Progressive superhero nerds had almost lost faith. It seemed as though they’d never reach the promised land. But lo, the movie-studio gods smiled upon lovers of diversity this day: At long last, Marvel Studios has announced Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies, and today, geeks across the galaxy completely lost their minds.
If you did not lose your mind, allow us to break down the nerdgasm. As we’ve noted before, Marvel Entertainment has stood at a political crossroads in recent years. Its comic books have earned a commendable record for diversity and inclusivity, but its (extremely lucrative) movie output has remained focused on straight white men.* For years, two characters have been fans’ best hopes for a better cinematic tomorrow: Black Panther (a.k.a. T’Challa) and Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Carol Danvers). If only those two could get their own movies, liberal fandom would say to itself and anyone else who would listen, Marvel movies could be what we want it to be.
So when Marvel announced today that viewers would be getting not one but both of those movies, the response on Twitter was as instantaneous as it was breathless:
Okay, you’re thinking, that sounds like progress, but I still don’t really know who these superheroes are. We got you! Here’s a look at who these characters are and what they represent.
Captain Marvel is a name that’s been held by multiple Marvel superheroes through the decades, most of them dudes. But since 2012, it’s been the moniker of longtime Marvel character Carol Danvers. Previously known as Ms. Marvel (as well as a bunch of other, lamer names) and possessing flight and super strength, Carol got not only the name but also her own solo series (also called Captain Marvel) written by feminist firebrand Kelly Sue DeConnick.
Though Captain Marvel hasn’t topped the sales charts, it’s been a fan phenomenon unlike anything the comics world has seen in years. It sparked the creation of the so-called “Carol Corps”: a loose confederation of hundreds of women (and men, though they’re not the main event) who gather online and at conventions to celebrate Carol Danvers, feminism, and the joy of reading superhero comics.
Indeed, progressive Captain Marvel fandom has become such a cultural force that we here at Vulture held a whole New York Comic-Con panel about Carol Corps and the rise in female comics fandom that has accompanied it. We had one of the bigger halls at the convention, and Captain Marvel fans filled the entire space. Carol is an extremely fun character: She was trained in the Air Force, has a Star Wars obsession, is very protective of her cat, is more tough than intellectual, and generally struggles to live up to the Captain Marvels that have come before her. It’s no surprise that the announcement of a big-screen Captain Marvel in 2018 caused an online convulsion — although it appears the announcement was a surprise to Carol’s writer:
Black Panther’s liberal significance is a little more self-explanatory to a layperson. It’s baked right into his name. The character has been a Marvel Comics staple since his first appearance in July 1966. (Oddly enough, his naming had nothing to do with the nascent Black Panther Party, and Marvel even briefly rebranded him as “Black Leopard” to avoid perceived connections.) He was the first major black superhero in Marvel history, and right from the start, he broke from conventional pop-culture depictions of people of African descent.
Beneath his mask, Black Panther was T’Challa, the ruler of a fictional African nation called Wakanda. But Wakanda wasn’t an untamed jungle filled with cannibals and witch doctors — it was a technologically advanced country with an enlightened government that had never been conquered by Westerners. T’Challa didn’t speak in a patois or monosyllables — he had better English than most American superheroes did.
In subsequent decades, T’Challa has been established as one of the most brilliant minds in the Marvel universe, a man who can debate politics as easily as quantum physics. Although there is currently no monthly comics series starring Black Panther (something Marvel is sure to rectify post-haste), Black Panther currently plays a crucial role in Jonathan Hickman’s acclaimed New Avengers, where he’s a member of the Illuminati, a cabal of Marvel’s smartest and boldest. He’ll likely make for a unique superhero movie lead because, unlike the current crop of Marvel heroes, he has no flashy superpowers, alien DNA, or robot armor — just a keen mind, a perfect body, and the noblesse oblige of a king.
Looking for good starting points for these two characters? We recommend Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More (featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, no less!) and the sadly out-of-print Black Panther: The Client.
In the meantime, congratulations to all these fans who are presumably still losing their minds:
(In addition to being a fan, Jamie McKelvie is also an exceedingly talented comics artist — indeed, he’s the one who designed Captain Marvel’s current costume.)
* Several commenters have taken issue with my use of “that most loathed of progressive bêtes noires” to refer to straight white men. I’ve removed that phrase, as it seems to be distracting from my larger point — that diversity in comics (and by extension in comic book movies) is something that creators should strive for and that audiences should look forward to.