The Many Lives of Captain Marvel
In 1940, C.C. Beck and Bill Parker created one of the most iconic heroes of all time for publisher Fawcett Comics: Captain Marvel! Captain Marvel was young boy Billy Batson, imbued with the amazing powers of the wizard Shazam. He was joined by Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel, and a crazy cast of heroes and villains including one of the first “evil twins” in modern literature (Black Adam) and one of the first giant robots (Mr. Atom).
Then Captain Marvel became so popular, DC -the publishers of Superman and Batman – sued the hell out of them because they claimed Captain Marvel was too much like Superman. One could easily argue that a super-powered guy who could fly around and lift cars had already become a stereotype by 1940 and definitely by the 1953 death of Fawcett due to copyright issues. But, sadly, Captain Marvel was gone and buried…
Well, Billy Batson and the powers of Shazam, once the most popular superhero in existence, met the same fate as pretty much ever popular superhero in the 1950’s, including Captain America and others… Kids were reading horror, sci-fi, western, and romance comics. Superheroes were all but dead.
In the 1950’s it was so bad that Batman… BATMAN!… was almost canceled, slowly turning into a bunch of weird-ass sci-fi stories with aliens and alien gangsters and alien dragons.
In the 1950’s across the pond in England, L. Miller and Son were publishing black and white Captain Marvel reprints. At least until the stories ended. So, they had a brilliant plan. Captain Marvel was dead so just make up your own hero that’s an exact copy in all ways, Marvelman!
Marvelman’s adventures died in 1963, coming back in 1982 thanks to Alan Moore. Marvelman was the second Captain Marvel, literally the same character chronologically but getting a new name and new catchphrase, “Kimota!” This was England’s Captain Marvel.
Luckily, in 1966 thanks to one of the weirdest and most shoddily made comics ever, America got their Captain Marvel again! Sort of!
M.F. Enterprises published Captain Marvel. He was, uh, an android who could shoot his limbs as people because comics. And of course he was an ALIEN android. And he shouted, “Split!”
Marvel Comics politely gave Marvel the name Captain Marvel because they didn’t want some weird legal fight.
And now, we have our fourth Captain Marvel! Captain Mar-Vell, Kree warrior and super-powered guy, came out for Marvel in 1967. Due to boring copyright laws I won’t get into, Marvel had to published at least one Captain Marvel comic book every 2 years or lose the name Captain Marvel. But, lo, there would come a challenge…
DC Comics went ahead and bought Captain Marvel from Fawcett. This was Billy Batson, the original Captain Marvel. He was so original, in fact, that DC comics literally called his book Shazam!: The Original Captain Marvel. See, DC was smart but also not that smart. They knew calling their comic Captain Marvel would get Marvel into a tizzy because of their comic that came out a few years earlier using the lapsed trademark.
By 1972 we had Captain Marvel, British Captain Marvel/Marvelman, android alien Captain Marvel, and Captain Mar-Vell, AND THEN Captain Marvel (the original).
Marvel sent DC a cease and desist letter and Shazam!: The Original Captain Marvel became Shazam!: The World’s Mightiest Mortal.
As a result of all this nonsense, Captain Marvel – the original, real one – ended up having to use Shazam! or some other name in all the titles, toys, ads, and so on. Captain Marvel the name popped up within the comics themselves and in all reprinted materials, but died a slow death. Though, weirdly, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and the rest of the Marvel Family kind of held onto their name a lot longer.
Several times DC Comics toyed with name changes for Captain Marvel. Would he be Captain Thunder? Should we just call him Captain? Eventually thanks to the titles and toys, everyone just kind of called him Shazam. Thus, Captain Marvel was now Shazam.
Captain Thunder hung on again, showing up a couple of times here and there, as a black superhero who was basically an alternate universe Shazam and then as several kids with one heroic personality.
Over in Marvel, Captain Mar-Vell was pretty much just Captain Marvel now… until he died in one of the first graphic novels from a major publisher. Then we had several other Captain Marvels, Monica Rambeau, Genis-Vell, and a few others. Marvel finally decided that Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, would get to be promoted for just a woman to a captain and, hey, now we have Captain Marvel Carol Danvers in a big budget movie.
Carol had been around since 1977 and suffered a lot at the hands of jerk men and jerk women, so she had her due to be someone who wasn’t a Ms. or in a coma.
Billy Batson, Fawcett/DC’s original Captain Marvel turned to Shazam officially, and now he’s getting his own movie. This will be the third time Shazam gets a chance at live action stardom. He got a movie serial in the 1940’s, then a really bad 70’s TV show.
And that is the story of how Captain Marvel was the first live action superhero of the cinema as a young boy granted magical powers from Fawcett… and then the first live action movie staring a female hero from Marvel, somehow also being an android alien and a British hero along the way.
Which Captain Marvel is your favorite, and why is it the android alien that can shoot his arms at people?! Let Nerdbot know in the comments!