Captain Marvel and the Case for Feminist Superheroes

M S Rayed
M S Rayed
Sep 19, 2018 · 5 min read
Credit: Marvel Studios

According to Kevin Feige, Captain Marvel is the most powerful Marvel superhero put to film. That she is female isn’t lost on anyone, and especially on Marvel.

Marvel has gone so far as to adopt the controversial feminist slogan ‘The Future is Female’ for a EW cover story. The slogan was adopted most recently, and most famously, by Hilary Clinton after her defeat at the hands of Trump 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 book store in the 70s.

Captain Marvel has become a rallying point in Marvel Comics in since Carol Danvers took on the mantle in 2012. Before, she used to go by, chiefly, Ms. Marvel, along with a few other pseudonyms. Like other Marvel heroines, such as Sue Storm and Natasha Romanoff, Carol Danvers has also gained agency and empowerment over the ages, moving from the role of just a girlfriend for the original Captain Marvel to being Ms. Marvel in the 70s.

Journalism, Headaches and Mind-Rapes

Credit: Marvel Comics

Danvers faced many growing pains in those initial years. She had no memory of her adventures as Ms. Marvel- she would faint, and then Ms. Marvel would take over. On the other hand, Danvers was given her due as a career woman, frequently standing up to editor J Jonah Jameson when he wanted to fill his women’s magazine with fluff pieces.

Ms. Marvel, at that time, still felt incomplete.

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, courtesy of being kidnapped by Marcus, who impregnated her against her will. Danvers is, justifiably, angry at being violated in such a way. However, her Avengers teammates are confused rather than supportive. And then, egregiously, Danvers falls victim to Stockholm Syndrome and returns with Marcus to his home dimension.

The Avengers, instead of intervening on their teammate’s behalf, stood and watched as this happened, hoping for the best.

Credit: Marvel Comics

“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

Credit: Marvel Comics

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 burn out, 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.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Danvers eventually ascended to the Captain Marvel role in 2012’s series of the same name, penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Danvers strove to go “Higher, Faster, Further, More”. She was a driven individual who was often too controlling and too cocky, driven as much by search of glory and ambitions as selfless ideals.

She battles a brain tumor, aliens and goes off into space once again, this time with her cat in tow. She also inspired a worthy successor in Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American who takes up her Ms. Marvel mantle and goes on to become an Avenger.

Brie Larson Steps into Big Shoes. Can She Fill Them?

Credit: Marvel Studios

Obviously, the Captain Marvel that is set to appear in the theaters will have a more streamlined and less convoluted backstory.

However, she is a potent character to use to address feminist issues, and Brie Larson is aware of that.

In February 2017, she talked about how even the way Captain Marvel wears her hair can be 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.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

In a post-Trump America, the backlash against feminism and identity politics in general is also growing stronger over time. Of course, Marvel, being a global company, will retool the message of the film in a way that’s palatable to international masses. But that doesn’t mean that the modern subtext will go unnoticed, 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 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, once Captain Marvel comes to theaters in March 2019.

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