The Top Ten Captain Marvels

So now Carol Danvers has been switched from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, a change in rank that might not be a promotion, given that I’m more likely to listen to a woman than a military man about almost anything.  By my count, she’s something like the twelfth or thirteenth character to use the concept, and that doesn’t include Doc Samson or the Flash stealing the Big Red Cheese’s original costume…

Given that I have a blog and twelve spare minutes today, I have no choice but to rank the Captains Marvel for the breathless internet public.
I don’t want to…I HAVE to.

Here now, the

TOP TEN CAPTAIN MARVELS

#10

Amalgam Captain Marvel.  

The easiest Amalgam of them all was little more than a wasted opportunity.  He does nothing but occupy space, he didn’t even make the cover of either of the issues he appears in.  Once you get the idea that both Marvel and DC had characters with this name, the effort is done.  There’s the stink of laziness all over this guy, and considering how clever and fun the Amalgams were, this is inexcusable.

Kree-Shazam…oh, forget it.

BEST STORY:

Not applicable. He’s an empty suit

#9

Mahr Vehl.

I must be a modern comic. Look at all that detail.

The “Ultimate” Captain Marvel is nothing of the sort.  Though some of the Ultimate comics update and re-imagine traditional Marvel characters with a sensibility better suited to a 21st Century reader, this particular Ultimate character is nowhere near as fun, sympathetic, or memorable as any other version of this character, including the Amalgam one.  The Ultimate Gah Lak Tus and the Ultimate Vision (both in the story Mahr Vehl first appears in), are  equally second rate compared to the 616 Universe. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, peoples.

BEST STORY

Ultimate Secret. But I’m being kind.

#8

Monica Rambeau

Who remembers me? Show of hands…

You have to give points to Marvel Comics for trying to create a black female super-hero (who wasn’t a mutant), who would kick butt and take charge.  A sort of Ororo/Storm for the Avengers, but using someone else’s name.  The problem was, the writers and editors never let the character earn her place after she was created by Roger Stern and JR JR in a Spider-Man annual.  She complained about being out of her league too darn much, she never really mattered in the stories she was in, never was given a major role in the Marvel U, and she gave up the name without a fuss when the opportunity came about, calling herself PHOTON.

Her last issue before the name change. Did anyone buy this?

Even when she became leader of the Avengers (briefly) she screws up on her first mission, accidentally merging with the Atlantic Ocean and barely surviving the watery event.  After that, she’s relegated to crowd scenes when EVERY character in the universe has to gather to get smacked around by Thanos or Dormammu or someone.   I think she was in MARVEL DIVAS a while back, but who read that? When the idea to be inclusive meets stories that barely rise above tokenism, you end up with this mess of a character.  It’s too bad.

BEST STORY:

The Spider-Man Annual, when her potential was yet unsquandered.

#7

Noh-Varr

The boy, before he was a captain.

My fondness for No-Varr comes from the Grant Morrison/JL Jones mini-series from a 2000 (Marvel Boy), that involved the character turning New York state into a giant swear word.  Though he started out stealing the name

What? Another stolen name?

from a 50s Marvel character, he graduated to stealing the more famous name, becoming the bad boy version of Captain Marvel from an alternate universe, and that means I can CHANGE him and make him better if only he’d let me.  That’s true love.   And as the “bad boy” Captain Marvel, it’s appropriate that he first takes the Captaincy when he joins the “Dark Avengers”.

He’s currently an Avenger called Protector, a name he stole from Atlas Comics (a company that stole their name from Marvel’s 50s incarnation, Atlas Comics…this is all so fun), and his costume is a mess of black and white stripes and boxes that looks like it took all of twenty minutes to design. Oh well, we’ll always have Marvel Boy.

The all-new “Protector” hero.

Stolen again!

BEST STORY:

He just wants someone to tame him, I swear.

#6

Genis Vell

Cool update on a classic costume, and some interesting cosmic story lines, though I could have done without the insanity stuff and the alt-universe sister showing up, also claiming to be Captain Marvel.  For a while Genis Vell thought his dad was Starfox/Eros, the super-rapist of the galaxy, but it turned out Genis  was the son of a Kree traitor instead.  Either way, no father’s day cards.  At some point, our hero drops the name Captain Marvel for the name Photon, which Monica Rambeau obviously gave up as easily as her Captain Marvel identity.  Monica can’t hold onto anything.

BEST STORY:

The run of issues by Peter David, despite the crazy and the sister.

#5

Freddie Freeman

Forgive the racism, it was a more “innocent” time.

