I hear there’s a movie that some people are excited about. So let’s talk about Captain Marvel, AKA Carol Danvers, with “How to Collect,” a column where I research and report the best way to collect a comic, saving you the hassle and leaving you with just the good parts.
Carol Danvers is an unusual character. Originally created in 1968 as a supporting character for Captain Marvel (of Marvel Comics), she later became Ms. Marvel, and is most well known as Captain Marvel after her 2012 relaunch. She’s taken numerous codenames (Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird, and Captain Marvel are the big ones), and was written with the intent of being a legitimately feminist superhero. Considering how large the real-life Carol Corps has grown, I’d say she’s succeeded.
Her story is expansive, and over her 50 years of existence, she never went into comics limbo the way some characters do. So when Kay wanted a collection of Carol Danvers solo titles on her shelves, finding the character’s stories and where they were collected was a real challenge. She wrote a glowing review of the first Ms. Marvel Masterworks already, and she’d read most of Captain Marvel’s titles. But she’d never read them in sequence, and only owned a smattering of skinny trades and the two Masterworks volumes of her original series. I remember her at one point reading Volume 1 of the 2012 series, followed by Volume 2 of the 2014 series, which actually collects issues from Volume 8 of the various Captain Marvel solo titles published over the years, and she was more confused than anyone I’ve ever seen.
Once I’d written that sentence, I had to check to make sure I hadn’t just had a stroke.
Regardless, my girlfriend asked me for help, and I had recently bought the Brian Reed series anyway. I was confident that I had enough knowledge to make this a fairly easy process. What I didn’t account for was Marvel’s stubborn inability to make anything an easy process, even with a movie coming out.
Thanks to a lot of research, we were able to find her solo titles, and I already had both the Kurt Busiek Avengers and Iron Man runs, to begin with. This was easily the most complex task—particularly because of Carol’s time as Binary—that I’ve had for any How to Collect column, including the ones that are written but not published yet. This is because Carol is what’s known as a “legacy character”—someone who took up the name of a pre-existing superhero. Carol is, in fact, the seventh Captain Marvel, and if you want more information on that, Corrina wrote a great primer on their history.
Carol has had quite a few solo titles, some better than others. She has joined the Avengers, the Starjammers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Alpha Flight, and in an alternate reality created during Secret Wars (AKA Crisis on Infinite Marvel, AKA No More Ultimates, AKA we need to make our comics more like the movies), led the Carol Corps.
It’s not possible to cover every comic she’s ever been in, and I don’t have the ability to cover everything related to Marvel’s event comics. Sorry, Civil War and Civil War II fan. (That’s not a typo. You know who you are, Jake. It’s you. Just you.) Regardless of her role in the story, I really can’t help you. What I can do is cover her solo titles and the major stories in other books that shaped the story of Carol Danvers.
Captain Marvel (1968)
Carol Danvers appears in Marvel Super-Heroes #1 as a supporting character for Captain Marvel (real name Mar-Vell), serving as an Air Force officer. The title was an anthology, and Mar-Vell spun off to his own solo series. Of particular note is #18, where Carol is subject to an accident that will give her the powers of Ms. Marvel. She seems to have dropped out of the series after that point, making three appearances in the title (issues #34-#35, and #50). I’ve never read this series, but if you’re a hardcore fan and want to see her from the very beginning up until that accident, you’ll need the first two Captain Marvel Masterworks. You’ll need to get Volumes 4 and 5 if you want her other appearances, and I’m including Volume 3 just for my own sanity, despite having no Carol.
The Masterworks titles are, as I’ve had it explained to me, collector’s items with a low print run. The comics are touched up to fit the new paper rather than newsprint, keeping the colors as accurate as possible while fixing things like misaligned colors. While some are later reprinted as omnibuses or, in the case of Ms. Marvel, Epic Collections, this is not the case for the original Captain Marvel. I recommend the digital versions for people who just want to enjoy the comics, as the used physical copies are somewhere in the $70-90 range. You can sometimes find Masterworks volumes cheaper, but it’s a very long and arduous process, and I really only recommend buying them new if at all possible.
