Comic Art Friday: O Captain, my Captain!
In the entertainment world, rumors are a dime a dozen. With the advent of social media, that value has plummeted to, say, about a dime per quadrillion.
Still, I was intrigued to note earlier this week the rumor that actress Katee Sackhoff — best known to genre fans as Starbuck on the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and currently costarring on A&E’s modern-day Western-slash-police-drama Longmire — is being touted for a film role as one of my favorite superheroines, Ms. Marvel.
Except… okay… she’s not Ms. Marvel any more. She’s Captain Marvel now.
But not the guy in the red union suit with the lightning bolt on the chest. Then again, he’s not Captain Marvel any more.
The original Captain Marvel first appeared in Fawcett Publications’ Whiz Comics #1 way back in February 1940. Enormously popular from the get-go — comics featuring Captain Marvel routinely outsold those starring Superman — the Big Red Cheese (as he was lovingly nicknamed) spawned an entire family of spinoff characters, including his sister Mary Marvel, his protege Captain Marvel Jr., and numerous Lieutenant Marvels. The publishing concern today known as DC Comics — National at the time — took Fawcett to court, arguing that Captain Marvel was a ripoff of their Man of Steel. (Never mind that Superman was himself, in some respects, a ripoff of Doc Savage and other characters who preceded him. But that’s an essay for another day.)
After years of legal wrangling, National/DC forced Fawcett to stop publishing the adventures of Captain Marvel and his cohorts, effectively pushing Fawcett out of the comics business. By the early 1970s, DC had won all rights to the Fawcett characters, and began putting out their own Marvel Family comics.
Only they couldn’t use “Captain Marvel” in the title of any of those books.
Why? Because in the intervening period when Captain Marvel lay fallow, the entity today known as Marvel Comics (who’d operated under various names, including Timely and Atlas, before settling on Marvel in the early 1960s) had created a new character named Captain Marvel, thus seizing claim to the then-inactive trademark. Marvel’s hero, unrelated to the Fawcett character other than in name, was a former soldier from a distant planet who embarked on a series of increasingly cosmic exploits. The real-world upshot meant that as long as Marvel kept a comic in active publication (that is, within a three-year window) with “Captain Marvel” in the title, DC couldn’t use that trademarked phrase in marketing any of its comics. Thus, DC resorted to “SHAZAM!” — their Captain Marvel’s transformational magic word — as the umbrella title for books featuring Cap and company.
In 1977, Marvel debuted Ms. Marvel, a distaff version of their Captain Marvel. (As both audience-expanding and trademark-grabbing moves, Marvel generated a host of female spinoffs during this period, including Spider-Woman and She-Hulk.) Ms. Marvel was the freshly superpowered incarnation of Carol Danvers, a supporting character who had floated around in the Marvel Universe background for several years prior. An officer in the U.S. Air Force, Carol’s new abilities (mainly super-strength, invulnerability, and flight) and costumed identity made her essentially Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s Wonder Woman, another powerhouse who likewise had a military career in her past.
Following the cancellation of her eponymous series after a two-year run, Carol (who flirted briefly with other codenames, including Binary and Warbird, but always returned to calling herself Ms. Marvel) moved on to a stint in the Avengers and occasional guest appearances in other Marvel books. She didn’t regain her own title until 2006, when writer Brian Reed and a revolving door of artists (Roberto de la Torre and Aaron Lopresti notched the longest tenures on the series) chronicled Ms. Marvel’s adventures until the book folded after four years. Last year, Carol ditched her longtime nom de guerre in favor of Captain Marvel (a name that had bounced around between a couple of different characters over the previous two decades), and began a new self-titled series under that banner.
Meanwhile, back at DC, the original Captain Marvel — who, as noted above, had headlined a variety of books with “SHAZAM!” in the title since the ’70s — finally gave up on the marketing nightmare a couple of years ago, and changed his own codename to Shazam (the name by which many readers called the character anyway, given the cover designation).
I’ve always really liked Ms. Marvel — I haven’t quite gotten the hang of calling her “Captain” yet — because from the time of her debut, she represented the kind of heroine that Marvel hadn’t had previously; an immensely powerful fighter who could battle mano a mano with any villain in the Marvel Universe. Plus, having grown up in a Air Force family, I felt a special connection to Carol due to her history in that service.
She remains one of my all-time favorites. I’d love to see her on the big screen someday. Katee Sackhoff, who exudes a kind of scrappy toughness, wouldn’t be a bad choice to portray her.
Of course, given how many decades I’ve been waiting for a Wonder Woman motion picture, I’m not holding my breath.
A few notes on the art we’re presenting today, starting at the top of this post:
Ms. Marvel in her original (and still my favorite) costume by Aaron Lopresti, who at the time this piece was drawn (at WonderCon 2007) was the regular penciler on the Ms. Marvel comic.
A battle of the two Marvel Families, penciled by Luke McDonnell (JLA, Suicide Squad). On the left, from top to bottom: Mary Marvel; the original Captain Marvel; Captain Marvel Jr. On the right: Marvel’s first Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell of the Kree); Ms. Marvel; Marvel’s second Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau).
Ms. Marvel, again in her original costume, penciled by Michael Dooney (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). This piece was my very first Ms. Marvel commission, and also the first of my many commissions from Dooney.
Ms. Marvel in her second and longest-tenured costume (which I refer to snarkily as the Warbird Swimsuit), in beautiful brushed ink by the comics artist known as Buzz. (Buzz was supposed to draw Carol in her original costume, but forgot. I love this piece anyway… in spite of the Warbird Swimsuit.)
And back to the original — see how much better that looks? — with pencils by Matthew Clark (Adventures of Superman) and inks by Bob Almond (Black Panther, Infinity Gauntlet).
Finally, below: Ms. Marvel in battle against the sometime-villainous, sometime-heroic Moonstone; pencils by Scott Rosema (Space Ghost), inks again by Bob Almond.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.