Essays · Movies

Captain Marvel’s Powers Explained

She definitely does NOT transform when she says “shazam.” Here’s a quick and easy guide to Captain Marvel’s powers.
Captain Marvel Powers Wide
By  · Published on March 6th, 2019

In this series…

Captain Marvel is what I refer to as a “brand-name superhero.” The character’s origin can be traced all the way back to when Shazam’s original name trademark expired at DC Comics back in the 1960s and Stan Lee swiped it for Marvel, for obvious reasons. As such, when it comes to Captain Marvel, the name usually tends to be the most important thing. Indeed, it was the whole reason the character was created, and as such, sometimes Captain Marvel feels like a walking advertisement for the entire comic book brand.

It follows, then, that Captain Marvel’s powers aren’t particularly evident on first impression. Superman is, eh, super, Batman is obsessed with bats, Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider. But what does Captain Marvel do, anyway? Captain a vessel? Be marvelous? Presumably, these things are part of the package, but Captain Marvel’s powers are bit more nuanced than that.

The original Captain Marvel was actually a man with the extremely obvious and somewhat cringy name Mar-Vell. A non-blue member of the Kree race, he came to the planet Earth for very Mass Effect reasons: apparently, our planet happens to be very close to a space-warp of some sort. He proceeded to impersonate a recently deceased senator for his secret identity and his base super-strength (because the Kree home planet has higher gravity, of course) led him to become a sort of store-brand Superman.

But we don’t care about Mar-Vell, precisely because he’s boring. Today we’re going to be focusing on Carol Danvers, the protagonist of the upcoming Captain Marvel film (portrayed by Brie Larson). Carol is decidedly more interesting and badass than Mar-Vell, and her backstory work as an Air Force officer put her in contact with a number of other Marvel characters, like our Oscar-winning buddy Logan and Ben Grimm.

Carol gets her first taste of meta-humanity through a very Dr. Manhattan-type event, where some science thing explodes and gives her superpowers. This event, which doesn’t seem to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe version’s backstory, grants her fairly generic Kree powers — the kind Mar-Vell had, including super-strength and all the bonus features that come with it, like toughness and stamina. Additionally, she has her own variation on Spidey senses and resistance to poison thanks to her mixed Kree/human DNA (which is either a result of the aforementioned science thing explosion or part of her base genetic makeup, depending on how far back you go into comics history). With this basic powerset, Carol Danvers became Ms. Marvel, a Kree warrior who was almost like Danvers’ inner Hulk; Ms. Marvel had a different personality from Carol and joined the Avengers in 1978, serving as their second official female member, next to Wasp.

Carol Danvers Earth From Life Of Captain Marvel Vol Bartel Variant Cover

Jen Bartel / Marvel Comics

Carol’s 1977 solo title, Ms. Marvel, set her up as a distinctly feminist hero, although it must be said that this was 1970s feminism written by men. As such, there was some controversy surrounding what was done with the character in the 80s. Ms. Marvel was subject to some serious Killing Joke treatment in The Avengers #200, where she was kidnapped and raped. The supposed feminist-ness of the Ms. Marvel character was brought into question, with her more broadly and overt feminist leanings contrasted against things like the events of that infamous comic book issue and her costume, which was obviously designed by a dude. The public reaction to these developments led to some major retcons, and after some adventures with the X-Men, Ms. Marvel became Binary.

As Binary, Carol got a major power upgrade. Her transformation into the new hero was the result of some Brood experiments that linked her with a “white hole,” which gave her some really insane and potent capabilities. These Binary powers definitely appear to be part of the MCU Captain Marvel’s moves, and will likely tie into how she saves the day in Avengers: End Game as they give her power over heat, electromagnetism, gravity, and the ability to travel faster than light (i.e., the time-travel power that Samuel L. Jackson accidentally spoiled) and survive in a vacuum. This makes her an ideal “space-hero,” since she doesn’t need to find a ship every time she wants to hop planets, and if Star Wars has taught us anything, I would hope it would be that light-speed travel is pretty important for being in space.

In 1992, the Avengers characters got a major crossover titled Operation: Galactic Storm, which involved the earthling Avengers getting involved in some space politics. I can’t imagine that Avengers: End Game won’t be adapting some elements of this crossover, and Carol Danvers as Binary plays a huge part in this storyline. Carol fell out of popularity in the 90s, but the New Millennium brought her back as a key player in Marvel Comics, first in 2005’s House of M crossover, when she first took on the Captain Marvel hero name, and later in the 2008 Secret Invasion storyline, which is where the Skrulls that our movie Captain Marvel is set to fight come out to play.

But it was the July 2012 Captain Marvel soft-reboot, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, that really cemented the Captain Marvel that we’re going to see in theaters. Along with a new haircut and a better costume, Danvers got to keep access to her Binary powers, albeit on a smaller scale than when she was an X-Person. For those of you not keeping track, at this point our girl Carol has: super-strength and attendant secondary powers can blast stuff with anime-style stellar energy and absorb the same, and has FTL flight and resistance to a lack of atmosphere. Even Thor was winded after being blasted out into the vacuum of space in Infinity War. Captain Marvel is not hindered by such petty concerns like breathing.

DeConnick was the first woman to be a regular writer for Captain Marvel, which is… strange, for a supposedly feminist series and character, but she absolutely killed it, and the Carol Danvers of the new millennium is perhaps the best known Captain Marvel, with the most consistent characterization and well-defined power set. She’s even got the power to go Super-Saiyan and regain her full Binary powers with exposure to enough energy. When Feige and other Marvel insiders talk about how she’s one of the most powerful MCU heroes, they’re probably not kidding; she’s gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk in comics before, and she’s in a smaller weight class to boot.

Beyond that, Carol Danvers is effectively the go-between for Earth and Space in Marvel canon, so her presence serves as a vital link in the chain that ties all these movies together, and I for one am excited to see her kick some Skrull butt in Captain Marvel, which drops on the 8th.

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Hans Qu is an animator with Strong Opinions about animation. Along with said opinions, his art and animation can be found on his Bird App account: @NerdyChineseBoy