• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #152: Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers)


Ms. Captain.

Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird, Captain Marvel) is a fascinating study in the struggles that male comic creators have long faced in creating strong, believable female characters. A study in duality, Carol is both a kickass heroine and a repeated victim of various kinds of violation. She debuted in 1968 as an Air Force officer before Kree technology swiftly upgraded her to the super-powered Ms. Marvel. Her very name was a nod to the feminist movement of the late 1960s - this isn't Miss Marvel, or Marvel Girl - and yet she was in some ways a cheap knockoff of Captain Marvel (and her costumes have always been the worst kind of sex-kitten bondage fare). Still, Carol forges her own path, becoming a part-time and later full-time Avenger. But her challenges were only beginning.

During one of the most controversial comic arcs in Marvel history, Carol is kidnapped by the time-traveler Marcus, who seduced (some say raped) and impregnated her to facilitate his return to life. Bizarre storyline aside, the uncomfortable reality here is that Carol's personal agency is subverted, her body used against her will, and yet her fellow Avengers were neither upset nor moved to defend her. Many longtime comic fans and critics remain unable to come to terms with exactly what happened. Most pretend it never did. Ms. Marvel comes back, though, only to be attacked by the then-villain Rogue, who permanently robs Carol of her memories and powers. This sets the two women on their defining character paths - Rogue seeks out Professor X to help her deal with her crowded psyche, beginning her journey to heroic status, and Carol has to deal with what was essentially rape of another kind. This strong, independent woman is now a survivor of multiple violations.

Often, the critique of rape in fiction, especially male-created fantasy genres like comics or sci-fi, is that the survivors are not laden with the lasting psychological effects of their victimization. And if they are, it serves only to drive some one-dimensional revenge motive. There's certainly some of that here, but there's also some very real effects. Carol Danvers, even after regaining her powers and rejoining the Avengers, suffers from a crippling inferiority complex. Her need to prove that she's still super leads her to attitude problems, battlefield mistakes, and eventually alcoholism. It's heady stuff for comic books, and writer Kurt Busiek deserves credit for at least trying to handle it.

As always (this is the comics), Carol comes back, and continues to play a leading role in the Marvel Universe. She increasingly has moved to center stage, still trying to prove herself, still trying to make it as a woman in the man's world of super-heroics.

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