Monica Rambeau and the Inescapable Orbit of Carol Danvers and Wanda Maximoff

Monica Rambeau uses her powers in WandaVision.

Compared to her comic book counterpart, MCU Monica Rambeau once seemed destined to break out of Carol Danvers’ shadow as her similar path as a hero, only to be relegated yet again to sidekick status — this time prop up Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision.

After WandaVision aired its finale, I re-watched Captain Marvel because I was left with a nagging feeling about how Monica Rambeau has been used in the MCU thus far. Captain Marvel introduces her to audiences as a starry-eyed, energetic 11-year-old, the daughter of U.S. Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau. Monica’s and Maria’s place in the film has always rubbed me the wrong way a bit because of how these two Black women were essentially used as plot devices to fuel Carol’s arc. (They also unintentionally brought much-needed energy and life to the film, since Carol’s true personality couldn’t shine through because of an amnesia plot.) Revisiting the “Auntie Carol” relationship between Carol and Monica in the film and then seeing how adult Monica’s story played out in WandaVision, I realized how much the MCU has fallen short with their approach to Monica. The MCU has not fully given Monica Rambeau the space to be the superheroine she’s meant to be and has instead relegated her to sidekick status by leaving Monica with no family for her own stories. This is not to say that the MCU “ruined” Monica, but looking at the stories told for her in Captain Marvel and WandaVision, the MCU has missed the mark on a few key aspects in crafting this character.

It’s important to know that while Carol Danvers currently holds the title of Captain Marvel (taking up the mantle from Kree alien Mar-Vell), Monica was the first woman to become Captain Marvel in 1982 when she debuted in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16. Created by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr., Monica’s Captain Marvel had no ties to the deceased Mar-Vell or Carol Danvers, nor was her backstory or powers similar. Though Monica was never given her own series in the ‘80s, Monica became the Avengers’ first Black female member and the first Black female chairperson. Monica was a hero completely independent of Carol, and she didn’t need Carol’s influence to give her any ambitions for heroism. Monica and Carol later became teammates in Al Ewing’s Ultimates run, alongside Black Panther, Blue Marvel, America Chavez, and Galactus, where their friendship deepened and, most importantly, they were seen as equals.

Carol recuits Monica in Ultimates.
Carol personally recruited Monica for the Ultimates team as the team’s tactician in Ultimates #3 (2016)

Unfortunately, the MCU has lost sight of that. To some fans, Monica Rambeau was their Captain Marvel, and as a result I’m sure Marvel found themselves in a tough spot when they began making plans for Captain Marvel to enter the MCU. My takeaway watching Captain Marvel was they wanted to appease both Carol and Monica fans, which meant including both, acknowledging their friendship, and hinting at Monica’s super heroic future — all while still keeping Carol centered in importance.

What was interesting about Captain Marvel was that Monica’s family dynamic was completely changed from the rich dynamics from the comics. Monica’s firefighter father Frank was erased, and Maria became a single mother who raised Monica with some help from Carol. While most heroes struggle to hide their heroics and live a normal life (like Peter Parker), comics Maria was there for Monica the whole way. Monica frequently discussed Avengers matters with her parents, even asking for advice when she had trouble dealing with her teammates, or when Captain America nominated her to lead the Avengers like in Avengers #279.

Monica Rambeau discusses her Avengers nomination with her parents.
Before Monica makes history as the Avengers’ first Black female leader, Monica discusses the chairperson nomination with her family before she accepts it in Avengers #279 (1987)

Two of my favorite issues featuring Monica and her parents are Giant-Size Captain Marvel #1 and the four-issue series Avengers Infinity. In Giant Size Captain Marvel #1, writer Dwayne McDuffie and artist Doc Bright craft a story where we get more of a peek into Monica’s life where she’s recovering at her parents’ home in New Orleans in the aftermath of an intense battle with the Leviathan, resulting in a devastating power loss. In Avengers Infinity #1 by Roger Stern and Sean Chen, after Monica regained her powers, she is no longer leading the Avengers and laments over missing out on a lot of adventures because she is now a reserve member. When Monica wanted to reach out to the Avengers, Monica discovered that Maria had kept her Avengers calling card hidden and stopped passing on the Avengers’ messages for Monica to fight again because of how traumatizing it was to see her daughter in the withered state she was in.

With those two issues, it was fascinating to see Monica dealing with her parents’ support and fears despite being incredibly powerful. It would have been nice to have the MCU explore this kind of family dynamic with this loving Black family, similar to The CW’s Black Lightning. But instead this was completely done away with so Monica and Maria (despite a welcome career change to a fighter pilot instead of a homemaker) would essentially become plot devices. They’re so broken up over Carol’s absence and existing so much as Carol’s one tether to Earth that I couldn’t help but think of the “You is kind, you is smart” scene in The Help.

