Peter David has the three qualities I enjoy seeing in comic book writers:
1. He only writes stories that he would want to read.
2. He has a long-standing feud with J. Michael Straczynski over a teddy bear.
3. He loves to write about characters and aspects of characters that seem to come out of left field.
While I can’t help but appreciate point #2, it’s #1 and #3 that are critical to my next point, in regards to the legacy that is the name of Captain Marvel.
From a record-breaking run on Incredible Hulk that changed the character in such fundamental ways that it took no less than four ret-cons to make him the brute he had been, once more, to a run writing Aquaman that recreated absolutely everything about the character, forever, David has brought superhero storytelling to a different place without delving into the darkest places of the human psyche. David’s work is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a Star Trek fan, because he builds unique tales for familiar characters.
Never more-so than his run on the re-launch of Marvel’s Captain Marvel series in the early 2000s.
I realize that I am back-tracking a bit, but in 1996, Fabian Nicieza, whose name is exactly as difficult to pronounce as one might think, wrote Genis-Vell as Captain Marvel in a mini-series that served as a vehicle to ensure that the copyright was maintained by Marvel; which is about the best thing I can say about the story. Kurt Busiek (whose name is vastly easier to pronounce) added to this legacy in his incredible 1998 story Avengers Forever, insinuating that Genis would become an Avenger, at some point in the future and adding Mar-Vell’s Cosmic Awareness into his repetoire of powers and, as it turned out, ended up being linked to Rick Jones.
Just like his dad.
Peter David first took his turn with Genis-Vell as Captain Marvel in the 2000 ongoing series (technically, it began with a Wizard Magazine exclusive #0, which was released in late 1999, but I digress). Genis’ experiences differed greatly from Mar-Vell’s in that it was Rick who was the mentor to the young, cosmic hero, rather than being the innocent kid caught in the middle of everything. This led to some interesting interactions between the two characters, which was really what was at the heart of the series.
Captain Marvel: ‘It’s Genis from now on, Rick. Or Captain Marvel.
Rick: ‘How about “Marv?”’
Captain Marvel: ‘That sounds stupid.’
Rick: ‘Well, it’s what I always called your dad…y’know, what with it being his name and all.’
Captain Marvel: ‘Oh. Right. Uhm…very well, then. I’d be honored to be addressed that way…on behalf of his memory, and on behalf of all those who remember him.’
You get the basic idea.
The series lasted for three years and, through the course of it, it retained a manic approach to comic book storytelling that made it the best superhero comic produced by Marvel or DC, at the start of the New Millennium (also, a company that was not very high quality, at this time? New Millennium… actually, it was Millennium Publications… they printed the New Justice Machine… whatever… ahem). Despite critical acclaim, the series didn’t do all that well due to the fact that no one was buying comic books, at the time.
The 1990s had so killed everyone’s budgets with foil-wrapped, die-cut, limited, hologram, embossed, edition, multi-cover gimmicks that added everything but actual valuable content to the comic book industry. It’s entirely possible that the economic collapse of the early 21st Century was entirely caused by the comic book industry deciding that the cover of comic books should have as many options as your average Swiss Army Knife.
So, with excellent storytelling at a minimum, especially at Marvel, Captain Marvel stood out as an overall excellent series with very little, if any, gimmickry. At the end of the series, which was Volume 4 of Marvel’s Captain Marvels (which is something I would actually like to name my cover band), Peter David continued the tale in a brand new volume with a whole different attitude.
Like, extremely different!
Rather than continuing to learn what it meant to be a hero, Genis transformed into an extremist; insisting on using his Cosmic Awareness to deal with crimes before they happen. Violently. This was caused by insanity, initially thought to be brought on by the Cosmic Awareness, but actually the result of some cosmic entity that no one had ever heard of, prior (nor since).
This led to an end of the second Peter David series with issue #25 which may be one of the oddest single-issue comics ever produced with the Fourth Wall being shattered throughout the entirety of it. Despite the strange twists and unusual finish, both of David’s Captain Marvel series earned acclaim and are fondly remembered by those that read them (and also available on Marvel Unlimited).
During the five years of Peter David’s run on the Marvel character, DC’s Captain Marvel had had a series that had been cancelled just prior to the onset of the 21st Century. Billy and his friends didn’t see a lot of solo action, over the course of the early 2000s, but he was a part of the Justice Society of America and starred in a handful of mini-series. In 2006, a new series by Judd Winick (whom you may remember from some early season of MTV’s ‘The Real World’… I think it was the one with Puck), The Trials of Shazam, the former Fawcett character evolved once more. Billy was now the wizard and his friend, Freddy, who had been Captain Marvel Jr., was Captain Marvel by the end of the series.
However, DC’s New 52 changed all this. A universe-altering event (yet another one) caused all the heroes of the DCU to be rebooted, and this included the old Fawcett characters. Perhaps, especially so.
Having finally lost the rights to the name of Captain Marvel in the courts (but still owning all the classic Fawcett characters and stories), DC launched Shazam as a back-up feature in the New 52 Justice League and the Big Red Cheese gained yet another origin (that’s four, for those of you playing the home game).
