Captain Marvel will battle baddies in a movie that will be released this week.
Captain Marvel is expected to join the war on Thanos in “Avengers: Endgame” next month.
But it’s fair to say the most high-stakes Captain Marvel battle was waged in courtrooms.
Signs point to “Captain Marvel” (scheduled for March 8 release) being the next blockbuster superhero film for Marvel Studios. According to Fandango, "Captain Marvel" is No. 3 all-time among Marvel movies in advance ticket sales, trailing only “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Black Panther.”
Who is Captain Marvel?
Because there have been a slew of characters with that name, it's not a simple question to answer.
The title character in the upcoming movie is a female heroine, Carol Danvers.
But the original Captain Marvel is a male who is not, and has never been, in the Marvel stable.
The original Captain Marvel, now known as Shazam, will star in a DC film in April, which means moviegoers will, in a span of 29 days, be treated to the release of two Captain Marvel films featuring different characters owned by different companies.
Confused? If so, blame the original Captain Marvel for being a little too successful. Captain Marvel comics were outselling Superman comics in the 1940s. That got the attention of Superman’s publisher and, all of a sudden, lawyers were involved.
DC Comics, Marvel’s longtime publishing rival, is the home of characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Superman was created in 1938 and was such a sales hit that he spawned many imitators.
The original Captain Marvel came along in 1940. Billy Batson was an orphaned boy who, when he said the magic word “Shazam,” was transformed into Captain Marvel, an adult with Superman-like powers.
Readers dug the concept. A few years after Captain Marvel’s debut, the comic series Captain Marvel Adventures was selling a reported 1.3 million copies per month and a whole “Marvel Family” of characters sprang up around him, including Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Uncle Marvel and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.
A dime at a time, Captain Marvel and his supporting cast made much coin for a company called Fawcett Comics. And Captain Marvel also beat Superman to theater screens, appearing in a 1941 movie serial.
DC (then known as National Comics Publications) argued that Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman and sued for copyright infringement in 1941. A legal tug of war continued into the next decade. Eventually, Fawcett surrendered, paying DC $400,000 and ceasing publication of Captain Marvel-related comics. By then, sales of superhero comics were sagging.
Superheroes came roaring back in the 1960s, thanks in no small part to Stan Lee and co-creators launching a wave of groovy new characters at Marvel. Doesn't it make sense for Marvel to have a character named Captain Marvel? Because Fawcett’s Captain Marvel had been litigated into hibernation, Lee created a new Captain Marvel character (an alien male who was dispatched to earth) and trademarked the name.
In order to cling to the trademark, Marvel was legally obligated to publish a Captain Marvel title on a sort of regular basis — and that continues to happen.
Marvel’s first Captain Marvel was a B-list character who never found the same audience as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. He died of cancer in a 1982 graphic novel.
Marvel also created subsequent Captain Marvel characters — some male, some female. Seven? Eight? It’s easy to lose count. The Captain Marvel that will be showcased in the movie has a long history in comics and was previously known as Ms. Marvel, a title now owned by Kamala Khan, the first Marvel Muslim character to be granted a comic series.
Caught up so far? Here’s the part where the Captain Marvel population decreases by one.
The original Captain Marvel was revived in the 1970s. DC licensed the character from Fawcett with the intent of publishing new comic stories and reprinting vintage tales.
DC's Captain Marvel commic debuted in 1973, but the title of the series was “Shazam!” instead of Captain Marvel because Marvel had been savvy enough to snag the trademark.
A live-action, moral-heavy and aimed-at-kids “Shazam” Saturday morning TV series based on the original Captain Marvel aired on CBS from 1974-76. Comic readers who tuned in to see a superhero duke it out with his rogue’s gallery may have felt let down when they instead watched him perform rescues of people and critters. But, hey, it was hard to find a superhero on a TV or movie screen then, so you took what you could get.
DC eventually purchased the original Captain Marvel character and other Fawcett assets. The hero was called Captain Marvel in DC comic stories (never mind the "Shazam" on the cover) until seven years ago, when DC took the plunge and officially renamed the character Shazam.
“Everybody thinks he’s called Shazam already, outside of comics,” DC's Geoff Jones told Newsarama interviewer Vaneta Rogers in 2012. Johns said the character would be called Shazam "from now on."
And that’s why you will have an opportunity to see a movie titled “Shazam!” next month instead of two movies titled “Captain Marvel” over the next two months.
All squared away on Captain Marvel history now? The "Captain Marvel" movie is expected to rake in more than $100 million on its opening weekend. Maybe the moral of this story is "trademark” and "Shazam" are both magic words.