By Glenn Walker
The battle has gone on for decades; first it was against Fawcett Comics, and then it was against Marvel Comics, but it seems that DC Comics has finally given up the fight. Captain Marvel is no more, or at least, the Captain Marvel who I always loved is gone.
Captain Marvel, the original Captain Marvel, first appeared in Whiz Comics #1 in 1940 (actually #2, but that's a longer story than we have time or space for here, but trust me, the Vast Storehouse of Useless Knowledge knows it, ask me some time). In a story that we should all know, but probably don't, young orphan Billy Batson follows a stranger into a subway tunnel (yeah, that doesn't sound smart, but wait, it turns out okay) and meets the old wizard Shazam who grants him a magic word, his own name.
Shazam, it turns out, is an acronym that stands for the powers granted to the boy when he speaks the word – the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. When spoken, the word, via magic lightning from the sky, transforms Billy Batson into the World's Mightiest Mortal: Captain Marvel.
The Captain was soon joined by his sister, Mary Marvel, and a young friend, Captain Marvel Jr., as well as others like Uncle Marvel, and the three Lt. Marvels. It was a bonanza franchise that would make today's comic creators proud. Captain Marvel was immensely popular. The Republic movie serial based on his adventures was and is possibly one of the best ever done, and the multi-part "Monster Society of Evil" story is considered to be one of the greatest of the Golden Age of comics.
Captain Marvel's (and his friends') adventures appeared in more than half a dozen different titles published by Fawcett Comics in the 1940s and regularly outsold the Superman comics. This, coupled with the fact that Captain Marvel could also fly and was super strong, prompted DC Comics to sue Fawcett, saying their character was just a copycat copyright infringement. The court battle went on for years, eventually shutting down Fawcett in the mid-1950s. Despite his demise, the Captain still outlived most of the superhero boom of the 1940s.
Legal issues and comic books rarely mix, so through some complications in the law, by the time Marvel Comics was in full swing in the 1960s, it turned out that the name 'Captain Marvel' was available. Stan Lee, thinking that the name was perfect for his company, immediately swooped in and created a new Captain Marvel, and trademarked that sucker stat. Marvel wasn't the only one to jump on this bandwagon, but I think the less said about the MF Enterprises version, the better.
This new Captain Marvel was Mar-Vell, an alien agent of the Kree Empire who was sent to Earth to observe, was branded a traitor, and ended up defending the earth from the Kree and other alien menaces. Because Marvel now held the trademark to the name 'Captain Marvel,' things got very tricky when DC Comics obtained the rights to the original Captain Marvel characters in the early 1970s. A legal arrangement was set up where both characters could co-exist in the marketplace so long as DC never referred to the name 'Captain Marvel' on a comic book cover. Thus was born the title Shazam!.
Over the years at Marvel Comics, several different characters have held the title Captain Marvel, among them the female Avenger Monica Rambeau later called Photon, Mar-Vell's son, then his daughter, a Skrull who thought he was Mar-Vell, and most recently the renegade Kree Noh-Varr, formerly known as Marvel Boy and currently known as the Protector. Weirdly, it doesn't seem like anyone has wanted to hang on to the name too long since the death of Mar-Vell in 1984. Over at DC, they were having their own problems.
DC Comics tried very hard to market their new addition Captain Marvel throughout the 1970s, including toys, action figures, games, a popular Saturday morning live-action television series, and a cartoon late in the decade. All this really seemed to do was confuse the public and cement in their minds that the character's name was Shazam, and not Captain Marvel. It's a shame, and I'd rather not comment on the ignorance or flat out refusal of the public to comprehend, but eventually in the last two or three years, DC Comics has relented, and decided to drop the 'Captain Marvel' name in favor of Shazam.
The concept was tested in the mini-series The Trials of Shazam! and now most recently has been revamped in the back-up stories in the new Justice League. These new stories tell the tale of the newest version of Billy Batson, a boy who has never been, and will never be Captain Marvel. He is destined to become Shazam. No more Captain Marvel, unless of course, you go over to the competition, that is….
Marvel Comics has taken this opportunity to take the Captain Marvel name for its own once and for all. This July Carol Danvers, formerly Ms. Marvel (as well as several other aliases) will become the new Captain Marvel of Marvel Comics in a brand new series by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy. New name, new costume, even a new haircut – maybe this one will last. Time will tell.
While I look forward to seeing Carol as the Captain, and I also look forward to seeing what will happen to Billy over in Justice League, I will still miss my favorite, the original Captain Marvel, and wonder why we can't have him back….