There’s something that’s been bugging me for a while. I actually thought that this annoyance would have gone away after the events of the last few weeks, but it hasn’t. If anything, it’s popped into my view more because of recent events, and I kinda can’t take it anymore. It’s either this or a lot more rage-filled pushing of the mute button on Twitter.
Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel and she is the only Captain Marvel. Period. End of discussion. You can have your personal wants and desires and headcanons, but you have to acknowledge that none of them line up with actual canon, or even reality. Carol is Captain Marvel.
People’s resistance to Carol’s promotion into the Captain Marvel title has been a metaphorical pebble in my Converse ever since she ascended to the role back in 2012. Every online mention of Captain Marvel will inevitably draw out some rando — we’ll call them Cap Trolls — that feels the need to interject that they believe that Carol is either Ms. Marvel — her previous moniker — or that there’s only one Captain Marvel, and he’s DC Comics’ barrel chested alter ego of Billy Batson. No matter what the conversation is, if it’s on Twitter then a Cap Troll will always interject into any talk of Captain Marvel with those derailing, distracting and out of touch observations. Let me make this clear, Cap Trolls: those comments are annoying, they’re dangerous and they have an adverse effect on how you are perceived as a comic book fan.
Now, I can’t hate on people that genuinely don’t know what’s up with the Captain Marvel codename. After all, the title has been bestowed upon at least seven different characters (off the top of my head: Billy Batson, Mar-Vell, Monica Rambeau, Genis-Vell, Phyla-Vell, Mar-Vell’s Skrull impersonator and Carol Danvers) across a dozen different series over the past seven decades. There are legal problems, lawsuits and three publishers involved in the whole thing. For anyone that’s been out of comics for the past two years, it is incredibly understandable for you to — one — not know who the current Captain Marvel is, and — two — still think that Carol Danvers is going by the name Ms. Marvel. Or Warbird. Or Binary. Yep, it’s legitimately confusing and the only way I’ve been able to make heads or tails of the whole CM fiasco is because I haven’t really taken my eyes off of comics since I started reading them over twenty years ago.
It shakes out like this: a publisher called Fawcett introduced the first Captain Marvel (Batson) in 1939. Dude was mega popular, so much so that DC Comics sued Fawcett over similarities between Batson and Superman. Fawcett ceased publishing Batson Marvel comics in the early ’50s. When the copyright expired, Marvel appropriately snatched it up and launched their Captain Marvel, the Kree alien Mar-Vell, in the late ’60s. A few years later, DC Comics acquired Fawcett’s characters, meaning they could publish both Superman and Batson side-by-side — and they did. Just one catch, though: DC had to call the character “Shazam” — the hero’s catch phrase — on comic covers and in comic titles because of Marvel’s copyright. This led to Marvel having a Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) on both the outside and inside of their comics, and DC having a Shazam on the covers and a Captain Marvel (Batson) in their stories. This continued for a long time, with Marvel’s Marvel mantle being passed from one hero to another, and DC still having to call Batson Marvel “Shazam” everywhere outside of the stories.
But things should have been simplified after two things happened: the New 52 and Carol Danvers’ promotion. The New 52 effectively wiped DC’s slate clean – or at least pretty clean. It’s really hard to erase some lines from the continuity dry erase board — Alan Moore wrote with a permanent marker. But still, the fresh start allowed for DC to re-introduce Billy Batson not as Captain Marvel but as Shazam. The character became known as Shazam, both in continuity and in marketing. Done deal.
Marvel had struggled to make any “Captain Marvel” series stick after the end of Peter David’s lengthy run with the Genis-Vell Captain Marvel in the early ’00s. Mini-series came and went with no character permanently claiming the presumably important codename. The company’s name is right there in it, Marvel! It should be a big deal! Editor Stephen Wacker had an idea to promote Carol Danvers, a hero that previously used the codename Ms. Marvel in reference to Mar-Vell, to the title. With writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Dexter Soy on board and armed with a commanding new costume from Jamie McKelvie, Marvel launched “Captain Marvel” in 2012.
Now DC has Shazam and Marvel has a real Captain Marvel again, one that stars in a monthly book. Case closed, right? Nope.
A section of comic book readers refused to acknowledge this change. Captain Marvel was repeatedly referred to as “Ms. Marvel” in gossip site headlines writing about her chances of appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a vocal contingent of trolls would insist that Marvel would introduce her as Ms. Marvel in the films. Those arguments only reinforced the perception that Carol’s promotion — her incredibly important promotion — was temporary. They viewed it as a stunt, one that somehow disrespected a character that has been dead for over thirty years (never mind that Carol took the codename to honor that very hero). But I heard their arguments, mostly because they appeared in my Twitter feed every time I wrote about Captain Marvel. In the back of my mind, I worried that Marvel would introduce Carol as Ms. Marvel, thus negating her progress and feeding those trolls a big yummy carcass to feast on.