Billy Batson was a foster kid who was just a jerk to everyone because bad stuff happened to him. Then he is given the power of Shazam by the wizard because he is, literally, about the best that could be worked with, at the time. He then fight Black Adam a whole bunch who, ultimately, is the only really interesting character around from this whole thing now and will be played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in an upcoming movie.
Once again relegated to a supporting feature, Fawcett’s Number One character, the challenge to Superman, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, has become a footnote in comics history that occasionally gets a push as a ‘Magic Superman.’
Marvelman/Miracleman, meanwhile, had become something of a hotly-contested property. Alan Moore had divested himself of the character, entirely, having moved on to playing with Supreme, a Superman-like character created by Rob Liefeld (a comic book artist and writer who is most famous for wearing pants). Neil Gaiman had continued to work on Miracleman, taking the character even further than Moore had. When the copyright for the character became available for sale, Gaiman attempted to purchase it, but was outbid by Todd McFarlane.
McFarlane is, to the non-comics reading community, best known for having purchased three baseballs; two of which for $3 million. These were the balls from the record-breaking home-run seasons of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. Considering that all of these players have, since that time, been proven to have been using steroids, those baseballs are basically worthless.
McFarlane believed that he had purchased the sole rights to the Miracleman library but had, in fact, only purchased rights to the Miracleman logos, which was revealed during an agreement between him and Gaiman over several unrelated characters who has been created by Gaiman for McFarlane’s Spawn series. Despite how hazy Gaiman’s side of the deal was, McFarlane still screwed him over and ended up producing a Miracleman action figure, a poster, and attempted to re-print the Eclipse series.
Gaiman had had enough. He sued McFarlane for… pretty much everything, actually. Gaiman won the rights to his creations for the Spawn series; the demon-hunter Angela, and the wise old man, Cogliostro, and Medieval Spawn; as well as revealing that Mick Angelo; the guy who had originally stolen the concept of Marvelman from Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, had never sold the rights to the character!
In the end, Gaiman sold Angela to Marvel and allowed McFarlane to retain Cogliostro and Medieval Spawn. Marvel also purchased the full rights to the Marvelman character and the library of stories that were part of that deal included the library of Eclipse stories and those from other companies. Marvel Comics finally, legally owned a Captain Marvel character.
Another legal battle would end with a similar result as Marvel was awarded full rights to the name of ‘Captain Marvel,’ hence DC’s decision to reintroduce Batson as ‘Shazam.’ Despite the massive legal win, Marvel was not, at the time this was awarded, producing a comic book entitled ‘Captain Marvel.’ A mini-series that seemed to resurrect Mar-Vell was produced, but this was revealed to be an imposter. On two other occasions, Marvel Comics teased the return of Mar-Vell, but both of these stories ended with the character deceased.
Because they had bigger plans.
Someone at Marvel must have remembered that they once had changed everything about the concept of the character to introduce Monica Rambeau. Carol Danvers had grown in popularity as Ms. Marvel, her series consistently getting high marks for story content and outselling better-known characters. During a re-write of reality, Danvers had even held the title of ‘Captain Marvel.’
It was a natural progression.
In 2012, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Dexter Soy reintroduced the world to the Captain Marvel, in a series starring Carol Danvers as the title character. Since the re-branding, the stories have been amazing and have attained critical appeal, as well as fan approval. It was on the heels of this that Marvel opted to produce a film entitled ‘Captain Marvel.’
In addition, Marvel Comics introduced a new character called ‘Ms. Marvel.’ This ground-breaking character is among the first major Muslim characters to be developed, helping to expand diversity but also serving to normalize the American Muslim experience to a wider public. Beyond the conceptual culturally divergent nature of the title, it has been remarkably well-written and very fun. Kamala Khan (not a dissimilar naming convention from Peter Parker or Clark Kent) has proven to be a character that is accessible to people from all walks of life and has been lauded by Muslim advocacy groups as helping to educate the public on a variant cultural experience.
For my money, it doesn’t get much better than the current Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel titles. I cannot recommend them, enough.
In addition, Marvel has begun reprinting Marvelman and even printed some new material, beginning with a ‘lost’ story from Grant Morrison! Again: recommended. Very much so.
Given the extensive and diverse history of the Captain Marvel name, the idea that the Captain Marvel film could star anything other than a white, blonde woman or a white, blonde man is completely inane. Any performer, of any ethnic or cultural background, of any sex or sexual preference could portray this hero. It could be a character that has been introduced prior (Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis? Hint! Hint!) or a new character that advanced the diversification of superhero mythology.
Since the start of this series of articles, Ava DuVernay has been rumored to be in the talks for playing Captain Marvel, which would seem to prove my point. Despite the attacks on a prior article I wrote, it seems that Marvel agrees that diversity in the portrayal of these characters is the best way to grow and develop a lasting audience.
Having decisively won the Captain Marvel Wars, it’s clear the Marvel Comics is considering the future of this historic property to which I can only say: