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Captain Marvel(s): A Beginner’s Guide

Captain Marvel(s): A Beginner’s Guide

Carol Danvers has had a fanbase since her debut in 1968, and her popularity has soared since she adopted the Captain Marvel mantle over three years ago. But she’s not the only Captain Marvel. No, I don’t just mean that kid Billy Batson who lives over in DC Comics and transforms into a hero whenever he shouts the magic word “Shazam” (that’s where the English language got the word, by the way). The Marvel Universe itself has a legacy of heroes who’ve used the title Captain Marvel. Don’t know who they are or how to keep them straight? No problem! Your user-friendly guide is right here!

Captain Mar-Vell


In the 1960s, no one was publishing a comic with the title Captain Marvel, so Marvel Comics thought, “Hey, our company’s named Marvel now, so why don’t we have a character called Captain Marvel?” So readers met Mar-Vell, a military captain of the Kree Empire, an alien society that had appeared in Fantastic Four comics. Mar-Vell comes to Earth as a scout, but winds up rebelling against the Kree and protecting Earth from its forces. Seeing him in his alien uniform, the public thinks he’s a new superhero called Captain Marvel. He goes on to protect the Earth from his own people, allying with the Avengers and USAF Major Carol Danvers.

Mar-Vell’s “powers” are initially just alien tech, but later on he gains real super-powers, the powerful “Nega-Bands,” a new costume, and a role as a cosmic protector. Along with the red and black costume being much cooler than his green and white suit, his new ability to fly had the cool side effect of leaving a starlight trail behind him.

For a short while, Mar-Vell is molecularly fused with teenager Rick Jones, forcing the two of them to take turns over who gets to physically exist on Earth. Basically, it was a clever update of the Billy Batson transformation, replacing the word “Shazam” with the sound effect “KTANG!” whenever Rick or Mar-Vell slammed the Nega-Bands together.
Carol Danvers Ms Marvel

During one adventure, Carol Danvers is caught in the explosion of an alien weapon called the “Psyche-Magnetron” (comics, people) that responds to thoughts. Months later, she realizes the weapon read her subconscious desire to be Mar-Vell’s equal in power and altered her DNA to be a hybrid of her own and his. With her new abilities, she rocks out as the original Ms. Marvel, even getting her own series that outlasts her male counterpart’s.

As for Mar-Vell, he dies due to cancer he acquired through exposure to radiation. His legacy is followed by the hero Quasar and other heroes who take on the Captain Marvel name despite never having met him. Starting with…

Monica Rambeau

Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel

Lt. Monica Rambeau of the New Orleans Harbor Patrol is exposed to extra-dimensional energy during an investigation. Now she can manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum and convert her body into different forms of light and energy. Adopting the name Captain Marvel, she joins the Avengers soon after, even acting as their leader for a time.

After a few years of retirement, Monica gets back superhero game under the name Photon. At one point, she calls herself Pulsar instead, but only for a short time.

Genis-Vell and Phyla-Vell

Genis-Vell and Phyla-Vell

Genis and Phyla are the artificially grown and engineered children of Mar-Vell. After briefly calling himself “Legacy,” Genis takes on the mantle of Captain Marvel around the same time that Monica is thinking she wants to retire for a bit.

After several adventures, Genis is physically bonded to Rick Jones and gains incredible cosmic awareness. Eventually, this new insight makes him mentally unstable. During this time, Phyla considers adopting the Captain Marvel title herself, but Genis isn’t interested in giving it up just yet. So Phyla instead assumes the mantle of Quasar (another cosmic powered hero). But she went to the trouble of making a Captain Marvel suit, so we’re mentioning her.

After Genis regains mental stability and separates from Rick Jones, he heads to Earth and takes the name Photon (not realizing that Monica Rambeau is using that name, so she decides to call herself Pulsar for a short time). But as it turns out, Genis’s cosmic power makes him a threat to all reality. So sadly, Genis is destroyed before he can cause chaos across the universe.


During the Secret Invasion crossover, a soldier named Khn’nr becomes convinced he is Captain Mar-Vell. Khn’nr later realizes the truth, that he’s a sleeper agent who belongs to the shape-shifting Skrull race, the arch-enemies of the Kree. Despite this, he decides to live up to Mar-Vell’s example and help Earth against a massive Skrull invasion. Since then…

Well, since then, we just haven’t seen him. Marvel forgot about him, I guess. So I suppose he’s dead? Are we supposed to assume he died in battle against the Skrulls? Huh…

Noh Varr

Marvel-Boy Noh-Varr

Noh Varr is a young Kree warrior from a parallel universe. Genetically engineered to have insect DNA that makes him extremely powerful, Noh Varr winds up in our universe and is labeled Marvel Boy on Earth. Years later, he works with a “Dark Avengers” team formed by businessman/super-villain Norman Osborn AKA Green Goblin AKA Iron Patriot I.

During his time in the Dark Avengers, Noh Varr is called “Captain Marvel.” But he ditches this title after about a year, taking on the new name “Protector.” Only he apparently decides that this isn’t cool either, so now he’s just called Noh Varr or Marvel Boy again.

Carol Danvers

Capt Marvel Carol-Danvers

Remember Major Carol Danvers? She led a wild and dangerous life, losing her powers and memories to the terrorist mutant Rogue (who then joined the X-Men and reformed), regaining her power and taking on the name “Binary,” then joining the Avengers as “Warbird” before finally reclaiming her Ms. Marvel title.

Some time later, Carol adopts a new uniform that resembles Mar-Vell’s second suit, though reversing the black and red colors. After some consideration, she decides to adopt the “Captain Marvel” name as well, fully embracing the legacy of her lost friend whose DNA she now carries. Since then, she’s been making a career of being awesome (despite dealing with another bout of amnesia) and has been both a leader in the Avengers and the team’s cosmic scout, adventuring through space to handle certain threats before they come to Earth’s solar system.

That wraps it up, folks! Go forth and enjoy your knowledge of the many captains called Marvel! Do you have a favorite? Let us know!

Images courtesy of

Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is a freelance writer and sci-fi/superhero historian, as well as the author of the New York Times Best Seller Doctor Who: A History. He is the creator and host of the podcast Crazy Sexy Geeks.

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