WHO IS CAPTAIN MARVEL? WHY DOES THE CHARACTER I THOUGHT WAS CALLED "SHAZAM" GO BY CAPTAIN MARVEL? WHY ARE THERE TWO CAPTAIN MARVELS AT TWO DIFFERENT COMIC BOOK COMPANIES? WHY ISN'T CAROL DANVERS THE ONLY CAPTAIN MARVEL? Take heart, faithful reader - all of your questions will be answered (and even some you didn't know to ask).
Okay. We comics geeks know it's confusing at first glance, but we here at MetropolisPlus are going to explain it in the simplest terms possible. We're going to go back-and-forth in order to go from the simplest version to more detailed information surrounding this issue. Stick with us, it'll be easy!
So, during what we call the Golden Age of Comics (1938-1949ish) this guy, the Original Captain Marvel, was created in 1939 and released to comics audiences circa December of 1939 (cover-dated February 1940). His alter-ego was young newsboy Billy Batson, an orphan on the street, selling newspapers to make his way in the world. He was summoned by SHAZAM, THE WIZARD because young Billy was pure of heart and could be made into his champion. SHAZAM, THE WIZARD provided Billy with the power of several historic figures, as well as a couple of gods, whenever he shouted SHAZAM THE WIZARD's name:
It's important to remember that SHAZAM, THE WIZARD is the one who gave Billy his powers and that his name is the magic word that turns Billy into Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel back into Billy. It is not the name of the super-hero, whose name is Captain Marvel. Always has been.
Now, DC Comics (then known as National Comics Publications), defending their trademarked, copyrighted super-hero Superman, filed suit in 1941. They were not only concerned about the vague similarities between the characters, but also that Captain Marvel was outselling Superman. In the end, DC helped put Fawcett's comics division to sleep with a lawsuit that prompted Fawcett's decision to cease comics publications during the first comic book "recession" in 1951.
Ten years later, Marvel Comics (formerly Timely Comics, who had renamed themselves as Atlas Comics in 1951, and then renamed themselves Marvel Comics in 1961) began publishing new super-heroes in the early 1960s. Shortly thereafter, a small company named MF Enterprises decided to capitalize on the absence of Captain Marvel (and the Marvel Comics name) to create this goofball, whose "magic word" was "Split!" (and whose "super-power" was somehow his body parts flying in all directions) in 1966:
He didn't last long, but Marvel Comics - understanding the importance of branding - made sure they debuted their own version in 1967. A Kree warrior by the name of Mar-Vell, rank of Captain, hence:
Not being able to resist the temptation to use the cool action of calling up a super-hero at the appointed time, Marvel showed their true colors in Captain Marvel #17 (1969). Shortly after Mar-Vell got a spiffy new costume, they took the character of Rick Jones (sometimes Hulk sidekick, and a buddy to Captain America, but mostly a go-between for Hulk and the Avengers), led him to a pair of golden bracelets inside a cave, which he was compelled to don and slam together, caused him to switch places with Captain Mar-Vell, who'd been trapped in the "Negative Zone". The transformation was eerily similar to Billy Batson and Captain Marvel:
A couple of years later, Jack Kirby, the "King of Comics" defected from Marvel and began creating new worlds at DC Comics. It wasn't his first time there and they'd always had a successful relationship in the past. Jack wanted to edit comics (not just make all his own), so he floated the idea to DC that maybe it might be a good idea to bring back Superman's most famous rival - under their control! While Jack didn't get to edit the comic, they did manage a deal with Fawcett and brought the Original Captain Marvel under the DC Banner in December of 1972:
In 1977, Carol Danvers, supporting character to Mar-Vell, got caught in a blast alongside Captain Marvel and received super-powers much like the Kree captain. She adopted the monkier "Ms. Marvel", and - later - "Binary" when she was drawing the power equivalent of a star (for more on Carol's entire history, see my page on the History of the Marvel (Comics) Universe), courtesy of an alien race's experimentation on her.
