superhero comics, there might only be one true Batman or a few Flashes, but a half-dozen superheroes have a legitimate claim to the name Captain Marvel. In 2019, Brie Larson will bring the current Captain Marvel, Marvel’s cosmic Avenger Carol Danvers, to the big screen in Captain Marvel, but she’s only the latest in a long line of heroes with that iconic name. By saying the magic word “Shazam!,” Billy Batson transformed into the first Captain Marvel back in the 1940s, and Zachary Levi will also bring that hero to the big screen in 2019’s Shazam! While Batson’s Captain Marvel was more popular than Superman at his peak, DC Comics launched a costly legal battle against his publisher, Fawcett Comics, over the hero’s similarities to the Man of Steel. Even though DC ended up owning Billy Batson, Marvel Comics introduced the first of several sci-fi heroes named Captain Marvel in the 1960s. Since then, both Marvel and DC have introduced a dizzying number of heroes named Captain Marvel.
Now, CBR is ranking every Captain Marvel, ever. In this list, we’ll be counting down every Captain Marvel according to everything from the overall impact and success of their tenure as Captain Marvel. While we will be looking at Captain Marvels from alternate realities, we won’t be looking at different versions of the same character, like multiple versions of Billy Batson. From Marvel’s first Captain Marvel, an alien Kree hero named Mar-Vell to the totally different hero who led the Avengers, we’ll help you untangle the long legacy of Captain Marvel at Marvel, DC Comics and beyond.
20. M. F. ENTERPRISES CAPTAIN MARVEL
By 1966, the original Captain Marvel, Billy Batson, hadn’t been seen in a decade, and Marvel still hadn’t introduced its Captain Marvel yet. Since nobody was using the name, Carl Burgos created a bizarre Captain Marvel for publisher Myron Fass’ M. F. Enterprises. This hero was an alien robot who was sent to Earth after his homeworld was destroyed by nuclear war.
Taking the name Roger Winkle, this self-described “Human Robot” had the deeply strange ability to shoot his head, limbs and hands off in different directions by yelling the word “Split!” Unsurprisingly, this Captain Marvel’s adventures only lasted for six issues before his series was canceled, and M.F. Enterprises closed its doors.
19. THE WASP
In Marvel’s 2013 crossover Age of Ultron, the Avengers’ cybernetic foe Ultron successfully took over the world after launching an overwhelming sneak attack. To rewrite this piece of recent history, the X-Men’s Wolverine traveled back in time to take out Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, before he could create Ultron. By erasing the founding Avenger, he inadvertently created an alternate timeline devastated by the magical villain Morgan le Fay.
In this reality, Janet van Dyne, the Wasp, became Captain Marvel.
Introduced by Brian Michael Bendis and Brandon Peterson in Age of Ultron #7, Janet served as a largely unremarkable member of Tony Stark’s Defenders with her size-changing powers. Like most of her teammates, she perished when le Fay caused a nuclear explosion during a battle.
18. CAPTAIN MARVEL’S SKRULL IMPOSTER
During the 2008 storyline Secret Invasion, the shape-shifting alien Skrulls quietly invaded Earth by sending several sleeper agents to pose as Avengers and other heroes. Since Marvel’s first Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell, was one of their Kree alien rivals, they tried repeatedly to create a perfect duplicate of him. While their 97th attempt worked, the Skrulls’ 96th attempt to create Captain Marvel only sprang to life a few months after the invasion failed.
Created by Brian Reed and Sana Takeda in 2010’s Ms. Marvel #48, the X-Men villain Mystique discovered the Skrull and tricked him into attacking a group that worshiped the original Mar-Vell. After rebelling against Mystique, the Skrull decayed and let off a radioactive blast that could only be contained by Carol Danvers.
Decades before Carol Danvers became the current Captain Marvel, her powers and memories were absorbed by the mutant Rogue. In the Marvel Universe, Rogue used Carol’s powers as a member of the X-Men throughout the 1980s and 1990s before losing them. After working with the X-Men for a while, Carol was abducted by the Brood and given a new set of cosmic powers that turned her the hero Binary.
