Why is Shazam called Captain Marvel? Marvel Comics Gets the Name? Captain Marvel – while something of a B-list Marvel character for most of the history of the women and men who have held the title – has been elevated to A-list over the last few years takes to some yeoman’s work of several comic book creators, along with the character’s emergence as an MCU here played by Academy Award-winning actor Brie Larsen.
But before Carol Danvers rose to fame as the comic book and live-action Captain Marvel, and even before there was a Marvel Comics, another hero made ‘Captain Marvel’ a household name in another era.
Knowledgeable DC fans know, of course, that we’re talking about the Big Red Cheese himself, the hero today’s readers and now moviegoers know as ‘Shazam!’
Why is Shazam called Captain Marvel?
Captain Marvel was the original name of Shazam. Bill Parker and C. C. Beck invented the character in 1939, and it debuted in Whiz Comics #2. During the Golden Age of Comics, Captain Marvel gained immense popularity and became an instant success.
National Comics Publications (later to become DC Comics) filed a lawsuit against Whiz Comics publisher Fawcett Publications in 1941 for copyright infringement. National argued that Captain Marvel bore too much like to Superman, its own superhero.
After more than ten years of litigation, Fawcett finally consented to cease publishing Captain Marvel comics in 1953. The rights to Captain Marvel were purchased by DC Comics in 1972, but they were not allowed to use the moniker since Marvel Comics still owned the trademark.
DC Comics changed the character’s name to Shazam as a result. The six immortal elders—Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury—who bestow upon Billy Batson the ability to transform into Captain Marvel—were the inspiration for this moniker.
Since then, Shazam has continued to enjoy popularity as a superhero and has appeared in numerous TV series, films, and comic book series. Shazam received his own live-action film in 2019, and it was a critical and financial hit.
To answer your question, Shazam was first conceived under the name Captain Marvel, which is why he goes by that name today. But, because Marvel Comics had registered the name as a trademark, DC Comics was not allowed to use it even after obtaining the character’s rights.
Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel
Like Superman, the first major American superhero (and the character that defined most of the genre tropes), the original 1939 incarnation of Captain Marvel could fly, had super strength and speed, and wore a costume of tights and a cape to rescue people. Seeing the similarities between the characters, National Comics Publications (Superman’s publisher who later became DC) sued Fawcett, Captain Marvel’s publisher, over copyright infringement against Fawcett, who published Captain Marvel.
If that seems drastic considering how many characters in modern comics share even more specific qualities, and how many superheroes were ripping off Superman even back in the ’40s, bear in mind that National had a history of suing companies that published heroes it felt were too close to Superman, successfully putting a stop to the publication of Fox’s Wonder Man and Fawcett’s pre-Captain Marvel hero Master Man.
There’s one other factor that set the Captain Marvel lawsuit apart, however – at his peak, Captain Marvel was selling more copies than Superman, and even became the first superhero to get their own live-action film.
Naturally, National didn’t like that Fawcett’s perceived copy of their hero was outselling their original, adding fuel to a lawsuit that aimed to cease publication of Captain Marvel. National and Fawcett settled out of court, leading Fawcett to cease publishing comic books and sell the rights to some of its comic characters – but they held on to the Marvel Family and their other superheroes.
From there, Captain Marvel all but disappeared (though some less successful heroes briefly adopted the name over the years). Then, in the ’60s, another publisher entered the ‘Captain Marvel’ dispute.
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.
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