But guess what, Cap Trolls?! The movie has been announced and it’s “Captain Marvel”! On top of that, Warner Bros. has announced that they are making “Shazam!” Now DC has Shazam and Marvel has Captain Marvel on both the printed page and the big screen. So there, it’s all straightened out! Billy Batson is Shazam and Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel!
Except the Cap Trolls keep on throwing pebbles at my shoes.
Yes, I know that Billy Batson was Captain Marvel from 1939 to 2012, but he hasn’t been able to star in a comic called “Captain Marvel” for the past four decades. Carol Danvers has only been Captain Marvel for two years, but that name change isn’t getting reversed anytime soon. She has a movie coming out with this name, and we all know how much Marvel loves movie/comic synergy (insert coughing and the word “Inhumans” here). Carol will have clocked in six years as Captain Marvel by the time her movie comes out, and that feature film will most likely ensure that she stays Captain Marvel.
So in light of all that information, Cap Trolls, every single time you insist on referring to Carol as Ms. Marvel or insist on calling Billy Batson Captain Marvel, you are just demonstrating how incredibly out of touch you are with comics. Ironic, isn’t it, because you’re probably doing that to demonstrate how much more you know by clinging to those antiquated titles. It just makes you seem willfully ignorant, stubborn, needlessly contrarian and resistant to change.
I mentioned before that these attempts to lionize the male Captain Marvel while diminishing the female one are dangerous. Here’s why: it’s casual misogyny. I will give some Cap Trolls the benefit of the doubt, because they could have just had a slip of the Twitter tongue, be genuinely confused, or have an old habit they’ve yet to break. But in other cases, yes, it’s casual — or straight up intentional — misogyny. It shows an unwillingness to progress past the era when all female heroes had to have gendered codenames. It shows a preference towards female heroes that are obvious analogues of male heroes. It completely overlooks the fact that a surprising number of female heroes already have a tenuous grasp on their codenames as it is.
In his excellent essay over at Comics Alliance, “Lady She-Woman: Female Superhero Codenames And Identity,” Andrew Wheeler broke down the facts behind female hero code names. Most women either have gendered codenames (Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Huntress), codenames tied to male heroes (She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Batgirl, Supergirl), or don’t go by a codename at all (Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Danielle Moonstar, Misty Knight). Men, on the other hand, get to have gender-neutral codenames (Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Nightwing), they get to originate codenames (Hulk, Captain Marvel, Batman, Superman), and the majority of them have codenames.
When Cap Trolls argue that Captain Marvel will be reduced back to Ms. Marvel, they are touching on a very real — and dangerous — trend in comics that treats female hero codenames as interchangeable. The two previous female Captain Marvels, Monica Rambeau and Phyla-Vell, know this all too well. Rambeau debuted as Captain Marvel but lost the codename when Genis-Vell took it. That pattern repeated itself when Rambeau had her new codename, Photon, stolen by Genis-Vell. Phyla-Vell took on the codename Quasar after ditching the Marvel moniker, but she had to give it up just as soon as the original Quasar, Wendell Vaughn, returned from the dead. She then took on the name Martyr and, well, died. The same really can’t be said for male heroes; even when Peter Parker is no longer Spider-Man, there’s no uncertainty that he’s going to be back in the webs again. The same has also proven true for Thor and Captain America in the past, and will definitely prove true again when their current replacements — one of whom is a woman — run their course. Yes, there’s a history of women having their codenames taken away from them, but that doesn’t mean that history should keep repeating itself. The Captain Marvel codename needs to stop with Carol Danvers because this trend needs to be broken.
When you call Captain Marvel Ms. Marvel, you are stripping her of the agency and power she has claimed by taking on a non-gendered codename and assuming the mantle of the character that inspired her super powered existence. That’s why Captain Marvel is so important and that’s why she has an entire Corps backing her up. Captain Marvel proves that women do not have to exist in the traditional roles that have been set for them and she demonstrates that women do not have to be the other to default malehood. Captain Marvel proves that women can be a bad ass with a powerful codename that signifies she’s a hero, not a lady hero. It’s important.
From now on, I want to see all the Cap Trolls pay attention to the way comics actually are right now. Put those continuity-loving brains to work and admit that there is only one Captain Marvel, and she’s Carol Danvers.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts Matt & Brett Love Comics, writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio, and makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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