Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - MS. MARVEL Brings Back the Sash
Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - MS. MARVEL
There's a lady in the Marvel Comics universe that combines the skills and training of the United States Air Force with cosmic alien power. Her name is Carol Danvers and she's used a few different aliases over the years. But she's best known to fans as: "Ms. Marvel."
During one of the strange adventures that became a regular part of her life after meeting Mar-Vell, Carol was exposed to the effects of a Kree device that could warp physical reality based on desire and imagination. Carol's genetic structure was altered to mimic Mar-Vell's, making her effectively a human-Kree hybrid with fantastic powers. Carol later began adventuring as "Ms. Marvel", working with many superheroes and then joining the Avengers team. Life was not easy for Carol down the road and at times she's either left the superhero life behind or has approached it with a new name and identity. But eventually, Ms. Marvel came back in full form and since then has been seen as one of the most powerful warriors of Earth, protecting her planet with a fierceness that sometimes involves harsher methods than those of her costumed colleagues.
She doesn't have her own title these days, but as a member of the Avengers, an ally of the X-Men, and being a formidable superhero in her own right, she's definitely not fading into the background any time soon. Of course, Carol isn't the only person who's used that alias either and we'll discuss that, rest assured. As per usual, we are going to be focusing on mainstream continuity for this piece. So parallel Earths and alternate histories created by magic or messed up time travel aren't going to be discussed here. Got it? Great. Let's begin...
Mar-Vell got his own title starting in 1968 and it lasted for 11 years. Two years before his title was canceled, Carol became the star of her own spin-off series. No longer would she be an assistant who was occasionally captured or put in danger so that Mar-Vell could look heroic by rescuing her. Now a hero in her own right, Carol's costumed alter ego debuted in Ms. Marvel #1 in 1977. The same issue had her befriend the famous Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and get hired by J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle, to become the editor of Woman Magazine (various circumstances had led her to leave the military by this point).
Carol's original outfit, however, could use a little work. The sash being used instead of a cape isn't bad, but it can come off looking like a scarf, which implies Ms. Marvel is a fashion model rather than a superhero. And while Wonder Woman may be criticized for wearing tight-fitting shorts, Carol really seems to be in her underwear here. The V-cut prevents them from being seen as shorts, especially when in conjunction with the cut of the shirt. Depending on the artist, the shirt wouldn't even be connected to the bottom part of the costume, increasing the idea that this might be a strange two-piece swimsuit with sleeves.
Basically, from the ribs down, this is not a costume. It's just underwear and a pair of boots. Not terrible, but not great. Understand me, it's not that she's showing skin that bothers me. It's more about the cut of this outfit and the lack of any real design beyond the chest symbol.
THE CLASSIC THREADS
By Ms. Marvel #20, Carol had adopted yet another outfit and this is the one we now know as her "classic look." It's a complete departure from the previous uniform and has dropped any connection to Mar-Vell's uniform. And this actually is a good thing. Although she definitely owed her powers in part to Mar-Vell, since it was through knowing him that her life led her to getting powers from Kree technology, she wasn't his younger cousin or sister nor some protégé trained by him. In fact, Mar-Vell had no idea that Carol was adventuring in a similar costume to his until he made a guest appearance in Ms. Marvel #19.
This is a great outfit. Carol looks as if she could belong to some new military force with a flair for the dramatic, based either on another planet or in the future, which goes back to the design intention of Mar-Vell's first uniform. On several superheroes, I'm not crazy about heels because they can be very impractical for characters that are running across rooftops and have to engage in martial arts on a regular basis. But Carol has superhuman abilities and can defy gravity itself. So the heeled boots just add a slight touch of class to her and complement the authority implied by the sash. Of course, if someone drew them as stilettos, that would be a different story.
You'll notice that the way artists of the 1970s draw this, it is not a vulgar or overly revealing costume. Carol is showing off her arms now, but she's also showing less leg and her backside is completely covered. She's sexy but not overly revealing or ridiculous. Many artists continue this portrayal in today's comics, but some don't. Some artists have taken the liberty of giving this costume a thong practically and/or making the front part slimmer and more revealing. I don't care for this, as it shifts Carol into simply being eye-candy and it's one of those things where the personality of the character is so strong in my head that I don't believe she would parade around in an outfit of that cut.
Carol's series was canceled soon after she started wearing the black leather. Rather than let her simply disappear for a while until another writer could bring her back, Marvel decided to de-power her. Carol battled a mutant called Rogue, a terrorist who had fought the Avengers. Rogue had the ability to leech the life force of others, absorbing skills and abilities in the process as they passed into unconsciousness. Rogue did this to Carol but held on too long. As a result, Rogue got Ms. Marvel's powers and now had an echo of her personality existing in her mind and Carol was left without powers or memories of who she had once been. Rogue sought help for her new mental instability, joining the mutant hero team known as the X-Men and leaving her criminal life behind.
Once again, we have a complete costume change and that makes sense since Carol is sporting a new name. The double-star emblem over the heart is a nice indication of her codename now being Binary and the long gloves and boots are a nice callback to her black leather Ms. Marvel look. The red and white is also a nice choice of colors since they make her stand out against the black gulf of outer space, whereas her leather uniform could have blended in too easily. It was also a good idea to lose the sash, since her Binary aura already gives a sense of motion to her now.
But the cut of the main costume isn't great to me. Carol's actually wearing a black outfit with white pieces over it and red is used to highlight the black. However, when she activates her Binary powers, her face becomes black and red as well and it's easy to confuse parts of the costume with her skin. Which means that the white main piece now looks a lot like a bathing suit again. If it just completely covered her torso, this would be an easy fix.
Eventually, Carol returned to Earth and her black leather look (though now artists tended to make the boots flat rather than with heels). She could still power up as Binary now and then, but it her red, fiery form didn't contrast as well against the black leather. She then lost this Binary flare and her powers shifted, leading her to taking up the name Warbird for a while before later shifting to Ms. Marvel again.
Sharon's outfit is definitely colorful. It's got the sash that Carol wore so well and it's got the long boots. But it's just not quite there for me. Maybe there's too much yellow lining, maybe the giant M for "Marvel" on her torso just isn't a creative enough design for me, especially when it's repeated on her boots and gloves. Was she really afraid we wouldn't believe that her name was Ms. Marvel unless her initial were monogrammed all over her body? Even her mask is in the shape of an M. We get it.
All in all, this just seems like "generic woman superhero #4." Moving on.
As I said, Carol returned to her black leather when she returned to Earth and started working alongside folks like the Avengers again, first as Warbird and then back using her Ms. Marvel name. In a few stories, she wore this more "realistic" outfit. It's not bad, but it's too much military and not enough superhero for me. Carol has a military background, yes, but she's become much more than that. She's got cosmic power and has flown through the void of space unaided. It's not visually interesting to have her look like anyone else with all that in mind. And next to the great black leather outfit with its shamanistic lightning, it just doesn't hold a candle.