How Carol Danvers’ comic backstory changes in Captain Marvel

Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019
Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019 /

Carol Danvers is a deeply impressive figure in the Captain Marvel movie. How much does the film version of her character fall in line with the comics?

WARNING: Spoilers for Captain Marvel below.

Like any long-running superhero, Carol Danvers has a backstory that is packed full of intrigue, costume changes, personal drama, and regular reboots. She’s been around in comics in one form or another since 1968, though she didn’t get her own proper turn as a superhero until Ms. Marvel #1 in 1977.

In the comics, Danvers first receives her powers thanks to the original Captain Mar-Vell. While the movie’s Mar-Vell is played by Annette Bening, the very first Captain Marvel was a man. Danvers tries to get close to him and gets caught up in a conflict. At the apex of the story, she is caught in the explosion of the Psyche-Magnetron, a Kree device that irradiates her and blends her DNA with Kree genetics.

That starts off Carol’s adventures as a superhero. She begins as Ms. Marvel, a character who, despite a now cringe-inducing series of outfits with a distinct lack of pants, goes on to become a major player in the comics world. She joined the Avengers, though that relationship soured after the team encouraged Danvers to live in an alternate dimension with a being that sexually assaulted her. Writer Chris Claremont brought some resolution and dignity to the story in Avengers Annual #10, though the damage was already done.

Eventually, Carol teamed up with the X-Men (if only that was a feature film) and fought against the alien Brood parasites. While in space, she gained the power of a “white hole” — the opposite of a black hole, naturally — and became Binary. She also went by Warbird for a short time in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Carol finally took on the title of Captain Marvel. By then, a series of people, including Monica Rambeau, had filled the role. Now, the Carol Danvers you see on the comics page has effectively undergone a couple of reboots.

Given the complicated shape of her story, there’s only so much that writers could fit into a two hour movie. When you head to the theater, you aren’t going to hear about Danvers as Ms. Marvel, her time in alternate dimensions, battling the Brood with the X-Men, or turning into a hero infused with the power of a reverse black hole. Even comics writers aren’t prepared to deal with all that history, going by the number of times we’ve gotten a clean slate on Carol’s story.

In the film Captain Marvel, Carol’s backstory is more concise, though no less impressive. She’s an ace fighter pilot, as she is in the more recent comics. The film is set in the 1980s and 1990s, which means that women — even top Air Force pilots like Danvers and Maria Rambeau — are barred from combat positions.

Eventually, Danvers and Rambeau end up at a quasi-secret base where Dr. Wendy Lawson is developing a new and very powerful piece of tech. This mysterious technology is what sets off the whole series of events, from Carol’s amnesia, to her superpowers, to her belief that she’s actually a Kree warrior.

It’s a pretty big departure from the page, even if you’re taking cues from the pared-down reboots offered up by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick in Danvers’ most recent incarnation. Yet, there is much of Carol that remains. It’s arguably the heart of her character that has driven her through decades of comic book issues and onto the screen, including her moral sensibilities, her stubbornness, and the ability to pick herself up again and again.

We break down the history of Captain Marvel from comics to film here:

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