Remember how my friend Joe and I got into a discussion about Harley and Joker and agency? Well, my friend [Kate] and I got into a similar discussion: that of the name “Captain Marvel”. Specifically, the discussion was about Carol Danvers using the Captain Marvel name. Basically, [Kate] thought it would be better if Marvel dropped the Captain Marvel name all together and let her be her own character (possibly giving Kamala another name). This, as a consequence, would allow DC to stop calling their Captain Marvel character Shazam and give him his original name back as he had it first. My argument was that Marvel has to keep using the name to keep DC from using it and that giving Carol the Captain title makes her more than just a spin off of the original, Mar-Vell…I’ll get to him.
But who really had the name first? Was it DC? …Well, yes and no.
Billy Batson, AKA Captain Marvel AKA Shazam, was created in 1940 by Fawcett Comics during the Golden Age of Comics. An orphan, he was granted the powers of six mythical Greek figures (Speed of Mercury, Strength of Hercules, Power of Zeus, etc.) by the wizard Shazam, which he’s able to access by shouting the wizard’s name. It also gives him an adult body. Later on, he was able to share these powers with people who would become The Marvel Family, the most notable being his twin sister Mary Marvel and their friend Captain Marvel Jr. At the time, Billy’s comics became so popular that they outsold Superman’s.
National Comics (Known today as DC Comics) actually sued Fawcett over Billy (For simplicity, I’ll refer to each Captain Marvel by their real name), alleging that he was a copy of Superman which…yeah, I kinda have to give to them. Power wise, there’s little difference save for the fact that one’s an alien and the other’s powers are based in magic. Person wise, well one’s an adult alien who moonlights as a newspaper reporter while the other’s a preteen human who moonlights as a radio reporter…I’m not kidding. Hell, in the 2001 book ‘Fawcett Companion’ edited by P.C. Hamerlinck, a book about the history of Fawcett Comics, Fawcett’s circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett admitted to telling the staff “Give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10- or 12-year-old boy rather than a man.” This all ended in early 1954 when Fawcett stopped publishing superhero comics, partly due to their decline in popularity at the time and partly because of decade long settlement case with National. Fawcett would later be bought out by DC with some of its heroes being bought by Charlton Comics, which would later also be bought by DC.
Superheros became popular again around the 60s, leading into the Silver Age of Comics. In 1967, Marvel Comics (and by that I, of course, mean Stan Lee) created their own Captain Marvel, a member of an alien race called the Kree named Mar-Vell. Originally a spy for his people, Mar-Vell comes to care for the puny humans and sides with them, becoming one of their protectors. I don’t really care about Mar-Vell as, with the exception of helping to create his vastly superior spin off character Carol Danvers AKA Ms Marvel, he didn’t really do much and was ultimately killed in 1982. He’s popped up a couple of times since then in recent memory, but for the most part has stayed dead. After all, coming back from being killed by villains, laser beams, and interdimensional forces of ultimate cosmic power? Easy. Coming back after being killed by cancer? Not so much.
However, Captain Marvel is more than just an alien guy in the Marvel universe. It’s a legacy hero. So there’s a passing of the torch at least once every five years or so. The first Captain Marvel after him was actually an African-American woman, the first to ever join the Avengers, named Monica Rambeau who is basically living light. She’s actually still around today as Spectrum and is friends with current Captain Marvel Carol Danvers. You know the Captain Marvel in 1982’s Secret Wars? That’s her. Other Captain Marvels throughout the 2000s have been aliens that usually have some genetic tie, be it by family or clone, to the original that ultimately end up dying because Mar-Vell is boring. Monica only gave up the name to Genis-Vell, Mar-Vell’s son, in 1996 out of respect for his father though she resents it.
So Mar-Vell was Captain Marvel from 1967- 1982 and Monica was from 1982-1996. What was DC doing during this time? Well, in 1972, at the beginning of the Bronze Age of Comics, they started republishing the old Marvel Family stories (and new ones) under the name ‘Shazam!’ in reference to the wizard who gave them their powers and the word they yell to use them. The characters were later integrated into the DC Universe following Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 (One of the kickoffs for the Modern Age of Comics), during Monica’s run in Marvel. I should point out that at no point, prior to the New 52, were the characters ever called Shazam or the Shazam Family. Shazam was just the name of the book. They were still the Marvels. And yet, most people would identify Billy’s character as Shazam.
Due to this, in 2011, with the relaunch of the DC Universe via the New 52, Bill’s Captain Marvel was officially renamed Shazam with his family members renamed The Shazam Family. In 2012, Carol Danvers abandoned the Ms Marvel name and became the new Captain Marvel, which she remains to this day. Carol has had four continuous comic series since then, has been on five teams (four of which had their own books) and starred in two tie ins to 2015’s Secret Wars. Billy has not been seen since the end of the New 52 and never got his own book, only ever appearing in the Justice League books or in team up issues with other League members. He, nor any of his family, is a part of DC’s Rebirth line up.
Yes, both characters are getting a movie in the near future…allegedly. It’s a given at this point that Carol’s movie will be made. It’s Marvel, after all. Billy’s is not so certain. The past three DC films have been disasters, money making disasters, but disasters and it’s only a matter of time before the public catches on to that and the spectacle of having these characters on the big screen for the first time fades away. I have a prediction that the DC films will only get as far as Justice League before they finally give up. Maybe they’ll make Flash and Aquaman, but I doubt it. If Wonder Woman manages to pull a miracle and be good then I might have hope that they learn from that and everything after Justice League will be better, but, again, I doubt it.
Going by popular media, Billy’s been in more animated films yeah, but they’ve pretty much been in equal amounts of television and the stuff Carol’s been in is currently on TV. Heck, she’s scheduled to appear in the upcoming second season of the Guardians of the Galaxy cartoon. Billy? Well, maybe he’ll be in Young Justice season 3. (Congrats on that btw.) I got nothing else.
So, who should have the title of Captain Marvel, Billy or Carol? Honestly, rights issues aside. I have to go with Carol. Yes, there was a Captain Marvel owned by Fawcett Comics in the 40s, but that character was long ago erased with Crisis on Infinite Earths. That character technically hasn’t existed since 1985 and even then didn’t start getting published by his current owner until the 1970s, after Marvel had had their hero for at least 5 years. Marvel’s Captain Marvel is a legacy passed down from hero to hero until it’s finally reached Carol, the original’s vastly superior spin off (like Xena was for Hercules). Plus, by the time she took over the role, DC had already changed Billy’s alias to Shazam thus rendering the discussion moot.
Of course, this could all be bias because of my affinity for Marvel. Carol and Billy’s movies come out within a month of each other in Spring 2019. Go see who you like, I’ll be watching Carol.
Sorry for my long absence again. Trying to fix that. Got some Moffat stuff to review.
(Photo via DC Comics)