The first trailer for Marvel’s Captain Marvel puts Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers front and center. Remaining more mysterious, even after two-and-a-half minutes of adrenaline-pumping introductions, is Jude Law’s Walter Lawson, Danvers’ mentor in the intergalactic military unit known as Starforce. Savvy comic readers pin Law has having a double identity, eventually revealed to be “Mar-Vell,” the original Captain Marvel. If it’s true, the film, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, could be folding over 50 years of comic lore into one MCU epic.
The first Marvel Comics character to be called Captain Marvel was an alien soldier and spy called Mar-Vell, created in 1967. He’s also been dead, canonically, since 1982. He was created at least in part so that Marvel Comics — which had started using the “Marvel” name to brand its superhero comics in 1961 — could register the trademark on the name “Captain Marvel.”
That trademark had previously been held by Fawcett Comics, who published the adventures of the magically-superpowered hero Captain Marvel (you might know that character as Shazam; he’s getting his own movie just a month after Captain Marvel). Fawcett’s Captain Marvel comics had been incredibly popular in the 1940s, often outselling Superman — but the company had stopped publishing them in 1951 after it was sued by National Publications (later DC Comics), who felt that Fawcett’s superhero was too similar to Superman.
Ironically, DC Comics bought the license to Captain Marvel from Fawcett in 1972 and started making its own comics. But since Marvel had the trademark, DC couldn’t name the book in which its Captain Marvel appeared “Captain Marvel.” (Instead, it was titled Shazam.) And now, aware that if it ever allowed its trademark to lapse DC Comics would snap it up in an instant, Marvel Comics was put in the position of having to defend its claim on “Captain Marvel.”
Which is all to say: There were three decades where Marvel had to publish a new Captain Marvel book every few years or risk losing its trademark. And that means that there have been a lot of different attempts to reboot Marvel’s Captain Marvel book into a surefire hit.
Mar-Vell’s first series ran from 1967 to 1979. In 1982, Marvel used the first book in its groundbreaking Marvel Graphic Novel line, Death of Captain Marvel, to showcase his tragic death from cancer. In 1985, the company reprinted a bunch of Mar-Vell stories under the title Life of Captain Marvel. In 1989 and 1994, Marvel published one-shot stories about Mar-Vell’s first successor, Monica Rambeau. In 1995 and 1997, Marvel published short miniseries with the Captain Marvel name. In 2000, writer Peter David finally struck ongoing series gold, with a Captain Marvel book about Genis-Vell, the son (sort of) of Mar-Vell, and his sister (sort of) Phyla-Vell, that ran for four years. In 2008, Marvel published another miniseries called Captain Marvel, about a shape-shifting Skrull sleeper agent who mistakenly believed himself to be Mar-Vell.
And finally, in 2012, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel gave the title to Carol Danvers, who has been headlining it ever since. (Also, in 2011, DC Comics had, without fanfare, stopped referring to its “Captain Marvel” as such even within the books, quietly and permanently renaming the character “Shazam.”)
So don’t feel bad if Mar-Vell takes a back seat to Carol in the movie. While he holds an important place in the Marvel Universe, he’s never been a big mover and shaker, he’s arguably best known for his successors anyway, and he’s not even the only former Captain Marvel in the movie (in theory): actress Lashana Lynch is set to play Maria Rambeau in the film, a character who seems to be a fellow air force pilot of Carol Danvers’. Fans have theorized that Maria could be the mother of Monica Rambeau, the second Captain Marvel, based on her name, the time period of the movie and the fact that her callsign is “Photon,” one of Monica’s codenames.
How will Mar-Vell factor in to Carol’s quest to understand her past? We’ll know more when Captain Marvel hits theaters on March 8, 2019.