Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982)
Created By: Roger Stern & John Romita, Jr.
You know how it is: You’re minding your own business, doing your job, and all of sudden you’re being zapped with extra-dimensional energy by a supervillain. At least, that’s how Monica Rambeau went from being a cargo ship captain with the New Orleans Harbor Patrol to becoming a superhero. And a card-carrying Avenger, no less! This would be like acting in your high school performance of The Glass Menagerie and seguing directly into winning an Oscar. Zero to A-list!
The media chose Monica’s first superhero alias, Captain Marvel, and despite the fact that many of the Avengers were friends with the original, deceased Cappy M, they uncharacteristically (for comics and for, um, Avengers) decided not to be assholes about her keeping the name. In fact, she even led the team for a while, but eventually had to take early retirement when overexertion temporarily wiped out her powers and nearly killed her.
Once she was back in action, she mostly focused her energies on fighting the good fight in space rather than her former rogue’s gallery of, like, zombies and Dracula (which was kind of random considering her own powers were in no way supernatural). Monica did, however, continue serving with the Avengers as a reserve member, and she led the Nextwave team, where she could not stop bragging about leading the Avengers back when. Can you blame her? If I were her, I would have that tattooed on my forehead.
Her days as Captain Marvel are long over, though. When the son of CM 1.0, Genis, showed up and wanted the title for himself, Monica let him have it out of respect for his dad and dubbed herself Photon instead. A few years later, Genis decided that, no, just kidding, now he wanted to be Photon. Monica realized it was so not freaking worth it and switched to Pulsar, but at least half of the time she just goes by Monica Rambeau, presumably because it’s the only name Genis can’t justify stealing from her. Besides, being Monica Rambeau is plenty awesome enough.
So What’s So Great About Her?
When the original Captain Marvel, an alien who just happened to look like an incredibly Aryan Earth dude, died of cancer in 1982, it was considered incredibly revolutionary for a hero to not only succumb to mundane, natural causes, but for a hero to die at all. He certainly wasn’t the first of his ilk to pass away, but he was definitely one of the highest profile to do so. So you have to admit, it was pretty brassy of Marvel to replace him almost immediately…and with a woman of color no less.
Granted, some of this was absolutely out of necessity. You know how there’s a Captain Marvel at DC too? One who never appears in a comic actually called Captain Marvel? That’s because Marvel Comics owns the copyright to do such a thing, and to keep it, they need to actually publish something with the name Captain Marvel in the title every once in a while. Which they will never, ever stop doing. It’s their special little way of saying, ‘Suck it, DC.’
But still, they certainly could’ve just not killed Mar-Vell off (this is for-serious his name. COMICS!) or passed the name off to another dude or a Valkyrie-type blonde. Hell, there was already a blonde, stacked Ms. Marvel waiting in the wings who could’ve easily taken the role. (And in fact, she finally has—make sure to check out the awesome-sounding new Captain Marvel series!) Instead, they gave it someone who is part of one of the most underrepresented demographics in comics—black women.
I’ve written before how no black women joined the X-Men between Storm’s 1975 introduction and Shard in 1994. Similarly, there’s a general deficit of black women superheroes throughout the Marvel Universe as a whole. It’s plain to see why—Native Americans can wear feathers and beads, Asian heroines can slip into their sexy dragon lady dresses. What stereotype could black women possibly wear? (Please don’t punch me in the face, I’m being facetious.)
They at least tried to make up for the fact she was part of an extreme comics minority by making Monica so freaking awesome. I seriously love her. I love that she became Captain Marvel while she was an actual boat captain. I love that her costume is traditionally space-y and not overt-sex-bomb, and I love that her hair actually looks like what you might see on the head of an average black woman (side-eyeing you, Storm). I love that she had no idea there was even another Captain Marvel before her when she took up the cape. I love that everyone realized she was so great that she joined the Avengers immediately, and I loved that her mentors were Captain America and Wasp, since come on, women need to help each other out now and then. In fact, Monica took up the leadership reins immediately after Jan, so there was a decent stretch of incredibly cool women leaders of the Avengers.
The only problem, though, is that people never really understood what to do with Monica. It’s bizarre to me that a hero with space-derived powers, the successor to an alien, got her start battling magical villains and Dracula. It took literally (read: not actually literally) forever for someone to go, ‘Oh, huh, I guess she can fight in outerspace, I guess.’ And she also just kind of faded away after a while, appearing sporadically from the mid ‘90s through early ‘00s. They even screwed her over and reverse-awesomed the situation by giving her name back to an Aryan alien dude, only one who was much, much more of a douche than his dad. (His sister, also a later Captain Marvel, is like 400% cooler.)
Luckily, Nextwave happened and reminded everyone that Monica is great, leading to a slew of sudden appearances. She was also front and center in Marvel Divas, which served to spotlight a bunch of lady hero besties that had fallen by the wayside in terms of maintaining a strong Marvel presence over the years. It’s a great start, but can we please get some more Monica on the page? I don’t care if she’s Photon or Pulsar or what—as long as she’s Monica to the core.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16
Doctor Strange (vol.2) #60
Marvel Team-Up #142-143
Solo Avengers #2
Marvel Fanfare #42
Captain Marvel Special #1
Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #9-10
Captain Marvel (vol.2) #1
Avengers: Unplugged #5
Avengers (vol.3) #16-18; 36-38; 46; 48; 53; 55; 501-503 (renumbered)
Avengers: Infinity #1-4
Marvel Divas #1-4
Firestar (vol.2) #1
I Am An Avenger #2