Ms. Marvel (1977)
This is one of the easier titles to collect. Originally written by Gerry Conway, the title was quickly taken over by Chris Claremont, who adored the character. Jim Shooter actually asked Mary Jo Duffy to switch off Power Man & Iron Fist to write Ms. Marvel; she refused, and Claremont similarly would not give up Carol. (Claremont’s mother was also a pilot, so the chance to write a hero for her wasn’t something he’d let slide.) This was for the best, as both titles are excellent on their own. There’s a reason the Epic Collections for Power Man & Iron Fist seem to have ended after she left the title.
But I digress. Ms. Marvel was first collected in two Marvel Masterworks volumes. When it became clear that the series was more than a niche interest, Marvel finally released an omnibus and Epic Collection duology. Unlike the Masterworks volumes, they include not just the main series, but various tie-ins and even some issues that were scrapped due to its cancellation, which were published in anthology series. The omnibus, with a cover by the inimitable Amanda Conner (and variant by John Romita Sr.), is oversized and of the quality you’d expect from a Marvel omnibus. Strong binding, easy to read, and large enough to beat a man to death, so that’s a real plus. The more affordable Epic Collections have the exact same contents as the omnibus but split into two volumes.
While these collections supplant the Masterworks in almost every single way, the Masterworks include essays by Gerry Conway, the original writer, and Kelly Sue Deconnick, who reinvented the character as Captain Marvel in 2012. Both are well worth reading, and if you can find cheap digital copies to go with the Epic Collections or omnibuses, you’ll be able to enjoy them and the main title on the go (though not the various tie-ins).
The Avengers (Volume 1)
Carol Danvers joined The Avengers during issue #183 and left during #200. She was written and drawn by an incredibly talented team of writers and artists. I don’t know much about the Avengers of that time as it hasn’t been collected in an easily obtainable format. What I do know is that people like Roger Stern, David Michelinie, John Byrne, and George Perez were involved with the title at various points where she was on the team. With a superstar lineup setting the stage, it’s hard to believe that every single person involved absolutely shat the bed when it came to her final appearance in the title. Avengers #200 is the absolute worst comic Carol has ever been in, and a top contender for the worst Marvel comic of all time. Yeah, I’m including you, Trouble.
All the previous collections I listed contain parts of Avengers #198 and #199, as well as the entirety of #200, and Avengers Annual #10. This is necessary to provide the context and follow up, which is particularly frustrating because contextualizing it doesn’t make it better, it just makes it a readable sequence of badly written events. I cannot believe the lack of self-awareness going on with anyone in the creative chain, because this is an issue where Carol is raped and leaves the team to be with said rapist, while the story treats it with an utter lack of self-awareness as a loving, romantic and happy ending.
Baffled? Outraged? I’m not surprised, because so was everyone else. While the famous essay “The Rape of Ms. Marvel” covered the justified fury that this comic engendered, Avengers Annual #10 by guest writer Chris Claremont goes after its events even more ferociously. In her introductory essay to the second volume of the Ms. Marvel Masterworks, Kelly Sue Deconnick calls it garbage, resents that it’s in-continuity, and talks about how even though Chris Claremont “went in and batted clean-up,” the event still haunts the perception of Carol in the eyes of some fans and creators.
Carol is the most visible female superhero in all of Marvel’s lineup, and the picture of Brie Larson on the red carpet with a little girl in a Captain Marvel costume is proof of it. When any of Carol’s traumas are discussed in titles I’ve included in this article, they are generally treated with a level of respect and understanding that makes this column worth writing. Because of her triumphs and falls, she is a complete character, rough and rounded, standing head and shoulders above many of Marvel’s greatest heroes.
I used the plural traumas above, and it’s because of another event that occurred in her story. Carol’s memories were drained by the X-Men character Rogue (who was first introduced as a villain), but were later returned to her by Professor X. While it left her with the memories, she lacked an emotional attachment to them. To her, experiencing a memory was more like watching a movie. A movie may make her cry because it’s sad to see, but it doesn’t feel like something that happened to her. As she would lament during her second tenure on the Avengers, reflecting on her time as Ms. Marvel, “It must have been glorious.”
In order to read the entirety of her time on The Avengers, you’ll need the Avengers Marvel Masterworks Volume 18, and the upcoming Volume 19.
Chris Claremont would adopt Carol as an Uncanny X-Men supporting character, using her at various points from issues #150 to #269. While I’d love to say she remained a supporting character throughout the entirety of that time, she wasn’t, and while I’d love to say that every issue she was in has been collected, they haven’t. Two particularly important events happened during her time with the X-Men: she gained closure with one of her arch-enemies, Mystique, and took the powers and mantle of Binary in issue #164.
