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Ms. Marvel’s Long, Degrading, Triumphant Road To Stardom

Marvel has its first superhero movie starring a woman up front. You will not believe what she had to do to get there.

Ms. Marvel’s Long, Degrading, Triumphant Road To Stardom
Adventures of Captain Marvel, 1941 [Photo: Wikipedia]

It’s a big day for diversity in comic book adaptations: Marvel Studios announced that that African asskicker Black Panther would get his own film in 2017 and Ms. Marvel would get her own film in 2018. They will be the the first Marvel films led by an African-American and a woman, respectively.

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Fans have been demanding more diversity for a while. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige told Fast Company that Black Panther is the character he gets asked about “more than anything else.”

As for Ms. Marvel, her story–best explained in Sean Howe’s fantastic Marvel Comics: The Untold Story–is a thoroughly demeaning road to success reminiscent of the worst stuff you’ve seen Peggy and Joan put up with on Mad Men.

She was objectified from the beginning. In 1969, when the creators were showing Marvel mastermind Stan Lee designs for their new heroine’s costume, his input was, “This is what I’m after … tits and ass.”

Carol Danvers aka Ms. Marvel aka Captain Marvel, shown here as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

It got better for Ms. Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, for a while. After her wardrobe was picked out, Danvers’s character was treated respectfully by Marvel writers in the 1970s. She fought along the X-Men and The Avengers and grew into a fully realized character with grit and wit to match her super-strength. Then in 1980, she was dragooned into a horrifyingly bizarre Avengers plot. As Wikipedia sum it up:

Ms. Marvel is kidnapped by a character named Marcus … and taken to an alternate dimension, where she was brainwashed, seduced, and impregnated. She gives birth on Earth to a child that rapidly ages into another version of Marcus who takes Ms. Marvel back to the alternate dimension with no opposition from the Avengers.

So: drugged, raped, married off to her son. This storyline is rightly remembered as “The Rape of Ms. Marvel” by comic historians.

From there Danver’s story gets better again. She loses her powers, she regains her powers, she is written by a series of authors who pull her into fun, non-horrifying adventures. By the 2000s, she is increasingly high-profile, showing up on Avengers cartoons and in video games. More importantly, it’s clear by then that she stands as a Wonder Woman-type trailblazer, as an increasingly diverse list of women shared the title of Ms. Marvel after her. She was rechristened Captain Marvel in 2012.

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Tuesday’s announcement that Carol Danvers will have her own film is icing on the cake, and it puts Ms. Marvel in the position of a lot of other trailblazers from the ’60s: Proudly standing at the top of their fields, with stories about paternalistic poor treatment of decades past that you would not freaking believe.

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