Captain Marvel

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Captain Marvel is a fictional comic book superhero, originally published by Fawcett Comics and later by DC Comics. Created in 1939 by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, the character first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940). With a premise that taps adolescent fantasy, Captain Marvel is the alter ego of Billy Batson, a youth who works as a radio news reporter and was chosen to be a champion of good by the wizard Shazam. Whenever Billy speaks the wizard's name, he is instantly struck by a magic lightning bolt that transforms him into an adult superhero empowered with the abilities of six mythical figures. Several friends and family members, most notably Marvel Family cohorts Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr., can share Billy's power and become "Marvels" themselves.

Hailed as "The World's Mightiest Mortal" in his adventures, Captain Marvel was nicknamed "The Big Red Cheese" by archvillain Doctor Sivana, an epithet later adopted by Captain Marvel's fans. Based on sales, Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero of the 1940s, as his Captain Marvel Adventures comic book series sold more copies than Superman and other competing superhero books during the mid-1940s. Captain Marvel was also the first comic book superhero to be adapted to film, in 1941 (The Adventures of Captain Marvel).

Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel-related comics in 1953, due in part to a copyright infringement suit from DC Comics alleging that Captain Marvel was an illegal infringement of Superman. In 1972, DC licensed the Marvel Family characters and returned them to publication, acquiring all rights to the characters by 1991. DC has since integrated Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family into their DC Universe, and have attempted to revive the property several times. However, Captain Marvel has not regained widespread appeal with new generations, although a 1970s Shazam! live-action television series featuring the character was popular.

Because Marvel Comics trademarked their Captain Marvel comic book during the interim between the original Captain Marvel's Fawcett years and DC years, DC Comics is unable to promote and market their Captain Marvel/Marvel Family properties under that name. Since 1972, DC has instead used the trademark Shazam! as the title of their comic books and thus the name under which they market and promote the character. Consequently, Captain Marvel himself is sometimes erroneously referred to as Shazam.

Publication history

Development and inspirations

After the success of National Comics' new superhero characters Superman and Batman, Fawcett Publications decided in 1939 to start its own comics division. Fawcett recruited writer Bill Parker to create several hero characters for the first title in their line, tentatively titled Flash Comics. Besides penning stories featuring Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher, Golden Arrow, Lance O'Casey, Scoop Smith and Dan Dare for the new book, Parker also wrote a story about a team of six superheroes, each possessing a special power granted to them by a mythological figure. Fawcett Comics' executive director Ralph Daigh decided it would be best to combine the team of six into one hero who would embody all six powers. Parker responded by creating a character he called "Captain Thunder." Staff artist Clarence Charles "C. C." Beck was recruited to design and illustrate Parker's story, rendering it in a direct, somewhat cartoony style that became his trademark.

The first issue of the comic book, printed as both Flash Comics #1 and Thrill Comics #1, had a low-print run in the fall of 1939 as an ashcan copy created for advertising purposes. Shortly after its printing, however, Fawcett found it could not trademark "Captain Thunder," "Flash Comics," or "Thrill Comics," because all three names were already in use. Consequently, the book was renamed Whiz Comics, and Fawcett artist Pete Costanza suggested changing Captain Thunder's name to "Captain Marvelous," which the editors shortened to "Captain Marvel." The word balloons in the story were re-lettered to label the hero of the main story as "Captain Marvel." Whiz Comics #2, dated February 1940, was published in late 1939. Since it was the first of that title to actually be published, the issue is sometimes referred to as Whiz Comics #1, despite the issue number printed on it.

Inspirations for Captain Marvel came from a number of sources. His visual appearance was modeled after that of Fred MacMurray, a popular American actor of the period. C. C. Beck's later versions of the character would resemble other American actors, including Cary Grant and Jack Oakie. Fawcett Publications' founder, Wilford H. Fawcett, was nicknamed "Captain Billy," which inspired the name "Billy Batson" and Marvel's title as well. Fawcett's earliest magazine was titled Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, which inspired the title Whiz Comics. In addition, Fawcett adapted several of the elements that had made Superman, the first popular comic book superhero, popular (super strength and speed, science-fiction stories, a mild mannered reporter alter ego), and incorporated them into Captain Marvel. Fawcett's circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett recalled telling the staff, "give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10 or 12-year-old boy rather than a man."

