Last November, Rioter Jessica Plummer wrote a really excellent post on all of the Captains Marvel. I’m going to do a quick refresher on the two who have movies coming out in 2019 as there is sure to be a resurgence of dudebro whinging about which one is the “real” Captain Marvel but I highly recommend Jess’s piece for the deep dive. You will not be sorry.
The two Captains Marvel I’m focusing on here, in case you’ve entirely retreated from comic movie geekdom—and, given the state of the comics world, which seems to be continually oozing grossness, I wouldn’t blame you—are those with the alter egos Carol Danvers (March 8, 2019) and Billy Batson (April 5, 2019). While the movies promise to be very different in tone, as they should be given the origins of the respective heroes, depending on who you’re discussing them with, you may find yourself having to clarify which Captain Marvel you’re talking about. Most people refer to the later as Shazam these days, which is his official name, but some still cling to his Captain Marvel moniker, which is total sexist garbage, annoying and, also, flat-out wrong.
Legally they’re both the real Captain Marvel. Technically, Carol is, because DC made a smart call back in 2011 to clarify which character was theirs. Wisdom of Solomon and marketing gurus and all. You will, as mentioned above, however, still encounter those who cling to the days of yore. Let’s clear it up, one and for all, shall we?
First of all, just to be clear, Carol retired from the Air Force a colonel. Billy is a teenager. She outranks him across time, space, and universes. Hell, she outranks Captain America. Yes, I’m being snarky. I am also being accurate.
Ahem. Okay, serious evidence.
From the top. DC isn’t Shazam’s (let’s avoid confusion like a marketing guru) original owner; Fawcett Comics was. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, Superman was created in 1938 by National Comics (later rebranded as Detective Comics, or DC) and Shazam by Fawcett Comics in 1939. In 1951, DC claimed the latter was an infringement of their copyright on the Big Blue Boy Scout and sued Fawcett. After twelve years, one of the longest suits in comics litigation history, DC was declared the victor and won the rights to Shazam while Fawcett folded and went out of business.
DC held on to the character but didn’t do anything with him until the 1970s, which proved a tactical error because, in the intervening decade, Marvel trademarked “Captain Marvel” as the moniker for their Kree superhero, Mar-Vell.
Mar-Vell eventually passed his powers on to Carol Danvers who became first Ms. and then Captain Marvel. Which means she has as much legal right to bear the name as Billy does.
DC, who had spend a lot of time and a fair bit of money screwing Fawcett, owned a character “Captain Marvel,” but they didn’t have the trademark so they couldn’t use the name as the title of a book featuring said character (at least according to an article i09 wrote up on the subject). Nor, in fact, could they call him “Captain Marvel” in any promotional materials, including advertisements for his TV show, so instead, they marketed all of his stuff using his transformation/catchphrase: Shazam!
Which means, since 1972, he’s been Shazam to the vast majority, even if, within the pages of his books, he was addressed as Captain Marvel. In 2011, when DC relaunched with the New 52, they just ran with it and, to avoid any future confusion, changed the character’s actual name to Shazam, and Shazam he has been ever since. Which essentially means DC has ceded the title to Marvel, making Carol Danvers not only the legal but the de facto Captain Marvel.
The only current Captain Marvel (there have been others in the Marvel Universe. Clink the link back in that first paragraph to learn more).
Once more for the back of the room.
The ONLY Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel: Vol 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez (Marvel, 2014)
Shazam! by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank (DC Comics, 2013)