Marvel’s Marvel Family by Jerry Whitworth
When businessman Martin Goodman dipped his toe into comic book publication with his new company Timely, his first title was Marvel Comics in 1939. In time, Marvel became the name of the company and featured prominently within the books’ continuity itself. From Black Marvel to Blue Marvel, the loosely connected Marvel Family has largely been overshadowed by the group of the same name created by Fawcett Comics beginning with Captain Marvel in 1940. While Fawcett added the Lieutenant Marvels, Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, Uncle Marvel, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and Freckles Marvel, Timely largely missed the boat on capitalizing on its popular title that brought the company Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. When National (today, DC Comics) and waning interest in superheroes killed Captain Marvel (leading DC to later buy the character and re-brand it as the Shazam Family in recent times), L. Miller & Son in the United Kingdom was forced to make their own version of the brand resulting in Marvelman, Young Marvelman, and Kid Marvelman, but more on them later. By the late ’60s, Timely had become Marvel and they picked up the lapsed name of Captain Marvel for themselves. But before that, there were two Marvels that Timely created during the time of Fawcett’s Marvel Family.
During the summer of 1940, just months after Fawcett debuted its Captain Marvel, Timely introduced its first Marvel Boy. Named Martin Simon Burns, Marvel Boy was Hercules reincarnated in the body of a mortal child to participate in the second World War. The idea didn’t seem to take off as Burns was never seen again. Timely followed the character a year later with Black Marvel, a white man named Dan Lyons who proved himself to the Blackfeet natives to take up the mantle of their hero Black Marvel. While never attaining the status of a Captain America, Black Marvel managed to persist to even today, appearing as recently as 2018. In 1943, Timely gave Marvel Boy another shot, this time with Martin Oksner Burns who inherited the powers of Hercules through a vial of his blood splashed into an open wound on his body. Sadly, this Marvel Boy did about as well as his predecessor. By 1950, Timely (now going by Medalion) created a Marvel Boy with lasting power.
Created by Stan Lee and Russ Heath, the series Marvel Boy began in 1950 with Robert Grayson adopting the eponymous title. Likely inspired by Superman, scientist Matthew Grayson and his son Robert left Earth on a rocket ship following the death of Matthew’s wife and daughter at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. By chance, an alien race living on Uranus brought the space vessel to their planet and invited the Terrans to live among them. Robert developed remarkable abilities and learned the advanced science of the Uranians as Matthew kept a close eye on Earth using a telescope. When an incident arose that threatened to plunge the world into another war, Matthew sent his son to return to Earth as the hero Marvel Boy. To aid him, Marvel Boy was provided light arm bands whose abilities bore some similarities to Green Lantern’s power ring. Following his arrival on Earth, Robert became a newspaper reporter for the Daily Monitor. Marvel Boy ran for two issues before the title was changed to Astonishing where Marvel Boy remained for four more issues before being phased out of the title (Astonishing likely a precursor to Tales to Astonish and Astonishing Tales). The character was in limbo until 1975 when Roy Thomas and George Perez brought him back in the pages of Fantastic Four as a supervillain named the Crusader. This, however, wouldn’t be the end of the character or his legacy.
In 1978, a new person took up the Marvel Boy name as well as the previous character’s arm bands. In the pages of Captain America, Nick Fury introduced the S.H.I.E.L.D. Super-Agents which saw a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Wendell Vaughn don the Crusader’s light bands. However, by the next issue, Vaughn changed his code name to Marvel Man. By the next year, his name changed again to Quasar. Along the way, the bands Vaughn acquired were given the new name of the Quantum Bands with its own backstory related to Captain Mar-Vell. Part of this backstory included the Quantum Bands being created by the entity Eon (offspring of Eternity, the embodiment of existence) to be wielded by the Protector of the Universe which included the likes of Glakandar the Stygian Starbender, Ree of the Archeopians, Trantra of the Trill, Andwella of the Zen-Whoberi, and, of course, Marvel Boy. The Crusader later gained a new backstory in that it was a clone made of Robert Grayson to replace him leaving Grayson to emerge later as the Uranian in the pages of Agents of Atlas. Quasar became a prominent fixture of the Marvel Universe as a cosmic superhero and Avenger. A version of Vaughn had a son with Ayesha (Adam Warlock’s sister) named Starhawk who was a founding member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. His legacy also became progressively more intertwined with the legacy of Captain Marvel. With Vaughn abandoning the title of Marvel Boy, others came to adopt it.
Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (January 1969) introduced the Guardians of the Galaxy, a group of alien heroes banded together in the future against the Badoon Empire. Among their number was Earthman Major Vance Astro. By 1975, Astro’s younger self in the present day was introduced and in 1989, he adopted the name of Marvel Boy and became a founding member of the New Warriors. Due in large part to Stan Lee’s open loathing of child sidekicks, a group like the Teen Titans couldn’t emerge at Marvel. With the New Warriors, however, an attempt was made with characters such as Nova, Namorita, Firestar, and others to do just that and Astro was one of the candidates selected to be part of the team. Like the Marvel Boy before him, Astro changed his codename going with Justice in 1994. Little time passed before another adopted the vacant name when that same year in the mini-series Justice: Four Balance, a young man named David Bank was chosen by Astro as his successor, passing down his former name and costume. Bank’s inheritance of the Marvel Boy mantle largely amounted to but a single appearance. The year 2000 saw the latest and likely best known Marvel Boy emerge.
Coming off his critically and commercially acclaimed run of JLA at DC Comics, Grant Morrison shocked the comic book world by switching to Marvel Comics in 2000. One of his first projects saw him partner with J.G. Jones to create the mini-series Marvel Boy. Part of the Marvel Knights line which was experimental and focused on finite stories over the usual ongoing ones, Marvel Boy featured Noh-Varr, a Kree (an alien race of which Mar-Vell is a member) from a parallel universe that traverses the multiverse in his vessel the Marvel (not to be confused with the Toei Spider-Man’s spaceship the Marveller). Stranded in the primary universe of Marvel Comics and made a prisoner of S.H.I.E.L.D., Noh-Varr declared war on the human race. Subsequently, the character became fairly prominent in the comics especially in relation to younger heroes such as the Runaways and the Young Avengers but was also part of Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers as Captain Marvel. Noh-Varr abandoned Osborn and the new identity learning the team was made of villains posing as heroes by teammate Karla Sofen (the supervillain Moonstone posing as Ms. Marvel). Noh-Varr went on to become an Avenger and Guardian of the Galaxy. Logic dictates that if Marvel Comics can have a Marvel Boy, it would develop a Marvel Girl and in the 1960s that came to pass.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four, it jumpstarted the Silver Age at Marvel Comics giving rise to Ant-Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and the Avengers. The same month the Avengers assembled some of the company’s biggest new heroes, Lee and Kirby created a group of teen heroes known as the X-Men. Whereas superheroes generally had origin stories for how they acquired their abilities, Lee/Kirby simplified things by merely saying the X-Men were mutants, people born with powers that generally emerge around puberty. Five youths under the tutelage of wheelchair bound telepath Professor Charles Xavier, the X-Men were made up of Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Beast, and Marvel Girl. The sole female member of the team with the power of telekinesis, Marvel Girl is better known today by her name Jean Grey. While the X-Men initially didn’t perform terribly well (coming at the tail end of the initial Silver Age surge along with Daredevil), Chris Claremont and various artists like Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita Jr., Marc Silvestri, and Jim Lee turned the group (along with writer Louise Simonson in the 1980s) into Marvel’s biggest brand. It was in 1976 when Grey abandoned the Marvel Girl identity for the Phoenix as part of the “Phoenix Saga.” Subsequently, Grey’s daughter from the future Rachel Summers took up the Marvel Girl name in 2014. Alluded to several times earlier in this article, Marvel Boy and Marvel Girl were followed by Captain Marvel.
Following the creation of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel and the immense success of the brand, National Comics sought to crush the Marvel Family under the guise that it infringed on the intellectual property of Superman. While Fawcett was initially successful in the legal battle over National, an appeal lead to a judgment in the latter’s favor. As superheroes were falling out of popularity, Fawcett decided to abandon its fight and by 1953, the Marvel Family was no more. While years passed and Captain Marvel remained out of print, it provided an opportunity for Marvel Comics to come in and take the name for itself (it should be noted, M.F. Enterprises picked up the name in 1966 but Marvel paid them to abandon their property). In the December 1967 issue of Marvel Super-Heroes, Stan Lee and Gene Colan introduced Kree Captain Mar-Vell, a spy sent to Earth to gauge if it posed a danger to his race’s alien empire. Transitioning to his own series under the title Captain Marvel, the series didn’t perform terribly well until a revamp by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane gave him a new costume, a co-star in Rick Jones (of Hulk fame), and a pair of empowered armbands called the Nega-Bands. Retroactively, it was revealed the Nega-Bands was a tool created by the Kree Supreme Intelligence based off of the Quantum Bands employed by Marvel Boy/Marvel Man/Quasar. Mar-Vell went on to be a critical part in the much-lauded “Kree-Skrull War” storyline in the Avengers but likely reached his greatest heights under the direction of Jim Starlin who gave the character a nemesis in the Mad Titan Thanos. In a fascinating twist, the decision was made to kill Captain Marvel in the 1982 debut issue of Marvel Graphic Novel with “The Death of Captain Marvel.” A Kree soldier named Captain Att-Lass/Atlas (with aid from his mate Dr. Minn-Erva/Minerva) reclaimed the Nega-Bands from Mar-Vell’s tomb but the Shi’ar stole them to create the Nega Bomb. Mar-Vell’s legacy lived on in a series of retroactively birthed offspring with Genis-Vell, Phyla-Vell, and Dorrek VIII. Subsequently, Mar-Vell was resurrected and killed several times over the last decade. Before Mar-Vell’s offspring adopted his mantle, another hero took up the hero’s name.
