With the door kicked down by Black Widow's solo exploits in AMAZING ADVENTURES, a number of all-new female-driven comic books arrived on the newsstands at the tail end of 1972.
The jungles of the Marvel Universe gained a fierce protector in SHANNA, THE SHE-DEVIL, NIGHT NURSE brought drama and romance back to the publishing schedule, and THE CAT introduced Greer Nelson, the woman who would become Tigra of the Avengers. While all of the concepts, costumes, and characters introduced in these series have survived to this day, none of these ongoing titles made it far into 1973. With those books canceled and Black Widow busy playing a supporting role in DAREDEVIL, Marvel found itself without a single ongoing series starring a female super hero lead just three years after the landmark AMAZING ADVENTURES #1.
Enter: Ms. Marvel.
Originally introduced in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #13 as a supporting character for the original Captain Marvel—an alien Kree soldier named Mar-Vell—Security Chief Carol Danvers found herself plucked from relative obscurity and transformed into the super-powered Ms. Marvel, the torchbearer for every super heroine in the Marvel Universe.
Danvers immediately defied expectations upon her introduction in 1968. In her debut, General Bridges introduced Carol to Walter Lawson—really Mar-Vell in disguise—by remarking, “This is Miss Danvers! Man or woman, she's the finest head of security a missile base could want!” Carol Danvers held a highly regarded position of authority and related to the original Captain Marvel as a potential threat to investigate and not as a potential man to marry. But when CAPTAIN MARVEL #18 arrived a year later in 1969, no one at the time knew that they had witnessed the birth of one of Marvel's most important heroes. While captured by the evil Kree warrior called Yon-Rogg, Carol fell victim to the Psyche-Magnitron device—a device that transferred a portion of Mar-Vell's cosmic power to her unconscious body.
Readers didn't know what to expect upon the arrival of MS. MARVEL #1 in January 1977. The cover touted the new hero as a “mysterious woman warrior” and the story inside remained vague about Ms. Marvel's connection to Carol Danvers, who appeared in the issue as the newly hired editor of publisher J. Jonah Jameson's “Woman” magazine.
Despite initially remaining coy about Ms. Marvel's secret identity, the debut issue proudly proclaimed its progressive ideals. When J. Jonah Jameson told Danvers that “Woman” magazine during her tenure as editor would be filled with articles about new diets and recipes, she took a firm stand: “My name is Ms. Carol Danvers. And as far as diets and recipes go—forget it.” While Ms. Marvel charged through the Manhattan skies, whirling the villainous Scorpion around her head by his tail and stopping bank robberies with her powerful fists, Carol Danvers refused to back down from the biggest blowhard in the Marvel Universe and negotiated equal pay for equal work.
“I’m struck now by how overtly progressive it was,” says Kelly Sue DeConnick, current chronicler of Carol's adventures in CAPTAIN MARVEL. “Even by today’s standards. Sure, [the ‘70’s MS. MARVEL series] is hokier than today’s comics because that was the style, but it’s not apologetic or furtive about its stance.”
People today might take for granted how unapologetically feminist the “Ms.” part of MS. MARVEL may have been viewed at the time. The honorific, invented to provide a way to address women without referring to their marital status, became synonymous with the feminist movement when political activist Gloria Steinem used the term in 1971 for the title of her progressive magazine. While there's no explicit connection to “Ms.” magazine and the “Woman” magazine featured in MS. MARVEL #1, the real world publication's point of view and Carol Danvers' stated intent as editor bear a strong resemblance to each other.
With MS. MARVEL #3, the mystery of Carol Danvers’ black outs and the true identity of the red-and-blue mystery hero stood revealed. Carol discovered and owned her super-powered alter ego, and used her newly harnessed powers to punch out the imposing Doomsday Man. From that point on, Ms. Marvel became a force to be reckoned with, as she fought battles in Boston, outer space, and everywhere in between. She even amassed a supporting cast of her own, including the equally career driven Tracy Burke and potential love interest Frank Gianelli. A number of big time villains debuted in the series as well; the shape-shifting schemer named Mystique and the vicious Shi'ar warrior called Deathbird both messed with Ms. Marvel long before setting their sights on the X-Men.
Chris Claremont, who had helped revive UNCANNY X-MEN as an international ensemble with powerhouse heroines like Storm and Phoenix, took over as the series’ writer from Gerry and Carla Conway early on and helped turn Ms. Marvel into a three-dimensional super hero. With MS. MARVEL #20, legendary artist Dave Cockrum reinvented Carol's look, ditching the scarf and belly window for a powerful all-black number with a striking lightning bolt design. By the time MS. MARVEL abruptly ended with 1979’s issue #23, Carol Danvers’ adventures had gone a long way towards disproving the notion that Marvel’s women could not sustain a solo series.
As time has progressed, the codename “Ms. Marvel” and black bathing suit-style uniform slowly lost their initially progressive flair. In 2012, the time came for Carol Danvers to once again become a trailblazer for gender equality—a role that she wore proudly upon her debut in 1977. Now promoted to Captain Marvel and sporting a commanding new uniform, Carol Danvers currently inspires a whole new generation of comic book fans.
From Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers has been punching holes through barriers for over 40 years.
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