A Comic Book Crash-Course in 'Captain Marvel'

The comic book collections needed to understand everything about Marvel's first leading lady.
Jamie McKelvie/Marvel Entertainment
The comic book collections needed to understand everything about Marvel's first leading lady.

Marvel has managed to convince audiences that raccoons, frozen WWII soldiers and aliens posing as mythical beings can be superheroes, but can it sell the movie-going public on the idea of a woman holding down her own superhero movie? With Guardians of the Galaxy's Nicole Perlman and Inside Out's Meg LeFauve now in the running to write the 2018 Captain Marvel, audiences might be started to get excited about the company's first female-led movie. For those looking for an entry point into the character, here are the comic books to look for.

Essential Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Carol Danvers, Marvel’s current Captain Marvel, actually debuted during the early days of the first character to use that name in the Marvel Universe. This collection of the first 21 issues of his — yes, his — 1960s series introduces Danvers as a competent USAF officer and security chief who nonetheless falls for an alien soldier’s romantic charms… only to end up in a terrible accident as a result. It’s okay, though; it’s an accident that’ll give her superpowers soon enough. Think of this as Phase 1 Carol: little more than a love interest in less-enlightened times, but worth checking out for historical interest and a crash course in the alien race called the Kree.

Essential Ms. Marvel Vol. 1

Going from being an air force officer to a magazine editor was just one of the surprising changes awaiting Danvers when she graduated to her own comic book in the 1970s. Now part-alien as a result of the accident in the Captain Marvel series, she decided to fight crime and convince comic book readers that bared midriffs were in. This is Carol Phase 2: more independent, but just a little bit more generic at the same time.

Essential X-Men Vol. 4

By the 1980s, the Ms. Marvel series had finished its initial run, with the character going on to spend a relatively unsuccessful period as a member of the Avengers (The reason for its lack of success is an ill-conceived, last-minute storyline that saw Carol essentially raped by a time-traveler so that she could give birth to him and then fall in love with him; this essay offers all the information you really need to know about that). Eventually, she ended up in the Uncanny X-Men series, where she ended up abandoning both her Ms. Marvel identity and Earth to become “Binary,” a character who explored space with a band of intergalactic pirates called the Starjammers. Consider this Carol Phase 3 — an exploration of the fact that she was part-alien, and the roots of her current status as “cosmic” character within the greater Marvel Universe.

Avengers: The Enemy Within

Coming up to date, Danvers returned to Earth and eventually claimed the name “Captain Marvel” — there is, surprisingly, no epic story about that decision; it actually happened between comics and was mentioned in a casual manner in the first issue of the 2012 Captain Marvel series — and rejoined the Avengers. “The Enemy Within” was a storyline that ran across the Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble series, both written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (the woman responsible for Danvers’ current popularity) and it acts as a useful primer not only on Carol Danvers Phase 4 — the one that integrates everything that came before to various degrees — but also her relationship with the Avengers. An unexpectedly strong entry-point for newcomers.

Also Recommended

If the above only make you more interested in exploring the comic book history of Carol Danvers, then the following titles are also worth checking out:

Essential Avengers Vol. 9 features Danvers’ original time with the Avengers, including the unfortunate rape storyline.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: Best of the Best collects the first issues of Danvers’ mid-2000s series, in which she reclaims her original superhero name and decides to try and live up to her own potential.

Captain Marvel Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight and Captain Marvel Vol. 2: Down, as well as Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More and Captain Marvel Vol. 2: Stay Fly, collecting the rest of DeConnick’s tenure as writer of the character to date.