As a result, Captain Marvel was given a twelve-year-old boy named Billy Batson as an alter ego. In the origin story printed in Whiz Comics #2, Billy, a homeless newsboy, is lead by a mysterious stranger to a secret subway tunnel. An odd subway car with no visible driver takes them to the lair of the wizard Shazam, who grants Billy the power to become the adult superhero Captain Marvel. In order to transform into Captain Marvel, Billy must speak the wizard's name, an acronym for the six various legendary figures who had agreed to grant aspects of themselves to a willing subject: the wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and the speed of Mercury. Speaking the word produces a bolt of magic lightning which transforms Billy into Captain Marvel; speaking the word again reverses the transformation with another bolt of lightning.

Captain Marvel wore a bright red costume, inspired by both military uniforms and ancient Egyptian and Persian costumes as depicted in popular operas, with gold trim and a lightning bolt insignia on the chest. The body suit originally included a buttoned lapel, but was changed to a one-piece skintight suit within a year at the insistence of the editors (the current DC costume of the character has the lapel restored to it). The costume also included a white-collared cape trimmed with gold flower symbols, usually asymmetrically thrown over the left shoulder and held around his neck by a gold cord. The cape came from the ceremonial cape worn by the British nobility, photographs of which appeared in newspapers in the 1930s.

Fawcett years: the Marvel Family, allies, and enemies

Through his adventures, Captain Marvel soon gained a host of enemies. His most frequent foe was Doctor Sivana, a mad scientist who was determined to rule the world, yet was thwarted by Captain Marvel at every turn. Marvel's other villains included Adolf Hitler's champion Captain Nazi, an older Egyptian renegade Marvel called Black Adam, an evil magic-powered brute named Ibac, and an artificially intelligent nuclear-powered robot called Mister Atom. The most notorious Captain Marvel villains, however, were the nefarious Mister Mind and his Monster Society of Evil, which recruited several of Marvel's previous adversaries. The "Monster Society of Evil" story arc ran as a twenty-five chapter serial in Captain Marvel Adventures #22–46 (March 1943 – May 1945), with Mister Mind eventually revealed to be a highly intelligent yet tiny worm from another planet.

In the early 1940s, Captain Marvel also gained allies in the Marvel Family, a collective of superheroes with powers and/or costumes similar to Captain Marvel's. (By comparison, Superman spin-off character Superboy first appeared in 1944, while Supergirl first appeared in 1959). Whiz Comics #21 (September 1941) marked the debut of the Lieutenant Marvels, the alter egos of three other boys (all also named Billy Batson) who found that, by saying "Shazam!" in unison, they too could become Marvels. In Whiz Comics #25 (December 1941), a friend named Freddy Freeman, mortally wounded by an attack from Captain Nazi, was given the power to become teenage boy superhero Captain Marvel, Jr. A year later in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 1942), Billy and Freddy met Billy's long-lost twin sister Mary Bromfield, who discovered she could, by saying the magic word "Shazam," become teenage superheroine Mary Marvel.

Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. were featured as a team in a new comic series entitled The Marvel Family. This was published alongside the other Captain Marvel-related titles, which now included Wow Comics featuring Mary, Master Comics featuring Junior, and both Mary Marvel Comics and Captain Marvel, Jr. Comics. Non-super-powered Marvels such as the "lovable con artist" Uncle Marvel and his niece, Freckles Marvel, also sometimes joined the other Marvels on their adventures. A funny animal character, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, was created in 1942 and later given a spin-off series of his own.

The members of the Marvel Family often teamed up with the other Fawcett superheroes, who included Ibis the Invincible, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Spy Smasher, Minute-Man, and Mr. Scarlet and Pinky. Among the many artists and writers who worked on the Marvel Family stories alongside C. C. Beck and main writer Otto Binder were Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Mac Raboy, Pete Costanza, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Marc Swayze.

