How Carol Danvers’ Shifting Attire Augments Her Story

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Carol Danvers

Most superhero runs will keep their main character in a single costume most of the time. Some of the most iconic characters like Spider-Man or Superman, sometimes decades go by with only minor alterations happening to their most frequented crime-fighting threads. While this allows the character to establish a look that is both recognizable and easily marketable, there are times when allowing a character to have a more expansive wardrobe can enhance the story, tone, and situation that a hero faces. No comic better illustrates how a simple costume change can bring extra character to a story than the current Captain Marvel series.

So far, writer Kelly Thompson has put leading lady Carol Danvers through various situations and threats during the comics 35 issues. For many of these adventures, the comic’s titular character has donned a new suit that has helped augment the story’s impact. Thanks to the talents of artists Carmen Carnero, Lee Garbett, Corey Smith, and Jacopo Camagni, these alternate looks make seeing Carol Danvers shed her classic blue, red, and gold for these looks more than welcome. But beyond being cool, they provide a fantastic means to enhance the stories they appear in. So, let me tell you about just how these alternative looks help make Captain Marvel’s stories go Higher, Further, and Faster.

Rebel Captain Marvel

Carol Danvers

Artist: Carmen Carnero
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain

Our first new outfit premiered at the end of the series’ first issue. Having been trapped with several of her closest comrades on a Roosevelt Island that is out of sync with normal time, Carol Danvers is forced to lead a guerrilla resistance against the misogynistic rule of the Nuclear Man. What remains of the island has a strong post-apocalyptic/Mad Max vibe that this costume goes with perfectly. Rather than simply tearing up her standard outfit to show hard-living, this new look brings a design that feels like it was crafted out of practical necessities. From a wrap-around hood to expanded knee guards, this suit feels like it’s assembled to protect the wearer from the harsh elements that have taken over. And while Carol Danvers’s unique abilities may make these features less important, they nonetheless help sell the setting of the story, as well as allowing the character to look in place with the similar costumes worn by her comrades.

Dark Captain Marvel

Carol Danvers

Artist: Lee Garbett
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain

Carol Danvers must hunt down her fellow Avengers in the series’ third storyline. For this task, we see the hero don a sinister-looking garb that wraps our hero from head to toe in black armor accented with red starbursts and a tattered red waist wrap. While one may initially think that this new outfit is intended simply to keep her fellow Avengers from realizing who it is taking them out, this new look brings even more elements to this story.

It is soon revealed that Carol Danvers’s actions are being dictated by the villain Vox Supreme. With Vox threatening innocent lives, Carol must take out her comrades to keep the villain from following through on his threats. Carol is forced to don this new attire by the villain as it allows him to track her movements and monitor her battles with the Avengers.

There are numerous means that writer Thompson could’ve utilized for Vox’s tracking needs that wouldn’t have required a full costume change. For example, a simple sub-dermal tracking implant could’ve done the same job. However, the choice to use an entire costume allows the story to bring a visual manifestation to the trapped nature of Carol Danvers’s situation. Garbett visually represents the snare Vox has trapped Carol into by opting to encase our hero in this new garb. Even when the mask is removed from the outfit, the visual reinforcement of Carol’s situation takes another form. Seeing smudged streaks of black running from Carol’s eyes down her cheeks, the internal struggle and pain Carol endures through her battles is made manifest upon the hero’s face.

Apex Captain Marvel

Carol Danvers

Artist: Carmen Carnero
Colorist: David Curiel

Designer: Rahzzah

While this outfit only appears in the 2020 one-shot Captain Marvel: The End, given how the story and its frozen future Earth setting come to return to the main series, I decided to include it here. Plus, it’s a really excellent and effective example of what I’m talking about.

The Earth is a frozen, lifeless husk in this possible future timeline. What fate befell the world’s heroes is unknown, but the only survivor of the tragedy is Carol Danvers. Off-world at the time of the catastrophe, Carol has spent the intervening decades flying through the spaceways solo as she continues to fight for justice. Until she receives a stray distress call from Earth on an old Avengers frequency. Hoping that perhaps someone has survived, Carol immediately sets out to return to her home planet to learn the truth.