She became a guest star after #175, appearing only sporadically. Fortunately, the largest stretch of time (ending exactly on #175, in fact) is collected in the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume 3. Unfortunately, that is out of print because of course it is. All X-Men omnibuses get second printings, but it can take a few years. I suggest checking local comic stores and online places like Half Price Books, Barnes and Noble, eBay, and Amazon, and hope for the best. An important note: There are two covers for this omnibus; the original cover from Issue #167 by Paul Smith, and another by Jerome Opena and Dean White. There’s absolutely no difference in content.
Fortunately, there is an alternative that will serve you better than trying to find an out of print omnibus. As I mentioned, the Masterworks volumes are sometimes collected in omnibus format later down the line. This is true of Uncanny X-Men, with three volumes per omnibus. The Masterworks, while out of print, are available digitally. Volumes #7-9 will give you all the Carol that Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume 3 has, and cheaper too.
Folks, for love nor money could I tell you much about Carol Danvers’ time as Binary. She would make sporadic appearances here or there, particularly with the Starjammers, but played no part in a contiguous run that I could find. Occasionally I use wiki resources to figure out where characters appear, and I went through several hundred entries on Binary trying to find a through-line. While it’s possible the wiki was not well-sourced, it was a lot of one and two-shots, like Quasar, or various guest appearances. I want to repeat this so everyone is clear on this: I went through a couple hundred entries on her time as Binary by way of a chronological list of her appearances throughout all of Marvel. With all of that, I still couldn’t really figure out what she was doing from about Uncanny X-Men #175 until an event comic later on. Marvel Fanfare #24, collected in the Ms. Marvel Masterworks/Omnibus/Epic Collections, showed her leaving Earth to join the Starjammers. Then… nothing. At least not in trade.
There absolutely ought to be Epic Collections of her major appearances. Marvel, I implore you. Show Carol’s stories from this time, at her most physically powerful, when she was described as a living star because that time has consequences for Marvel as a whole and Carol specifically. And such a collection isn’t unprecedented—the X-Men were given an Epic Collection to cover the period in between the cancellation of their original series and the relaunched Uncanny X-Men (X-Men Volume 5 – It’s Always Darkest Before Dawn).
One place where Binary did play a role in the 19-part story “Operation: Galactic Storm,” a thing worth noting because it not only is collected in trade format (an Epic Collection, no less!) but because it’s where she lost her Binary powers. This is a critical change that would greatly affect her confidence, and shape the events that came when she finally rejoined the Avengers.
Avengers (Volume 3) and Iron Man
Kurt Busiek wrote both Iron Man and Avengers during the Heroes Return event, and Carol was prominent in both titles. We see Carol insecure about the loss of her incredible Binary powers, her position on the team, and her position in the world. Turning to alcohol as a release, she rapidly loses her control over her drinking. Tony Stark, a recovering alcoholic himself, sees these problems long before any of the other Avengers. With their shared experience—Carol’s alcoholism has the same kind of nuance in its writing and art that I’ve so admired in the classic Iron Man story “Demon in a Bottle”—Tony becomes her sponsor, and one of her closest friends. Their (platonic) relationship is one of my favorite dynamics in Marvel Comics, and is evident even in the current Captain Marvel run by Kelly Thompson. I make a point of looking at and for issues or titles that focus on that dynamic.
While the disgusting events of Avengers #200 are rarely referenced at all these days, stories and moments touching on her ongoing recovery are exceptional character pieces that have helped me understand Carol in ways I didn’t before. It’s not a stunt, not a very special episode—it is a critical piece of who Carol is, and how she learns to deal with the fear of not knowing what to do with herself.
During that time on the Avengers, she took the codename of Warbird and remained with the team until its dissolution. And after Busiek left the title, Geoff Johns took over (hooray!), followed by Chuck Austen (who I can’t believe managed to get work in comics after his time on X-Men).
In terms of actually collecting the titles, this is the most costly period to cover. I can’t recommend the regular trades for Busiek’s run, which omit crucial tie-ins and limited series that finish plot points referenced in the main book. As such, I’m forced to recommend two out of print and expensive omnibuses: Avengers by Kurt Busiek and George Perez Omnibus Volumes 1 and 2. I don’t think this is inherently bad, as I personally believe this to be Perez’s finest work in his entire career. His pencils and layouts are at their greatest heights, paired with stories strong enough to match.
