The Simple Beginning of the Whiz kid
In 1939 after taking inspiration from the elements and characters that had worked in the comic book industry and examining all the fundamental shortcomings of the industry, Fawcett Comics launched a new character made to capitalize on the motifs of the medium and the absence of quality from the competition. With a little bit of hard work, a spark of creativity, and one word, SHAZAM! Captain Marvel was born in the pages of Whiz Comics #2—as seen down below.
For those who are already familiar with the origin story of “Earth’s Mightiest Mortal”, then know that even in his short-lived stay in Fawcett publishing, his origin story was exactly the same. A young orphan with a good heart got granted magical powers by a wizard in a cave—nothing to strange, creepy, or out of the ordinary with Billy’s situation. Poor jokes aside. When Billy Batson made his debut into the world of comics, his presence on the comic scene was nothing to laugh about. Very quickly, his title began to rival the best-selling titles of the rival companies—like DC’s Superman, and then later he beat them in sales.
For a considerable amount of time in his history, Captain Marvel was the world’s most popular Superhero, which shouldn’t be suprising when one considers the essential elements of the character and the key demographic of comic readers of the 1940s. Even though he looks like a man, Captain Marvel, Billy Batson, was a child, in both body and spirit, so, not surprisingly, the young boys who made Captain Marvel into a hit were not only attracted to the high flying fantasy adventures of an empowered peer but also related to him and understand his problems.
The Title Bout
While Captain Marvel was flying high in the pages and in sales, in 1941, DC comics brought copyright lawsuit against Fawcett Comics claiming that Captain Marvel was just a recreation of their Superman character only with slight alternations, which some to this day still argue that Captain Marvel is just that: a “Magic” Superman.
The prosecution brought their evidence before the several judges until in 1952 a judge ruled in their favor and deemed their case of copyright valid. Fawcett facing a decline in sales and in the Captain Marvel name value decided outside of the court with DC comics to just pay the fee which the court issued them and offer a price for the Captain Marvel character. Later that same year, DC officially had the rights of Captain Marvel in their publishing house.
Problems with “Captain Marvel”
For many years, chief-editors and company executives had no problem with having a character whose named carried an adjective synonymous with their rival company because of two reasons: 1) DC’s Captain Marvel had name recognition and an established legacy in comics; and 2) Marvel Comic’s Captain Marvel suffered from lackluster being an character unappealing character in general, and his series fell into the cosmic and obscure areas of the universe. Then with the rise of the new Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers—who tapped into an untouched reader demographic—and Marvel Comics simultaneously finding their financial footing after bankruptcy, DC figured that the name “Captain Marvel” created more issues then Billy Batson was worth—especially considering his titled no longer ran over 20 or so issues before cancellation.
After weighing all the options, DC renamed the character to Shazam. The renaming of the character has created a small innocuous division [and that’s putting it strongly] among fans. Some prefer “Captain Marvel” and others think that “Shazam” is more logical. Thus, here’s the situation…..
Why Captain Marvel” name is Tricky
- In the world of descriptive English, the word “marvel” comes up more often as a noun than an adjective, so the purpose of marvel in the name may be lost on some.
- In the world of comics, the word “marvel” is synonymous with one of the leading publishers in the industry, and Billy Batson is a Marvel character.
- As it stands right now, Marvel Comic’s Captain Marvel is just more popular than original Captain Marvel.
- To add further to the confusion, Marvel has another Captain Marvel [spelled Mar-Vell] from the golden age that appears in comics once in a blue moon.
- Captain Marvel [much like Captain Cold or Captain Boomerang] has no rank in anything, so he shouldn’t be called Captain anyway.
Why the “Shazam” name is Tricky
- Billy Batson has always summoned his powers by saying “Shazam” and still does. By applying logic to the context of the story, then Shazam can’t say his own name without activating/deactivating his powers.
- Shazam doesn’t measure up to Captain Marvel. The name Captain Marvel not only demands respect, but, as mentioned before, it carries a legacy with it.
- Shazam doesn’t quite feel like a real name—that maybe because of its use as explicative or its use as an acronym.
So, In the End, Captain Marvel or Shazam?
The Shazam name is fine, but the name Captain Marvel has the sensibilities of superhero comics, and to step down to a word that has no bearing outside of the medium and limited relevance to the source material just feels lackluster.
Free Alternate Names for DC
Here are some ideas that DC could call “Shazam”/”Captain Marvel” if they decide to change the name again:
Captain Thunder: That was the original name that creator of Captain Marvel had in mind for the character, and DC has already used this alternate title in some of their elseworlds series. The name keeps a part of the legacy, it avoids confusion with the competition, and it gives a subtle hint to his magical side.