After decades of soaking up solar radiation, our hero is at the peak of her potential power. This is captured from the raw energy seen radiating from her body. However, this isn’t the only element that artist Carnero builds into this visual design.

As I have frequently commented on in my reviews, Captain Marvel’s greatest gift isn’t any of her superpowers but rather her friends. For someone regularly called Earth’s Mightiest Hero, she regularly finds herself leaning on her closest friends to get through the challenges that her life throws at her. However, with these constant supports taken from her, one can easily see a real part of the character’s warmth leaving her, especially since she blames herself for not being there when her friends needed her the most. This loss is seen in having this version of Carol bereft of the bright colors that usually adorn the character. Instead, a chilling white emanates from her person, reflecting the loss and isolation the character has born for decades.

Accuser Captain Marvel

Artist: Corey Smith
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain

During the “Empyre” storyline, the newly minted Emperor of the combined Kree/Skrull Alliance, Emperor Hulking, made Carol Danvers his new Supreme Accuser. With the official title came another change in attire for the newly empowered Boss of Space. Along with the Universal weapon of her office, Carol dons the traditional green hues of the Kree Empire. While there is little change in the character’s apparel aside from the palette swap, this change in color does a lot to reflect the protagonist’s reservations about her new role. 

The drab tone of the darker green colors that make up her uniform instantly harkens the mood of the new Accuser. With Carol frequently struggling to play by the rules, let alone enforcing them as judge, jury, and executioner, the role of Accuser is particularly ill-suited to Carol. Combine that with the recent death of her mother at the hands of a Kree agent just after Carol learned of her hidden Kree heritage (in the classic Life of Captain Marvel limited series), and it makes sense that the colors of the Kree would fit poorly. They also reflect the hardened mood Carol adopts during the war with Cotati. Only in the back half of the arc, when Carol shares her Accuser powers with War Machine, Spider-Woman, and Hazmat, causing the trio also to don the color scheme, does the color look a bit right on the Avenger. Nothing helps bear a new burden like when you have friends to prop you up.

“Sorceress” Captain Marvel

Artist: Jacopo Camagni
Colorist: Espen Grundetjern

Designer: Marco Checchetto

After returning from the previously mentioned possible frozen future where she fails to defeat the magically powered villain Ove, Carol Danvers decides the only way to tip the scales in her favor when she confronts the villain next is to learn magic. For her quest, Carol dons what is, in my humble opinion, the coolest look on this list. Initially adopted to fit in at a magical tavern Doctor Strange takes her to, Carol continues to wear the stylish new look throughout her misadventures attempting to learn magic.

Aside from the absolute coolness factor of this outfit, it does a fantastic job of taking much of Carol’s usual style and melding it with a more magical vibe. From the shoulder covering cape and hood to the stylized, off-center Hala Star, Carol’s design gives her something that feels like the sort of style the Marvel Universe‘s magical side would wear while not quite hitting the mark. Like an outsider trying to mimic without proper context. Which Carol is.

The other thing that makes the outfit land from a narrative standpoint is the choice of colors. In particular, the outfit’s secondary red coloring is combined with a brownish primary color. This feels like an odd choice. Black feels like the obvious go-to color to combo with red, especially since Carol tells Strange that she was trying to go for a “moody and dark” look. At least until one pictures the outfit in black and realizes that it would put the suit’s look strikingly close to the outfit that was forced on her recently by Vox Supreme. Taken in that context, Carol’s unwillingness to commit to her outfit’s intent makes a lot of sense.

And there you have it. Nearly half of the stories from the current Captain Marvel run have featured its star in an alternate costume. These alterations have been designed with style and skill, delivering both variety and an extra depth to the already characterful personality of Earth’s Mightiest Hero. And, while it might go without saying, the above opinions and observations are purely my own. No member of the creative team has given me any insight into their intent for the character. Till next time, keep flying Higher, Further, Faster all!

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