In one alternate reality, Rogue permanently absorbed Carol’s powers, memories and personality.
While Carol got Rogue’s uncontrollable power-absorbing powers, Rogue became that world’s Captain Marvel and was also given the fiery Binary powers by the Brood. Created by Jim McCann and Diego Olortegui in 2018’s Infinity Countdown: Captain Marvel #1, she also wields the Reality Stone.
16. NEXTWAVE’S CAPTAIN
As a member of Nextwave, the Captain was part of one of the strangest superhero teams in Marvel’s history. In 2006, Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen reached new heights of action-packed absurdity in the Marvel Universe with their cult-classic series, Nextwave: Agent of H.A.T.E. As the comic’s theme song described, “it’s like Shakespeare, but with lots more punching,” and the Captain was responsible for a lot of punching.
After being given the Heartstar by two aliens, the Captain received a self-described generic set of superpowers and attacked the aliens under the belief that they were leprechauns hiding gold coins. Once he became a hero, the foul-mouthed, cynical Captain went by names like Captain Marvel, Captain Universe and Captain Ultra before realizing they were all taken.
15. AMALGAM CAPTAIN MARVEL
For a few months in the 1990s, the Marvel and the DC Universes merged to form the Amalgam Universe. While characters like Batman and Wolverine were combined to form Dark Claw, Marvel’s Captain Marvel, the Kree alien Mar-Vell, and DC’s Captain Marvel, Billy Batson, merged to form a new hero also named Captain Marvel.
In the Amalgam Universe, Billy Mar-Vell turned into an adult hero by shouting the word “Kree!”
Powered by alien “super-science,” Amalgam’s Captain Marvel served on the Judgment League Avengers and had the powers of his Marvel and DC counterparts. When his team fought with an outlaw meta-mutant group JLX, he even participated in Amalgam’s superhero civil war, although the rest of his adventures went largely unseen.
For casual Marvel fans, Ayesha might be most recognizable as the antagonistic gold alien that Elizabeth Debicki portrayed in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. However, in comics, she was created by Len Wein, David Kraft and Herb Trimpe in 1977’s Incredible Hulk Annual #6. While she was designed to be a mate for the cosmic hero Adam Warlock, she ended up working alongside the cosmic hero Quasar for a while in the 1990s.
In the alternate future of Alan Davis’ Fantastic Four: The End, Ayesha played a slightly more prominent role as that era’s Captain Marvel. The cosmically-powered hero served alongside Iron Man and Vision in the Avengers, where she appeared to be a newer member of the team in a few crowd scenes.
In the Marvel Universe, Hulkling is the son of Mar-Vell, Marvel’s first Captain Marvel. Created by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung in 2005’s Young Avengers #1, Teddy Altman is half-Kree and half-Skrull, which gives him super-strength and shape-shifting abilities. With stints on the Young Avengers and the New Avengers, Hulkling is one of Marvel’s more prominent young heroes.
In one timeline, Teddy grew up to take his father’s famous name, Captain Marvel.
This version of Captain Marvel debuted in 2011’s Avengers: The Children’s Crusade – Young Avengers by Allan Heinberg and Alan Davis. Teddy and the now-adult Young Avengers fled into the timestream after fighting the original Avengers. While he didn’t say much, he helped his teammate Kang as he tried to change history.
12. KHN’NR, THE (OTHER) SKRULL IMPOSTER
By the time Marvel’s Civil War started in 2007, Mar-Vell had been gone for decades. However, Marvel’s first Captain Marvel seemingly returned from the grave in Paul Jenkins and Tom Raney’s Civil War: The Return. Under the belief that he was a time-traveler, Iron Man’s pro-registration team welcomed him back and put him in charge of a prison in the desolate Negative Zone, where he held his old friends and teammates in captivity.
However, this Captain Marvel eventually learned that he was a Skrull sleeper agent, Khn’nr. When the implanted memories of the real Mar-Vell overwhelmed his Skrull conditioning, Khn’nr rebelled against his masters and destroyed several Skrulls ships that were attacking Earth.