Monica Rambeau's mom intercepts her Avenger's calls.
Monica finds out that her mother has been intercepting calls from the Avengers out of fear for her safety in Avengers Infinity #1

WandaVision oddly doubles down a bit on these same pitfalls Captain Marvel made with Monica Rambeau. The show made the unfortunate decision to kill off Maria Rambeau during the five years Monica was snapped away. While Maria’s death gave us insight into Monica’s state and informed Monica’s choices, it still felt like a missed opportunity to explore Monica’s family life as an adult. Additionally, in a world where Black Panther had many prominent Black women on screen, outside of Wakanda the number of Black women can’t seem to balloon past one at a time in the MCU. Now Monica’s story is just orbiting around both Carol Danvers and Wanda, and that’s her way into dealing with the Avengers. Teyonah Parris’ flawless and captivating performance as adult Monica Rambeau aside, MCU Monica can’t seem to escape being tethered to another (white) character.

The frustrating thing about WandaVision is that Monica’s arc started off strong but ended with her being woefully underutilized. At first her story resonated with Wanda’s; since grief was what connected them, Monica was invested in how to save Wanda and the Westview residents, and figure out how the Hex worked. She even pleaded to S.W.O.R.D. on Wanda’s behalf, all while processing her own trauma and grief from losing Maria. However, after a few episodes the sentiment got tiring to watch as this Black woman became the show’s punching bag at every turn. From Wanda’s mental enslavement, being flung out of Wanda’s home several times, microaggressions from Hayward, and facing down a literal barrage of bullets in a hollow homage to Ewing’s Mighty Avengers (where bullets phased through her), Monica could not catch a break. The show became an example of bad optics: why would this Black woman put her body on the line for Wanda as many times as she did, simply because Wanda was grieving?

It feels hollow to say that the sole reward for all this is that at least Monica gained her electromagnetic powers. Comic book fans knew she was going to get them eventually, but in the comics she got them by smashing an energy disruptor weapon, fearing global destruction if left in the wrong hands, not because of a sad witch hiding behind her comfort entertainment. Even though we know Monica would ultimately be okay thanks to her powers, why put her through that kind of bodily trauma, all while she’s grieving too?

By the finale, Monica had become a mere afterthought despite being the main human protagonist, in my opinion, outside of Wanda and Vision. While audiences had to puzzle out Wanda and Vision’s sitcom mystery, Monica was the viewer’s grounded protagonist who guided us along as she discovered her own answers. But Monica’s arc ran out of steam when she got her powers, and then she took the backseat once Agatha and Wanda began playing Charlie Kaufman through Wanda’s memories and trauma. Monica had just enough story importance for the show to play her as a passive mouthpiece in her and Wanda’s odd and stiff final conversation.

It’s a disappointing end because WandaVision worked hard early on to build a relationship between Monica and Wanda, emphasizing their shared grief and trauma. In the comics, Monica and Wanda don’t have many stand out moments together save for being teammates in Avengers: No Road Home, so it was welcome to see how these two powerful characters could interact with one another in the MCU. But when Wanda and Monica discuss the aftermath of what happened in Westview, the show frames their conversation as Wanda being a self-sacrificing savior; the reality is she was the chief victimizer (and victim) through this whole ordeal, and Monica was the one who acted heroically.

It would have been nice to see Wanda acknowledge what she put Monica through, but I think WandaVision ultimately feared that Wanda would become too unlikable — so the show essentially gives her a pass when Monica tells Wanda that the residents will “never know what you sacrificed for them.” When Monica adds that given “the chance and her power” she would have done the same thing to bring Maria back, it rings false. Just two episodes prior, Monica strode through the Hex (and got her powers in the process) in a move meant to symbolize her finally processing her grief and accepting the loss of her mom. When she confronted Wanda, Monica said that while she understands what it’s like to lose a loved one, she “can’t undo it” and doesn’t want to control her pain anymore “because it’s [her] truth.” It’s a striking moment, yet that important part of Monica’s arc is undermined to serve Wanda’s story. Their final conversation is a bit premature, given that Wanda didn’t even truly explain herself or her actions to Monica before slipping away to the mountainside.

In the end, despite sporadic and inconsistent appearances in the comics, Monica Rambeau is a rich character with a wealth of stories to springboard front and center into the MCU. The storytelling available for Monica is practically limitless. Even some of her weaker stories could be great if given the MCU touch, which has proven over 20 films deep that they know how to tell good stories for these characters. While the MCU has never opted to be 100% faithful to their comic book source material, some unfortunate changes were made with Monica that were unnecessary and further sidelined her compared to her comic book counterpart. (Compare this to how the Captain America films aged up Bucky Barnes to be Steve Rogers’ childhood best friend, rather than keep him as a child soldier/mascot like in the comics.) By placing Monica Rambeau so firmly in Carol Danvers’ story, to the point that “Auntie Carol” has this huge of an influence in her upbringing and career choices, is unfair to Monica.

Still, I remain cautiously optimistic that with Nia DaCosta at the helm, Monica’s story in Captain Marvel 2 now titled The Marvels — will be better served with a talented Black woman creator. Overall, I enjoyed seeing Monica Rambeau, but the MCU needs to do better with a character who could one day lead the Avengers like in the comics.

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