Captain Marvel (Kree name Mar-Vell, Earth alias Walter Lawson) is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and designed by artistGene Colan and first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967). He is the original bearer of the name “Captain Marvel” within the Marvel brand.
The character debuted during the Silver Age of comic books and made many subsequent appearances, including a self-titled series and the second volume of the Marvel Spotlight series until his death in 1982, which has since remained largely permanent within mainstream continuity and most other media, with Carol Danvers becoming the primarily featured Captain Marvel in the modern age.
Captain Marvel was ranked 24th in IGN‘s list of “The Top 50 Avengers”.
From 1940 to 1953 Fawcett Comics published comics featuring their popular character Captain Marvel, and thus held the trademark to the name “Captain Marvel”. Fawcett ceased publishing the comics in 1953 due to a 1951 copyright infringement suit from DC Comics, and their trademark ostensibly lapsed. Taking advantage of this situation, Marvel debuted its new Captain Marvel character in 1967 and quickly trademarked the name. Marvel was not the first company to try to capitalize on Fawcett’s lapsed trademark; in 1966 the small publisher M. F. Enterprises released a short-lived Captain Marvel series. Due to the title containing its company name, Marvel had convinced M.F. Enterprises to cease their Captain Marvel series after five issues, paying M.F. a settlement of $4,500.
Marvel’s character debuted as the lead feature in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967), written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Gene Colan. Although usually credited as co-creator, Colan had no involvement with Captain Marvel’s conception, and in fact has voiced an intense dislike for the character and especially his original white-and-green costume: “It was awful – just an imitation of any of the other costumed characters I’d ever done.”
Shortly thereafter, Captain Marvel was given his own series, commencing with Captain Marvel #1 (May 1968). These appearances established Captain Marvel, or “Mar-Vell”, as an alien of the Kree race who had come to earth as a spy before coming to identify with his human neighbors. The series failed to register with readers, and was revamped by writer-artist team Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in issue #17 (October 1969). The character was given a new uniform, designed by Kane and colorist Michelle Robinson, and greater abilities. An added plot feature was the introduction of sidekickRick Jones. Jones and Marvel “shared molecules” allowing only one to exist in the real world at a time. Thomas stated that the intent of the change was to create a more science-fiction oriented update that was reminiscent of Fawcett Comics’s original Captain Marvel, who similarly had an alter-ego that could not co-exist with the superhero.
The change, however, was not successful, and the series was published only intermittently from 1969. It was initially canceled with issue #21 (August 1970), though the character appeared in the Kree-Skrull War storyline in Avengers #89 – 97 (June 1971 – March 1972), also written by Thomas. The Captain Marvel series recommenced with issue #22 (September 1972). Plotter and artist Jim Starlin decided to revamp the character with issue #25 (March 1973). Comics historian Les Daniels noted that “In a brief stint with Marvel, which included work on two characters [Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock] that had previously never quite made their mark, Starlin managed to build a considerable cult following.”
A spin-off series, Ms. Marvel, was launched in 1977, but sales remained modest, and the series was published on only a bimonthly basis until it was ultimately canceled in 1979. The continued publication, however, kept the trademark current. This had the effect of requiring DC Comics, which in the meantime licensed the original Fawcett Captain Marvel for publication, to print its new comics under the trademark Shazam! Comics historian Don Markstein states, “Marvel didn’t seem to quite know what to do with him—but they did put his comic out every other month through most of the 1970s, if only to maintain their trademark on his name.”
When Captain Marvel was cancelled with issue #62 (May 1979), there were five as-yet unpublished issues already complete or near-complete. The series Marvel Spotlight was revived for the express purpose of publishing them (specifically, in issues #1-4 and 8). Starlin wrote Mar-Vell’s death in Marvel’s first graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel (1982).
Following the character’s death, Marvel published several comics with new characters taking up the “Captain Marvel” moniker, thereby maintaining their trademark on the name. The character returned, although not in a living capacity, in storylines in Silver Surfer vol. 3 #63 (March 1992) and Captain Marvel vol. 5, #5 (March 2003). The limited series Captain Marvel vol. 6, #1–5 (January–June 2008) was released as part of the 2008 “Secret Invasion” storyline and supposedly heralded the return of the character, although it was eventually revealed that this “Mar-Vell” was an alien Skrull called Khn’nr.
Mar-Vell was one of the featured characters in the 2011 three-issue limited series Chaos War: Dead Avengers.