Marvelman (and Miracleman)

In the 1950s, a small British publisher, L. Miller and Son, published a number of black and white reprints of American comic books, including the Captain Marvel series. With the outcome of the National v. Fawcett lawsuit, L. Miller and Son found their supply of Captain Marvel material abruptly cut off. They requested the help of a British comic writer, Mick Anglo, who created a thinly disguised version of the superhero called Marvelman. Captain Marvel, Jr. was adapted to create Young Marvelman, while Mary Marvel had her gender changed to create the male Kid Marvelman. The magic word "Shazam!" was replaced with "Kimota", "Atomic" backwards. The new characters took over the numbering of the original Captain Marvel's United Kingdom series with issue number 25.

Marvelman ceased publication in 1963, but was revived in 1982 by writer Alan Moore in the pages of Warrior Magazine. Moore's black and white serialized adventures were reprinted in color by Eclipse Comics under the new title Miracleman beginning in 1985, and continued publication in the United States after Warrior's demise. Within the metatextual storyline of the comic series itself, it was noted that Marvelman's creation was based upon Captain Marvel comics, by both Alan Moore and later Marvelman/Miracleman writer Neil Gaiman.

DC Comics' Shazam! revival

When superhero comics became popular again in the mid-1960s in what is now called the Silver Age of comics, Fawcett was unable to revive Captain Marvel because in order to settle the lawsuit it had agreed never to publish the character again. Eventually, they licensed the characters to DC Comics in 1972, and DC began planning a revival. Because Marvel Comics had by this time established its own claim to the use of Captain Marvel as a comic book title, DC published their book under the name Shazam! Since then, that title has become so linked to Captain Marvel that many people have taken to identifying the character as "Shazam" instead of his actual name.

The Shazam! comic series began with issue #1, dated February 1973. It contained both new stories and reprints from the 1940s and 1950s. The first story attempted to explain the Marvel Family's absence by stating that they, Dr. Sivana, Sivana's children, and most of the supporting cast had been accidentally trapped in suspended animation for twenty years until finally breaking free.

Dennis O'Neil was the primary writer of the book; his role was later taken over by writers Elliott S! Maggin and E. Nelson Bridwell. C. C. Beck drew stories for the first ten issues of the book before quitting due to creative differences; Bob Oksner, Fawcett alumnus Kurt Schaffenberger, and Don Newton were among the later artists of the title.

With DC's Multiverse concept in effect during this time, it was stated that the revived Marvel Family and related characters lived within the DC Universe on the parallel world of "Earth-S". While the series began with a great deal of fanfare, the book had a lackluster reception. The creators themselves had misgivings; Beck said, "As an illustrator I could, in the old days, make a good story better by bringing it to life with drawings. But I couldn't bring the new [Captain Marvel] stories to life no matter how hard I tried."[1] Shazam! was canceled with issue #35 (June 1978) and relegated to a back-up position in World's Finest Comics (from #253, October-November 1978, to #282, August 1982, skipping only #271 which featured a full-length origin of the Superman-Batman team story) and Adventure Comics (from #491, September 1982, through #498, April 1983; only #491 and #492 featured original stories however, the rest containing Fawcett era reprint stories). With their 1985 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC fully integrated the characters into the DC Universe.

Captain Marvel in the late 1980s

The first post-Crisis appearance of Captain Marvel was in the 1986 Legends miniseries. In 1987, Captain Marvel appeared as a member of the Justice League in Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis' relaunch of that title. That same year, he was also given his own miniseries titled Shazam! The New Beginning. With this four-issue miniseries, writers Roy and Dann Thomas and artist Tom Mandrake attempted to re-launch the Captain Marvel mythos and bring the wizard Shazam, Dr. Sivana, Uncle Dudley and Black Adam into the modern DC Universe with an altered origin story.

