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Captain Marvel’s Monica Rambeau tease, explained

In the comics, Monica already “glows” like her superpowered Aunt Carol.

A still of Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel.
Marvel Studios
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

This post contains spoilers regarding the plot of Captain Marvel.

When Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, returns to Earth in next month’s Avengers: Endgame, she’ll be coming back to a different world, in part because it’ll be 23 years older than when she left it in 1995.

The pager she amps up in the movie Captain Marvel will look clunkily out of place. The internet will (thankfully) be much faster. She’ll no longer have to rely on CD-ROMs, pay phones, or maps to point her where she needs to go.

But, most importantly, the people will be different too.

Nick Fury will be gone (she finds out he’s missing in Captain Marvel’s post-credits scene). Maria Rambeau, Carol’s best friend, will be older (if she hasn’t been dusted by Thanos’s snap). And Monica Rambeau, Carol’s adopted niece of sorts (in the film, Monica says that she and her mother were Carol’s family, because Carol had problems with her own family) will no longer be a precocious kid but a grown adult (again, if she survived the snap).

What’s coming next in Monica Rambeau’s story is arguably the most intriguing tease in Captain Marvel.

The movie, quickly and briefly, foreshadows Monica’s comic book origins as a superhero capable traveling at the speed of light. The stark difference between the comic books and the movie is that in Captain Marvel, Monica is still just a child — something Endgame’s 23-year time jump fixes easily. And her introduction could easily be Captain Marvel’s next story, because in the comic books, she too is known as Captain Marvel.

In the comic books, Monica Rambeau “glows” like her aunt Carol

In one of the film’s final scenes, after she saves the Earth from the Kree bombing raid, Carol has a conversation with the Rambeaus, Skrulls, and Fury about, among other things, how Monica wants to be like her superpowered, fearless “aunt” and go to space to help beings like the Skrulls.

Fury tells Monica that maybe she will one day “learn to glow like Aunt Carol” — a huge wink to comic book fans.

The “glow” Fury’s referring to is seen in the movie’s third act, when Carol accepts and harnesses her photon powers to become more powerful than she ever thought possible. But it’s curious that Fury is specifically referring to Carol’s “glow,” as opposed to her photon beams or superpowered punches; “glowing” is exactly what Monica does in the comic books, indicating that this might be a deliberate choice of words that reference Monica’s comic book life.

In the comic books, Monica is a grown woman who has existed as a superhero since her first appearance in 1982’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 16, written by Roger Stern and drawn by John Romita Jr.

In that story, Spider-Man notices Monica on the street and tries to help her after she is assaulted by a couple of ruffians. It turns out she doesn’t need his help because she has superpowers of her own, granted to her by wayward energy rays from another universe:

Monica Rambeau in Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 16.
John Romita Jr./Marvel

These rays have given her the ability to manipulate and transform herself into different wavelengths of energy, which means she can travel at the speed of light and, as Fury puts it, “glow”:

Monica using her powers in Mighty Avengers No. 1 (2013).
Greg Land/Marvel

When it comes to more recent comics, writer Al Ewing has some of the most exciting depictions (including the one above in Mighty Avengers) of just how powerful Monica is and what she’s capable of. During Ewing’s run on The Ultimates (2015), a series about a band of superheroes (including Monica and Carol) who are dealing with cosmic threats, Monica manipulates her energy form to actually enter Thanos’s brain to try to kill the Mad Titan:

Monica vs Thanos in Ultimates
Monica Rambeau in Ultimates No. 11.
Kenneth Rocafort/Marvel

It appears that Fury’s seemingly offhand comment about Monica learning to “glow” is actually a reference to her awesome powers in the comic books. Of course, she does more than just “glow,” like wielding the power and speed of energies on the electromagnetic spectrum. But there’s one more major tie between Monica and Carol that Captain Marvel doesn’t quite get into: their shared code name.

Monica Rambeau was Captain Marvel too

In the world of comic books, code names and titles are important. A code name like Storm or Spider-Man can easily describe someone’s superpowers or abilities. Sometimes it describes a personality, like Wolverine. And then there’s the legacy title — where other characters assume the code name of a hero that they didn’t originate, more recently in play with Captain America and Thor (see: Jane Foster becoming Thor).

For the comic book versions of Monica and Carol, the title of Captain Marvel was actually the source of some discontent between the two, and gave them both feelings of impostor syndrome.