And in 1982, after Marvel canceled the "Captain Marvel" title, Mar-Vell dies from cancer:
Later that year - not wanting to miss an opportunity to retain trademark on the name - Marvel Comics gave the Captain Marvel sobruiquet to Monica Rambeau, a new, photon-powered hero who joined the Avengers (don't worry, we'll get back to Carol Danvers):
In 2000, Marvel wanted a new cosmic guardian, so they created Mar-Vell's "son", offpring of Mar-Vell's genetic material and his lover Elysius, who impregnated herself using Eternals technology and artificially aged him in order to ensure his ability to defend himself from Mar-Vell's enemies. He later took on the name Captain Marvel, at which point Monica Rambeau had changed her name to "Photon":
When Carol Danvers returned to the ranks of the Avengers in the late 1990's she was known as "Warbird" initially (she's the blonde in black in this group "photo" - note the symbol, similar to Kamala Khan's), but later claimed the title of Captain Marvel for herself, as she has been, and remains, one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe:
That's how we found ourselves where we are today. Captain Marvel and Billy Batson are still around. Same identities, same names, same magic word, same costume (with mild cosmetic alterations over the years). HOWEVER, since Marvel, in the 1960s, trademarked the NAME Captain Marvel for their own use, with a different character, there was no way for DC comics to publish a comic book with that specific title. So they settled for "Shazam!" and used the tagline "The Original Captain Marvel" for a time. Marvel didn't like the word "Marvel" on the cover of a DC Comic, so they sued for it's use to cease, resulting in their using "The World's Mightiest Mortal" on the cover:
Just to clarify, when DC sued Fawcett Comics for the Original Captain Marvel and the lawsuit ended, Fawcett stopped publishing comics, entirely. They entered into an agreement that resulted in Fawcett promising never to publish the character without the express permission of DC Comics. They never foresaw any likelihood that they'd ever get back into the comics market again (which was, at the time, suffering very low sales) and, as it happened, they sold their publishing empire in 1977, later selling all Fawcett Comics characters to DC in 1991.
The Original Captain Marvel's name had always been Captain Marvel, until a few years ago when the childhood confusion of a comics writer who later had enough pull at DC comics to affect a change, decided his name should be "Shazam"... which would have meant that he could never say his name to anyone without lightning coming down and changing his identity. This has not been applied consistently throughout DC Comics, so fans and DC are still working their way through the subsequent confusion. As seen in the "Shazam!" movie (2019) when he hasn't been given a name, Freddie Freeman refers to him as "Captain Sparkles" and he can't very well say "Shazam" without changing. Be that as it may, the family of heroes (used in the comics and now also seen in the movie) harkens back to a time during the 1940s when the Marvel Family was budding with Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Uncle Marvel, Freckles Marvel and the Leiutenant Marvels. And a second movie arrives in March of 2023.
Marvel's version of Captain Marvel is also thriving, not only with her own movie, but Kamala Khan has also taken on the Ms. Marvel moniker and is the leader of the teen team "The Champions". Now, Ms. Marvel is heading from her own TV show (on Disney+, I highly recommend you go check it out) to the big screen with "The Marvels" in July of 2023. Both have their own comic books and are frequently seen throughout the Marvel Universe:
I hope you enjoyed this explanation and clarifications of these characters - I enjoyed bringing it to you!
Brian G. Philbin
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The World's Mightiest Mortal still has legs. And if the movies are insufficient to convince you, here's a list of comics, live-action and animated characters - all inspired by The Original Captain Marvel - illustrated by none other than Alex Ross (on an 11" x 17" piece of paper, mind you). Entitled "Echoes of Captain Marvel" - click on the image for a guide to all of the characters:
We should probably mention that Captain Marvel and Billy Batson had their own television show in the 70s. Since it was important to the show that they have a "built-in" audience, in August of 1974, you saw many, many ads in comic books, touting the arrival of a live-action Captain Marvel series, "Shazam!". And while they couldn't use Captain Marvel's name in the title of the series, he was certainly named thusly within the context of the adventures on TV. Here's essentially what the ad looked like:
I look forward to hearing from anyone who enjoys these Marvels or any of the other pages on MetropolisPlus.com. Links to E-mail me both above and below!
All characters mentioned within these pages and associated images are © and ™ of DC Comics, Inc. If you have any questions, comments or other items of interest concerning this page or DC Comics or what-have-you, please feel free to E-Mail Brian G. Philbin. All items which are highlighted in blue text and underlined are links to the named item!
Text content is Copyright 1999 Brian G. Philbin