CAPTAIN MARVEL MYSTERY
name “Captain Marvel” carries one of the most convoluted
histories in the time line of American comic books, the
inspiration for many great characters and many great conflicts.
But just who is the real Captain Marvel? How many Captain
Marvels are there—and why more than one? Yes, a debate that
many of you, no doubt, have stayed up long into the night,
blanket wrapped around you by the fireplace as your last log
burned well past midnight. Your thoughts all a blur with: Who?
What? Where? When?
Well, maybe not, but if you’d really like the
nuts & bolts on the Captain Marvel controversy, just out of
curiosity, you’re in the right place.
The first comic book to actually sport the word
“Marvel” in its title arrived on the newsstands in 1939 with a
cover date of October, 1939. The comic: Marvel Comics
No. 1, featured the new comic book characters: The Human Torch
and The Sub-Mariner. Marvel Comics was publisher Martin
Goodman’s first comic book offering from his new imprint Timely
A note on Superman is necessary here: Superman,
the first of the real “superheroes” debuted in print in
Action Comics No. 1, (June, 1938). As we all know, Superman
was an immediate big hit and the genesis of a new genre of hero
that spread like a super powerful Kryptonian plauge. 1938 was a
tough time. As a nation we were coming out of “great
depression” and entering into a “great war.” Therefore, the
darker and more mysterious pulp action heroes didn’t stand much
of a chance when compared to the bright beacon of hope that the
colorful red, white, and blue Superman offered. (Jack Kirby &
Joe Simon would soon stamp that color formula on a guy named
So, it follows that Martin Goodman witnessed an
exciting new opportunity by following the National Publications
comic book, “Action” with his similarly colorfully titled
“Marvel.” But another magazine company took notice as well.
Fawcett Publications released Whiz Comics,
featuring the first superhero with the Captain Marvel name.
Notice the similarity in titles: Action, Marvel, Whiz. The
publishers wanted buzz words that would grab the kids. Fawcett
released Whiz Comics beginning with No. 2, because they
had produced two black and white comics to secure copyrights,
but they were called Flash Comics and Thrill Comics
and the lead character was called “Captain Thunder,” not
“Captain Marvel.” Fawcett couldn’t use Flash Comics
because National Publications already had a Flash Comics
and I suppose “Whiz” sounded more exciting than “Thrill.”
Nevertheless it appears the publishers at Fawcett liked the
sound of Marvel Comics and opted to use that word as
well. This no doubt irked Martin Goodman. Think about it. It
would be the equivalent of someone coming out with “Action Man”
just months after Superman’s first appearance in Action
Comics. Technically, there really isn’t an infringement
issue. It’s just annoying.
However, Fawcett, in creating a character that
borrowed heavily in character from National’s Superman and
borrowed in name from Timely, well, they set themselves up for
complications. According to Marvel’s Rascally Roy “the boy”
Thomas there were rumors in the 1960s that Goodman and Fawcett
had come to some sort of an agreement on the usage of Marvel.
Yet we may never know what exactly took place. Although, we do
know National took a very aggressive stance. By today’s
standards National didn’t really have a solid case against
Fawcett—even though Captain Marvel was an outright knockoff.
“Ideas” are not copyrighted. Characters names, images, and the
specific publications connected to them get copyrighted, but
not the general idea. This is why a former Coca-Cola employee
was able to invent Pepsi. The formula was protected but not the
idea. Since Pepsi’s formula is slightly different from
Coca-Cola, well, you understand.
But in America anyone can and will sue if
motivated and financially capable. A twelve year battle ensued
and Fawcett ultimately folded under the pressure by 1952. For
superheroes, the 50s were like those days in rock & roll when
everyone seemed to have either died, been jailed, or got
religion. The world was without a Captain Marvel …
Well, not exactly. Captain Marvel actually had
split the country and took up residence in England as a
slightly revamped character called “Marvelman,” published by L.
Miller and Son until 1963, and would later be revived as “Miracleman.”
Yet, that was still not the end for the Captain Marvel moniker
A few years later in 1966 comic artist/publisher
Myron Fass and Human Torch creator, Carl Burgos, created yet
another hero named Captain Marvel. This hero would yell
“Split!” and send his body parts bashing into bad guys. I’m not
yet sure if I think that’s super cool or super stupid. Captain
“Split!” Marvel only lasted a few issues (six) in 1966, but now
Martin Goodman finally saw his chance. Timely Comics had been
Atlas Comics in the 1950s, but was now called Marvel Comics—and
Goodman wanted a Captain Marvel.
Goodman ordered Stan Lee to create a Captain
Marvel for 1967 and quickly set about trade-marking the name
once and for all. This version of Captain Marvel was created by
Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Roy Thomas. I add Roy’s name to the
list as he came up with Saturn logo idea and the green/white
color scheme for the character. He was also the primary writer
for Captain Marvel after Stan got the ball rolling in Marvel
Superheroes No. 12. This new Captain Marvel was actually an
alien (another one of those aliens that remarkably looks like a
white skinned human) named Captain Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell was an
officer in the “Kree” military and comes to Earth because the
Fantastic Four had kicked butt on some of their robots, etc.
You would think now that Marvel actually owned
the trademark to the character that the convoluted mess might
end, but not so. In 1972, DC Comics (formerly National)
licensed the rights to C.C. Beck’s original Marvel Family (and
would own it outright by 1991) and brought the Fawcett Captain
Marvel back into publication under the title: Shazam!
Shazam is the magic word (not unlike Split!) that changes young
Billy Batson into Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was still
called Captain Marvel, but DC couldn’t use the name on the
cover title because of the Marvel comic Captain Marvel.
So, for the first time, there were actually two
Captain Marvel’s coexisting on planet Earth. The Shazam version
got his own TV show in 1974 and inspired a spin-off show for
the ladies called The Secrets of Isis, starring a foxy
babe named Joanna
Overall, the DC Comics Shazam
Captain Marvel has pretty much remained true to C.C. Beck’s
original creation, but over at Marvel, Captain Marvel evolved
many times. After the 1960’s Captain Mar-Vell—Roy Thomas and
Gil Kane revamped the character into a more colorful creation,
sporting blonde hair and a red, blue, and yellow outfit, but by
1982 the new sporty Captain Marvel caught cancer from Jim
I know, sad.
Anyway, you can’t keep a good
character name down, so Marvel came up with a new version, this
time a woman. I don’t know much about the Monica Rambeau
Captain Marvel, but I do remember she joined the Avengers, and
I believe there have been a handful more of Marvel Captain
Marvels, but this article’s already given me a headache and a
need for a double Mystery Island “Shazam!” vodka drink.
Is there a conclusion to this
No, I don’t think there ever
will be. Just let the Captain Marvel magic flow into eternity …
Hey, remember when Gomer Pyle
used to yell: “Shazam!” Yeah, that was pretty funny.
Okay, bye now.
PS: If you
want to experience some of that Captain Marvel magic for
yourselves, both DC and Marvel have reprint books out. You can
find the Fawcett Captain Marvel in both the Archive Editions
and DC Showcase and the Marvel Captain Marvel is featured in
Captain Marvel Vol. 1 from the Marvel Masterworks series.
-Bradley Mason Hamlin