(Before Ms. Marvel, part #1)
Carol Danvers (a.k.a. Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, among others) is one of the major Marvel Comics super-heroines. She is arguably one of the iconic superhuman women, albeit less so than Wonder Woman. Carol first appeared in 1968 as supporting cast. Her début as a super-heroine was in 1977.
There’s far too much to say about her for a single profile. Therefore, writeups.org thoughtfully offers a series of writeups. The sequence goes :
- Carol Danvers (before Ms. Marvel) (part 1) – this here profile.
- Carol Danvers (before Ms. Marvel) (part 2).
- Carol Danvers (before Ms. Marvel) (part 3).
- Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) (profile #4 – year one).
- Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) (The 1980s).
- Binary (Carol Danvers).
- Warbird (Carol Danvers) (Part #1 – 1998/2000).
- Warbird (Carol Danvers) (Part #1 – 1998/2000).
If you are TERRIBLY CONFUSED about super-women with “Marvel” in their name, start by checking this guide to Ms. Marvels.
The first three articles plumb her early life and her roots. This is a complex subject, which leads to primers about various aspects of :
- Making sense of her timeline and ageing rate.
- Aviation history.
- The history of women in military aviation.
- US operations in Afghanistan.
- Air Force special operations.
- Characters aging in the Marvel Universe.
- Boston accents.
- Real Name: Carol Susan Jane Danvers.
- Other Aliases: Colonel Karola Danlovska of the GRU, Miss Daniels, presumably other identities as an intelligence agent, “Cheeseburger” (USAF nickname and callsign), 102-09-8313 (USAF ID number).
- Marital Status: Single.
- Known Relatives: Joseph (father), Marie (mother), Steven J. (brother), Joseph Jr. (brother), Benny (uncle).
- Group Affiliation: Former member of the Air Force and Air Force Strategic Operations, former member of the CIA.
- Base Of Operations: New York City. Formerly Boston and a Cape Cod summer house ; later unrevealed Air Force bases and CIA buildings.
- Height: 5’7” Weight: 120 lbs.
- Eyes: Blue Hair: Blonde
Powers & Abilities
Danvers is a crack Air Force pilot, and one-half of a legendary Cold War military intelligence team. She’s a talented unarmed combatant and markswoman. Carol can reliably beat up about four times her weight in trained agents and heavies with her bare hands.
At this point her fighting style relies mostly on punches and elbow strikes. Being a person ahead of her time, it is quite possible she was an early American trainee in Asian martial arts. Perhaps she was taught a narrow répertoire of jujitsu techniques showed to some US soldiers during the occupation of Japan.
Danvers’ USAF file states that she’s fluent in three languages. English and Russian were demonstrated. She also knows scattered words in a variety of languages, including several Arabics.
Later information implies that Danvers has exceptional genetics. This helps explain her remarkable health, reflexes, senses and coordination. Hers are well above agents who have received similar training.
(It would make good sense if Danvers had inherited an exceptionally high amount of Tuk the Avenger’s DNA. But it’s just a guess, and never was alluded to in the material.)
Danvers is generally armed with a Colt M1911A1 – the standard-issue Air Force handgun back then. She seems to use an aftermarket “plus 1” magazine. When expecting combat, she will often be armed with an early form of the M16 assault rifle.
A lot of the material here is about older US Air Force matters. So let’s have some OLD PEOPLE MUSIC about that.
The life and times of Carol Danvers
In this section we’re going to discuss the chronology of Carol’s life. This is a subject worth about 150 millihawkmans – the standard unit of continuity clusterfudge.
FIRST – we are using the usual WORG stance that the publication dates are the actual dates for the events in the Marvel Universe. See our article about comic book time and aging. So there’s no sliding timescale to be found here. Working with sliding time is impossible.
If the notion of “sliding time” makes your brain boggle, read the article above.
Our suggested material solves all known continuity issues as of this writing. It allows all of her adventures to take place as published. It dodges the usual weird Marvel retcons intended to fit everything within the 10-year timeline. It also helps explain her characterisation.
As usual, the original material is kept to a minimum (and signalled).
Proposed timeline basics
The suggested timeline is that Carol :
- Is born in 1938.
- Joins the Air Force in 1956.
- Joins the CIA in 1963 (her CIA cases are pretty firmly set in the early 60s in the published flashbacks).
- Joins NASA in 1967 (the publication date).
- Leaves NASA in 1975 and becomes the editor of Woman magazine in 1977 (the publication date).
Beyond the publication dates, there are clear data points establishing Danvers as being quite older than “modern” super-heroes.