Later the same year that Mar-Vell died of cancer, Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. took up the name of Captain Marvel in the pages of the Amazing Spider-Man. A member of the New Orleans harbor patrol, Monica Rambeau was exposed to extra-dimensional energy transforming her into a being able to turn into any form of energy. Being dubbed Captain Marvel by the media, Rambeau went on to join the Avengers eventually leading the group. When Mar-Vell’s son Genis inherited his father’s Nega-Bands, people came to refer to him as Captain Marvel. When Rambeau met Genis, she decided to honor Mar-Vell by conceding the hero’s codename to his son as she took the name Photon. As time passed, the heroine changed her name to Pulsar and then Spectrum as she also joined the superhero group Nextwave to which she is most closest associated with today. Genis’ assuming the name of Captain Marvel ushered in a new line of heroes to bare the mantle.
Introduced in 1993 by Ron Marz and Ron Lim in the pages of Silver Surfer, Genis-Vell was made by Mar-Vell’s beloved mate Elysius from some of his harvested genetic material. Donning his father’s Nega-Bands, Genis became a hero and adopted the codename Legacy. During the events of Destiny War in the pages of Avengers Forever, a future version of Genis emerged who had adopted the superhero name of his father. Forced to bond through the Nega-Bands with his father’s former partner Rick Jones, when future Genis left that bond transferred to his present day version. Eventually, the influence of future Genis on his past self caused his younger self to go insane. In that insanity, he created a sister named Phyla-Vell. Genis’ power grew as the Nega-Bands merged with him when the supervillain Baron Helmut Zemo planned to use him as a tool for his own designs. However, Zemo came to realize that Genis would inevitably wipe out existence if not stopped and was forced to freeze him in a moment in time. Genis’ sister Phyla continued the family tradition of heroes.
When Genis-Vell developed incalculable power when a future version of himself emerged in the present, Genis destroyed and recreated the universe giving rise to a sister named Phyla-Vell who opposed him and sought the name of Captain Marvel for herself. During the events of Annihilation, however, Phyla acquired the Quantum Bands that Annihilus stole from Wendell Vaughn and donned them to become the new Quasar. Phyla later lost the bands to the villain Maelstrom and became the avatar of Oblivion with the new name Martyr. S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Avril Kincaid later acquired the Quantum Bands and became the new Quasar. In the midst of Mar-Vell’s children becoming involved in cosmic events, it appeared their father had returned to life.
Discovered in the Negative Zone by the Sentry, the seemingly returned Captain Mar-Vell aligned with the pro-registration movement during the events of Civil War. Mar-Vell also connected with his Kree/Skrull son Dorrek VIII (born from a union between the Kree soldier and Princess Anelle during the Kree-Skrull War) who was raised on Earth as Teddy Altman and became the hero Hulkling in the Young Avengers. It came to light, however, that this Mar-Vell was in fact a Skrull sleeper agent named Khn’nr patterned after Mar-Vell but whose flawed programming erased Khn’nr’s mind leaving only the imprint of the Kree hero remaining. As such, when the Skrull invasion during the events of Secret Invasion saw various sleeper agents activated, Khn’nr sacrificed his life combating his own race. Before his death, Khn’nr passed on the Captain Marvel legacy to Noh-Varr who took on his mantle and joined the Dark Avengers in his memory. When Noh-Varr abandoned the title upon learning the true intent of the group he joined, but a close associate of Mar-Vell took on his legacy.