If you’re very, very patient, you can find the first one in the neighborhood of $130, and it’s actually cheaper than trying to get the issues online. That said, I’d check your local used book stores before shopping online for this one. The second is going to be in the $70 range, partly because Perez wasn’t drawing the majority of those issues.
Fortunately, the Geoff Johns titles are easier to find, though as I understand it he left for DC because he was dissatisfied by the requirement to stretch out his stories to fill an entire trade paperback. Even worse, the Austen titles are not only bad but much more expensive. A classic case of “The food is terrible, and portions are so small.” One upside: this is essentially a mini-“How to Collect” column for Avengers Volume 3.
A quick note: I did mention Iron Man. The Busiek issues were released in an omnibus which is, of course, out of print. You can find it fairly easily used, but there is another option. A new paperback set of trades for the Busiek run is coming out this April, covering roughly the first half of Busiek’s time with the character. Presuming typical Marvel release patterns, the second volume should follow sometime in the next eight to ten months. Hopefully, they do the same for The Avengers in the near future.
Ms. Marvel (2006)
During the event comic House of M, Scarlet Witch (with the power to reshape reality in any way) went insane. While a council of X-Men and Avengers were deciding what to do to help her, the world reshaped around them, creating a world where mutants ruled over humans. While largely an X-Men story, it also had an interesting effect on Carol.
During Scarlet Witch and Carol’s time on the Avengers, the two became good friends. Perhaps as a subconscious piece of gratitude, in the House of M reality, Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel, the most powerful and well-known superhero in the world. The public viewed her similarly to how the public views Superman over at DC. When the world reverted to the original reality, Carol went back to being just… Carol, fighting C-list villains who have never heard of her. When her best friend pointed out that she saved the world three months prior to the events of the series, Carol shot back that she spent most of those three months afterward vegging on her couch. But the memory of what she could have been in that alternate universe stuck with her. She decided that she wasn’t living up to her potential and that she needed to do something about it. She would be, as the first story arc is titled, “The Best of the Best.”
While the artwork can be inconsistent due to constant artist switches, and it does help to have a lot more knowledge about the goings-on of Marvel at the time (Civil War happens right out of nowhere and changes the status quo of the comic without a word), it’s a worthy comic and is responsible for a lot of Carol’s growth as she works to deal with the biggest obstacle that stands in her way: herself. Sometimes literally. At one point Carol flew into her apartment and found an alternate universe Carol sleeping in her bed, and began to slug it out—616’s Carol having made some peace with her issues, while the alternate universe one hadn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to beat my emotions to a pulp, but I know better: beating yourself up is exactly as therapeutic as it sounds. Carol hadn’t quite figured that out yet, but slowly, she will.
Originally collected in nine trades, they were later released it in three larger paperbacks, containing a tie-in and graphic novel that the original collection did not. Not only that, the three-volume set is cheaper. One last thing: please ignore that the cover art is atrocious. I swear the art inside looks nothing like that.
Becoming Captain Marvel changed everything about how Carol worked.
Ms. Marvel is fantastic. She’s funny, sarcastic, flirty, powerful—and Carol as Captain Marvel is still all of those things. She’s also more serious, more controlled. She’s seen a lot more of the world, and the world has seen a lot more in her.
Captain Marvel was one of a handful of Big 2 books around that time—the New 52 Batgirl is the other most obvious one—that was attracting the attention of women. Not just that, it was attracting the attention of those who had never been Carol fans before. Calling themselves the Carol Corps, they rallied behind this book and watched as Carol examined her life through a new lens. The first story involves her choosing to take the name Captain Marvel. From there, she began examining her relationship with her old flying mentor, Helen Cobb, who died just before the series began. There’s time and interplanetary travel, epic fight scenes, and some of the most beautiful and quotable speeches in her comics. If you’ve heard the words “Higher, further, faster, more,” it’s from this series.
And at its heart, it is still Carol vs. Carol, which Kelly Sue Deconnick argued in her Ms. Marvel Masterworks essay is the primary story of Carol Danvers, all the way back to the beginning.
