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If you were wondering just who Marvel’s first female film franchise lead is, wonder no more. Welcome to super school.

So. If you’ve even a passing interest in superheroes, sci-fi or blockbuster movies in general you probably saw that Marvel Studios has revealed its planned next four years of movies – collectively known as Phase 3. The roster included plenty of titles folks were expecting (Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of The Galaxy 2,) plus a few people had been seriously hoping for: Namely Black Panther and Captain Marvel.

Wait. Captain Who? Marvel seriously has a character who’s the “Captain” of their brand-name? And, wait – she’s a… she?

Alright. I also have a companion piece to this one up on The Escapist explaining The Inhumans which… is a little long, because Inhumans. This one, on the other hand? Some of this I can shortcut you on. Case in point: Yes, Marvel has (multiple) characters named “Captain Marvel,” but none of them are the first person to call themselves “Captain Marvel.” The original “Captain Marvel” is actually in books now published by DC but he’s not allowed to use his name. Confused? I don’t blame you – watch this video and it’ll make more sense.

Anyway!

Back in the 60s, Marvel launched a new hero called Captain Marvel. He was an alien spy (for The Kree) named Mar-Vell who was taken for a superhero by humanity and opted to stick around and make it work. He died (of cancer, of all things) and a whole mess of other people have been Captain Marvel since then.

But while he was alive, Mar-Vell of Kree had a human love-interest in the Air Force pilot (and undercover CIA Agent) Carol Danvers. When female counterparts of male heroes came back into fashion in the 1970s, Marvel contrived a storyline whereby Carol’s proximity to various Mar-Vell battles had caused her to absorb super-powers of her own. Imbued with super-strength, flight and the ability to hurl energy bursts from her hands, Carol starred in her own series as Ms. Marvel.

Ms. Marvel’s comics are fondly remembered by 70s Marvel fans, but were only a modest success at the time. Like many “almost hit” heroes with devoted fan and creator followings, she lived on for a time as a member of The Avengers… until she was unceremoniously removed from the team during the book’s 200th issue special by a “cosmic pregnancy” storyline regarded as one of the worst comic-book stories ever published. The details are convoluted, but you can get the Cliff’s Notes version (in two-part video form!) HERE and then HERE.

Suffice to say, Danvers stopped being Ms. Marvel, then adopted several other names before slipping into the ether of comics obscurity. Events spinning out of the 2005 miniseries House of M brought her back into the forefront, at which point she became a fixture of post-Disassembled Avengers teams. Most recently, she’s been promoted officially to the role of Captain Marvel, and it’s this incarnation of the character/franchise – Carol Danvers as The Captain – which Marvel has added to its 2018 release schedule.

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Okay. So this is a big deal because…?

Well, in the immediate, this will be the first “solo” Marvel feature (though from the sounds of things having other characters hanging around more in each others’ films seems to be Marvel’s “thing” going forward) to feature a female lead – and yes, this is 2014 so that does, in fact, matter quite a lot. Marvel has famously had this one in the pipeline for years, but in waiting until after Warner Bros already announced their Wonder Woman movie, they lost the chance to call “firsties” on this particular milestone. Instead, look for them to highlight specifics, like the fact that Captain Marvel will be the “most powerful” person in their Cinematic Universe, or the subtle importance of her title (“Captain” instead of “Ms.”) being a non-gendered moniker.

But apart from sociological concerns? Yeah, it’s still a pretty big deal in terms of what new/different flavors it could bring the Marvel Universe. If the character’s look resembles any of her comic-book costumes (I’m pulling for the classic 70s black “swimsuit” myself, but I image I won’t get my wish) she’ll be the most “classical-superhero” (read: a strong person in tights who flies) looking person in these films, and her alien/outer-space connections might provide us a clue for what this summer became the most pressing question of the entire Marvel Universe: What has to happen for the (suddenly mega-popular) Guardians of The Galaxy to meet up with The Avengers?

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Any other reason?

Well, from an adaptation standpoint it’s going to be probably the most interesting Marvel project since Guardians. It’s hard to imagine that Marvel will decide to go through the convoluted rigmarole of having Mar-Vell show up, establish himself and pass the mantle in the background of multiple other people’s films, so one is probably safe in assuming that Carol will get a standalone origin for her film. It likely won’t need to be that different (captured and experimented-on by The Kree? Chance encounter with an Infinity Stone gone wrong?) but it’ll still be a more substantial ground-up rebuild than folks have come to associate with fan-appeal-first Marvel Studios.

There’s also the matter of how (if at all?) she fits into the ongoing Marvel Studios megastory. The capper to the “Phase 3” reveals was that the third and fourth Avengers movies will encompass a two part story called The Infinity War, and that Part I will feature a new lineup for the team likely not including most (or any) of the original heroes – likely the result of discontent spinning-out of the ominously-titled Captain America 3: Civil War. It’s not hard to imagine Captain Marvel stepping into a slot on that “new” team, especially since setting her up in one or more of the previous films as (at first) “Captain Carol Danvers” with powers/reasons to be revealed later (Marvel Studios has decided to move away from spending entire films on origin stories) wouldn’t be difficult at all.

But the main point I keep coming back to is this: Yes, we needed more woman-led superhero movies, period. But Carol Danvers (by any name) is one of the more interesting characters Marvel could’ve gone with to diversify their Cinematic Universe. I’m beginning to agree with some voices in the film critic press that the nigh-orgasmic cheerleading for what is, at the end of the day, another corporate mega-franchise from film buffs of my generation is a bit worrying at times… but this (plus Black Panther) is a reminder of why we started in the first place.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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