When Mar-Vell first came to Earth, he assumed the identity of Dr. Walter Lawson who seemingly was killed by the Kree soldier’s superior officer Colonel Yon-Rogg. Assuming his role at Cape Canaveral, Mar-Vell as Lawson met and befriended security chief Carol Danvers. Time and again, Mar-Vell saved Danvers’ life as Captain Marvel as she suspected Lawson wasn’t who he claimed to be. At some level, the relationship between the two mirrored that of Superman and Lois Lane (though, her name is clearly a nod to Supergirl, deriving Carol from Kara Zor-El and Danvers from Linda Lee Danvers, the Kryptonian hero’s secret identity). Inevitably, Danvers was used as a pawn by Yon-Rogg with his escalating tensions with Mar-Vell and an accident unlocked remarkable abilities within her (retroactively, Danvers was revealed to be half-Kree). Initially presenting itself as a split personality, Danvers became the costumed heroine Ms. Marvel. In time, Ms. Marvel joined the Avengers, had her powers stolen by Rogue of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and went through various phases as Binary and Warbird before encountering a briefly resurrected Mar-Vell convinced her to take up his mantle. Danvers, however, was only the first of several women to become Ms. Marvel.
While Carol Danvers was traversing space with the Starjammers as Binary, stuntwoman Sharon Ventura underwent physical augmentation by the Power Broker to become a wrestler named Ms. Marvel. A close friend of the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm the Thing, Ventura joined with the Inhuman Crystal to replace the departing Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman in the group as they left to raise their son Franklin. During one mission in space, an incident saw Ventura and the Thing bombarded with cosmic rays further mutating Grimm and transforming his female companion into the She-Thing. The transformation was difficult for Ventura, shifting her to play the role of super-villain from time-to-time. By 2006, Carol Danvers again assumed the name of Ms. Marvel but when she refused to align herself with Norman Osborn during the events of Dark Reign, he created a dark replacement.
A student of Captain America foe Dr. Faustus, Dr. Karla Sofen enjoyed manipulating the minds of others and gaining power over them. This sensation took on another meaning entirely when Sofen manipulated the supervillain Moonstone into abandoning his namesake to her turning her into the new Moonstone. Combating the likes of the Hulk, Captain America, Marvel Man, and Spider-Man, Sofen went on to become a staple of the Masters of Evil. When Baron Zemo assembled the Masters to disguise themselves as heroes called the Thunderbolts to replace the Avengers, Sofen adopted the guise of Meteorite. When the villains realized they liked playing the part of hero, the group turned on Zemo with Sofen legitimately wanting to turn over a new leaf herself. However, events lead to her return to crime and leading Norman Osborn’s version of the Thunderbolts. At one point, Khn’nr as Captain Marvel battled the group and revealed the stones empowering Moonstone were of Kree origin. When Carol Danvers refused to work for Osborn’s Avengers, Sofen donned the heroine’s original Ms. Marvel costume (which was gifted by Danvers to the young hero Ultra Girl) and played her role as part of the Dark Avengers. Within the group, Noh-Varr had adopted the mantle of Captain Marvel and became Sofen’s lover. However, when Sofen let slip that the group was made of villains posing as heroes, the Kree youth left the group. Eventually, the Avengers fought and defeated their evil doppelgangers. For a brief period, Sofen adopted the guise of Captain Marvel when she came under the mind control of the Dr. Strange of a parallel Earth. With Sofen unmasked from the role of Ms. Marvel and Danvers adopting the mantle of Captain Marvel, the stage was set for the latest heroine to adopt the name Ms. Marvel.
Kamala Khan grew up a massive fan of Carol Danvers’ various heroic identities, unsuspecting fate had a plan for her to join her idol. Unaware she carried within her Inhuman genes that, when Black Bolt blanketed the Earth in Terrigen Mist, gave her the power to alter her body, Khan took up the mantle of Ms. Marvel. Khan ended up being a big hit for Marvel, seeing her join the Avengers (becoming close friends with the new Nova and new Spider-Man) as well as various other (mostly young) hero teams like Captain Marvel’s Carol Cadets, Champions, Protectors, and the Secret Warriors. Outside of the comics, Khan’s Ms. Marvel features prominently in the series of Marvel Rising animated series (based on the Secret Warriors) and will star in her own live action series on Disney+. Whereas Marvel Boy, Captain Marvel, and Ms. Marvel make up the more notable members of Marvel’s Marvel Family, assorted others have cropped up over the years.
For Impel’s 1990 Marvel Universe trading card, an honor was bestowed on creator Stan Lee who, along with others like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, largely built Marvel Comics as it is today. Card number 161 depicted Lee morphing together with characters such as Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Two-Gun Kid, Shanna, Thor, Hulk, and the Fantastic Four as drawn by Arnie Sawyer for the cover of an issue of Foom in 1977. The card identified the legendary figure as Mr. Marvel. One year later, Marvel built a new legacy in Blue Marvel.
