Ms. Marvel-ous

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Disaster Strikes

For over a year, Ms. Marvel’s tenure with the Avengers went relatively okay. Then the 200th anniversary issue happened. It turned into a hell of a mess, as those of you familiar with it should well know. For those unfamiliar, you can catch up here (because it’s so terrible I don’t even want to suffer the anguish of recapping it myself). Don’t worry, the rest of us will be waiting here for you when you finish.

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Now editorially speaking, why would you get your panties in a bunch over a story from What-friggin’-If? Those stories are one-offs and exist outside regular continuity anyway! You’re going to rearrange your big plans for a major anniversary issue of Avengers because of something that happened in What If? Really??? In a year or two, no one’s even going to remember that What If? story anyway. Trust me, even I don’t remember it, and I remember everything!

And then the story you come up with to replace it is one wherein Carol decides to go off with the rapist that impregnated her? And the rest of the Avengers let her? Ugh. Like I said, it was a hell of a mess—a monstrosity, really. Unfortunately, it would get worse.

Chris Claremont had basically written every issue of Ms. Marvel since he came aboard the book, plus the Marvel Team-Up stories, and apparently felt a deep attachment to the character. So, as that CBR article noted, he was pretty pissed when he saw Avengers #200. So much so that he wrote an entire Avengers annual (#10, 1981) to highlight just how stupid and criminally insensitive the team had behaved in that two-hundredth issue. In its own way, this was nearly as bad and as damaging Avengers #200 had been.

What made the behavior of the Avengers in that anniversary issue so ridiculous and stupid is that every reader knew that the characters would have never acted this way if they had just been written properly. Claremont’s story just serves remind everyone that this horribly written story exists and is canon. Of all the times to decide NOT to retcon, THIS was the time? The better road(s) to take, clearly, would have been to either retcon that sucker out of existence or just ignore it altogether.

But they didn’t do that.

Missing Puzzle Pieces

There were some other problematic things with that annual.

As noted earlier, Ms. Marvel #23 (Apr. 1979) was the last issue published, but there were two more issues produced that went unpublished—#’s 24 and 25 (cover dates would have been June and August, 1979, respectively). Thirteen years later, these two issues would at last see the light of day in, respectively, Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2, #10 (Summer/Jul. 1992) and #11 (Fall/Oct. 1992). Kinda poetic, as Carol Danvers made her comics debut in the original volume of Marvel Super-Heroes.

Back in 1981, however, these stories (plus, I’m guessing, a plot or two for a couple more issues Claremont had likely written) were still sitting in a drawer in the Marvel offices somewhere, unseen by the eyes of the readers. But Claremont seemed to write this annual as if those stories had actually been published. Last time we saw Carol, she was moving into Limbo with her rapist/wannabe boyfriend, but as Avengers Annual #10 opens, Spider-Woman is saving her from falling off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. This left readers (or at least me) with a whole lot of questions. Yeah, they tried to fill you in as they went along, but it felt awkward.

In those then-unpublished stories, the aborted #24 shows Ms. Marvel training with Iron Man and then fighting Sabretooth in the subway. Then the aborted #25 shows her discovering that her shrink (and sometimes-sorta boyfriend) Michael Barnett has been violently murdered by Mystique (though Ms. Marvel did not know her name yet at this point). It’s this act that sets her on the road to the events that will occur in the annual.

The annual is the first “official” comics appearance of the mutant Rogue and she is the center of the plot, pretty much. As mentioned, they try to catch you up (to some extent) regarding her background and how her powers work, but right off the bat, Rogue’s power doesn’t work as it’s meant to. The way Rogue’s mutant power normally functions is that she temporarily absorbs powers and memories via skin-to-skin contact, but here—the first time comics readers get to see Rogue and the very first time they see her absorption powers in action—Ms. Marvel is stripped of all her powers and memories, permanently. As this is supposed to be an unusual happenstance, it would’ve helped if Rogue could have appeared elsewhere a few times prior to this story so we had a chance to get to know all this going in.

So Professor X is called in to use his telepathic powers to help Carol get some of those memories back and restore some semblance of her sense of self. Meanwhile, in a rather appropriate twist, Rogue will now suffer identity issues similar to those that once plagued Ms. Marvel, as she will have the Carol Danvers psyche sharing space in her head alongside her own. Strangely, she didn’t appear to absorb any of Mar-Vell’s old memories, which she should have, as those were still in Carol’s head at the time. Why didn’t this happen? Dunno. She also didn’t gain her seventh sense powers. Why? Dunno. And she can fly, even though this power was supposed to be granted by that costume webbing mentioned earlier and not a biological power. How can this be? Dunno. Never explained.

Back to the main plot: The Avengers come in and try to find Carol’s attacker and wind up thwarting a jailbreak of the (new) Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, though Mystique and Rogue manage to avoid capture. Then at the end, the Avengers pay Carol a visit at the X-Men’s place in upstate New York (where she’s staying after recovering from her encounter with Rogue). Carol rips the Avengers a new one for being so outrageously insensitive and they basically respond with “duh, sorry we so stoopid.” And they part ways.