The most notable change that Thomas, Giffen, and DeMatteis introduced into the Captain Marvel mythos was that the personality of young Billy Batson is retained when he transforms into the Captain. The Golden Age comics, on the other hand, tended to treat Captain Marvel and Billy as two separate personalities. This change would remain for most future uses of the character, as justification for his sunny, Golden-Age personality in the darker modern-day comic book world.

This revised version of Captain Marvel also appeared in one story arc featured in the short-lived anthology Action Comics Weekly #623–626, released from October 25, 1988–November 15, 1988. At the end of the arc, it was announced that this would to lead to a new Shazam! ongoing series, but nothing ever came of this.

The Power of Shazam!

DC finally purchased the rights to all of the Fawcett Comics characters in 1991.[2] In 1994, the unpopular revision of the character from the Shazam! The New Beginning was retconned again and given a revised origin in The Power of Shazam!, a painted graphic novel written and illustrated by Jerry Ordway. This story became Captain Marvel's official DC Universe origin story (with his appearances in Legends and Justice League still counting as part of this continuity).

Ordway's story more closely followed Captain Marvel's Fawcett origins, with only slight additions and changes. For example, in this version of the origin, it is Black Adam (in his non-powered form of Theo Adam) who killed Billy Batson's parents. The graphic novel was a critically acclaimed success, leading to a Power of Shazam! ongoing series which ran from 1995 to 1999. That series reintroduced the Marvel Family, and many of their allies and enemies, into the modern-day DC Universe.

Marvel also appeared in Mark Waid and Alex Ross's critically acclaimed miniseries Kingdom Come. Set thirty years in the future, Kingdom Come features a brainwashed Captain Marvel playing a major role in the story as a mind-controlled pawn of an elderly Lex Luthor. In 2000, Captain Marvel starred in an oversized special graphic novel, Shazam! Power of Hope, written by Paul Dini and painted by Alex Ross.

The Trials of Shazam! and beyond

Since the cancellation of the Power of Shazam! title in 1999, the Marvel Family have made appearances in a number of other DC comic books. Black Adam became a main character in Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer's JSA series, which depicted the latest adventures of the Justice Society of America. Captain Marvel also appeared regularly in JSA in 2003 and 2004. He also appeared in Frank Miller's graphic novel Batman (The Dark Knight Strikes Again), the sequel to Miller's highly-acclaimed graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns.

The Marvel Family played an integral part in DC's 2005/2006 Infinite Crisis crossover, which began DC's efforts to retool the Shazam! franchise. In the Day of Vengeance limited series, which preceded the Infinite Crisis event, the wizard Shazam is killed by the Spectre, and Captain Marvel assumes the wizard's place in the Rock of Eternity. The Marvel Family made a handful of guest appearances in the year-long weekly maxi-series 52, which featured Black Adam as one of its main characters. The Marvel Family also appeared frequently in the 12-issue bimonthly painted limited series Justice by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Doug Braithwaite, published from 2005 to 2007.

The Trials of Shazam!, a 12-issue limited series also written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Howard Porter (issues one through eight) and Mauro Cascioli (issues nine through twelve), began publication in August 2006. The series redefines the Shazam mythos, the characters and their place in the DC Universe. Trials of Shazam! features Captain Marvel, now with a white costume and long white hair, taking over the role of the wizard Shazam under the name Marvel, while Freddy Freeman attempts to prove himself worthy to the individual gods so that he can become their new champion and herald under the name Shazam.

Other appearances

A four-issue Captain Marvel/Superman limited series, Superman/Shazam: First Thunder, was published between September 2005 and March 2006. The miniseries, written by Judd Winick with art by Josh Middleton, depicted the first meeting between the two heroes.

A second Captain Marvel limited series, Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, written and illustrated by Jeff Smith (creator of Bone), was published in four 48-page installments between February and July 2007. Smith's Shazam! mini-series, in the works since 2003, is a more traditional take on the character, which updates and re-imagines Captain Marvel's origin. According to Smith, the story is in continuity and takes the place of the character's previously established origins as depicted in the The Power of Shazam! graphic novel.[3] However, this has not been confirmed by any secondary sources.

