Alter Ego: Monica Rambeau
Notable Aliases: Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar, Daystar, Sceptre, Lady of Light, Monica Marvel, Sun Goddess, Spectrum
First Appearance: The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (October, 1982) note ; Avengers Unplugged #5 (June, 1996) note ; New Thunderbolts #9 (August, 2005) note ; Mighty Avengers #1 (November, 2013) note
Team Affiliations: The Avengers (leader), Mighty Avengers (field leader), The Ultimates
Monica Rambeau, otherwise known by her multitude of aliases (Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar, and presently Spectrum) is a Marvel Comics character created by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr., first appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (dated 1982).
Introduced as a lieutenant of the New Orleans Harbor Patrol, an accident involving an energy weapon exposed Monica to extradimensional energy, giving her a multitude of energy-related powers. She can convert herself into any form of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum, absorb and manipulate energy, and travel at the speed of light while flying in her energy form. Because of this, she's described as an "Alpha Level" superhuman by Sam Wilson, and is quietly one of the most powerful heroes in the entire Marvel Universe.
Shortly after gaining her powers, Monica adopted the vacant Captain Marvel name for herself, meaning she's the first woman —and a woman of color, at that!— to do so, even though Phyla-Vell (daughter of Mar-Vell) and Carol Danvers (formerly Ms. Marvel) have been more associated with that distinction.
While learning to master her powers, Monica sought help from The Avengers, who eventually accepted her into their ranks as a full member. It's worth noting that Monica is the first black woman to join the team, and only the third black Avenger overall, behind The Falcon and Black Panther. Not only was Monica a valued member of The Avengers, but she even led them for a spell, ultimately retiring from duty when she lost her powers during a mission.
Years later, Monica regained her powers and (hesitantly) conceded the Captain Marvel name to Genis-Vell (son of Mar-Vell), instead opting for a new alias: Photon. And then Genis decided he actually wanted to be called Photon too, so Monica agreed to give him the moniker, rebranding herself as Pulsar.
Monica didn't actually operate under the Pulsar name for very long — she gave it up sometime before appearing in Warren Ellis' Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Now simply using her birth name (while rocking dreads and a new badass longcoat), Monica utilized her experience as former leader of The Avengers to head up this new Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, which included Elsa Bloodstone, Boom Boom, and Machine Man.
It should be said that Nextwave's level of canonicity was up for debate for years, and it was only established in 2015 that its events actually did happen. As explained in Captain America & The Mighty Avengers, Monica and Co. were transported into an alternate universe and screwed with For the Evulz by the Beyond Corporation, and nobody believed them when they returned to Earth-616 and talked about it.
Nextwave ended after only twelve issues, but Monica continued to appear throughout the greater Marvel Universe following its cancelation. She was anti-Registration under Captain America's leadership during the Civil War, teamed up with Carol Danvers (the newly-minted Captain Marvel) while on a mission in the Gulf of Mexico, and even helped to take down Galactus. She also starred in the Sex and the City-esque limited series Marvel Divas, alongside Firestar, Black Cat, and Hellcat.
The Marvel NOW! initiative brought Monica onto a new iteration of the Mighty Avengers, where she served as Luke Cage's lancer. Monica continued to serve with the team until Earth-616 collided with Earth-1610, thusly ending the Marvel Universe. She'd planned to channel all her energy into destroying Earth-1610 — so as to avoid the destruction of her own home reality — but was captured by The Maker before she could try.
While Monica didn't appear in any major capacity during Secret Wars, she did return in the All-New, All-Different Marvel universe as a member of the new Ultimates, reuniting her with (fellow Mighty Avenger) Blue Marvel and frenemy Carol Danvers. As one could probably surmise from reading her history, Monica's definitely one of Marvel's more underrated characters who doesn't nearly get enough love.
Though Monica has only ever really appeared in comics and not much else, 2019's Captain Marvel features her mother Maria as a major supporting character, as portrayed by Lashana Lynch. This version of the character, a 90's contemporary of Carol Danvers' in the US Air Force, notably uses the callsign "Photon", which is also one of the many names Monica has used over the years. Monica herself appears in the film as a child, played by Akira Akbar. The adult version of Monica shows up in the Disney+ series WandaVision, portrayed by Teyonah Parris.