The “Robin/Bucky” of the Fawcett Marvel world, Captain Marvel Jr. rose

The REAL Captain Marvel Jr.

above his origins to be a fairly strong character on his own.  The artwork for the Little Blue Cheese was consistently wonderful:  Mac Raboy and Kurt Schaffenberger in the Golden Age, Dave Cockrum, Don Newton and Kurt Schaffenberger in the Silver Age and Jerry Ordway in the Bronze Age, ol’ Freddie Freeman lucked out with some great visuals throughout his career, and he even had time to play first base for the Atlanta Braves for a while.  Plus:  Who doesn’t love the Tiny Tim vibe?  God Shazam us, every one.

BEST STORY:

Anything by Mac Raboy.

#4

Mary Marvel

Apparently, girls like giant butterflies.

Called Captain Marvel in the POWER OF SHAZAM series, so she counts too.  When I was a teenager, Bob Oksner was the illustrated for all the Mary Marvel stories in SHAZAM!, and these were the highlight of my month when she’d appear in the back up tales.  I had a crush on her…a line drawing.  I know it’s wrong, but I did.  She was the ultimate girl-next-door, in a way that Supergirl never quite was.  And the eight year old girl version of her from Jeff Smith’s run was amazing.  HATED what they did to her in all the awful Crisis/Countdown/Crisis/52/Blackest Night/Crisis nonsense.  Shameful handling of a great character.  I’m waiting to see that they don’t screw her up in the Gary Frank series she’s in now.

BEST STORY:

The new Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith…where Mary is about eight.

#3

Billy Baxter

That’s not a typo, I mean Baxter, not Batson.  This Captain Marvel, published briefly by Myron Fass Enterprises in the mid-sixties, has lived in my heart for decades.  His comics came out when I was about five years old, and since I have a couple of these, I  cannot view them with any objectivity.  They are simply wonderful building blocks of my childish psyche. “SPLIT!” is as powerful as “Flame on!” as far as I’m concerned…and that’s quite a co-incidence as this Captain Marvel was illustrated by Carl Burgos, creator of the original Human Torch.  Included in this series was the equally trademark squatting characters of “Dr. Fate”, “The Ray”, “Plastic Man”, “The Destroyer” and “The Bat”, proving Myron liked to live on the edge of lawsuits for thrills.   The Bat is the best, because he changed his name to “THE RAY” to avoid a DC lawsuit (even though the Ray was a Quality Comics character) and his costume looked exactly like the Martian Manhunter.  You could see why the company was called “MF Comics”; I think it was an abbreviation for something other than the publisher’s name.   This is the original squatter on the Captain Marvel title, so it gets extra points for picking at the corpse first.

BEST STORY:

All of them. There’s only six issues of this guy.

#2

Mar-Vell

This one picked at the corpse of the Billy Baxter version, technically, as it came out about two years after MF’s title.  His original appearance in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #12 was less than thrilling, and his first couple of years in his own title wouldn’t have left much of an impact on anyone…but then HOO BOY, we get the Gil Kane version, with the new costume and Rick Jones in ish #17.

Now we’re talking.

I love how that version of this familiar name went back to the idea that the Captain and a young boy would share the same identity, and would change back and forth with a bolt of lightning. I mean, if you’re going to steal a character, steal it full out. That’s bold.
But the quality of the art and stories improved so much, I forgave the obvious rip-off and dug right in. By the time Jim Starlin came along, Cap was amongst my top five favorite Marvel comics.

BEST STORY:

The Trial of the Watcher, and sadly, the Death of Captain Marvel.

#1

Billy Batson

The first, the original, at one point the best selling comic book in the world, and the basis of the SHAZAM catch phrase for Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. (you youngsters can look Gomer up, I’m not explaining everything.)
He was almost called Captain Thunder or Captain Lightning, but smart marketing heads prevailed, and, as Captain Marvel, the character ended up the quintessential super-hero of the Golden Age, perhaps the best super-hero of all time. The mix of serious business and lighthearted fun was perfect for the war era, but it hasn’t translated well into modern versions and the character has been relegated to misfires and almost-gets-it-right stories for decades. It’s hard not to love the Jeff Smith and Jerry Ordway runs, and I’m sort of digging the Gary Frank version coming out now in the back of Justice League, but I can’t see how you could improve on the C.C. Beck and Otto Binder version from sixty years ago. Besides three Captain Marvels, this series gives us Lieutenant Marvels, Uncle Marvels, Hillbilly Marvels, Bunny Marvels and a sharp dressed talking tiger named Tawny. Beat THAT, comics industry.

Pictured above: Courtroom sketches from the 50s

For some reason, because the Captain could fly, he wore a cape, his secret identity was a reporter, and his arch villain was a bald scientist, DC comics felt he was a trademark infringement on Superman. Eventually a court did as well, and Fawcett closed down their publishing line in 1957 to avoid a large cash settlement.
Lawyers are scum.

BEST STORY:

The original Monster Society of Evil. Was there a second choice?

So, Carol has a hell of a legacy to live up to.  (And of course, Genis Vell was called “Legacy” in his early appearances, so that’s taken as well).

We’ll be keeping an eye on you, Ms. Danvers.  We expect Monster Society quality stuff, or at least a .285 batting average for the Braves.

Ty the Guy OUT!

Here now, your BONUS Captain Marvel moment.

Legendary sax player Stan Getz got into the Captain Marvel action with this classic album from the 70s. Apparently ANYONE can use the name at this point.

12 responses to “The Top Ten Captain Marvels

  1. Paul the Curmudgeon

    I had a crush on Mary Marvel, too. In fact I was a two-timing rat, because simultaneously I had a crush on Silver-Age Saturn Girl. I was terribly conflicted.

  2. Dang, I actually agree with about 99% of this, especially the listing order. I bet that will jinx it now, especially knowing fandom…

    Cheers!

    Steven Willis
    XOWComics.com

  3. I disagree about Monica Rambeau’s best story – I think the Next Wave book (which can fairly be called a single story) was easily her best moment.

  4. Hi Ty –

    Nice write up as usual. Small typo: Oksner, not Oskner.

  5. Yeah, I always misspell his name. I’ll fix it. There’s one or two other typos I’m going to go fix.

  6. MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL IS FINALLY COMING OUT??

  7. As far as I know, there was a hard cover version of the Monster Society out a while ago. If there’s a new edition, I know nothing about it.

    • Drat. No, there was one that DC was going to put out a couple of years ago, but then cancelled. Other than that, there’s only been one limited and incredibly expensive edition put out by someone or other in the late 1980s. I was hoping that DC had announced something at SDCC… :(

  8. I liked the character of Monica Rambeau, but her Captain Marvel powers were the kind that always present problems for any story.

    Captain America: I’m glad that all active Avengers and so many reserves were able to come to this meeting, because this is a crisis that puts the entire future of humanity in jeopardy! Aliens are prepared to launch a massive invasion. As you can see by these maps, there are nine warships cloaked in the Moon’s orbit, and these seventeen portals have been erected around the world to act as receiving and staging areas. We’re going to split up into seven groups. Three will go into space, while the other four…

    Captain Marvel: Done.

    Captain America: No, Monica, you really do need to hear me out. Only a meticulous, coordinated plan will…

    Captain Marvel: No, I mean, three seconds after you put the map on the big screen, I turned into light and then hit the warships and the portals. Took ‘em all out with electricity and radiation and whatnot and came back in time to hear about something something “the other four.”

    Captain America: …

    Captain Marvel: Chocolate croissant? I picked up a few dozen in Paris while you paused, there.

    It’s like the Scarlet Witch. Her powers were defined so loosely and with so few limitations that it seemed hard to find a real challenge.

    Agree with you 100% about Mary Marvel. I only started reading the character during the justice League run. But she was a great counterpoint to the other characters…this member who was completely innocent and sweet, whose personality was pretty much immune to the hostility and bluster around her.

    What an awful parody she became. “So we’ll make her…dark! Cynical! AND SHE STARTS WEARING BLACK LATEX!!!”

    • Yes, while I liked a lot of Infinite Crisis/52/Final Crisis (we’ll just wholly ignore Countdown and most of Blackest Night, shall we?), I didn’t like what happened to Mary Marvel. I loved Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam continuity, am interested in the Magic of Shazam series (need to pick that up), but I hated the nosedive everything took after … (checks Wikipedia) … wow, was it that long ago? The poor Marvel Family hasn’t been done really well (in mainstream DC continuity, I mean, as I assume Magic of Shazam isn’t part of that, or is on its own Earth or something) since before Infinite Crisis, I think. Loved the apparent redemption of Black Adam, loved bringing Isis into things as Black Adam’s Mary Marvel, loved Osiris, loved Sobek, and then everything got tragic and corrupt and never seemed to recover…

  9. Two other neat things about Captain Marvel Jr.

    Asterix co-creator Albert Uderzo drew an adventure…

    http://www.coolfrenchcomics.com/bravo.htm

    Vegas Elvis…

    http://dialbforblog.com/archives/85/

  10. Great article, Ty!

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