Changing the origin story for a well-established comic book character can be tricky, let alone a character who is 50 years old this year. And that’s not all – next March, Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, will also become the first female Marvel hero to get her own solo Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, which could establish her as one of the greatest female superheroes of all time.
“It’s definitely a big deal for me,” said Margaret Stohl, who currently writes the Captain Marvel title, and is in the process of tweaking Carol’s origin story through ongoing The Life Of Captain Marvel story arc.
“Like many other female superheroes in comics, she had a messy, all over the place sort of origin. Her journey wasn’t like, say, Peter Parker’s,” said Stohl in a phone interview from Singapore, where she was attending the Singapore Writer’s Festival.
In case you are not familiar with the character, Carol Danvers was created by writer Roy Thomas and artist Gene Colan, and made her debut in 1968’s Marvel Super-Heroes as a US Air Force officer and security chief of a military base.
She later crosses paths with Dr Walter Lawson, who is actually the Kree superhero Mar-vell, or Captain Marvel, and is caught in an explosion of a Psyche-Magnitron, a Kree device that can supposedly give humanoids superhuman powers. In the ensuing blast, her genetic structure is apparently altered, turning her into a Kree/human hybrid with superpowers.
According to Stohl, The Life Of Captain Marvel largely sticks to this story, but gives it a different context and a much deeper backstory.
“The old origin goes that this Kree alien machine, the Psyche-Magnitron, exploded and when that happened she got Kree powers. We didn’t change that, but we’ve told the story differently. We left the machine in place but put it in a different context,” explained Stohl.
In Stohl’s story, we learn that Carol’s mother is actually a Kree captain, and that the Psyche-Magnitron didn’t alter her genetic structure at all. In fact, the Kree genes were already inside her, and the explosion merely awoke the latent power in Carol that had not manifested yet.
“So, we didn’t change the origin, just that her powers actually came from her mother. It made sense, and we are proud of that,” said Stohl, adding that bringing Carol’s mother into the picture filled a huge gap in the character’s history.
“We realised that since the 1960s, her mother has never been mentioned at all, just her father, who wouldn’t let her go to college. So her mother was missing from the story.”
Surprisingly, Stohl said she didn’t receive much backlash about the origin ret-con. In fact, she actually got more brickbats when she began her Mighty Captain Marvel run in 2016.
“Carol was in a very unlikable moment at the time, because she had just had this big fight with Iron Man in Civil War II. Fans were brutal with me!” she recalled.
“So, Carol had to go through two years of rehabilitation before they weren’t mad at her anymore. We had to wait it out until the point where she was ready to take back her story.”
In the first issue of The Life Of Captain Marvel, Stohl includes a letter to the reader in which she states that she and Carol had a lot in common right from the start. “Neither of us felt like we were originally perceived of as a protagonist, let alone the hero of out own journey. Carol’s initial role was to comment on heroic action, to be a bounce from the sidelines, a wing-girl,” she wrote.
From YA to Marvel
If Stohl’s name sounds familiar, it could be because she is also a hugely successful author of young adult novels, including the best-selling Caster Chronicles series, the first book of which (Beautiful Creatures) was made into a major motion picture in 2013.
The 51-year-old American is also an established writer for video games, having worked with Marvel on its Spider-Man and Fantastic Four games.
In 2015, Sana Amanat, an editor at Marvel, invited her to write two YA novels based on Black Widow.
“I already knew how to do that (write novels), because I’ve already written YA novels by then. I guess they (Marvel) saw that I could write strong female characters, and that I already knew about Marvel characters from the video games I’d worked on,” she said.
While Stohl has plenty of experience writing prose novels, the Mighty Captain Marvel title she began writing in 2016 was actually her first comic book writing assignment.
“Comics was so difficult for me when I started three years ago. It’s like writing poetry – there is a certain rhythm to it, and I had to learn when to let up and just let the artist do his or her thing. That was hard for me,” she recalled.
On the other hand, she said she conceived of the Life Of Captain Marvel story more like a book rather than a comic.
“It’s more character driven, and I conceived of the story like how I would a book, and then work out how the mini-series would work together. It’s interesting in that it’s more like a novel to me.”
She would have been a lot more nervous about the changes she had planned had it not been for the support of Marvel itself.
Stohl recently became only the second female creator after Kamala “Ms Marvel” Khan creator G. Willow Wilson to attend the Marvel Creative Summit, in which the bigwigs of the company gather to plot Marvel’s universe.
“I’m only the second woman to be in that meeting and that’s a big deal. Working together with that creative team made me feel very brave (about the story I was telling) and that’s the heart of Marvel. If they were OK (with it), then I was going to be OK too,” she recalled.
“We also had a special summit just for Carol, and had a really extraordinary conversation where we just started sharing painful stories from our extended families in real life. The stories I drew for Carol were real moments from people we knew.”
Another major factor in the change in Carol’s history is her upcoming debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an occasion that also marks the culmination of Stohl’s Captain Marvel journey – the Life Of Captain Marvel will be her final story arc with the character.
“I was always going to stay on until the movie. The goal was to get her a definitive origin story before the movie,” she said.
“At Marvel, the comics and movie sides are in a constant dialogue with each other. I know the editors I am working with are also hyper aware of the movie, so I do try to stay apart from it. They let me do my thing, and it goes both ways.”
Asked about the rise of female superheroes like Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and Black Widow, Stohl reckons it’s about time they were given more prominence.
“It’s about time female superheroes got the spotlight. I cried at Wonder Woman, I cried at Rey in Star Wars, and when the Captain Marvel trailer came out, I was so, so happy. I saw so many little girls cosplaying as Captain Marvel, and that really makes me happy,” she said.
So if given the chance to write a male superhero for a change, who would she choose?
“Iron Man! I like to imagine that Tony Stark is sitting on my shoulder, telling me jokes like a bad angel,” she concluded with a laugh.