Monica appears in:
- The Avengers vol. 1 (1983 — 1988)
- Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (2006 — 2007)
- Marvel Divas (2009)
- Heralds (2010)
- Mighty Avengers (2013 — 2014)
- Captain America & The Mighty Avengers (2014 — 2015)
- The Ultimates vol. 2 (2015 — 2016)
- Ultimates 2 vol. 2 (2016 — 2017)
- Avengers: No Road Home (2019)
- Strikeforce (2019 — present)
Monica Rambeau provides examples of the following tropes:
- Action Girl: One of the single most dangerous superheroes in the Marvel Universe. She's likely underused specifically because she's a story breaker; her power is really only limited by her scientific knowledge and her imagination. An attempt to de-power her in the late '80s didn't really take, and she was back to her classic power set by the time of the "Operation: Galactic Storm" crossover.
- Affirmative Action Legacy: She's the second Captain Marvel — though it should be noted that Mar-Vell is technically considered "pink" and not white. Fittingly, Monica's nemesis Nebula claims to be the granddaughter of Thanos, who in turn singled out Monica's predecessor, Mar-Vell, as his greatest nemesis. It doesn't work as well for Moonstone, since the man preceding her was a Captain America villain.
- Afro Asskicker: She was introduced as wearing an Afro, so she qualified for this at the time.
- The Ageless: Blue Marvel concluded that Rambeau's "human" form was anything but, that even when not actively using her powers she had gradually moved beyond several human limitations, including age related organ degeneration. She can still be killed though, even in her shifted states, as Blue Marvel came to these conclusions after averting Rambeau's demise at hand of Proxima Midnight, then experimenting to determine what other medical needs and limitations Monica might have.
- Amicable Exes: She used to date one half of Brother Voodoo, still has feelings for him, and readily assists him in his superhero duties if he so asks.
- Arch-Enemy: During her first Avengers stint there were two attempts to give her one in the form of a manipulative psychiatrist who became the second Moonstone, and the Space Pirate Nebula, but neither stuck. As of the Cerebus Retcon to Nextwave The Beyond Corporation as a whole have been cemented in the role.
- Bad Liar
- When caught on Sanctuary II, she claimed hyperspace had made it difficult to use her powers. Nebula then shot her to prove otherwise, though Nebula was planning on killing her anyway.
- In Nextwave she'd constantly remind everyone she used to lead The Avengers, which was true, but she'd describe the experience as being much better than that of her current team, which it wasn't at all.
- Badass Cape: Her original Captain Marvel outfit had a small cape around her arms that did not look too impressive, until she shifted to light mode and created a magnificent silhouette.
- Badass Longcoat: Introduced to her outfit in Nextwave, which returned in Captain America & The Mighty Avengers in 2014.
- Berserk Button: Beyond Corporation became one for her, once the Cerebus Retcon described below came into play.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Monica is usually one of the nicest people around. Usually. People who piss her off tend to learn that it's not wise to anger a woman who can microwave you.
- Black-and-Grey Morality: She opted to help the Skrull Empire over Nebula's space pirates when caught between the two, because Galactus just ate the throne world and put the Empire in disarray, making them more sympathetic to her. That and Nebula was using Sanctuary II to destroy more planets. Her aid would do nothing to stop the Skrulls from trying to conquer Earth in the future...but they have collectively proved less problematic than Nebula.
- Braids of Action: She took to braiding her hair in various styles after moving on from Afros, and continued to fly into battle with them.
- Breaking the Fellowship: She lead The Avengers twice when then regular leaders, Captain America and The Wasp, happened to be out of commission. The former lieutenant did such a good job that Captain America decided to make Rambeau the permanent leader of the group, but from that point on her leadership became much less effective. This was because she didn't realize Dr. Druid was secretly undermining her, even though he was also openly undermining her at every opportunity. To be fair to Rambeau, no one else realized Druid was The Mole either, leading to The Avengers eventually reconciling and reassembling.
- Brought Down to Normal: The first time she lost her powers she was also bedridden and dropped off at her parents to be nursed back to health.
- Brought Down to Badass: At the end of Avengers: No Road Home #10, Monica joins Blue Marvel, Ms. America, Hulkling, and Toni Ho in the middle of a battle with some supervillains after returning from the war against Nyx, she states that she used up so much energy keeping Vision alive that she has changed from being an energy-being in human form to a superhuman with great energy powers. She says that she is no longer an immortal light being and has returned to being a flesh-and-blood human with limits. She still retains her full powerset, including energy-form transformation, flight, speed-of-light movement, and full electromagnetic-spectrum manipulation, but she is no longer agelessly immortal and cannot generate the same scale of power output as before.
- Calling Your Attacks: In Nextwave she'd come up with fancy names for various things she could do with her powers and scream them dramatically while showing off.
- Captain Super Hero: She has served as a harbor ship captain, but her martial rank was lieutenant.