- We once see Warren Worthington III, aged about 12, in the same scene as Danvers, aged about 26.
- We also know that Carol was busted out of Lubyanka when Rogue was about nine years old.
- She once (Avengers vol. 3 #6) notes that she’s significantly older than the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff).
Lastly Danvers seems to be of roughly the same age as the Black Widow, who has a documented anagathic factor, whenever they cross paths.
Why doesn’t Danvers age ?
This chronology leads to the conclusion that Danvers’ ageing is considerably slowed down, and/or that she was rejuvenated.
Her ageing likely starts slowing down in 1958. Thus, in 1977 she looks about 28 or 30 whereas by our timeline she should be pushing 40. In 2007 she can’t look a day older than 32 whereas by our timeline she would be nearly 70.
No age reduction factor is ever mentioned in the primary sources. Yet if we apply the *hypothetical* timeline discussed above, there has to be something.
There is a number of plausible hypotheticals to explain the slowed ageing:
- Danvers has been stated to have near-perfect genetics, with great health and a peak human potential. In the Marvel Universe, it might be the only explanation necessary.
- The US government may have been able to replicate the Kudrin treatment used by the KGB as part of the Black Widow program. If so Danvers would have been an obvious choice as a recipient.
- Carol may have received an emergency transfusion from Nick Fury during a CIA mission. Back then, the effects of the Infinity Formula weren’t documented. With her genetics, Danvers would have started secreting the Formula on her own after just one exposure.
- It is entirely possible that she was rejuvenated when she acquired the Ms. Marvel powers, and later on when she became Binary. And possibly later on still when she started manifesting Binary-like powers again. There are reasons to believe that each such transformation came with significant physiological improvements.
- And of course you could simply be using our Leòn Genetic Sequence explanation for the effects of age on super-heroes comic books characters.
An age suppression factor would also help explain the constant comments about how young Carol looks all throughout her 20s. For instance she presumably still looked 22 when she was 26.
Wait, a lady military pilot during the 1950s ?
Our suggested, hypothetical timeline has Carol serving in the US Air Force during the mid-1950s. Furthermore we see her in the comics conducting CIA work as an Air Force veteran in the 1960s.
However, most readers will have noticed that Carol is a woman. Is that historically credible ?
The answer is a cautious “yes”. Female military pilots were already well-established at that point. Though Carol was certainly ahead of her times, much of the original trailblazing had already been done. Here are key facts to bring context to Ms. Danvers’ military career.
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps appeared in 1942. It became the full status Women’s Army Corps by the following year.
The WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots) are also created in 1943. The WASPs have roots in forerunner organisations such as the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron ) created in 1942.
The goal of these organisations was to face a shortage in manpower. Their solution is to have women occupy non-combat positions to free up men for the front lines.
The WASPs, under the leadership of the famous Jackie Cochran (eventually a Lt.-Col. in the Air Force Reserves), were all confirmed pilots. Whereas a few hundred hours were required to qualify for an equivalent male pilot, the average WASP servicewoman had about 1,400 hours of flying experience under her belt before joining. One of the key drivers of the effort, Nancy Harkness Love , had been a test pilot before the war.
After the war, the Integration Act For Women In The Armed Services was signed, and Women in the Air Force (WAF) was organised. WAF had female personnel serving with the USAF as full status military personnel, though in a limited role.
Carol’s career in this historical context
In our suggested timeline, Carol would have joined the WAF under the command of Mary Jo Shelly.
Despite Shelly’s efforts the roles available to WAF staff were still usually limited to traditionally female roles, such as nurses or stenographers. But in practice, it depended on how liberal the local USAF commander was. Some commanders opened the air transport and ferrying jobs to women. After all, it had been amply proven during WWII that female pilots could do the job.
Some informal arrangements were also made. For instance J. Cochran broke the wall of sound in a 1953 unofficial test flight. Such precedents justify a flashback scene where Danvers is seen test flying an Air Force warbird during her WAF career.
Interestingly, the aforementioned Ms. Cochran went on to intensely lobby the Mercury 13 program to have highly trained lady pilots become astronauts. Several such women got huge scores on these tests. In the Marvel Universe that would certainly have included Carol Danvers acing all tests thrown at her, helping to explain her later recruitment by NASA.
Danvers’ career can thus be explained by an exceptionally liberal USAF commanding officer (Michael Rossi) allowing a top WAF pilot (Danvers) to take a number of unconventional roles. She presumably did a mix of official and unofficial flights.
