History Lesson: Why 2 Captain Marvels
Both DC and Marvel had their respective Captain Marvel films premiere in theaters. Instead of rejoicing, like the geek community should for something like this, the neck-bearded mouth-breathers threw a fit. In reality, the only thing the two characters from each publisher share is a name. But because Shazam came first, and more importantly is a white male, the basement dwellers that stalk and try to date Carol Danvers rioted.
Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel, which was unsurprisingly superior to the DC counterpart on screen in every way, was met with bot voting, hissy fits in forums, and hashtags causing flashbacks of the last presidential election. All of this because of a name being shared between two characters, and a name that legally belongs to Marvel, Disney, and Carol Danvers. As my annoyance for this situation grew, I decided instead of just focusing on how annoying these so called “geeks” throwing fits are (which there will be plenty of that; don’t worry), I would dig in to where these two characters came from and why they shared the name.
It all came down to a $400,000 lawsuit in 1950 that had nothing to do with Marvel Comics.
The geek world, and to a degree casual entertainment fans, know that it was in 1938 when Action Comics #1 debuted, giving the world Superman. Other heroes had existed, and around this time more came to be, but it was Superman that really launched the superhero genre. Superman could be found in comic books, in newspapers, on the radio, and even in animated shorts. His growing popularity set the stage for the Golden Age of Comics.
This opened up the opportunity for other publishers to create their own super-powered characters, leading to Fawcett Comics introducing Captain Marvel (Shazam) in Whiz Comics #2 in late 1939. Billy Batson, the boy who could transform into a nearly indestructible hero through the magic of the wizard Shazam, rose in popularity. His comics outsold every other hero during that time, including the Man of Steel. This did not please National Comics Publications (later DC), but it wasn’t until Superman was passed up by Republic Pictures in favor of Captain Marvel that they decided to take action.
National Comics Publications had already successfully shutdown Fawcett Comics’ character Master Man, a character that was undoubtedly a direct replica of Superman, so they played their hand in court again declaring Captain Marvel as just another carbon copy. The legal matter went on for nearly 12 years with National Comics Publications eventually failing to prove Fawcett Comics had committed copyright infringement in the initial case. The case ended up proving instead that Superman wasn’t properly copyrighted in the first place.
Captain Marvel lived on; well, at least for a short while.
Later, under their new name, Detective Comics restated their case in court after clearing up all the copyright concerns, and won $400,000 in damages (estimated value today of $4 million) from Fawcett Comics. Fawcett Comics, seeing the Golden Age of Comics winding down, had no other choice but to payout and pull their work from the shelf.
Captain Marvel did not live on; again, just for a short while.
With Captain Marvel done, a new up-and-coming publisher decided to grab the rights to the name. Yes, Marvel Comics now owned the name Captain Marvel. The name was quickly put to use and saw constant let-downs in a variety of iterations, until Carol Danvers came along and rescued the character’s name.
But the DC and Fawcett story gets more exciting. It’s very clear that the Shazam iteration of Captain Marvel is owned by DC, and that’s because in 1972, DC bought the rights to all of Fawcett Comics’ characters. Billy Batson, who once fought against Clark Kent in court, would now join Superman’s side as Shazam.
The obvious takeaway here, is if it wasn’t for Superman (yes, he’s vanilla) we wouldn’t have Shazam or Marvel’s Captain Marvel. The thin line between plagiarism and inspiration in art once again not only set the stage for clarity in future creations of similar characters, but allowed a domino to fall that brought us to 2019 where both Captain Marvel films were thrust upon us in an age where geeks have truly inherited the earth.
But what does that tell us about Billy Batson vs Carol Danvers?
Well, there is no Billy Batson vs Carol Danvers. Again, this is a made up war from the virgin army of odor that hides behind their computer screens, arguing who’s right and who’s wrong, with no knowlede of the legalities of it all, in between sending cosplay women inappropriate or stalker-level messages. Marvel owns the rights to the Captain Marvel name, which is why the DC movie is titled Shazam! and the term Captain Marvel is never spoken throughout. Yes, Batson arrived on the scene first, and immediately soared during the Golden Age, but your #NotMyCaptainMarvel hashtag means absolute shit in legal matters (and apparently just as much in box office matters).
But even with all that history uncovered, the question surely shouldn’t be “what Captain Marvel is your Captain Marvel?” It should be “how awesome is it that my children get to sit in a theater and watch superhero after superhero, when my only way to see many of them as a child was to make my weekly trip down to the comic shop?”
Enjoy. And let others enjoy. Because both Captain Marvels are awesome.