- Cerebus Retcon: The entirety of Nextwave became a whole lot darker when it was revealed to be a kidnapping plot by cosmic beings with an obsession with controlling narrative and not a silly Elseworlds plot. Monica didn't take the revelation well.
- Character Exaggeration: She's always been demanding, sarcastic, and perfectly aware of how outlandish her circumstances tend to be. Nextwave simply magnified all of these traits for comedy.
- Combo Platter Powers: All of hers relate to energy and light:
- Energy Absorption: She can absorb all the light and heat from an area. While Brashear's power up was in effect she could absorb enough sunlight to make the sky dim for a minute, if she wanted to.
- Extradimensional Power Source: The explanation behind her powers is she's a living aperture into a dimension of pure energy.
- Flight: She can fly, obviously.
- Fusion Dance: Because she's basically an energy being when her powers are active, she can merge her form with allies to supercharge any energy based powers they have, such as with She-Hulk (gamma radiation) or Blue Marvel (anti-matter).
- I Love Nuclear Power: Infrared and ultraviolet radiation, not to mention gamma radiation.
- Intangible Man: She can pass through solid objects, provided she knows what wavelength of light can bypass a particular object. Unlike most Marvel examples she can also let non kinetic energy attacks harmlessly pass through her shifted states, again providing she knows which wavelength to shift to.
- Light 'em Up: Can produce visible light.
- Master of Illusion: "Master" is a stretch, but she can easily alter the way people perceive her even when not actually transformed.
- My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Because she doesn't have a physical body, her energy form has a low-level form of cosmic awareness to approximate her senses.
- Photographic Memory: Not in the usual sense, but her ability to recall events greatly improved due to the electromagnetic and extra dimensional natures of her superpowers, greatly diminished when she lost them, and got even better when Blue Marvel had powered her up.
- Rainbow Motif: Her powers revolve around turning into forms of energy within the electromagnetic spectrum. While she can only take on one wavelength at a time, she can alter the photons around it just enough to make herself visible to people, if need be.
- Shock and Awe: Electricity.
- Super Senses: She can track and trace radioactive elements using her powers. She can even tell when lasers are coming her way and shift fast enough to bypass, or at least reduce damage they would deal to her human form.
- Super Speed: Monica can move at the speed of light.
- Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: She was initially modeled off of Pam Grier. The editor told the artist to tone it down.
- Da Chief: During her time in Nextwave. After all, did you know she used to lead the Avengers?
- Depower: Toward the end of the 80s, during a fight with Marina, Namor's wife who for reasons had turned into a rampaging monster, Monica hit a body of water while in energy form. The result nearly killed her, stripped her of her powers and left her an emaciated husk. ... it's one way to shove a person onto a bus.
- The Dog Bites Back: Upon realizing the Beyond Corporation was behind the events of Nextwave:Monica: Hey. Remember me? You took me out of the real world for a year and destroyed my life?Jason Quantrell: Uh-oh.Monica: Yeah. "Uh-oh".
- Dreadlock Warrior: These days, she's invariably depicted with these, currently donning them as recently as The Ultimates. Back in her early days, though, she had a cool-looking, swept-back afro and in between these periods she had various styles of braids.
- Eye Scream: A good tactic of hers is to turn to light and go in through someone's eyes. She uses it on Shuma-Gorath during Infinity, and tries using it on Thanos during Civil War II. That doesn't work so well.
- Friendly Rivalry: With Carol Danvers, who succeeded her as Captain Marvel eventually. They're very snarky to each other during their team-up in Mexico.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Her eyes sometimes glow, most commonly gold or blue, before she's about to use her powers, especially if she's about to shift. More commonly it is her hands that glow.
- Goo Goo God Like: During Nextwave The Beyond Corporation altered Rambeau's history so that she always had superpowers. She's also been "de aged" in Fearless.
- Hand Blast: After transformation and flight, her third most commonly used power is this. A randomly chosen discharge from her can strike with the force relative to three hundred tons of TNT. Applying knowledge of chemistry or radiology in the right situation can make her even more lethal. Then there was that time Dr. Brashear inadverdently pushed her into at least the sextillion TNT ton range...
- Hard Light: After being healed and evaluated by Adam Brashear, she's no longer sure if she's a human being who turns into light, or a being of pure light that turns into a very convincing hard-light human.
- I Have Many Names: Monica is one of those superheroes who've never really stuck to just one name in their career, meaning people usually just refer to her with the name she was born with. This was lampshaded in an issue of Captain Marvel:Carol: You have like fifteen alternate code names, anyway, Monica-Photon-Pulsar-Captain-Marvel-Rambeau!Monica: I'm sorry, did I just hear that right? Am I being judged by, by Ms.-Captain-Warbird-Binary—Marvel...?
