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 in recent years.
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 will show 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 arguably 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.
- Afro Asskicker: She was introduced as wearing an afro, so she qualified for this at the time.
- Badass Longcoat: Introduced to her outfit in Nextwave, which recently returned as recently as 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 your ☠☠☠☠.
- 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.
- 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.
- Combo Platter Powers: All of hers relate to energy and light:
- 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 like she once did for She-Hulk as gamma radiation.
- I Love Nuclear Power: Infrared and ultraviolet radiation, not to mention gamma radiation.
- Light 'em Up: Can produce visible light.
- 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.
- Rainbow Motif: Her powers revolve around turning into forms of energy within the electromagnetic spectrum.
- Shock and Awe: Electricity.
- Super Senses: She can track and trace radioactive elements using her powers.
- Super Speed: Monica can move at the speed of light.
- Da Chief: During her time in Nextwave. After all, did you know she used to lead the Avengers?
- 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.
- 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.
- Hard Light: As of 2015, 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...?
- Ink-Suit Actor: She was modeled off of Pam Grier.
- 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).
- Leotard of Power: Her most iconic costume consists essentially of a white leotard with black tights, sometimes also with a Badass Longcoat over top.
- MayDecember Romance: Strikes up a relationship with Adam Brashear, who served in the Korean War.
- Military Superhero: A former lieutenant in the New Orleans harbor guard, turned professional superhero.
- 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, secretly became reclassified as a "Planet-Buster" hero with enough power to destroy an Earth-sized planet 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.
- Sassy Black Woman: She has her moments, but "sassy" isn't her only defining characteristic.
- 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.
- 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: Her light manipulation powers allow her to shapeshift. 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.