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[This story contains spoilers for Captain Marvel.]
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, currently in its eleventh year, is well-established at this point. Even so, its latest release, Captain Marvel, adds a lot in terms of world-building, fleshing out the universe’s past, setting up its future, creating an environment of inclusivity. Captain Marvel doesn’t just show us the beginnings of Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) career as a superhero and Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) rise to become the Director of SHIELD, it also introduces us to another character who will likely become a prominent hero in the MCU. Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar), the daughter of Carol’s best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch), may be a precocious 11-year-old during the events of Captain Marvel, but the character has a larger destiny awaiting her. As a hero who has taken the names Captain Marvel, Photon and Spectrum over the years, the adult Monica Rambeau has storied history in Marvel Comics and is one of the industry’s most prominent black superheroes. Given the 24-year time gap between Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, there’s hope that we’ll see Monica resurface around 35 years old and carve out her own path in the near future.
Monica Rambeau, created by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr., first debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 16 (1982) as Captain Marvel. She was the second of six characters to take the name Captain Marvel after Mar-Vell/Wendell Lawson, and before Carol Danvers traded in Ms. Marvel for the moniker in 2012. Despite her namesake, Monica held no ties to the Kree or Carol Danvers, and was named Captain Marvel by the media after she was exposed to extra-dimensional energy while serving as lieutenant of the New Orleans Harbor Patrol. Similar to Carol’s powers, post-transformation into Binary, Monica can manipulate, absorb and create energy, which beyond her offensive powers also makes her immortal and incapable of aging. She also has the ability to transform her body into any form of energy that exists within the electromagnetic spectrum and travel through space that way.
Over the course of Roger Stern’s celebrated five-year run on The Avengers, Monica Rambeau rose to prominence and eventually came to lead the team. During the ’80s, her presence in the Marvel Universe surpassed Carol’s. The first major change to her identity occurred when the son of the original Captain Marvel, Genis-Vell came to Earth. Monica gave the title Captain Marvel to him and changed hers to Photon. When Kelly Sue DeConnick began her run on Captain Marvel, she addressed Monica’s feelings about Carol taking on her former namesake, with her telling Carol that she should have called her to ask about the name, regardless of the fact that she was no longer using it.
It’s a necessary moment that, when reflecting on how often black heroes get overshadowed by white ones, cemented a bond between Monica and Carol and spoke to DeConnick’s consideration of the character and her important history. While Monica Rambeau, currently going by the name Spectrum, has yet to capture quite the same position of power she had in the ’80s during the 21st century, she’s still a key player as the leader of the most recent iteration of the Ultimates, which has since been absorbed into Carol’s space defense team, Alpha Flight. Given the success of Captain Marvel, Marvel Comics is surely already considering how to bring Monica back to the front lines.
Although Captain Marvel seems like a title that will be entirely Carol Danvers’ for the foreseeable future, there’s certainly room for Monica Rambeau to stand out in the MCU, alongside her mother, Maria. One of the highlights of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s film is Maria Rambeau. Her friendship with Carol is supportive, but not at the cost of Maria’s own agency or awareness of her position as a single mother. Even when the action moves to space in the third act, Maria isn’t sidelined. She becomes instrumental in protecting the Skrulls from the Kree. After the success of Black Panther (2018), it’s fulfilling to see black women starting to take on a prominent role in these movies. We can look at Black Panther and Captain Marvel’s characterization of black women not as an endpoint, but as a beginning that will hopefully open the doors for more women of color within the MCU. Captain Marvel’s ending suggests that we haven’t seen the last of the Rambeaus as Nick Fury offers Monica a pilot position at SHIELD and Monica looks towards the stars. It should be noted that Maria’s call sign is Photon, which points to Monica taking on that name as a tribute to her mother if she does eventually make her costumed debut.
Captain Marvel isn’t just a necessary feminist film because it features a woman with superpowers. It’s also a necessary feminist film because it provides its female characters with full interior lives. While we’ve seen a number of kick-ass women over the MCU’s past 11 years, there’s been a lack of attention to female friendships and relationships. It seems odd that Black Widow and Scarlet Witch have never had a conversation, despite being on the same team. Captain Marvel could be the franchise that explores those relationships between female friends and mothers and daughters, hopefully paving the way for the rest of the MCU to take note, as well. As important as it is for these films to establish power sets and pave the way for new conflicts and universe expansions, it’s equally important that women get a chance to shine beyond what they can bring to the battle field. Maria and Monica Rambeau could help fulfill that larger destiny, and elevate the MCU even higher.
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Sterling K. Brown