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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Kamala Khan

Earlier this month I overviewed the Second Wave origins of Jane Foster, Carol Danvers, and Jenifer Walters. This week their characters transform even further.

Captain Marvel

Because Captain Marvel never became a popular character (Marvel published Captain Marvel only every other month before cancelling the series after #62 [May 1979]), Marvel allowed Jim Starlin to script and pencil the 1982 graphic novel Death of Captain Marvel, in which Mar-Vell dies of cancer.

Unlike the vast majority of superheroes whose apparent deaths are retconned as non-deaths, Mar-Vell is likely the only major Marvel superhero not to be restored after more than forty years. The editorial decision prompted Marvel to create a new character, presumably to maintain control of the trademark. Scripter Roger Stern and penciler John Romita, Jr. introduced Monica Rambeau in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (October 1982) who transforms into an unrelated superhero and adopts the name “Captain Marvel” with no apparent reference to Mar-Vell.

Though Third Wave feminism begins several years later (arguably when Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989), because Rambeau is a Black woman, she reflects the later shift away from feminism focused primarily on white women. The vast majority of Marvel’s female superheroes, however, remained white.

After featuring Rambeau in The Avengers during the 80s, Marvel changed the character’s superhero name multiple times, applying “Captain Marvel” to other characters (including briefly Mar-Vell’s son, Genis-Vel), before Carol Danvers (who had also undergone multiple name changes) was rechristened “Captain Marvel” in scripter Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and penciller Dexter Soy’s Captain Marvel #1 (September 2012).

Deepening Danvers’ claim to her new name, scripter Margaret Stohl further retconned Danvers’ origin beginning in The Life of Captain Marvel #1 (September 2018), revealing that the Kree device that Thomas scripted in 1969 and that Conway retconned in 1977 to have duplicated Mar-Vell’s powers in Danvers had instead awakened Danvers’ own powers inherited from her Kree mother who had defected and lived as an Earth woman.

Ms. Marvel

Since Danvers’ assuming the name “Captain Marvel” left the name “Ms. Marvel” unused, editor Sana Amanat assigned scripter G. Willow Wilson and penciller Adrian Alphona to create Kamala Kahn in Ms. Marvel #1 (February 2014).

Like Amanat, Kahn is a New Jersey teenager of Pakistani immigrants. Because Kahn idolizes Carol Danvers, when her Inhuman superpowers emerge, she initially shapeshifts to look like Danvers (in the Ms. Marvel costume introduced by artist Dave Cockrum in 1978) before assuming an appearance of her own (which included the scarf of John Buscema’s original 1977 design).

Thor

Later the same year, Jane Foster assumed the title role in scripter Jason Aaron’s and penciller Russell Dauterman’s Thor Vol. 4, #1 (Oct. 2014), which replaced the previous Thor series that had featured the original character (though Thor’s Donald Blake identity had been discarded since 1983).

After Thor’s hammer chose Foster, she assumed the name “Thor” when in her superhero form, and Thor became known by the full name “Thor Odinson,” retconning “Thor” as having always been an abbreviation of that full name. Aaron’s Foster now calls him “Odinson,” explaining to him as she succumbs to cancer:

‘There must always be a Thor.’ That’s what I said right before I lifted Mjolnir and was transformed for the first time. I was honored to carry that mantle for a while. Honored that you bestowed upon me your own name. But it’s time you reclaimed who you are. […] There must always be a Thor. And now … once again … it must be you. […]  The hammer made me the Thunderer. But not you. You did that yourself. Odinson, look at me …”

Foster remains the title character until Mighty Thor Vol 2 #706 (June 2018), when she dies (though soon resurrected), and Thor Odinson returns beginning Thor Vol. 5 #1 (August 2018).

She-Hulk

After her initial series, The Savage She-Hulk, concluded on #25 (March 1982), Jennifer Walters appeared in multiple team titles and eponymous titles, including: The Sensational She-Hulk #1-60 (May 1989-February 1994), She-Hulk #1-12 (May 2004-April 2005), She-Hulk Vol. 2 #1-38 (December 2005—April 2009), and She-Hulk Vol. 3 #1-12 (April 2014-April 2015).

All-New Savage She-Hulk #1-4 (June 2009-September 2009) features a different character (a time-traveling Hulk descendant from an alternate future timeline) in the title role. Marvel had also introduced Red Hulk in 2008 and Red She-Hulk in 2009, expanding “Hulk” as a category rather than as a proper name.

When Walters assumed the title role in Mariko Tamaki’s Hulk Vol. 4 #1-11 (February 2017-December 2017), it was the first time she was featured in a series without She-Hulk in its title, and also the first time a Hulk title did not feature Banner, who at the time was dead (and not yet resurrected).

The trend continued with Totally Awesome Hulk #1-23 (February 2016-November 2017), which featured Amadeus Cho (who removed the Hulk from Banner and placed it himself) in the title role, after which the original character was known as “Banner Hulk,” appearing next in Generations: Banner Hulk & Totally Awesome Hulk #1 (October 2017).

As with Jane Foster who is no longer called “Thor” (Foster is currently “Valkyrie,” another superhero name and identity with a complex history I won’t try to cover here), Jennifer Walters is no longer called “Hulk.” Reverting back to her earlier name, Walters was next featured in She-Hulk #159-163 (January 2018-May 2018) and currently in She-Hulk Vol. 4 beginning with #1 (March 2022). The latest title coincides with the Disney+ series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, which premiered in August 2022. She-Hulk Vol. 4 #12 is scheduled to be released in April 2023.

Reboots

The MCU versions of Foster, Danvers, Walters, and Kahn are reboots of these originals, condensing and altering their complex comics and inconsistently feminist histories.

In all four cases, the original superhero name (Hulk, Thor, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel) began as a proper noun that referenced one specific (and usually male) character, before the name later became either a transferable title referencing one person (of any gender) at a time or a kind of category referencing two (or more) people (of any gender).

  • “Hulk” originally meant only Banner Hulk, but now “Banner Hulk” means only Banner Hulk, and “Hulk” means multiple people including both Banner Hulk and Jenifer Walters.
  • “Thor” originally meant only “Thor Odinson,” but now “Thor Odinson” means only Thor Odinson, and “Thor” can mean different people including formerly Jane Foster and currently Thor Odinson.
  • “Captain Marvel” originally meant only Mar-Vell, but now “Captain Mar-Vell” means only Mar-Vell, and “Captain Marvel” can mean different people including formerly Mar-Vell and currently Carol Danvers.
  • “Ms. Marvel” originally meant only Carol Danvers, but now “Ms. Marvel” can mean different people including formerly Carol Danvers and currently Kamala Khan.

While the trend is toward gender-inclusive names (with “Hulk,” “Thor,” and “Captain Marvel” formerly male-specific but now gender-neutral), “Ms. Marvel” was and remains female-specific. That’s an artefact of the title originally meaning roughly “female version of Captain Marvel,” just as “She-Hulk” meant something like “female version of Hulk.”

Oddly in the MCU, Carol Danvers never used the name “Ms. Marvel,” and, even more oddly, neither does Kamala Kahn. Ms. Marvel is the title of a TV series whose main character never adopts a permanent superhero name. So the MCU includes Ms. Marvel but not Ms. Marvel.

Marvel Entertainment also chose to keep Jenifer Walters superhero name “She-Hulk,” despite Tamaki’s 1917 Hulk comics influence on the TV series. As a result, the MCU is arguably a feminist wave behind Marvel Comics.

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