Part of the fun of a rich continuity is seeing a superhero mantle become a “legacy” held by several names over the years. Like looking at the rosters of your favorite sports team, its intriguing to debate on how each bearer handled the role, reflected the times and, most importantly, compared to his successors or predecessors. Comic Vine’s friend, James Robinson, of course, explored this to great effect in his STARMAN run. While there are plenty of such legacies at DC, there are actually only a few at Marvel. The characters who seem to have the successions are the captains - - there have been seven Captain Americas and five Captain Marvels - - and I suppose that's fitting given how captains are wont to get promoted and demoted in real life.
Anyway, since I’ve always had a fondness for these "Protectors of the Universe," I figured I’d do some commentary and comparison of the five who've held this iconic title and perhaps even decide who my favorite is in the process. == TEASER ==
The originator. The traitor to the Kree empire. The "hero born from holocaust." His adventures in the 70s and earlys 80s didn't have the cohesive sweep of Jim Starlin's other cosmic hero, Adam Warlock, and I think that, in a lot of ways, he’s more interesting being dead. THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read in comics (superhero or otherwise) and I know that it's added considerably to the character's mythic and mystique. Furthering all of that, I throughly enjoy the messianic reinterpretation he got in the EARTH X saga.
#2 MONICA RAMBEAU (AKA Photon & Pulsar)
Unfortunately, just by nature of the windows of when I was reading, I never really got enough “face time” with this lady to properly judge her. She made her debut the same year that Mar-Vell died and quickly came to lead the Avengers - - which was pretty ballsy for the time. She's also one of those possibly-overpowered characters, given the sheer range of energy at her disposal. Part of the appeal was that she was such a radical departure from the line, though I do think maybe she’s in need of somebody to properly retcon her to fit more into this lineage' s scheme.
#3 GENIS-VELL (AKA Legacy & Photon)
The lunatic. The misbegotten creation. The artificial son. Much like how Mar-Vell got more interesting when he was dead, I vastly preferred "insane" Genis over the straight man we saw for the first half of Peter David's run. It's a shame he was killed off so early in THUNDERBOLTS, long before his oft-prophesized romance with Songbird could fully develop. As an aside, I think both Carlos Pacheco’s starry redesign from AVENGERS FOREVER and Alex Ross' back-to-basics redesign are some of the sleekest costumes in all of comics.
#4 PHYLA-VELL (AKA Quasar & Martyr)
The heretic. The fraternal usurper. Joan of Arc in space. If the retcon that introduced Genis seemed like it came out of left field, then this came from a whole other ballpark. With time and distance, though, it fits more and more. She claimed the rights to the title while Genis still had it, but then went down her own, radical path. There was an odd tragedy to her situation as the last (and estranged, at that) survivor of the "House of Vell." She was just recently killed off in THANOS IMPERATIVE and, like Genis, I feel like we didn't get to see her fullest potential realized either.
#5 NOH-VARR (AKA Marvel Boy & the Protector)
The rebel. The once self-proclaimed enemy of Earth. He’s my favorite of Grant Morrison’s creations and, not surprisingly, my favorite Captain Marvel (even though he technically “stole” the title during DARK REIGN.) If you've read the original MARVEL BOY mini-series, you know he’s got attitude to make Genis’ pony tail days look tame and his powers give Mar-Vell's a run in the "trippy" department. I'm so glad he's back in the fold in Avengers. Hopefully this punk will finally get his own title again one of these days.