There were three issue #1s before they changed the title to Mighty Captain Marvel, which made looking at the skinny trades a huge chore as there was nothing that indicated their order relative to each other. Fortunately, the skinny trades were later collected in five volumes with the title Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero. Volumes 1-4 cover Deconnick’s run, and Volume 5 covers the stories of Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, followed by Christos Gage and Ruth Fletcher Gage. Not only does this make the reading order hassle-free, but there are also a few tie-in issues not included in the original, smaller trades.
Mighty Captain Marvel
Written by Margaret Stohl, the series had big shoes to fill after Deconnick’s departure. The way she chose to tackle this was by taking over as Commander of Alpha Flight, which to my surprise is not a team of filthy stinking Canadians that John Byrne considered a failed experiment, but a program created to deal with extraterrestrial threats that happens to also be staffed with a number of filthy stinking Canadians. Stohl’s humor is dead-on, not just for Carol but for the supporting cast. While there was again no consistent artist, Stohl’s work on the character was excellent and led her to write Carol’s new origin story: The Life of Captain Marvel.
The Life of Captain Marvel
Because Carol’s origin is about 50 years old, Marvel did something very unusual for them and took a page out of DC’s playbook: they completely retconned her origin story. Margaret Stohl once again returns to write the series, and in doing so delved deep into the heart of who Carol is. As Kay said, this book was her pick for the comic she would have recommended to people who wanted to understand the character quickly. That pick was recently supplanted by the one-shot Captain Marvel: Braver and Mightier by Jody Houser, which Kay and I discussed here.
But back to The Life Of Captain Marvel. Way back in the 1977 Ms. Marvel, Claremont wrote a spectacular pair of issues that revealed Carol’s father to be a sexist jerk, leading Carol to walk out of her father’s life for good—though as many people have found when they’ve walked away from people who they will never please, she has stepped back in to his life a few times. Stohl examines that relationship unflinchingly. During a fight alongside the Avengers on Father’s Day, Carol starts remembering how her father used to abuse her and her brothers. She has a full blown panic attack and given the choice between fight or flight, decides to lean heavily on Option A, to the point that someone reminds her to “leave some for Thor.” Without that outlet, panic sets in further and she can’t catch her breath. The end result is a visit to Tony’s medical bay, and a discussion about her feelings—which she loves roughly as much as he does (i.e., not at all). Carol comes to the realization that it’s time to deal with her relationship with her (now deceased) father, and takes a sabbatical from the Avengers to be with her family.
Without going into too much detail, the book reworks Carol’s own history so that she was always part-Kree. She didn’t get her powers from having Mar-Vell’s DNA melded to hers; the explosion that they were caught in activated her latent Kree abilities to allow her to survive. This five issue mini-series is fantastically written, has gorgeous art, and is available in trade.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Kelly Thompson, one of the best writers working in comics today, is helming the current Captain Marvel series. Writing the main title of a character who’s about to have a movie released can’t be an easy job; the scrutiny of that title is a lot greater and the bar for quality is a lot higher. The first story arc where Carol is thrown into an alternate dimension, post-apocalyptic Roosevelt Island is, despite being atypical for Captain Marvel, a good introduction to the character. It has so far showcased a number of her relationships with heroines in the Marvel comics universe. There are only two issues out right now, but the series is highly regarded generally and by Kay. Happily, for people like me, the trade has already been solicited. And hey: more Amanda Conner covers.
And, to the best of my not inconsiderable knowledge, these are the titles which most strongly impact Carol Danvers. No one should ever have to do homework to read comics, I’ve said that a million times, but this turned into a graduate paper. To Carol fans, I hope this helped you. To Marvel: Stop it.
Whether it’s the explosion that triggered her powers, her time under Claremont, her service as an Avenger, or her heights as Captain Marvel, I expect everything about her has been a part of the process that goes into writing a script for the upcoming movie. They won’t use it all—how could they, with fifty years of material—but there will be pieces and moments of her character, her story, that draw from these decades of work by some of the best writers in comics. The script, the movie as a whole, has taken so long because they have been trying to bring out the quintessence of her character. I hope they’ve done it. But no matter what they do, new or old, good or bad, the story of Carol Danvers lives in these pages.
If there are any series you want to collect that you’re having trouble tracking down, just leave a comment below or message me on twitter at @ReviewOrDie.