B-ROLL: Captain Marvel Trailer clips SEAN Welcome to Out of Frame. Captain Marvel is being set up as the most powerful hero in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. B-ROLL: Thor takes the full power of a star at Nidavellir. SEAN And as hard as that is to believe, it could actually be true. SEAN From what we know so far, Brie Larson will play the Carol Danvers incarnation of the character. First introduced in 1968, she's part human fighter pilot, part Kree warrior, incredibly strong, and possesses the power to absorb and control the energy from stars. This means she can do this... CLIP: Captain Marvel takes a punch. SEAN This... CLIP: Captain Marvel shoots a blast of light energy past Nick Fury's head. CAPTAIN MARVEL "That's a photon blast." SEAN And, this. CLIP: Captain Marvel flies through space engulfed in burning energy, blasting her way through bad guys. SEAN So she is kind of a badass. But... (sigh) ...at least, in the comics... she's not that great a person. Look, I am genuinely excited for the the movie, but I'm also a fan of the comics and she's done some things that are... not great. SEAN There's way too much history to cover everything, but I'd like to focus on two specific story lines. B-ROLL: Civil War comic images. SEAN Civil War, on which the Captain America movie was loosely based... B-ROLL: Civil War II comic images. SEAN And Civil War II, which hasn't yet made it's way onto the big screen. In Civil War (the first one), the plot follows a similar line to what we saw in the movie. After an alien attack [Avengers], a Hulk rampage [Avengers], and a botched rescue attempt [Civil War] resulting in a number of innocent lives lost, the government passes the "Superhero Registration Act". The bill requires all super-powered individuals to reveal their secret identities and become registered employees of the Federal government. B-ROLL: Captain America: Civil War OOF episode highlights. SEAN We covered why this is a very bad idea at length in our episode on Captain America Civil War. B-ROLL: Civil War comic images. SEAN But in the comic version, Captain Marvel sides with Iron Man against Captain America and plays a pivotal role as not only a supporter of registration, but also as one of the law's primary enforcers [CW 152-181]. B-ROLL: Civil War comic images. SEAN It's ultimately Captain America who puts an end to the fighting by surrendering with the explicit hope that no one else gets hurt [CW 177], but in the end, a ton of characters died, cities were destroyed, Tony Stark became Director of SHIELD further expanding his own power and Captain America is apparently assassinated. Don't worry... Nobody stays dead in the comics. B-ROLL: Civil War II comic images. SEAN But, we're talking about Carol Danvers. And as far as she's is concerned, that's nothing compared to what happens next, because Civil War II is centered almost entirely around Captain Marvel. Following the events of the first series, Danvers is now Commander of Alpha Flight, which has the mission of protecting Earth from alien threats. One day, an Inhuman kid named Ulysses Cain gains his powers and starts having visions of a horrific future involving an Celestial attacking the planet. A few weeks later, his vision becomes a reality. Fortunately, with a warning from the Inhumans, the combined efforts of all of Earth's Mightiest Heroes prevents total catastrophe. After things calm down, Ulysses is revealed to be the source of the information that saved billions of lives. This kid is essentially a one-man version of the clairvoyant triplets in Minority Report, or so it appears. Moments later, during his first meeting with Captain Marvel, Ulysses has another vision. This time, he sees Thanos [CWII 28] returning to Earth. That's when Captain Marvel starts to become obsessed with exploiting Ulysses' powers to prevent future catastrophes. Meanwhile, Tony Stark is (I think a little uncharacteristically) skeptical. He and some of the other Avengers attempt to help Ulysses learn more about his power, and they discover that it's not any kind of guaranteed fate that Ulysses sees, but rather various probabilities about the future. In short, there's actually no way to know if his visions will come true, but his visions reflect one possible outcome. Captain Marvel doesn't care about probabilities. [CWII 56] CLIP: Batman v Superman BRUCE WAYNE "If there's even a 1% chance, we have to take it as an absolute certainty!" B-ROLL: Civil War II comic images. SEAN Tony asks her the critical question [CWII 60]: "What if Ulysses tells us you are a danger to our future? Do we stop you before you do your voodoo that you're going to do, even though maybe you don't even know you were