Today, the mantle of Captain Marvel is inseparable from Carol Danvers. However, she’s not the first Marvel hero or Avenger to wield that title. The Kree alien warrior Mar-Vell was the first Marvel hero to be called Captain Marvel. And the title stayed around his family line for several years, with the Hulk and Captain America’s ex-sidekick Rick Jones merging with both Mar-Vell and his son, Genis-Vell.
Now, we’re taking a closer look at how Jones bonded with both of these alien heroes to bring Captain Marvel to life before Carol Danvers took on that iconic mantle.
After a brief career as the new Bucky, Rick decided to stop being Captain America’s sidekick. Feeling neglected by Steve and no longer wishing to compete with his ego, Rick decided to leave the Avengers for good. But before he could finally separate from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, he was drawn towards the Nega-Bands, the bracelets that increased Mar-Vell’s fighting capabilities. Putting them on, Rick was immediately bonded with Mar-Vell in 1969’s Captain Marvel #17, by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. When the bands were activated, one of the two would be kept within a protective bubble inside the Negative Zone. With this new bond forged, Rick became the new Captain Marvel.
The duo would have many adventures alongside the great names of the Marvel Universe, but would play a critical role during the Kree-Skrull War. After Rick is released from the Negative Zone via a portal, Mar-Vell appears on Earth. This severs the bond between the two, leaving Rick powerless as both the Kree and Skrull fleets arrive in the Solar System. But intervention by the Kree Supreme Intelligence gives Rick new powers that he uses to halt the attack by the two alien empires.
Despite his new level of power, Rick is severely injured. Unwilling to let him die, Mar-Vell once again bonds with Rick, restoring his previous powers and saving Jones’ life. The two would remain bonded again for a few years before being separated once again after a battle with the Super-Adaptoid. Despite the loss, both agreed that their time together had come to an end and parted ways to pursue their own lives. Mar-Vell would tragically die of cancer years later, but Rick was there at his bedside to comfort his old friend.
This was not the end of Rick’s time as Captain Marvel however. Rick would once again be fused with another Kree warrior: Genis-Vell in 1999’s Avengers Forever, by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco. However, their dynamic was reversed this time around, with Rick being the mentor to the largely inexperienced Genis-Vell. One other key difference is that their powers would switch them in between the Microverse instead of the Negative Zone, but for the most part, it was largely the same set-up as before.
However, things ultimately took a dark turn for Rick and his new friend, thanks to Genis-Vell’s vast powers and “cosmic awareness” But when the latter reached its peak, Genis-Vell was consumed by madness. Believing himself to be a god, Genis-Vell began unleashing his power upon the universe, even destroying it only to recreate it with him and Rick as its sole inhabitants. Things would only become more toxic when Genis discovered he could inflict psychic pain upon Rick through their connection.
He forced Rick to kill himself, then resurrected Rick immediately after, which only served to fuel his belief that he was a god. Rick managed to find ways to curb some of Genis-Vell’s homicidal tendencies, but not many. He could also attack his former friend through their connection, but not without feeling the same pain. And his guidance for the young Kree only worked some of the time now. Eventually, the two parted thanks to the intervention of the cosmic entity, Expediency, just in time for the final issue of writer Peter David’s Captain Marvel run.