This article by James Clark originally appeared on Task & Purpose, a digital news and culture publication dedicated to military and veterans issues.
Marvel's latest addition to its cinematic universe stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, an Air Force test pilot in the 1980s who survives a crash landing with an alien named Mar-Vel, and becomes infused with power, transforming into the titular "Captain Marvel."
Though the superhero flick, and not-so-subtle Air Force advertisement (not officially endorsed), premiered on March 8, we here at Task & Purpose spent too many hours during work speculating about one key point: After Danvers vanished from earth in the 1980s, only to return six years later with amnesia, superhuman strength, and the ability to absorb and redirect energy... does she rate back pay?
Sure, it's a silly question, but we decided to find out anyway. In our defense, other reporters have asked the same question of another similarly ranked Marvel hero who vanished for a while.
(Warning: There are some very mild spoilers ahead. If you haven't seen the movie yet and want to know the basic premise, you can check out our "Captain Marvel" review, here)
Seeing as Carol Danvers was presumed dead following a plane crash — the same one which made her an intergalactic badass — it's likely that she would have been officially declared deceased, and her next of kin would be eligible for survivor's benefits, an Air Force spokesperson told Task & Purpose on condition of anonymity, in order to discuss sensitive and ridiculous topics such as this one.
"If that was the case, then her family most likely would have received her [Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance] benefits if she had elected them as beneficiaries," the spokesperson said, adding that they "would have also received the Death Gratuity."
Unfortunately, that doesn't fully answer the question of whether or not Captain Marvel rates backpay, though it's not surprising, since this is uncharted and ludicrous territory, so we asked around:
Seems like there are a few possibilities: 1) Danvers could be expected to pay back the SGLI and death gratuity once it's revealed she's alive, but then she'd rate her pay for the last several years; 2) her return could simply be ignored, and she'd remain legally dead, (which actually happened in real life), which might be the case if she's loaned out to S.H.I.E.L.D. on the down low; or 3), the service's top brass could pause for a minute and realize "hey, she's a living weapon, how about we get payroll in order and not touch a cent of those survivor's benefits, before she flies over and pays us an angry visit?"
At any rate, let's figure out what Carol Danvers would have missed in terms of pay, and might be entitled to, if she were real.
Though her rank isn't explicitly stated in the movie, set photos show Larson wearing captain's chevrons on her flight suit, so as an O-3 with, let's say, with 8 years in the service, she'd have made $2,167.50 a month, or $26,010 a year in 1984, according to a Defense Finance and Accounting Service military pay chart:
Additionally, Danvers would rate between $208, and $400 a month in aviation career incentive pay if she had spent between 4 to 6 years flying. Let's go with $208 for this exercise, which comes out to $2,496 a year.
This means that by the time Danvers returns to earth during the first act of "Captain Marvel," she would have missed out on six years of pay making $28,506 annually, for a grand total of $171,036.
Not really the nest egg you'd be hoping for after your assumed death was covered up by your own government, which you of course forgot about, but hey, it's something.
Now, that doesn't take into account any pay she'll be owed by the time "Avengers: Endgame" premieres April 26, or if that'd be forfeited since she vanished for some 20-odd years after the events of "Captain Marvel" — military officials were mum on that one.
Guess we'll just have to hit the phones again next month, and press-gang some other unfortunate military spokesperson into following this reporter down yet another rabbit hole.
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