SALT LAKE CITY — If there’s one thing you need to know about Captain Marvel, it’s that the character's back story is off-the-wall bonkers.
It also might be the best thing I've ever read.
The history of Captain Marvel is complicated. The Marvel superhero first appeared in comic book form in the late 1960s and is very different than the character we’ll see in theaters when the new “Captain Marvel” film opens on Friday, March 8.
In the 2019 film, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) takes on the superhero mantel, interjecting herself in the middle of an intergalactic war between the Skrull and Kree, two alien races from the Marvel Universe.
But in the comics, Captain Marvel was originally a male Kree character named Mar-Vell, who was sent to Earth to observe its technological growth as it worked to transition to space. After he’s branded a traitor to the Kree, he decides to stay on Earth.
But he's not the only Captain Marvel. In all, three males (including Mar-Vell's son) and three female (including Mar-Vell's son's alternate timeline sister) tried to take on the mantle, creating a complicated and long-running history for the character.
With “Captain Marvel” right around the corner, we’ve decided to do a deep dive into the Captain Marvel character’s history, giving you a proper look at the superhero before the movie hits theaters.
All of this character information comes from Marvel.com character bios.
The original Captain Marvel died of cancer
The journey of Captain Marvel begins with Mar-Vell, who was "a white-skinned minority" among the blue Kree alien empire. He was an important soldier and hero among his people.
Yon-Rogg, his commander, sent him to Earth to monitor the planet and pay particular attention to humans' advancements in space travel. When Mar-Vell arrived on Earth, he was almost killed by the villainous Yon-Rogg and a robot called the Sentry. But Mar-Vell publicly defeated the robot and soon took on the name Captain Marvel.
From there, Mar-Vell observed humanity and watched over Earth, engaging in many adventures and some pretty weird things, but ultimately he discovered he had cancer due to his earlier exposure to nerve gas during a confrontation with a bad guy named Nitro. He traveled back to the planet Titan, where he spent his last days surrounded by fellow superheroes before passing away.
Source: Mar-Vell character bio.
Captain Marvel once led the Avengers
After Mar-Vell’s death, the media in the Marvel Universe soon dubbed Monica Rambeau (who will reportedly appear in the new movie) with the name Captain Marvel. She had previously worked as a harbor patrol lieutenant in New Orleans before she was hit with extra-dimensional powers that gave her the ability to morph into energy and back again at will.
She quickly sought out the Avengers to help her understand and use her new powers, eventually becoming a full member, the first African-American female to do so. But, as these things go, Monica found that she had memories of the first Captain Marvel, the heroic Mar-Vell, and felt unworthy of assuming his title. Thanks to her abilities and character, though, Monica won the approval of one of Mar-Vell’s close friends, Starfox, and decide to keep the name.
Monica went on to defeat several different enemies, including the Skrull alien race (who have been in an ongoing war with the Kree), a space pirate named Nebula and dozens of others. When the Wasp stepped down as Avengers' president, Monica took up the position and led the Avengers for some time. In an epic battle, she was seriously injured by a creature called Leviathan, which ended her run as leader and put a dent in her superhero career.
When Mar-Vell’s offspring, Genis, came into the picture, Monica handed the name of Captain Marvel to him as a way to honor Mar-Vell’s legacy. Over the next several years, Monica assumed the names Pulsar and Spectrum and still exists in the Marvel Universe today, albeit not as a main member of the Avengers.
Source: Monica Rambeau character bio.
Captain Marvel was once an insane villain that altered timelines (hold onto your seats for this one)
Captain Marvel wasn't always a hero. The character went a little mad when Genis-Vell took on the name.
Genis was 13 years old when he was born. (Yes, you read that correctly.) His mother, Elysius, used DNA from the original Captain Marvel, our old friend Mar-Vell, to conceive a child. Then she implanted false memories of his childhood into Genis’ mind, telling him that his father was actually Starfox, that good friend of Mar-Vell's who also knew Monica Rambeau.
However, his mother later revealed the truth to him, and Genis decided to become an explorer like his father.
When he arrived on Earth, he met Monica, who was using the Captain Marvel title, and the two teamed up to defeat a villain named the Controller. Monica offered Genis the Captain Marvel title, but Genis didn’t want to accept the name because he felt Monica had earned it, although, as we learned earlier, Monica passed it off to him, anyway.
Genis felt he had finally earned the title after defeating Una-Rogg and Zey-Rogg — the children of Mar-Vell’s biggest enemy, Yon-Rogg — and at that point, took on the name Captain Marvel.