During the events of the Infinity Gauntlet, an almost innumerable amount of heroes rose to combat the Mad Titan Thanos. Among them, Quasar tried his hand at the villain only to be forced to combat the Quantum Banders, a group of bioduplicates of past Protectors of the Universe as well as Thelius the Crusader created by the Gauntlet. Quasar slew all but the copy of Thelius whom he left instead unconscious. Following the battle, Thanos sent the Crusader to Earth where he adopted the name Blue Marvel. Believing himself a hero, the Blue Marvel’s harsh sense of justice even ran afoul of the Punisher who felt the bioduplicate went too far. The would-be Protector of the Universe met his end when he ventured to the White Room, resting place of those who bare the Quantum Bands, to ensure Quasar would not escape. However, the hero used the Blue Marvel to do just that by having him take his place. Another Blue Marvel emerged to redeem the title.
Writer/actor Kevin Grevioux gained international acclaim following the success of his film series Underworld which featured the clandestine war between vampires and werewolves. An avid comic book fan, Marvel Comics brought on Grevioux to work on New Warriors in a post-Civil War world. However, it was his work on Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel that saw the writer achieve a childhood dream. Conceived by Grevioux at age thirteen, the youth noticed that the notable black superheroes he grew up with tended to be created by white men and typically were street-level, lacking the strength and position of a Superman or Thor. In Blue Marvel, a black man was strong and smart but wore a full body costume to make his mission about spreading good and not race. The series featured Adam Brashear, a soldier and scientist, and his best friend Conner Sims caught in a lab accident that granted them immense power. Retroactively placed in the 1950s, Brashear operated as the Blue Marvel until the public learned he was African-American during a battle with Sims who had become the supervillain Anti-Man and the backlash forced him into early retirement. Brashear largely abandoned his superpowered alternate identity for decades until Anti-Man returned in the present day and Iron Man convinced the retired hero to once again become the Blue Marvel. In the wake of this conflict, Brashear remained active as a hero, joining the Avengers, Ultimates (which included Captain Marvel and Spectrum), and the Three Xs. Blue Marvel largely represented the last of Marvel Comics notable additions to its Marvel Family (time will tell if there will be White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple, Pink, Gold, or Silver Marvels). In 2002, Marvel VP Bill Jemas parodied the television series Smallville with Marville featuring Kal-AOL as Marvel, but the less said about that, the better. However, 2009 saw Marvel acquire a brand that amounted to something of a wasted opportunity.
Noted earlier, when National buried Fawcett’s Marvel Family, British publisher L. Miller & Son tasked creator Mick Anglo with making what became the Marvelman Family. Rather than future reporter Billy Batson granted powers by the wizard Shazam by saying his name only to be joined by his friend Freddy Freeman and long lost sister Mary Bromfield to become the Marvel Family, reporter Micky Moran was granted powers by an astrophysicist by saying the word Kimota (atomic spoken backwards) only to be joined by his friends Dicky Dauntless and Johnny Bates to become the Marvelman Family. Miller produced Marvelman Family adventures from 1954 to 1963 when the publisher went bankrupt while Anglo broke ties with Miller in 1960 and self-published his Marvelman scripts as Captain Miracle for a year. In 1982, the burgeoning anthology comic Warrior revived Marvelman under the direction of Alan Moore, Garry Leach, and Alan Davis down a decidedly darker path. By 1984, Marvel Comics objected to the use of the name Marvelman due to their Marvel Man created in 1978. So, in 1985, Marvelman became Miracleman at Pacific Comics (and then Eclipse Comics) as Moore returned with artists Chuck Beckum, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben (adding the character of Miraclewoman to the Miracleman Family) until Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham took over the series. When Eclipse folded in 1994, a rights quagmire emerged between Todd McFarlane (who bought Eclipse’s assets), Neil Gaiman (who was owed 1/3 ownership of his Miracleman stories), and assorted others. Inevitably, it came out that in 2009 that all rights had been with original creator Mick Anglo and all subsequent deals were illegitimate. With the rights cleared up, in an unexpected turn, Marvel bought the rights in a move that has been compared to DC Comics acquiring Fawcett’s Marvel Family. Marvel began reprinting Miracleman and original work was made in 2014 but new, yet known legal hurdles saw plans for the character in 2017 halted that have seemingly remained unresolved. It does beg the question, however, what rights Marvel may or may not have for a Marvelwoman in relation to Miraclewoman not officially being transitioned over. Only time will tell if the Marvelman Family will formally join Marvel’s Marvel Family.