Land of Confusion

Carol Danvers would become a supporting player in the pages of X-Men at this point, due to the relationship established with them via Professor Xavier helping her recover her memories (comic-book reason) and because Chris Claremont was the writer of X-Men and wanted to retain control over the Carol Danvers character (real-world reason).

Fair warning: We’re entering the mid-80s now, when the quality of mainstream superheroics published by the Big Two plummeted right into the sewer and basically never recovered.

X-Men #164. Note Binary’s costume is basically the same design as the previous Ms. Marvel costume, with just a couple minor tweaks and a fresh color scheme.

Carol’s association with the X-Men would lead her to becoming a superhero again in X-Men #164 (Dec. 1982). Carrying the energy of a star, her power is now on the cosmic scale, and she takes the name Binary (as in binary star system). At the close of this storyline, where the X-Men are battling the alien menace of the Brood, Carol is poised to join the group, but balks when the Professor allows Rogue to join their ranks. So she takes off into outer space with the Star Jammers.

Carol’s comic appearances are sporadic for a long stretch after this—about ten years. Then, in 1992’s “Galactic Storm” crossover, she has her powers greatly reduced and resumes her Ms. Marvel identity back on Earth. She can still shoot energy blasts though (a power she gained as Binary), so her powers are a bit different than they were. (Are you keeping track of all this, readers? If so, you’re ahead of me!)

By 1998, she rejoins the Avengers under the name “Warbird,” but wears the exact same Dave Cockrum design she last wore as Ms. Marvel. Writer Kurt Busiek also decided to give her an alcohol problem—like she hadn’t been through enough already.

Now there was a lot to like about that Busiek-Pérez run on Avengers, but there was also a lot of stuff that was just awful. (None of the awful came from Pérez though, whose art was never less than mouth-wateringly gorgeous.) I’ve previously talked about Busiek’s treatment of the Vision and Scarlet Witch, and his take on Carol Danvers (ain’t callin’ her “Warbid,” nope, nuh-uh) was just as bad. She gets suspended from the team in the aftermath of the “Live Kree or Die” storyline; then gets involved with a different time-traveling version of “Marcus,” her rapist, in the big Kang arc that ended Busiek’s run. (Once again we’re reminded that the awful story from Avengers #200 happened and is canon. Please stop doing this, guys.)

But more importantly, after the events of Avengers #200—and then that Avengers annual—why in the name of sanity would Carol Danvers ever re-join the friggin’ Avengers at all? In a universe where that story is canon, the very idea is absolute madness.

Anyway, from here things deteriorate further—just as the whole industry seems to deteriorate further. Carol plays big roles in awful crossover arcs like “Civil War” and “Secret Invasion” (though she’s gone back to being called Ms. Marvel, at least), and at one point, Karla Sofen (aka Moonstone) assumes the identity of Ms. Marvel. There are Mar-Vell clones and other atrocities along the way until she assumes the role of Captain Marvel herself in 2012. Now I think I’ve made this observation once or twice before, but it bears repeating: A woman putting aside the name and identity she established for herself so she can instead adopt the name of her male counterpart… isn’t that kinda the opposite of a liberated woman?

Kamala Khan

After abandoning the name to become Captain Marvel, a new character, Kamala Khan, assumed the name of Ms. Marvel in 2014. She was a teenaged girl, a Pakistani-American and a Muslim. I kept up with her Ms. Marvel series for a time (a rarity for me, keeping up with anything new these days) and was rather entertained by it for a while. But the name “Ms. Marvel” is kinda wasted on her, as any feminist issues with the character will always take a back seat to her cultural and religious issues. I’d rather see her called something like “Marvel Girl” instead—Lord knows Jean Grey will never be using the name again.

Some quick research reveals that she’s been through five series in five years—four volumes of Ms. Marvel and now a new series that just got its start last month, The Magnificent Ms. Marvel. I saw the first issue of this latest series and the premise hasn’t changed much at all, nor the supporting cast, so I have no idea why they needed to re-launch her series this many times. Personally speaking, I gave up following the character when her narrative kept getting interrupted by one company crossover after another. This is part of the reason for the many relaunches, no doubt, but five? In just five years?

Whatever the case, it’s clear that the story behind all these Ms. Marvels, or even just Carol Danvers alone, is a bloated, labyrinthine, soap-opera mess. I wouldn’t want to be the guy to have to whittle it down to something akin to my original introduction to the character in that issue of Spidey Super Stories. It would be as Sisyphian a task as any I could possibly imagine.

To Ms., With Love

To this day, I miss my Ms. Marvel. She’d get a seventh sense vision, transform in a flash, and then punch bad guys in the face. Lots of ‘em. A ton of punches to a ton of bad-guy faces. She was so much fun. But she’s gone now, along with most of joy comics once represented for me.

Sorry to end on a downer folks, but as Walter Cronkite used to say, “that’s the way it is.”

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