Captain Marvel is arguably the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie is the first female-led and female co-directed entry. Her gender and its significance aren’t lost on anyone, and especially Marvel.
‘The future is female’, is clearly on the cover of the September issue of Entertainment Weekly. The feminist slogan, synonymous to empowerment, was famously used by Hilary Clinton after her defeat in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Washington Post, the phrase was first seen on the merchandise of lesbian separatists that operated out of a New York bookstore in the 70s. The meaning has certainly evolved as has Captain Marvel.
From girlfriend to the powerful heroine
Captain Marvel became a rallying point in Marvel Comics since Carol Danvers took on the mantle in 2012. Like other Marvel heroines, such as Sue Storm and Natasha Romanoff, Carol Danvers’s character evolved and gained agency over the ages. Her role shifted from the original Captain Marvel’s girlfriend to being an empowered Ms. Marvel in the 70s.
Journalism, Headaches, and Mind-Rapes
In those initial years, Danvers’ story was filled with growing pains. She was depicted to be an ambitious career woman, who stood up to her editor when he wanted to fill his women’s magazine with fluff pieces. She would open discussions about equal pay. However, she would retain no memory of her adventures as Ms. Marvel ( among the other pseudonyms of the heroine); she would faint, and then Ms. Marvel would take over. Ms. Marvel felt incomplete and the story felt choppy.
It was then, when Danvers was yet to find her ground, that she was struck with the gravest injustice of her character history.
In 1980’s Avengers 200, Danvers found out that she was sevens month pregnant. She had been kidnapped by Marcus, who had impregnated against her will. Danvers was justifiably angry at being violated in such a way. Her fellow Avengers teammates reacted through confusion rather than support. And then, egregiously, Danvers became a victim to Stockholm Syndrome and returned with Marcus to his home dimension. Instead of intervening on their teammate’s behalf, the Avengers mishandled the situation, stood by and watched, hoping for the best.
“If the point had been that…these other Avengers are callous boors, okay then, I may disagree with the point, but if David Micheline followed through on it, it would have made sense,” Claremont wrote in The X-Men Companion II. “But it seemed to me, looking at the story, looking at the following story, that he was going for: ‘This is how you respond to a pregnancy.’
Cosmos, Alcoholism, and Legacies
It took an array of talented writers to rehabilitate Danvers throughout the next couple of decades and infuse a sufficient amount of pathos into the character. Through Chris Claremont, Danvers discovered new, cosmic powers and adventured in space, as Binary. Then, her powers burned out and she returned to the Avengers as Warbird, proud but weathered by past scars.
Under the guidance of Kurt Busiek, Danvers experienced burnout, depression and eventually descended into alcoholism. With the help of former alcoholic Tony Stark, Danvers slowly proved her worth in the team, reclaiming her Ms. Marvel moniker and becoming a core part of the New Avengers and then the Mighty Avengers in the mid-2000s.
Danvers eventually ascended to the Captain Marvel role in 2012’s series of the same name, penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Danvers strived to go “Higher, Faster, Further, More”. Captain Marvel was both ambitious and caring, driven as much by the search of glory, as selfless ideals. She battled a brain tumor, aliens, and goes off into space once again, this time with her cat in tow.
Kamala Khan, the next Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel is inspired by her.
Brie Larson Steps into Big Shoes. Can She Fill Them?
Obviously, Captain Marvel that is set to appear in the theaters will be more streamlined and have a less convoluted backstory. However, she has controversial aspects to her backstory, adding complexity to her feminist rise. Brie Larson is aware of that. In February 2017, she talked about the many opinions and judgments that she has to face. Even Captain Marvel’s hairstyle has become a point of contention.
“I feel like this is a big conversation and every day I have people yelling at me on Twitter like you better have long hair, or you better have a mohawk, or you better wear the helmet, or you better not wear the helmet, so someone’s going to be mad.”
In general, in Trump’s America, the backlash against feminism and identity politics grows stronger. Of course, Marvel, being a global company, will retool the messages in the film in a way that’s palatable to international masses. That being said, the audience will notice the modern subtext, especially by conservative detractors.
The first trailer featured Danvers crashing into a Blockbusters, interacting with a young Nick Fury and punching an old woman in a subway train. Danvers’ military past, as well as her ties to the Kree, are emphasized, along with her potent cosmic powers.
The trailer shows that, underneath all the subtext of a feminism and a female superhero, we still have a fun, intriguing premise that can make for a good movie. Let’s hope that doesn’t get lost on either side of the feminist divide. Captain Marvel comes to theaters in 2019.
An earlier version of this article was posted on Medium and Upthrust.