Is Shazam Marvel or DC? Who Is the Original Captain Marvel? 2019 was an interesting year for movies, and one notable chance of cosmic fate from the year saw the release of Captain Marvel and Shazam! While these two films were made by different studios based on radically different comic book characters from different publications, the two share a connection in that originally Shazam went by the name Captain Marvel.
It is odd that a character now associated with DC Comics had the name of the company’s biggest competitor, and even as recently as 2011’s Young Justice, he was still referred to as Captain Marvel. Yet now that name is more commonly associated with Marvel Comics, particularly Carol Danvers.
While it was a fun bit of trivia that both Captain Marvel and Shazam! opened in theaters in 2019, what is even odder is that both movies have got sequels coming out in 2023. Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens in theaters on March 17, 2023, while The Marvels was recently delayed to November 10, 2023. This almost didn’t happen, as Shazam! Fury of the Gods was supposed to be released in 2022, but the delay now has these two characters with similar names back in the public spotlight.
Here is an explanation of why these two characters have the name Captain Marvel, how Billy Batson became known as the hero Shazam!, and how Marvel Comics acquired the name, Captain Marvel.
Is Shazam Marvel or DC?
If you didn’t know before, there are two Captain Marvel characters. Actually, there are more than just two, but both DC Comics and Marvel Comics each own a character best known for the name. One started off as a direct copy of the Man of Steel himself. The other is a cosmic powerhouse with plenty of attitude. But, regardless of which Captain Marvel you prefer or grew up with, there is a lengthy comic book history associated with that name, a history that can get a bit convoluted and confusing. Hopefully, with the Wisdom of Solomon, we can fix that.
This year already saw the release of Shazam!: Fury of the Gods and we’re slated to witness The Marvels this fall, but before you dive head-first into some of these super-powered sequels, it might be time to brush up on your Captain Marvel history.
Both DC Comics and Marvel Comics publish different characters associated with the name, and though DC might not traditionally use the Captain Marvel moniker now, the Shazam! character’s association with it (and recent returns to the classic “Captain”) sometimes make things a bit difficult to work through. But, without further ado, let’s fly into the pages of Captain Marvel and discover just who came first and why there’s so much convolution today!
Shazam! Came First and Was the Original Captain Marvel
Originally published by Fawcett Comics, Billy Batson made his debut in Whiz Comics #2 in February 1940. The character was known as Captain Marvel, and it was established that Billy is a child with a very specific power. When he said the magic word “Shazam!” (an acronym of six legendary heroes: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury), he becomes a full-grown adult superhero with powers derived from those figures. Shazam is the name of the wizard that gave Billy his powers.
Captain Marvel was an extremely popular character, whose popularity was even shown in the recent film Elvis, which touched on Elvis Presley’s real-life love of the comic book Captain Marvel Jr. At one time, the Captain Marvel character was even outselling Superman from National Comics (which would later form DC Comics). National Comics sued Fawcett Comics for copyright infringement on Superman.
While Fawcett battled the case for 12 years, they ceased publication of Captain Marvel in 1952 in part due to superheroes losing their popularity in comics. In a bit of irony, the then-renamed DC Comics licensed the Captain Marvel characters from Fawcett Comics in 1972 and by 1991 acquired them entirely. DC started putting Billy Batson and his supporting characters into the DC Universe, but had to start publishing the title under Shazam! because by this point Marvel Comics had taken the name of Captain Marvel.
Marvel Comics Gets the Name
After Fawcett Comics stopped publishing Captain Marvel comics in 1953, the trademark eventually went up for grabs. In 1961, Timely Comics had been rebranded Marvel Comics and started its historic run introducing popular characters like The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, The X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, The Avengers, and many more. By the late 1960s, Marvel Comics acquired the name Captain Marvel, as they clearly wanted to have a superhero with the company’s name in it.
The first Marvel hero to take on the mantle was Captain Mar-Vell, an alien soldier of the Kree Empire who turned against his people and became a superhero. The character was a part of many major Marvel Comics storylines but never broke out in popularity the way many other Marvel characters did.
However, in order to maintain the copyright on the Captain Marvel name, Marvel Comics would need to publish a Captain Marvel title periodically every few years, which resulted in many characters taking on the mantle of Captain Marvel in an attempt to make the character popular.
The first was Monica Rambeau, who was the first Black woman to hold the title and the first Black woman to lead The Avengers. Monica Rambeau appeared as a child in the 2019 Captain Marvel film and appeared as an adult in WandaVision, and will soon team up with Carol Danvers and Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel) in the film The Marvels. Then it passed to Mar-Vell’s kids, Genis-Vell and Phayla-Vell, and a young Kree boy named Noh-Var. It was in 2012 though when Marvel Comics finally found the right ingredient to make the Captain Marvel name fit with a popular hero: give it to Carol Danvers.
Carol Danvers Becomes Captain Marvel
Carol Danvers was first introduced in 1968 as a girlfriend to Mar-Vell, before becoming a superhero in her own right in 1977 under the name Ms. Marvel. Unlike Captain Marvel, which Marvel Comics had to keep publishing in order to maintain the rights, there was no reason to keep Carol Danvers around, but the character was popular with fans and became a mainstay of the Marvel Universe becoming a member of the Avengers and X-Men and was part of major storylines like House of M and Civil War.
In 2012, as part of the new Marvel Now branding (meant to cash in on the upcoming increase in readers from The Avengers films), Marvel Comics decided to rebrand Carol Danvers from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel. The comic was a hit with fans and readers, making the superhero named Captain Marvel the most popular it had been at Marvel Comics.
Just two years later in 2014, Marvel Studios announced they were in development on a Captain Marvel movie that would feature the Carol Danvers incarnation of the character. Interestingly at the same time, Warner Bros. announced they were working on a Shazam! movie, bringing the two characters into the spotlight once more.
Who Is the Original Captain Marvel?
In 1939, just a year after the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1, comic book writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck were hired by Fawcett Comics to develop a “Superman” of their own. It wasn’t long before the character who eventually became Captain Marvel was born, first officially appearing as “Captain Marvel” in Whiz Comics #2 (which is technically the first issue, but that’s a different rabbit hole).
After a few false starts, the character became an instant hit, eventually gaining his own solo series and headlining the Fawcett Comics brand. Soon, sidekicks and spin-offs were invented, and, eventually, Captain Marvel became just as famous as Superman, if not more so.
It wasn’t long before Captain Marvel spawned a large supporting cast that included his sister Mary Marvel, his best friend Freddy Freeman (aka Captain Marvel, Jr.), his talking tiger Tawny, Uncle Marvel, and yes, even Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. Just about every recurring cast member was given the power of Shazam, which only sparked more adventures and plenty of action-packed entertainment. Captain Marvel sold well during World War II, giving the American people hope during a darker time.
Since Marvel Comics (known until the 1960s as Timely Comics) had Captain America under its belt, there was no pressing need for a “Captain Marvel” of their own. In fact, the Marvel brand had yet to be invented, and as such, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was the only comic book superhero to hold that name for decades.
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