11. ULTIMATE CAPTAIN MARVEL
In the early 2000s, Marvel’s Ultimate Universe reimagined the company’s classic heroes for the 21st century. Warren Ellis and Steve McNiven introduced that world’s Captain Marvel in 2005’s Ultimate Secret #1. Posing as the human Doctor Phillip Lawson, Mahr Vehl was an agent of the Kree Empire who helped S.H.I.E.L.D. increase humanity’s space-faring capabilities.
After his true nature was revealed, Mahr Vehl helped Earth’s heroes defeat that world’s Galactus.
Having grown close to humanity, Captain Mahr Vehl rebelled against the Kree when they attacked Earth and was injured while battling the Silver Surfers, the heralds of Gah Lak Tus. However, Mahr Vehl perished during his next fight with Gah Lak Tus, and the human hero Rick Jones took Mahr Vehl’s helmet and name for himself.
10. MANGAVERSE CAPTAIN MARVEL
In 2002, Marvel created the Mangaverse, which featured Japanese or manga-inspired takes on its characters. While Captain Marvel usually hasn’t been the biggest player in the Marvel Universe, that world’s Captain Marvel was one of its key superheroes. Created by Ben Dunn and Tommy Ohtsuka in Marvel Mangaverse #1, Marvin Ellwood was the son of that world’s Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers.
After the Fantastic Four helped him retrieve his father’s Nega-Bands from a volcano, Marvin became that world’s Captain Marvel. This hero was also tasked with taking down Galactus, who was a giant inhuman creature in this reality. While he managed to finish off Galactus, Captain Marvel seemingly perished when the Hand ninjas attacked several of that world’s heroes.
Although she’s more famous as Quasar or Martyr, Phyla-Vell, the daughter of Mar-Vell, briefly claimed the name Captain Marvel for herself. Created by Peter David and Paul Azaceta in 2004’s Captain Marvel #16, Phyla claimed the name shortly after her brother destroyed and recreated the universe. Phyla played a key role in the beloved 2006 crossover Annihilation, where she helped stop Annihilus’ Annihilation Wave.
After stealing the Quantum Bands back from Annihilus, Phyla became the hero Quasar.
Along with her partner Moondragon, Phyla played another key role fighting Ultron and the Phalanx in 2007’s Annihilation: Conquest. Phyla was a founding member of the modern Guardians of the Galaxy. After she morphed into the death-focused hero Martyr, she was finished off by a newly-resurrected Thanos.
8. CAPTAIN MARVEL JR.
As his name implies, Captain Marvel Jr. was the original sidekick to Billy Batson’s Captain Marvel. Created by France Herron and Mac Raboy in 1941’s Whiz Comics #25, Freddy Freeman was a friend of the young Billy Batson. After Freddy was paralyzed by one of Captain Marvel’s villains, he was given a portion of Batson’s powers. By saying the words “Captain Marvel,” Freddy could transform into a super-powered version of himself.
While his appearance might’ve inspired Elvis Presley’s signature look, Captain Marvel Jr. hasn’t played the biggest role in the DC Universe. While he also went by CM3 and Captain Marvel in some future timelines, Freddy took Captain Marvel’s place as the hero Shazam in 2006’s Trials of Shazam!, shortly before DC’s New 52 reboot.
7. MARVEL BOY
While he began as one of the wildest superheroes in the Marvel Universe, Noh-Varr, Marvel Boy, eventually calmed down and embraced his Kree heritage by becoming Captain Marvel. Created by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones in 2000’s Marvel Boy #1, Noh-Varr is a genetically-engineered Kree/cockroach hybrid from an alternate reality.
After his ship crashed, Noh-Varr declared war on Earth and was imprisoned for years.
When Noh-Varr was released from prison during the Skrulls’ secret invasion, he served on Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers as Captain Marvel. While that didn’t last long, he tried to carry on Captain Marvel’s legacy by joining the Avengers as the Protector. Noh-Varr returned to his Marvel Boy name and joined the Young Avengers before helping the Inhumans explore their Kree roots.
