I wrote this piece in February, originally submitting it to Tor.com as part of the ramp-up to the release of Captain Marvel. However, Tor was inundated with pitches, and they decided to pass on it, so I ran it on Patreon instead. With my rewatch of Captain Marvel coming this Friday on Tor.com, I thought it would be good to run this rant about the appalling treatment of Carol Danvers in the leadup to Avengers #200 in 1980. Every once in a while it’s good to see that, as crappy as things are, it used to be a lot worse.
My first exposure to Carol Danvers was in her Ms. Marvel identity, specifically in the 1977 trade paperback The Superhero Women. One of a bunch of reprint anthologies Simon & Schuster published in the late 1970s, presented by Stan Lee, this volume included important stories featuring various female characters, among them the debut issue of Ms. Marvel published the same year the book came out. It was part of my introduction to Marvel’s heroes, and eventually I started buying much of Marvel’s stable—including the comics featuring the X-Men and the Avengers.
The ones that really stuck out in my head, beyond that initial introduction, were Avengers #200 and Avengers Annual #10, published in, respectively, 1980 and 1981.
I picked up the annual as a back issue a few years after it was published. I’d been reading Uncanny X-Men, and Danvers started showing up as a supporting character. I knew she’d been Ms. Marvel from that Superhero Women trade, but she had apparently had her powers stolen by the villain Rogue. So I tracked down the issue where that happened.
Most of the annual is a pretty straightforward battle between the Avengers and the then-recently-formed Mystique-led version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But the issue opens with Danvers having her powers and memory stolen by Rogue.
With the help of Professor Charles Xavier, the X-Men’s mentor and a powerful telepath, Danvers gets many of her memories back, and the final pages of the annual are her upbraiding the Avengers for their behavior in Danvers’s previous appearance in Avengers #200. This led me to then tracking down that issue as well.
Danvers was originally created in 1968 as a supporting character in the stories featuring Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree, a.k.a. Captain Marvel—first in Marvel Super-Heroes, then in Captain Marvel. She became the hero Ms. Marvel in her self-titled first issue (the one I read in The Superhero Women), as Marvel was trying very hard to keep up with the current trends and have a “women’s libber” as a headliner.
While Ms. Marvel only lasted twenty-three issues, the character also appeared on and off in Avengers, where her strength and independence made the very old-fashioned Wonder Man very uncomfortable.
The storyline that culminated in the landmark 200th issue of Avengers is one that I read then, and read now, and continue to be utterly appalled every single time I read it.
Over the course of the previous several issues, there’d been a subplot where Danvers collapsed on a beach while walking with the Scarlet Witch, and turned out to be three months pregnant, despite not having actually had sex in the previous three months. (That wasn’t spoken out loud, but merely implied heavily, as it was 1980 and the Comics Code Authority didn’t let you talk about such stuff openly.)
Danvers gives birth at the top of issue #200. She herself is appalled by the whole thing, and feels used—but the rest of the Avengers are mostly all giddy and happy about her having a baby. Never mind that the pregnancy can’t possibly be natural, you’ve got the Wasp being all coo-ey, the Beast playing teddy bear to the kid, and the rest of the Avengers expressing surprisingly little concern for Danvers.
It gets worse when the baby grows up in a day’s time, and turns out to be the son of the time-master Immortus. When Immortus disappeared (due to time-travel shenanigans in a previous Avengers issue), Marcus found himself bored all alone in Immortus’s time-neutral realm of Limbo. So he kidnapped Danvers, wooed her for weeks, and eventually they fell in love.
Well, kinda. He wanted a way to get to Earth, and Marcus himself describes the process thusly: “While I knew Immortus’s devices could bend your will to mine, I didn’t want you that way. And so I set about…winning you.” And then on the next page: “Finally, after relative weeks of such efforts—and, admittedly, with a subtle boost from Immortus’ machines—you became mine.” To be clear, the technical term for this is rape. Then he sent her back to Earth a half-second after he took her, with no memory of what happened.
He built a machine to stabilize himself so his presence on Earth wouldn’t be disruptive to the timestream. (Because of him, time was becoming wonky, with dinosaurs and futuristic gun emplacements and knights in shining armor all parading through New York.) Unfortunately, because he was parsimonious with details of who he was and what he was doing, Hawkeye assumed he was a bad guy and destroyed his machine, meaning he’d have to return to Limbo.
And then Danvers offers to go with him out of the blue. She says she has a connection to him and that she’s been denying her feelings for a long time (because as we all know, feminists are really just women who are trying so hard to be liberated that they forget how to be women, ack, gack, barf), and she goes with him, not even saying goodbye to the other Avengers, just buggering off with this random interdimensional rapist dude.
Said random dude has, at this point done the following: kidnapped Danvers, tried to “win” her by kidnapping more people (William Shakespeare to write her a sonnet, Ludwig von Beethoven to perform a piece of music in her honor, and, my favorite, Marie Antoinette to put her in silk dresses, because that’s what ladies want, am I right, guys?), used “a subtle boost from Immortus’ machines” (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more) to make her fall in love with him, had sex with her against her will, wiped her memory of that entire thing, placed himself inside her body and simulated a pregnancy on fast-forward (thus freaking her the hell out), and then grew from an infant to adulthood in a day, revealing himself to be the son of one of the Avengers’ most powerful foes.