Monica had the title first, back in that 1982 issue of Amazing Spider-Man, calling and introducing herself as Captain Marvel to fellow heroes. Unbeknownst to her, she had taken the title from a deceased hero.

The original “Captain Marvel” is the Kree alien known as Mar-Vell, who, in the comic books and in the movie, was involved in an explosion that granted Carol Danvers her powers. In the movie adaptation, Mar-Vell was gender-swapped and incorporated traits of a woman named Helen Cobb, a female fighter pilot Danvers admires.

In these comics, though, Mar-Vell is male — and, back in the day, was also Carol’s main love interest. Or, more specifically, Mar-Vell was the central hero, and Carol was his girlfriend.

Mar-Vell’s comic was eventually canceled in 1979 (Captain Marvel No. 62), and his comic book death (The Death of Captain Marvel) happened the same year as Monica’s emergence in 1982.

Comic Book Monica was unaware of Mar-Vell’s existence and just so happened to take on his abandoned title of Captain Marvel — following Mar-Vell’s death, it seemed that Marvel wanted to continue the legacy with a new hero. The Thing, a member of the Fantastic Four, actually points out to her that she took Mar-Vell’s name in her comic debut. She’s remorseful and apologetic, but he assures her that it’s okay:

Monica Rambeau and The Thing talk about code names.
John Romita Jr./Marvel

So Monica is “Captain Marvel” decades before Carol takes the title — without consulting Monica — in writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Dexter Soy’s Captain Marvel run in 2012. (In the comic books, Monica and Carol are peers and team members but do not have the same family relationship established in the movie.)

Carol taking over the Captain Marvel name from Monica is actually a point of contention in the larger context of comic books and representation, primarily because of the lack of visibility for black female superheroes in comic books. Here you have a white female superhero just taking the title from an existing black female character — and one who has a history of losing the Captain Marvel status and getting other, less flagship code names like Pulsar, Photon, and Spectrum in exchange.

DeConnick actually addresses this split in issue 7 of her Captain Marvel run, with Monica peeved at Carol for taking her name. Monica is mad that there was no call, no contact, no consideration for her when Carol took the title of Captain Marvel. Carol claimed that the name wasn’t even hers to begin with:

Monica Rambeau and Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel No. 7.

The two patch things up, and DeConnick gets to tell a story about the pressure to live up to a legacy that can resonate with anyone, but especially women and minorities, who have experienced “impostor syndrome” — the internalized feeling that one isn’t good enough compared to his or her peers. In this specific story, DeConnick explores Carol’s and Monica’s inner strength and fortitude, but also how much they revere the title of Captain Marvel.

Monica Rambeau could be a superhero if Marvel wants her to be

By making Monica a child instead of Carol’s peer in Captain Marvel, Marvel eliminated this fight over the title. Monica also isn’t superpowered. But the studio left the door wide open for the future.

Here’s why: Captain Marvel takes place in the 1990s, and Monica is a child in 1995. While Carol is out exploring the universe and helping Talos and the Skrulls find a place to live, time has continued on Earth. And when Carol returns in next month’s Endgame, she’s coming back in the year 2018, when the movie takes place — some two decades after she left Earth.

To be clear, there could be a few time jumps in between, as the Endgame trailer features Avengers sporting all kinds of different haircuts, indicating an indiscernible passage of time. But should the MCU follow its timeline — that the Monica in 1995 is now 23 years older during Infinity War, which takes place in 2018 — Monica should now be in her 30s. And an adult Monica would be around the age of Marvel’s other superheroes.

Granted, the MCU is pretty big already, and there might not be enough space for a superpowered Monica Rambeau story. One of my biggest complaints about Infinity War, after all, is that there are so many characters in so many disparate locations that heroes like Black Panther and Captain America barely get any lines. And with the X-Men and Fantastic Four presumably in the mix thanks to the Disney/Fox merger, that roster grows even more.

It’s hard to see where a Monica Rambeau story would fit other than as part of a Captain Marvel sequel. But it seems like with all this talk about glowing — and how warm the reception to the character has already been — the idea of turning Monica Rambeau into a superhero who has dreams of punching holes in the sky like her aunt is already there. And should Marvel decide to do it, there is a rich comic book history of the character to dive into.