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."


As a young woman, Carol joined the Air Force soon after graduating high school, earning her college degree and then later becoming an intelligence agent. During her years as a spy, she worked alongside such people as Nick Fury (later director of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Ben Grimm (who would become the adventurer called the Thing) and the mysterious Logan (the mutant known as Wolverine). Eventually, she switched jobs and became head of security at a NASA facility, meeting the alien hero called Captain Mar-Vell (known to the media as Captain Marvel), a member of the Kree warrior race.

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...



When Carol first showed up, she was strictly a supporting character. She made her debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (1968), one month after Captain Mar-Vell had been introduced to readers in the previous issue. Originally, Mar-Vell wore a standard uniform of a captain in the Kree military, which looks rather like a bland costume with a ringed planet on the shirt and a slightly Romanesque helmet. A pretty standard idea of what certain artists in the 50s and 60s thought space explorers of the future might look like. But a couple of years later, he ditched this outfit and wore a much more superheroic uniform of deep red and blue, decorated by a golden star that complemented the comet-trail aura he'd leave in his wake as he flew through the sky. And it was this costume that would directly influence Carol's original suit years later.

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).


It's interesting that she's not "Marvel Girl" (a codename which Jean Grey of the X-Men had stopped using just the year before) or "Lady Marvel" or something that might denote she was Mar-Vell's girlfriend (which she wasn't) or some kind of kid sister. The title of "Ms." was encouraged greatly during the 1970s in the US by the movement for women's equality, on the reasoning that it made a woman's marital status unknown and irrelevant. And so, Carol was indicating that she was Mar-Vell's sister in spirit and sister-in-arms but otherwise was carving her own path.

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.


After several issues, Carol altered her suit a bit. By filling out the top, we immediately get a better look. The shorts are feminine in their cut but now look like part of the suit rather than a pair of matching underwear. The legs are still bear but it works. Ms. Marvel isn't hiding her gender, as evidenced by her chosen alias. This is a powerful woman but not vulgar in any way. And with her level of power, able to lift several tons above her head and deliver power blasts capable of knocking down Iron Man, she's not someone who'd need to rely on body armor for protection against conventional weaponry.


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.


So here, Carol throws off any visual indication that she's a spin-off character who owes her existence to someone else. The name is still similar, but that's it. Where Mar-Vell wears the classic superhero colors of red, yellow and blue, Ms. Marvel is decked out in black leather. The scarf is gone and in its place is a simple sash around the waist, recalling the imagery of certain military uniforms while still giving the character a sense of motion when in flight. The star has been replaced by a simple lightning bolt, a very primal image of power in human society.

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.


In the same vein, some artists today will have the sash hang low, past the waist and more around the crotch and thighs instead. This is also a bad idea, I think. It drops the idea of a military presence and now implies something similar to lingerie or the belt of a robe that's been discarded. We can already see that Carol is a powerful, sexy woman, let's not push it into cheesecake territory.


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.


Carol had a new path to follow. She spent some time with the X-Men, whom she knew to be friends even if she didn't remember them or the missions she'd shared with their member Wolverine. In the 1980s, working with the famous mutant heroes led to her being experimented on by the alien race known as the Brood and this caused new powers to emerge. Carol Danvers was now Binary and she left Earth to become a cosmic space adventurer.

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.



Years after Carol had abandoned her Ms. Marvel identity, the name was taken by a new character named Sharon Ventura. Sharon was been introduced in The Thing #27 in 1985 as a tough, motorcycle-loving lady who was a new love interest for Ben Grimm AKA the Thing of the Fantastic Four. She later gained superhuman strength by volunteering for genetic augmentation so she would be able to join a super-powered wrestling group (yes, I realize how that sounds silly even in comics, stay with me). With her new strength, she was ready to join a super-powered wrestling league and got herself a flashy costume to go with the new job. Someone commented that her outfit looked somewhat like what Ms. Marvel had once worn. Even after she wound up becoming a costumed adventurer rather than a wrestler, Ventura kept the costume and started using the Ms. Marvel name.

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.


After sharing some adventures alongside the Fantastic Four, Sharon got mutated and became the She-Thing. I know, it basically looks as if Ben Grimm got curvier. Weird. Despite her She-Thing status, many folks still called her Ms. Marvel and she still wore a big M on her shirt. Not a great look here either. Sharon was eventually cured and left behind the Thing and the Fantastic Four for some time.


When Sharon returned, she sported this green and purple outfit which doesn't really work for me either. It's just very generic again, with the M monogram now blending in perhaps too much. And green and purple are classic super-villain colors, which was a too-obvious hint to readers that Sharon was (at the time) indebted to the villain Dr. Doom and secretly working as his spy. Ooh, that Doom. He's crafty!


When Sharon decided not to betray the Fantastic Four to their enemy Dr. Doom, he mutated her yet again. She became a new version of the She-Thing, one that didn't resemble Ben Grimm. She later showed up in a slightly different, more Neanderthal-like form. In this form, she wore her original Ms. Marvel suit, which now just seemed like a strangely clashing outfit on her larger frame. Basically, it seemed like Marvel Comics wasn't sure what to do with her and so it's no wonder her outfits didn't really seem to click. Sharon went off to live the life of a hermit and really hasn't been seen much since.



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.


Okay, we're cheating a little bit here. This costume technically doesn't exist. It was just a cover image that was done as a nod to the movie TRON: Legacy when it came out in theaters. But you know what? If you wanted to extend the idea of Carol's costume being the military uniform of a future Earth or an alien world, this could be a step in the right direction. Make the sash a stronger element and maybe look just some of these light-lines and you could have yourself a ballgame.


And that concludes our look at the heroes called Ms. Marvel. Carol is a fantastic character and hopefully will get her chance to prove it again very soon. Since Mar-Vell is now dead and there's no one currently using the name "Captain Marvel" in the universe of Marvel Comics, I see no reason why Carol can't adopt that famous title for herself. Perhaps she will, perhaps she won't. Either way, it's clear that readers and writers have never grown tired of her and so there's sure to be many adventures ahead.


Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.

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