And when she decides to go with him, do the Avengers say, “Uh, no, maybe don’t go off with the crazy person who kidnapped and brainwashed and raped you”? No, they just let her go. Thor gives them a lift back to Limbo, for crying out loud.
The ways in which this was appalling are legion, as a character who has been one of Marvel’s strongest female characters is written out of the Marvel Universe so she can go off and have a love affair with her combination rapist/son. The yucky butch feminist gets to do what women really want: have a baby and live happily ever after with a good-looking man, and better yet, they’re both the same guy!
Luckily, it only lasted a year. Chris Claremont—by this time, one of Marvel’s powerhouse writers, as he was responsible for scripting Uncanny X-Men, Marvel’s best-selling and most acclaimed title—wrote the 1981 Avengers Annual for the express purpose of calling Avengers #200 out. Indeed, Claremont’s position as Marvel’s rock star writer is probably why he was able to get away with it, given that Avengers #200 was scripted by David Michelinie—one of Marvel’s stalwarts—based on a plot by Michelinie, artists George Pérez (who also penciled the issue) and Bob Layton, and Marvel’s editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. (Four guys plotted this story, and it never occurred to any of them that celebrating one of their flagship team titles’ 200th issue with an interdimensional space rape was perhaps not a great idea…) Claremont was also the primary writer on Ms. Marvel‘s comic from 1977-1979, having taken over scripting chores with issue #3 and continuing until it was cancelled with issue #23 (and beyond, as #24 was written and illustrated and #25 was partially done when the cancellation order came in; those two issues were eventually finished and released in two issues of Marvel Super-Heroes in 1992).
In the annual, Claremont established that Marcus continued to age rapidly when he returned to Limbo, and grew old and died in a matter of weeks. Once he died, his brainwashing of Danvers ended, and she was able to work her way back to Earth. Livid at the Avengers, Danvers moved to San Francisco, and never even contacted her former teammates.
I didn’t read Avengers #200 until after reading the annual, so I was a bit biased, having first encountered the story as described in flashback, but I can imagine that readers encountering it for the first time in 1980 probably thought it was a love story with a happy ending. After all, isn’t that what every woman wants? Sigh.
The phrase “toxic masculinity” wasn’t really a thing in the 1980s when I read those comics as a teenager, but the story of Ms. Marvel’s “love affair” with Marcus is a classic example of it. Marcus’s behavior is criminal, yet the Avengers go along with it because it’s twue wuv! Never mind that Marcus said right there in front of them that he used “a subtle boost from Immortus’ machines,” thus clearly making it a sexual assault.
That’s honestly the part that I had a problem with even as a teenager in the Reagan years. Marcus said he didn’t want Danvers by brainwashing her with the fancy-shmancy technology in Limbo, but we only had his word for that—and even then, he admitted to using that technology. And none of the other Avengers thought it was odd that this teammate who, let’s face it, wore her feminism on her sleeve would just go off with this asshole who was reduced to roofie-ing her with technology after he failed to woo her with poetry, music, and fancy dresses. (That fancy dresses thing still bugs me. I mean, Marie Antoinette? She was dressed by other people, what makes you think she’d even know where to find a nice dress? Would’ve made more sense to have Marcus kidnap the royal seamstress, or whatever, but that would’ve required caring about the nuances of 18th-century work done by women.) Oh, and she goes off to live happily ever after with the guy she gave birth to, and nobody thinks that’s weird…
But if you look back through Ms. Marvel’s tenure on the team for the previous twenty or so issues, after Michelinie took over from Shooter as the regular writer, you see that she’s regularly marginalized and belittled. Often her feminist pronouncements are shot down by one of her teammates, or she makes defensive assumptions about said teammates that are also shot down. Right before she collapses from nausea from her sudden super-fast pregnancy, she’s convincing the Scarlet Witch that it’s okay to not want to have children, at which point she becomes pregnant herself, as her punishment, I guess, for saying such a horrible thing. (It’s not just Ms. Marvel, mind you. The Wasp’s effectiveness as a hero is virtually nonexistent during this run, and at one point Hawkeye defeats the Shi’ar villain Deathbird, and right before she’s carried off to prison, he grabs her and kisses her as something to remember him by. Shudder.)
However, what makes this a memorable Carol Danvers story to me isn’t what led up to it, but the final story that told the truth about Marcus in Avengers Annual #10. Danvers speaks a brutal truth to the Avengers, telling them that they screwed up. That was impressive as hell to me as a teenager, that the superheroes could actually be wrong, and admit to it.
Danvers herself says in the annual: “You screwed up, Avengers. That’s human. What’s also human is the ability to learn from those mistakes, to grow, to mature. If you do that—even a little—then perhaps what I went through will have a positive meaning.”
And Danvers was prophetic in one sense: getting her out of the Avengers and becoming a supporting character in the X-Men led to her being experimented on by the Brood and being transformed into the immensely powerful Binary. The tagline of the 2012 Captain Marvel series in which Danvers finally took on the Captain Marvel name (having previously gone by Ms. Marvel, Binary, and Warbird) was “Earth’s Mightiest Hero,” and it was gaining those powers in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #163-164 that led to her deserving that description. And she wouldn’t have been with the X-Men on their adventure against the Brood (a classic six-issue storyline from 1982-1983 that marked Paul Smith’s debut as the artist on the book about halfway through) if she hadn’t been so utterly trashed as a character in Avengers.