6. MARY MARVEL
In 1942’s Captain Marvel Adventures #18, Otto Binder and Marc Swayze introduced readers to Mary Marvel, Billy Batson’s long-lost sister. Like her brother, Mary Bromfield transformed into a super-powered adult hero by saying the magic word “Shazam!” In Jerry Ordway’s landmark mid-1990s series, The Power of Shazam!, Mary shared the Captain Marvel name with her brother.
While Mary was an aggressively wholesome character for most of her stories in the DC Universe, she served in the Justice League and took her brother’s place in the reformed Justice League International. After losing her powers in the mid-2000s, Mary got a new set of powers from Captain Marvel’s nemesis, Black Adam, and was briefly controlled by the villains Dessad before feeling like herself again.
While Mar-Vell’s son, Genis-Vell, had a lengthy run as Captain Marvel, he also destroyed the universe once and came dangerously close to becoming an outright villain. Created by Ron Lim and Joe Phillips in 1993’s Silver Surfer Annual #6, Genis had several cosmic powers and worked as the intergalactic hero Legacy.
Like his father, Genis was bonded with the human Rick Jones and operated as Captain Marvel.
Over time, the all-knowing scope of Genis’ Cosmic Awareness slowly drove him insane. After destroying and recreating the universe, Genis took the name Photon and joined the Thunderbolts, a group of villains-turned-heroes. When his powers started acting up, he almost destroyed the universe again, so his teammate Baron Zemo sent every part of his body into another dimension.
4. MONICA RAMBEAU
Monica Rambeau is almost certainly the most underrated Captain Marvel. When she was created by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. in 1982’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Monica was hit with a blast of extra-dimensional energy. This turned her into one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes by giving her comprehensive control over all energy in the electromagnetic spectrum.
To learn how to control her powers, Monica joined the Avengers as the new Captain Marvel. She stayed on the team for most of the 1980s and even served as its leader. After leaving the team, she changed her codename to Photon and Pulsar before settling on Spectrum. After leading the offbeat team Nextwave, she spent the last several years on the Mighty Avengers and the Ultimates.
While Marvel’s first Captain Marvel could’ve just been a way to secure a trademark, Mar-Vell became a key player in Marvel’s cosmos. When he was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in 1967’s Marvel Super-Heroes #12, he was working as a secret Kree agent tasked with observing Earth. After his superiors betrayed him, Mar-Vell adopted Earth as his home and became Captain Marvel.
While working with the Avengers, Mar-Vell was bonded to the human Rick Jones on a molecular level.
Even though he had several alien powers, Mar-Vell’s most famous moment happened in “The Death of Captain Marvel.” In Jim Starlin’s seminal 1982 graphic novel, Mar-Vell succumbed to the cancer he developed after being exposed to nerve gas years earlier in this tragic tale.
2. CAROL DANVERS
Although she’s been Captain Marvel since 2012, Carol Danvers’ brightest days still are ahead of her. When Roy Thomas and Gene Colan introduced her in 1968’s Marvel Super-Heroes #13, she was one of Mar-Vell’s supporting characters who gained super-powers in a blast of alien energy. As Ms. Marvel, she joined the Avengers for a few years before losing her powers. While her abilities changed, she took the names Binary and Warbird and drifted around the Marvel Universe.
Over the past decade, Carol evolved from an underrated hero into a key Avengers member. As Captain Marvel, she’s played a major role as Marvel’s foremost cosmic hero. Once Captain Marvel hits theaters in 2019, Carol will be cemented as the definitive Captain Marvel for the 21st century.
While Carol might be the MCU’s strongest Avenger, she’s no match for the power of Shazam. When Billy Batson was created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck in 1940’s Whiz Comics #2, he was given the ability to transform into the original Captain Marvel by the wizard Shazam. By saying the wizard’s name, Billy called on his magic powers to become the World’s Mightiest Mortal and one of the first major superheroes.
Captain Marvel’s adventures were filled with a high fantasy and humor that still define the character.
In the DC Universe, Captain Marvel has been the leader of the Marvel Family and had stints on the Justice League and the Justice Society. Although he’s called Shazam now, he’ll always be the original Captain Marvel.
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