Captain Universe is a Marvel Comics character, and one of the few truly unique superhero concepts. Specifically, Captain Universe is a superhero identity that keeps changing hosts — by itself!
To be precise, Captain Universe is actually a semi-sentient cosmic force called The Unipower, whose main purpose is to maintain the barrier between Earth and another universe in place. Secondarily, it will grant powers to single individuals temporarily so they can fulfill specific missions. Curiously, these missions range everywhere from saving the world to rescuing single, normal individuals.
The concept was introduced in The Micronauts comic book series. The first Captain appeared in issue #8 (August, 1979), created by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden. It was established there that the universe the heroes came from, The Microverse, was separated from Earth's by a "space wall" that had to be supported on both sides. In the Microverse, it was maintained by the "Enigma Force" that was wielded by Commander Rann, the Micronauts leader; on Earth however, there was no specific wielder for the Enigma Force's counterpart, for some reason. Instead, the Unipower sustained itself by jumping from one person to another. Such a person would gain the powers and costume of Captain Universe, along with knowledge of the mission he or she had to fulfill (but no direct communication with the Unipower); after its completion, the host would return to normal.
Captain Universe is more a plot device than a character, since it has no regular host and the Unipower itself is rarely seen speaking (this varies by writer, however). It's mostly used to power up heroes when needed, or to give normal people a taste of what it's like to be a superhero, even if only for a short while. The concept's most famous use probably was in the Story Arc where Spider-Man gained its powers (but not its costume or knowledge of where they came from, due to a freak accident) leading the hero to gain post-Superman level powers during the Acts of Vengeance Crisis Crossover, where supervillains switched enemies, and thus gave Spidey a chance against much more powerful villains than he usually battled.
The "character" has also starred in at least one miniseries.
Currently, Captain Universe was Tamara Devoux, a young woman who attracted the malfunctioning Unipower after getting in a car crash and lying in a coma for ten years. She's a member of the Avengers and, as it turns out, a scion of The New Universe. The power has since separated and was recently bonded to Miles Morales to help save the multiverse from the Inheritors.
Tropes related to Captain Universe:
- Another Dimension: Where the Space Wall and The Microverse are located.
- Awesome, but Temporary: Nobody can hold the powers and identity forever. Once the threat is defeated and/or neutralized, it leaves, although one story suggests that it always finds a new host quickly.
- Berserk Button: It doesn't like being summoned. When the Superior Spider-Man did it in Spider-Verse, it chewed out the various Spiders for their failings.
- Blessed With Suck: Spider-Man didn't exactly like having these powers, as it was hard to control them, but then, this was because an accident made him have them longer than average. Indeed, when Miles Morales took hold of the power, Peter admitted he handled it a lot better than he did.
- Chosen One: What all of the wielders of the Unipower become. For a little while, at least. In the Chaos Theory arc of her ongoing series, the Enigma Force tells X-23 that she is the chosen future heir of the Enigma Force's power, suggesting she has a longer-term connection.
- Distaff Counterpart: There is none. Anyone can be Captain Universe, regardless of sex or species. The current one has an appearance◊ that is this to the page image.
- Eldritch Abomination: One of the functions of the Unipower is to maintain the seal imprisoning malevolent entities called Whirldemons, and preventing them from crossing over into reality.
- Flying Firepower: Pretty much living cosmic energy. It possesses a random person in the universe (including Spider-Man and X-23 at different points) and grants them Class 6 Super Weight cosmic powers.
- Heroic Host: Different in that the entity bonds with a different person each time, until recently.
- Humans Are Special: apparently, since saving even single lives seem to matter to the Unipower. Guess it just likes us (note that in at least one case, an alien became Captain Universe).
- Instant Costume Change: The costume shown above appears out of nowhere, and while it may adapt slightly to the user, the theme is always the same.
- I Should Have Been Better: Just when Spidey was starting to adjust to his powers "going screwy", he fought and defeated the threat, and he lost the powers. He couldn't help but think what more he could have done. (And this was shown in detail in an issue of What If?)
- Kid Hero: One of it's hosts was a toddler.
- Power Incontinence: During the period when Spider-Man had the powers. He was given them in order to destroy the Tri-Sentinel, but the transfer happened during an experiment at his college, so it was interrupted. He was left with much of the power, but not the ability to properly control it or why he even had it in the first place. This was during the Acts of Vengeance crossover, so the powers came in handy against villains out of his weight class, but he often struggled with controlling himself. In the last part, a villain's attempt to negate these new powers instead fixes the transfer, allowing Spidey to finally learn why this happened and to complete the true mission.
- Powers via Possession: The Unipower grant powers to single individuals temporarily so they could fulfill specific missions. Though the Unipower doesn't really force the host to do anything, only tells him what he has to do. Presumably if you disobey, it'll just leave you.
- Reality Warper: In the What If? where Spidey kept his powers, he eventually developed cosmic awareness, the ability to shapeshift atoms (accidentally warping the Hobgoblin's face in a version of his own) and the like.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The Unipower is the can, or at least the lid, keeping the Whirldemons sealed away.
- Story-Breaker Power:
- Let's put it this way, the Unipower-powered Spider-Man was able to punch Incredible Hulk into orbit!
- A What If? story had Spidey keep the power after Acts of Vengeance; it wasn't pretty. He actually punched the friggin' Juggernaut out of New York City!
- One story had the the Hulk himself gain its powers!!
- Super Empowering: What the Uni-Power does to anybody selected to be Captain Universe. In 2016, this was taken Up to Eleven in a miniseries where 5 other superheroes, specifically Daredevil, the Invisible Woman, the Hulk, X-23 and the Silver Surfer each become Captain Universe and get the Uni-Power added to their repetoire, which ranges from Swiss-Army Superpower to When All You Have Is a Hammer...
- Superpower Lottery: You win it!! For a few minutes anyway.
- Symbol Motif Clothing: As seen in the page image, Captain Universe is frequently connected with the stars, and individuals with whom it bonds are frequently depicted with stars and constellations on their costume. That it was the Enigma Force that helped X-23 throw off Hellverine's influence in The Killing Dream arc of her solo book is strongly hinted at when the manifestation of her "self" is depicted as a starry void, and that in the aftermath, the symbol of a star is left on the palm of her right hand. The connection is largely confirmed in the Chaos Theory arc of her ongoing series when the Whirldemon King recognizes the marking.
- The linked molecule motif across the chest and arms represents the Microverse.
- This Loser Is You: Inverted. Anyone can be Captain Universe, even an old man in a coma.