WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Captain Marvel, in theaters now.
We always want to know how superheroes got their powers. Perhaps in some way, we hope that if it can happen to them, maybe it can happen to us. Although, it’s more likely that we’re drawn to these origin stories because they reveal insights into the heroes themselves, as well as set up drama for the hero’s future.
Carol Danvers has gone through many identities in the comics, but up until recently, her origin story was as follows: A Kree warrior named Mar-Vell (who was also called Captain Marvel) shielded Carol Danvers from a Psyche-Magnitron blast. Carol absorbed his powers, altering her DNA in the process. This is the origin story that we had prior to the Ms. Marvel solo series in 1977.
The origin story of how Carol Danvers got powers has been changed multiple times since then, including in the new film, Captain Marvel. However, the film’s version of Carol’s origin story improves on its comic book predecessors.
From Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel
The solo Ms. Marvel series does a good recap of what’s happened to Carol Danvers in previous comics. It also adds in Carol having fainting spells and not remembering her actions as Ms. Marvel, establishing a history of Carol Danvers losing her memories. Ms. Marvel #7 has a second Psyche-Magnitron blast which transfers her costume’s powers to her body. Now, Carol is able to fly higher, further and faster without relying on her suit, which she wasn’t able to do on her own before.
In the now iconic Kelly Sue DeConnick run, Carol struggles with taking the mantle of Captain Marvel, a title she associates with her former friend and, at one point, love interest. It takes the encouragement of her good friend Captain America to accept that she can be Captain Marvel. This is when Carol Danvers goes from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, and from swimsuit to a costume that’s actually conducive to fighting.
Flying has always been in Carol’s DNA, so to speak. It’s integral to her character. One of the major storylines in the DeConnick run features a growth in her brain that affects her ability to fly and endangers her memories. This is another thread we can track throughout Carol’s different origin stories: Her powers usually come at a great cost to her identity.
The Life of Captain Marvel
Margaret Stohl retold Captain Marvel’s origin story in 2018’s The Life of Captain Marvel. Over the course of the five-issue series, we learned that Carol’s mother was a Kree warrior named Captain Mari-Ell. Mari-Ell reassures Carol that her powers are “not borrowed. Not a gift. Not an accident… They’re not anyone’s but yours. They never have been.” It turns out that Mari-Ell was always in Carol’s corner, including the night Carol’s dad told her he wouldn’t pay for her college, and hid who she was to keep her family safe.
The shift to Carol’s powers coming from her mother was a brilliant move. The rest of her origin story still plays out the same except she already had Kree DNA because of her mother, and the Psyche-Magnitron blast merely unlocked what was already there. It shifts the focus to Carol’s power coming from within, not taken from a man, nor anyone else for that matter.