Additional notes about integration in US forces in the MU
As a side note, US armed forces integration seems to have been more advanced in the Marvel Universe than in the real world. For racial integration there are several high-profile multi-racial commando units early on during WWII. Gabriel Jones as a Howling Commando is a prime, early example.
(In the series Flags of our fathers, Gabe Jones notes that he was “the first Negro to kill Nazis alongside White American soldiers”. This was specifically because Nicholas Joseph Fury had been allowed to recruit his commandos from any unit. Thus including the so-called “Negro units”.)
It also seems that women were allowed in or near combat theatres during the Việt Nam war, rather than by 1994 as in the real world. This part is implied by Marauders member Arclight, though her role and status in that conflict are unclear.
It is also possible, especially in the Marvel Universe, that the top WAF soldiers and officers were occasionally tapped, off the record, for special missions such as intelligence work. Some such initiatives may even have been intended as a counter to the growing legend of the Black Widow.
About her 411th shoulder patch, and the rank insignia
In a flashback set near the end of the era covered by this writeup, Carol is clearly seen wearing a 411th Test Wing insignia. In our suggested timeline this group was still called the 411th Fighter Group . Perhaps Rossi commanded the 411th (which, back then, was in Michigan).
Interestingly, the 411th started working with NASA in 1978, right after Carol left NASA in our suggested timeline. Perhaps some political horse-trading was involved.
Danvers is consistently described as a Major with the USAF. This is a senior rank, and is normally granted by a board decision after nine or ten years of superior service. The likely explanation is simply that Carol had a meteoric rise in the ranks.
Whilst this may seem far-fetched, she did earn a Medal of Honor — the highest military decoration — and this may have occurred during her career as a pilot.
To sum it up — in our suggested, *hypothetical* timeline it is reasonable to assume that Danvers was a gifted WAF pilot. She was assigned to the 411th Fighter Group after scoring highly on tests and being personally recommended by the WAF.
The 411th’s commander, Colonel Rossi, was a friend of Shelly. He supported WAF pilots taking an active role, which allowed Danvers to shine and demonstrate superior proficiency as a pilot. She even did unofficial test flights and record-setting flights.
During one such assignment (for instance ferrying an experimental Stark jet fighter abroad for field tests), something exceptional happened. Danvers demonstrated valour above and beyond the call of duty, earning her a Medal of Honor and a spectacular promotion. It also gave her the freedom to act as one of the boys among the 411th.
2012 EDIT – amusingly the 2012 Captain Marvel series starring Carol uses many of these historical elements. But to preserve the official chronology they are associated with an aged friend of Danvers. This series, published well after this profile was done, is still too recent for us to integrate material from it though.
About this “Strategic Operations” military intelligence shop
The intelligence unit Danvers joins after she stops working as a pilot is called “Strategic Operations” in the comics. As far as we know, no such unit — or even vaguely similar unit — actually existed the Air Force during the late 1950s.
Here are some paths to give a patina of historical verisimilitude to this part of her career :
- Recent flashbacks renamed “Strategic Operations” to “Special Operations”. Air Force Special Operations actually exists, but was created in 1968 to face specific issues in Việt Nam. In the Marvel Universe AFSO could have appeared much earlier than in the real world. Perhaps after a military clash with the Yellow Claw in the 1950s.
- Rossi and Danvers may have been agents of the USAFSS (USAF Security Services , the predecessor of Air Force Intelligence). Their role would have been very different from the rest of the organisation, though. It does not seem like a credible possibility.
- They may have been part of a top secret predecessor of the 4400th CCTS (Combat Crew Training Squadron), which would become the first Air Commandos unit operating since World War II. In the real world, the 4400th does not appear before 1961 . But in the Marvel Universe, given the smashing success of commando units such as the Howling Commandos during WWII, it is possible that the USAF kept an air commando group running after the 1946 demobilisation.
- In Contest of Champions II, Rogue states to Carol “you were search-and-rescue”. This might suggest that Carol’s outfit was an experimental offshoot of the United States Air Force Pararescue unit . Back then, Pararescue likely still had some former OSS troopers.
The agency Carol joins after “Strategic Operations” is almost certainly the CIA. While the DIA would have been more logical, she is repeatedly seen working with known CIA agents such as Nick Fury. When Danvers states that she’s with the DOD, Wolverine is certain that she’s dissembling and she’s with the Agency. Would Wolverine ever lie to us ?
A recent clarification from Marvel is that she was USAF all along and only pretended to be CIA, DIA and DOD. Given the poor relationships among the alphabet soup and her close ties with CIA agents, this secondary source explanation seems… odd.