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Subverted with 616 Rambeau, who simply doesn't want to be immortal if no one else is, making it more like "I just don't want to be left alone", but played straight with her counterpart from Universe A. She is a "tourist" of various alternate realities who gets the same superpowers of whichever counterparts of hers exist in any given space time, but dislikes superpowers and only visits Earth 616 because the versions of her parents she found there are both familiar and still alive.
- I Just Want to Be Special: When speculating she might be faced with either dying or losing her powers, Monica admits she isn't sure which one she'd pick (fortunately, the situation results in neither).
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Monica blames herself for the disaster that kicks off Civil War II (though there's a lot of that going around), thinking she could've immobilized Thanos herself. Potential blame is alleviated since the tactic she proposed is soon shown to not work on Thanos.
- The Leader
- For a time, she was the Avenger's leader. She spent a lot of it having to deal with Dr. Druid spitefully trying to undermine her.
- When Thanos sent an invasion force to Earth, Spectrum lead a resistance group who came to be known as "The Mighty Avengers"(the official Avengers team were in space). She suffered a crippling blow in the skirmish however, and Luke Cage stepped up as leader by the time they had become an established team. Spectrum acted as The Lancer after recovering.
- Leotard of Power: Her most iconic costume consists essentially of a white leotard with black tights, sometimes also with a Badass Longcoat over top.
- Let's You and Him Fight: Downplayed: After her powers activated in New Orleans she freaked out and flew to New York while looking for help, activating Spider-man's danger sense. However, their similar senses of humor quickly put him at ease, and he suggested that The Avengers could give her the help she needed.
- MayDecember Romance: Strikes up a relationship with Adam Brashear, who served in the Korean War.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Fans demanded an explanation as to why Blade, Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo and Black Panther had to spend any time with a vampire outbreak in New Orleans while a woman with light based superpowers and light speed movement lived in the city while being just as aware of the problem as they were. The handwaves range from Rambeau having amnesia to that particular Rambeau being displaced from the alternate "Universe A" where she had no experience with her powers yet while the 616 version was off doing something else.
- Mid-Season Upgrade: An alien invader going by "Proxima Midnight" used anti photon particles to kill Spectrum, but her life was saved by Blue Marvel, who specializes in containing antimatter. Since photons are product of, rather than matter in of themselves, his efforts to reverse the process were less that perfect, but ended up making Rambeau much stronger than she had been before.
- Military Superhero: A former lieutenant in the New Orleans harbor guard, turned professional superhero.
- The Mole
- Rambeau willingly joined Nebula's crew of space pirates when she happened to be on Sanctuary II while Nebula's crew infiltrated it and warped it to the Skrull's Empire. She proceeded to undermine their attempts to takeover the empire until she could find a way back to Earth. Nebula didn't exactly inspire loyalty when she tested Rambeau's use by shooting her in the chest though.
- Nebula returned the favor by having Dr. Druid as a mole in The Avengers, with the specific task of turning them against Rambeau.
- The Night That Never Ends: Defying this trope, and Nyx, the night goddess trying to invoke it, by acting as a substitute for the sun, happened to burn out the power up Spectrum had been provided by Blue Marvel.
- No-Sell: Shortly after Infinity, the Mighty Avengers go up against a Nuhuman who can slow down time around herself. Since Monica can move at the speed of light, it doesn't really do anything to slow her down.
- Planet Destroyer: After Blue Marvel saved her life, Monica underwent a substantial power boost. Already one of Earth's elite superheroes, she secretly became reclassified as a "Planet-Buster" with enough power to destroy an Earth-sized object without any effort. During the Incursions, this was a source of conflict because while she certainly had enough power to destroy other Earths before they collided with her own, she wrestled with the question of which was worse: killing a world or allowing two worlds (including her own) to die knowing she could have saved one of them.
- Red Baron: Rather than keep up with her various code names, some people just come up with their own nicknames that are easier to keep track of, such as Supersonic Sensation, Daystar, Sun Goddess, The Lady Of Light, Avengers Mom and Auntie.
- Rogues Gallery Transplant
- Karla Sofen was once an unremarkable Evil Minion in Captain America and didn't do anything overtly criminal until she antagonized The Incredible Hulk as the second Moonstone. She didn't regularly face any protagonist besides Hulk until she met Rambeau, but after Rambeau lost both the titles of Captain Marvel and Photon, Moonstone II became a rival to Genis-Vell as Photon and then the Evil Counterpart to Carol Danvers as Miss and Captain Marvel.
