The current Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, was originally Ms. Marvel, starring in her own comic book launched by Marvel in 1977 lasting a couple of years. Originally written by Gerry Conway and drawn by John Buscema, it was soon taken over by writer Chris Claremont, who would also go on to turn the moribund X-Men comic book into a genuine worldwide phenomena and Marvel’s most successful title, as well as bringing Carol Danvers into the X-Men title after her own series was cancelled.
Carol Danvers is now known as Captain Marvel and her movie just hit this weekend. It has become somewhat of a hot political potato amongst some – the allegation is that Marvel has taken a classic superheroine character from the seventies and used her for their identity politics and virtue signalling ends, betraying the original character – especially that her costume is from the most recent comics version of the character that doesn’t show off her navel anymore.
And it’s been framed as some kind of modern politically correct, radically feminist diatribe against men and a betrayal of how the character was originally created in the good old seventies.
Which is odd, because all this were just the kind of things that people were discussing back in 1977 as well. Here are few letters from the first year the comic was published, from its letters column, Ms Prints.
It begins with a letter a NASA electrical engineer, Cynthia Walker, who also co-owned a comic book store, objecting to the use of the identifier Ms rather than Miss, at the time an incredibly radically feminist notion that a woman need not be defined as married or unmarried by her title. And the choice of Ms. was an aggressive indicator of that refusal. Literally, identity politics…
This was echoed by Mary-Catherine Gilmore, who found fault with all of Marvel’s leading ladies on feminist terms – but who also rejected the Ms. title as it was too aggressive towards men. She would later be Mary Bierbaum, co-writer with Tom Bierbaum on Legion Of Super-Heroes.
Longstanding letter writer Jana C Hollingsworth complained that Ms Marvel’s origin was too tied to that of Captain Marvel, the male Kree warrior Mar-Vell, a complaint that has been echoed of late, and dealt with very differently in both the movie and in the recent The Life Of Captain Marvel comic book mini-series. And she had major issues with her revealing costume as well.
The discussion of Ms Marvel’s feminine identity continued, as further letter writers took issue with each other’s interpretation. Even back then, few it seemed could agree…
And still more came, with Suzanne P Elliott, criticising the gendered use of language on the cover as an insult, while Tony Bole talked about initially not wanting to buy the comic because it had a woman in the lead.
And Jo Duffy, comic book letter writer and now Marvel editor as of 1978. She would go on to write Conan the Barbarian, Fallen Angels, Star Wars, Wolverine, and a long successful run on Power Man and Iron Fist. For DC she launched their first Catwoman series, wrote Glory for Image/Maximum and returned to Marvel for Defenders and The Order.
With Linda Ewing appreciating changes made the character in her first year that, in modern parlance, gave her greater agenda, and Ann Nichols worried about the Kree/human divide as well as the danger of resorting to female character stereotypes,
So whatever issues people have with the politics of the Captain Marvel film (even though actually watching the movie, there are far less than anyone might expect to find) if nothing else, it remains true to the comic books of thirty years ago…