going to do i?" This sets up the real problem with Captain Marvel that I want to talk about: Her complete certainty of her own righteousness and the utter disregard for the very concept of due process that certainty creates. But before we get to that, let's go back to the story. Remember Ulysses' vision of Thanos returning to earth? Well... Just like his other premonitions, it proves to be correct three weeks later. Thanos does return to earth. [CWII page 65] Last panel where Tony says "Thanos was back on earth? He--he attacked you?" and Maria Hill replied, "Not exactly." SEAN And in spite of Tony's warning not to blindly trust Ulysses' abilities, Captain Marvel organized a team to meet Thanos where he was supposed to arrive and confronted him. [CWII 30] SEAN Unfortunately, in the ensuing battle, Thanos brutally kills War Machine [CWII 67], who Carol has actually been dating, and nearly kills her close friend, She-Hulk. [CWII 71] Tony believes that her decision to attack Thanos created the very future Ulysses predicted, and blames her for the death of his best friend. But Danvers is now completely convinced that Ulysses' prophecies are reliable. And this reignites tension between factions of heroes. Stark kidnaps Ulysses. Captain Marvel attacks Stark. Ulysses has more visions, including one where the Hulk kills everyone. So Captain Marvel confronts Bruce Banner. Hawkeye kills Bruce Banner. [CWII 114] No... Really, that happens. B-ROLL: Into the Spiderverse Movie SEAN Eventually, everything comes to a head when Ulysses predicts that Miles Morales will kill Captain America. For the like, two of you who didn't see Into the Spiderverse, Miles Morales is just a kid. B-ROLL: Civil War II comic images. SEAN And Captain Marvel wants to arrest him for a crime he hasn't yet committed and may never commit. [CWII 186] This brings us back to the problem. Carol Danvers is consistently willing to toss aside every legal and ethical standard of due process, including its most basic foundation: the presumption of innocence, in her quest for security. She's prepared to imprison or even kill people who have not actually done anything wrong, with the hope of preventing them from maybe doing something wrong in the future. Captain Marvel repeatedly demonstrates that she doesn't have much respect for people as individuals. Their rights don't matter. [CWII 153] Fortunately, Steve Rogers once again puts an end to Carol's tyrannical behavior and, in what I would argue is the only genuinely heroic moment of the whole story, chooses to treat a scared, innocent boy with kindness and respect instead of treating him like a criminal. Even though doing so could cost him his life. [CWII 200] I think this version of Captain Marvel represents a deeply authoritarian instinct that more people feel than would always like to admit. She wants certainty. She wants to be safe. She thinks she's protecting society. And she'll try to do it at all costs, no matter who gets hurt or killed in the process. She's trying desperately to assert a sense of control... over everyone. But it doesn't work. The more she gives in to this impulse, the worse everything gets. What Captain Marvel fails to understand is that the reason due process is so crucial to a free society is precisely because we don't know everything. As much as we'd like to believe we can, no one can account for every possible future. B-ROLL: News reports from the Innocence Project depicting the exoneration of innocent people who were previously thought to be guilty. SEAN We have no way to know what's in the hearts and minds of other people or what they will do, and even our very attempts to stop them from doing something we think they'll do can affect their choices because everyone responds to changing conditions and incentives. Reality is complex, and history is filled with examples where preemptive strikes potentially created even worse situations than those they were meant to prevent. B-ROLL: Pearl Harbor news reel footage SEAN One of the most significant instances of preventative war was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. Japan hoped to cripple the US navy in the Pacific in order to prevent the US from entering the war, but that action only galvanized American support for the war. B-ROLL: Newspapers and Images of Japanese internment camps SEAN Meanwhile, in America, FDR established a program of Japanese internment, arresting and imprisoning nearly 120,000 citizens simply because they were of Japanese decent, on the basis that they could be spies or foreign agents. Again... No due process. B-ROLL: Modern news footage featuring SWAT raids, Eric Garner, (Muslim?) people getting frisked, etc. SEAN Even today, between