- Nebula was created specifically to antagonize Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau, but as Rambeau faded into obscurity, Nebula became more associated with Firelord, as she destroyed his home planet with Sanctuary II, and Silver Surfer by association. Even as Rambeau started to return to prominence Nebula moved on to Loki when he tried to reform, then Gamora specifically after Nebula turned Graces against her and Guardians of the Galaxy in general, after the group got a movie.
- Sassy Black Woman: "Sassy" isn't her only defining characteristic, but it was a characteristic shown early and often, as she quickly befriended Spider-man after matching his wit.
- Screening the Call: On the receiving end from her mother at one point, who was blocking Mon's phone-calls because she didn't want Monica getting hurt again. Please note Monica was a grown woman at this point.
- Shadow Archetype: Sofen knows the preferences desires and aversions she Rambeau share, as well as their different values. Sofen tries to use this knowledge to convince Rambeau that Sofen the one in the right, to little success, but nonetheless managed to manipulate Rambeau into helping her complete Project Aaru. Nebula also shares a lot with Monica, but the nature and length of their conflict did not allow for as much to be explored on panel.
- Shape Shifter Mode Lock: Downplayed She can stay in her various transformed states seemingly indefinitely. However, the longer she spends phase sifted the longer it takes her to shift back to her "human" form. She noticed this more when her power was boosted by Brashear.
- Stealth Expert: Rambeau is not the most skilled among Marvel's stealth experts, but as long as she knows the visible spectrum any given observer is limited to, she does not have to be. Blade in particular recognizes the potential benefits of this ability while his Strikeforce is rooting out shapeshifting infiltrators.
- Story-Breaker Power: A woman with military training who's capable of converting into any form of energy along the electromagnetic spectrum, Monica has proven capable of slugging it out with actual gods and singlehandedly fighting advanced civilizations' space fleets. If you go back and read the Avengers issues that follow her debut, a startling number of storylines involve the antagonists having to figure out specific ways to take Monica off the board before they can proceed.
- Super Toughness: Her physical strength is far below that of Moonstone, who is roughly equal to Spider-man, or Nebula, who was already taller and bigger than her before becoming a cyborg roughly equal to Luke Cage. She has endured physical contact with them without instantly being reduced to mist and powder, leading to speculation that her powers are still providing a subconscious form of protection even when she isn't phase shifting. She herself wondered if her "human" form wasn't really a convincing Hard Light construct that just felt human due to electromagnetic manipulations.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Monica attempted to make her team subscribe to this (for humans at least) during her time with Nextwave, but not only was it a pretty lost cause, when pushed (or injured) she'd just throw in the towel and say "screw it". Afterward, she will kill if the situation absolutely requires it, but she'll hate doing it.
- Took a Level in Badass: Not that she was exactly a slouch beforehand, but she gets a power-up in Mighty Avengers, thanks to a combination of Adam Brashear and one of Thanos' goons trying to kill her. By the time of Captain America & the Mighty Avengers, she's able to make an Eldritch Abomination go "uh-oh" just by showing up in a bad mood. In Last Days it's made clear she's become capable of cracking planets open if she wanted to. The opening issues of Ultimates: Squared suggests she's beginning to develop a form of cosmic awareness.
- Twofer Token Minority: She's a black woman.
- Undying Loyalty: One of the most ardent Avengers, demonstrated in Vol 3 issue 2, when Captain America delivers a rousing speech to break everyone out of magically induced brainwashing. Monica is one of the first to snap out of it.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Usually she doesn't actually change shape so much as her shape's composition, but her light manipulation powers do allow her to shapeshift to a degree, and create illusions of even more. She can do a pretty good impression of Blue Marvel. Later, when she discovers that Beyond Corporation is encroaching into the real world again, she manages to change from her Spectrum look to her Nextwave one (only with different tights under the coat) just by shining real bright in anger.
- What You Are in the Dark: During Last Days (set during the opening issue of Secret Wars) Monica is sent to crack open Earth-1610 on herself. She almost gets there, until she sees the point of impact is a playground of oblivious kids, and hesitates, long enough for The Maker to capture her.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Zigzagged after she becomes a full energy being and gets a further power up. She angsts over the possibility of outliving everyone she'll ever know and growing detached from humanity, but at the same time fights a potential death by not letting herself dissipate. She refuses to simply allow herself to die in order to avoid "Who Wants to Live Forever? syndrome" because she will continue to have the ability to make a difference as a hero until the day she meets her death.