However, Genis wasn't exactly the Captain Marvel that Mar-Vell or Monica had been, and his reputation sort of fell apart. He clashed with Mar-Vell’s good friend Rick Jones — the two constantly quarreled — and then things really took a turn.
In the Destiny War, a conflict with the Time-Keepers, Jones assembled the Avengers from multiple timelines — including a more mature and older version of Genis. Jones suffered multiple injuries during the cosmic war and, to save his life, the future version of Genis merged his form and life force with Jones. (Don't forget, we're in comic book world.)
After the merge, the present day version of Genis felt the new powers that came from his future self and Jones melding together. Conflicted about the union, thanks to his problems with Jones in the present day, he went mad after contemplating his role in the universe. Genis fell into a catatonic state, and when he woke up, the former Captain Marvel experienced a bout of insanity.
From here, Genis has some wacky adventures, eventually teaming up with the cosmic entity Entropy, who was the offspring of Eternity, a villain who said he was creating Genis’ madness.
Entropy and Genis destroyed Eternity and then decided to recreate reality (Genis wanted to make sure the world was one where he hadn’t developed madness).
But with the redesign of the universe came the creation of his new sister, Phyla-Vell, who attempted to take on the role of Captian Marvel next.
Source: Genis-Vell (son of Marv-Ell) character bio.
Captain Marvel’s son’s sister (but not daughter — seriously) almost became Captain Marvel
The alternate and new universe Genis created led to Elysius, the woman who created Genis, coming back to life. She underwent another artificial pregnancy and gave birth to a daughter — Phyla-Vell, who was aged into adulthood as was Genis when he was born. This was essentially Genis' sister, although she bore no connection to Genis' father, Mar-Vell.
Phyla, Elysius and Starfox all confronted Genis on the planet Titan, where Phyla demanded Genis give her the role of Captain Marvel. Her brother refused to give it up, however, and she joins up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and in time, calls herself Martyr.
Source: Phyla-Vell (youngst sister of Genis-Vell) character bio.
Captain Marvel was once a Skrull pretending to be Mar-Vell
In the 2007 comic “Civil War,” Mar-Vell made an apparent return to the Marvel Universe as Captain Marvel. But it turned out to be Khn’nr, a Skrull posing as Captain Marvel. After Khn'nr's mental programming gave out, the original Captain, Mar-Vell took over for a short time, but handed the title over to a new hero.
Source: Khn’nr (takes on Marv-Ell’s form) character bio.
Captain Marvel was once originally Ms. Marvel
That new hero was Noh-Varr, a Kree alien who joined the 18th Kree Diplomatic Gestalt to help keep peace across the galaxy. Long story short, he met up with Khn’nr, who was actually Mar-Vell, who appoints Noh-Varr as Captain Marvel.
Noh-Varr, who had been unsure about fighting for the Kree or the Skrulls, decided to wear the Captain Marvel powers and become the hero. He did so and joined the Dark Avengers, led by Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin from the "Spider-Man" comics). Noh-Varr assumed the role for a few years until Carol Danvers took over.
Danvers, though, was well-known for another role — Ms. Marvel
Carol Danvers was an Air Force pilot and intelligence agent who worked with NASA to help explore space. But then her life changed when she became a human-Kree hybrid with new powers. She spent several years as Ms. Marvel.
During a war between the Avengers and the X-Men, Carol went on a mission to space where she ran into the recently resurrected Mar-Vell, who had been brought back to life by the Kree. Mar-Vell sacrificed his life and gave the Captain Marvel powers to Danvers, who took it as a tribute.
The powers impacted her body over time, threatening to form a brain lesion to destroy her memories. Yon-Rogg came back to Earth at the same time and threatened to create a Kree city over New York City. Danvers is able to stop Kree, but the effort costs her all of her personal memories.
Captain Marvel was once a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy
In 2013, Marvel announced that Carol Danvers would join the Guardians of the Galaxy. Since then, she became a member of A-Force (the planet Battleworld's all-female team of Avengers), the leader of S.W.O.R.D. (the military agency designed to protect Earth from intergalactic enemies) and part of the Ultimates (an elite team developed to handle potential threats to Earth).
Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel continues to fight for Earth and has become one of the most popular heroes in the Marvel Universe.
Source: Carol Danvers (originally Ms. Marvel) character bio.
Correction: This article previously said Captain Marvel was once a Kree pretending to be Mar-Vell. That version of Captain Marvel was actually a Skrull.