the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism, due process protections for people in the US have frequently been eroded or ignored. That's how we end up with policies like Stop & Frisk, no-knock police raids, and civil asset forfeiture - which allows police to take your property if they merely suspect that you've committed a crime, and they can often keep it long after you've been acquitted. B-ROLL: News footage/images of Saudi Arabia killing a kid for wrong religion, Duterte executing people in the Philippines, etc. SEAN And for what it's worth, the US has far stronger protections for individuals than most countries around the world, but we still have a lot of policies that flip the idea of "innocence until proven guilty" upside down. But remember that the legal rules for due process are a result of a broader principle, so this isn't just something that matters to law enforcement. It's something we should all adopt throughout our lives. Look no further than the way people treat each other on social media. There are now hundreds of examples of outrage-fueled mobs ruining people's lives before having any clear understanding of what they've actually done or even who they are. B-ROLL: To Kill a Mocking Bird SEAN These mobs usually coalesce around the sense that they're fighting for "justice" and making the world a better place, but what kind of justice rushes to annihilate other people's lives, reputations, and future opportunities without so much as a fair hearing? What kind of justice declares guilt first and asks questions later? No. Mobs are not justice. Arresting and imprisoning people without a fair trial is not justice. Initiating violence against people because you think they might do something wrong in the future is not justice. The idea that all individuals deserve a chance to defend themselves in an impartial hearing, whether in a court of law or just the court of public opinion, is something that truly separates a free and healthy society from an authoritarian dystopia that none of us wants to live in. None of us wants a world where the police, the mob, or even the vigilante "superhero" becomes judge, jury, and executioner. The fact that Captain Marvel has ignored this idea so often in the comics makes her character far less heroic than I hope she is in the movie. Personally, what I would love to see is for the MCU's version of Captain Marvel to take over where Steve Rogers is going to leave off. She has the potential to be the ethical and moral center of Phase 4, and with without Captain America, that's a role that will need to be filled. B-ROLL: Captain Marvel trailer We see the "Her --> Hero" shot. SEAN So it's not too late for Carol Danvers to become the hero she really should be. And it's not too late us either. With a little humility and respect for the lives and rights of individual people, our society can reclaim one of its most important ethical and legal principles: Innocent until proven guilty. B-ROLL: Heroic images of the Avengers from the comics and movies. SEAN Hey everybody, thanks for watching this episode of Out of Frame. If you're interested in learning more about FEE's perspective on maintaining the legal and ethical principles of a free society, we have a ton of articles and ebooks on the subject, plus we host seminars and events all over the US throughout the year, including our flagship conference, FEEcon. FEEcon is an awesome 3-Day experience featuring inspiring speakers on topics like economics, political philosophy, public policy, entrepreneurship, and creativity. You can learn more about the conference and register to attend at feecon.org. Hope to see you there! And please, don't forget to check out FEE.org/shows for all the other content we're producing each week and go ahead and like and subscribe to @feeonline on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. See you next time.

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About this show

Video essays that explore the intersection of art, culture, and big ideas written & produced by FEE's Director of Media, Sean W. Malone.

March 7, 2019

What makes a superhero? Is it simply strength? Is it power? Or do we only become heroic when we do heroic things?

As Marvel Studio's newest film, "Captain Marvel" hits theaters, this episode of Out of Frame looks at Carol Danvers' actions and motivations in some of the more recent comics to find out if she is actually a heroic character.

NOTE: There are no spoilers for the MCU film in this video (we haven't seen it yet), but there are spoilers for Marvel's Civil War and Civil War II story lines in the comics.


Written & Produced by Sean W. Malone
Edited by Arash Ayrom & Sean W. Malone