Rossi was also just retconed as having been CIA all along and grooming Carol to be a CIA mole within the USAF. But this was a partly-explained shock ending as the series was changing its status quo, so we’re not quite certain what to do with these revelations. Which stands a good chance of being ignored.
That flashback in Afghanistan, part 1
As the v1 of this writeup was finalised (closing weeks of 2008), a big flashback in Afghanistan occurs. It is… problematic in any timeline. Said flashback is set during the 2001+ war in Afghanistan. It starts on an Uzbekistan airbase from where US forces are launching flights into Afghanistan. Therefore I assume it cannot take place before early 2002.
Thus, according to this flashback, Carol’s entire career — including her time in Strategic Operations with Rossi, her NASA position, etc. — is now supposed to take place between late 2002 and late 2008. This of course retcons just about everything we know about the character.
Furthermore this flashback completely changes the point at which she meets Rossi. This makes previous stories impossible. It also implies very weird things about X-Men and Avengers history, but that’s a normal result of the sliding 10-year timeline.
Oy gevaldt . Does this wreck the proposed, hypothetical timeline above ?
That flashback in Afghanistan, part 2
The fix is to have these events take place in the same area, but in 1963. Back then there was a significant US intelligence military presence around central Asia as part of the Cold War containment polices with the CENTO alliance (formerly the Pact of Baghdad organisation).
At that point the US and USSR are still, to an extent, vying for “influence” over Afghanistan. Yet it has become clear that the USSR is winning that one, and the Afghanistan/Pakistan relationship has disintegrated.
Thus, the events can take place as seen in the flashback with but very minor changes. Carol would have been flying from a Pakistani airbase over Afghanistan as a spy plane mission. It might have been Cold War CIA work to contain the Soviets in Afghanistan, or as support for the Pakistani military dictatorship to monitor the frontier.
The plane she was flying could easily have been Stark’s competition for the Lockheed A-12 (a direct precursor of the famous SR-71 Blackbird). Tony Stark could easily have been on a tour of US military forces in Asia – the day after meeting Danvers in Pakistan he leaves for Việt Nam, and the rest is history.
I love it when a plan comes together.
This profile is continued in part #2 !
Pointlessly detailed addendum about discrepancies
Our suggested timeline allows everything to take place as published, without retcons, at the date it was published. But there’s a handful of discrepancies.
Here they are – you can skip this list if you’re not a continuity maniac.
Uncanny X-Men #164 (origin of Binary)
This one mentions Carol going to see an Apollo launch during her teenage years. Since the first Apollo launch was in 1966, this was at publication time an attempt to re-frame things into a 10-year timeline. But of course that attempt is now obsolete and the date topical .
In the timeline implied by this issue, Carol would have been born around 1950. In the History section we suggest replacing that launch with another landmark aerospace program, the X-Plane test flights.
Ms. Marvel volume 2 issue 25
We see a flashback at Cape Canaveral. It seems to take place in the 1980s since it involves a space shuttle. In the timeline implied in this issue, Carol was thus born around 1960.
In our suggested timeline this event would have occurred around 1971, so we just have to postulate the existence of a space-shuttle-like one-of-a-kind prototype at Cape Canaveral in the early 70s. Which in the Marvel Universe sounds credible. For verisimilitude one may mention the Boeing Dyna-Soar (cancelled in 1963) or even the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-105 .
Uncanny X-Men #182
An issue set in 1981 (right after Rogue erases Carol’s mind) gives Danvers’s age as 29. This seems about right for her physiological age.
Before the FF: Grimm and Logan
In flashbacks that seem set in the early 1960s, Carol, Logan and Ben Grimm are flying a Northrop flying wing as a recon aircraft.
However, the one prototype used for recon flights was scrapped in 1953. This is not necessarily a problem, since it is indicated in the story that this plane was a secret prototype, and was off the records. We’ll assume that in the Marvel Universe the flying wing program was secretly continued after 1953, with a new prototype being released to the USAF under top secret conditions in the mid-60s.
In the same flashback it is indicated that the rifles in the weapons locker are the brand-new model of assault rifle the military just acquired. These look very much like early M16s. Our suggested timeline has the flying wing mission take place around 1964 and, conveniently enough, the USAF adopted the M16 as its assault rifle in… 1964.
This would make the rifles in the flying wing’s lockers trial models that were retained by the USAF when the contract was signed. Thus this flashback works seamlessly with our timeline, given the small assumption above.
Source of Character: Marvel Universe.
Helper(s): roguetamlin, Darci, wikipedia, Chaplain Chris, Ryan Jones’ writeup .