By Kaylee Brewster
Superhero films remain a big part of yearly box office offerings, but this year will have viewers seeing double.
Not that many would know it.
Marvel is releasing “Captain Marvel” March 8 and DC is releasing “Shazam” April 5. However, Shazam used to also be called Captain Marvel and so begins the tale of how two Captain Marvels soon became one.
These copyright laws ain’t big enough for the two of us
In the beginning, it was neither Marvel nor DC that started with the character Captain Marvel, it was Fawcett Comics in the 1940s. Unfortunately, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel had too many similarities to Superman — flight, super strength, super speed and a caped, skin-tight costume. So, National Comics Publications (which is now DC) sued Fawcett for copyright infringement, although some speculate Fawcett Comics’ only crime was that Captain Marvel comics out-sold Superman comics.
For a while there was no Captain Marvel until the 1960s, when Marvel Comics decided that the moniker “Captain Marvel” conveniently fit with their company name. They created their own Captain Marvel character. DC’s dispute with Fawcett Comics was over the look and powers of the character, not the name itself, so Marvel was clear to create their version.
When Marvel began publishing Captain Marvel, the name was then copyrighted under Marvel Comics. This later prevented DC from using the character’s name (after purchasing Fawcett Comics’ characters in the ’90s).
Here is where the confusion began. Officially, Captain Marvel in DC was still Captain Marvel, but because they couldn’t use the name they started using the name “Shazam,” the word Billy Batson speaks to use his powers (more on that later). More recently, DC finally gave up trying to do the character-name-that-can’t-be-spoken and changed the official name to Shazam, leaving Marvel’s Captain Marvel as the last captain standing.
Captain Marvel’s story? It’s complicated
If that weren’t confusing enough, Marvel’s Captain Marvel has a complicated history separate from the dueling superhero titles.
In the new film, Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson) is Carol Danvers, a woman, but she’s not the only one who’s taken on the mantle of Captain Marvel.
Marvel’s first Captain Marvel in the 1960s was named Mar-Vell, a Kree warrior. Kree is an alien race in the world of Marvel comics.
In one of Mar-vell’s protect-the-Earthlings adventures, he saves Carol Danvers from a Psyche-Magnitron blast (a machine made by the Kree that can give humanoids superhuman powers). In the process, she absorbs some of his Kree DNA and gains superpowers. She then goes by the name Ms. Marvel until Mar-Vell’s death. In the 2012 series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which the new “Captain Marvel” film draws its inspiration from, Ms. Marvel takes on the name of Captain Marvel, in honor of Mar-Vell. Others throughout Marvel comics have also taken on the role of Captain Marvel, but Mar-Vell and Carol are most recognized.
Captain Marvel is said to be the most powerful character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The hero’s abilities include flight, superhuman strength, speed, endurance, stamina, energy projection and absorption.
Shazam: The men behind the name
DC’s Shazam is less complicated, if slightly stranger. Shazam (played by Zachary Levi in the film) is the grown-up version of Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel), a young boy who transforms into an adult with superhuman abilities when he says “Shazam.”
“Shazam” also is the name of the wizard who gives him his powers. So, that means there’s two Shazams in DC. Shazam also is an acronym for the immortal elders Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.
Shazam’s powers are based on the people he takes his name from. These powers include (but aren’t limited to) hypnosis from Solomon, strength from Hercules, stamina from Atlas, lightning bolts and regeneration from Zeus, invulnerability from Achilles and speed from Mercury.