A new Captain Marvel comic, Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!, is set to debut in July 2008 under DC's Johnny DC youth-oriented imprint. Set to follow the lead of Smith's version, it will be written and drawn by Mike Kunkel.[4]


Ongoing series

Limited series and graphic novels

Reprint compilations

  • Shazam! From the Forties to the Seventies (1977). Hardcover collection reprinting thirty-seven Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel, and Marvel Family stories from the original Fawcett comics and DC's 1970s Shazam! series. Stories by Bill Parker, Otto Binder, and others; art by C.C. Beck, Marc Swayze, Mac Rayboy, Kurt Shaffenberger, and others. Forward by E. Nelson Bridewell, published by Harmony Books (ISBN 0-51753-127-5).
  • The Monster Society of Evil - Deluxe Limited Collector's Edition (1989). Compiled and designed by Mike Higgs. Reprints the entire The Monster Society of Evil story arc that ran for two years from Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46 (from 1943-1945) where Captain Marvel meets Mister Mind and his Monster Society of Evil. This oversized, slipcased hardcover book was strictly limited to 3,000 numbered copies. Published by American Nostalgia Library, an imprint of Hawk Books Limited. (ISBN 0-948248-07-6)
  • The Shazam! Archives, Volumes 1–4 (1992, 1998, 2002, 2005). Hardcover volumes reprinting Captain Marvel's adventures from his earliest Fawcett appearances in titles such as Whiz Comics, Master Comics, and Captain Marvel Adventures from 1940 to 1942. Stories by Bill Parker, Ed Herron, and others; art by C. C. Beck, Pete Costanza, Mac Raboy, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, George Tuska, and others. (ISBN 1-56389-053-4, vol. 1; ISBN 1-56389-521-8, vol. 2; ISBN 1-56389-832-2, vol. 3; ISBN 1-4012-0160-1, vol. 4)
  • The Shazam! Family Archives, Volume 1 (2006). This spin-off volume features the adventures of Captain Marvel, Jr. from Master Comics # 23-32 and Captain Marvel Jr. #1, as well as the origin of Mary Marvel from Captain Marvel Adventures #18. Stories by various; art by Mac Raboy, Al Carreno, Marc Swayze and C.C. Beck. (ISBN 1-4012-0779-0)
  • Shazam! and the Shazam! Family Annual (2002). An 80-page paperback collection reprinting several Golden Age Marvel Family adventures from Captain Marvel Adventures, Captain Marvel, Jr., and The Marvel Family, including the first appearances of Mary Marvel and Black Adam. Stories by Otto Binder; art by C. C. Beck, Pete Costanza, Mac Rayboy, Marc Swayze, Bud Thompson, and Jack Binder.
  • Showcase Presents: Shazam! Vol. 1 (2006). A five hundred page trade paperback featuring black-and-white reprints of stories from the 1970s Shazam! ongoing series. Written by Dennis O'Neill, E. Nelson Bridwell and Elliott Maggin; Art by C.C. Beck, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dave Cockrum, Dick Giordano and others. (ISBN 1-4012-1089-9)
  • Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told (2008). A compilation featuring Captain Marvel stories collected from the Fawcett publications Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel Adventures, and The Marvel Family, and from the DC publications Shazam!, DC Comics Presents, Superman, L.E.G.I.O.N. '91, The Power of Shazam!, and Adventures in the DC Universe. (ISBN 1-4012-1674-9)


  1. Benton, p. 77
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named DCbought
  3. Warmoth, Brian. "The Strategum of Smith". Wizard magazine. Retrieved March 4, 2007. Excerpt: "The Monster Society of Evil goes back to Batson’s early years, and Smith has ensured the book won’t be labeled an alternate history or imaginary tale. 'When I was asked to do it, I was asked to relaunch Captain Marvel, and I have a clause in my contract saying that this is continuity,' Smith states. 'This is continuity. This is not an All-Star version.'"
  4. Pumpelly, Danny (August 11, 2007). "WWC: DC NEW WORLDS ORDER". Retrieved August 26, 2007.


  • Beck, C. C. and Parker, Bill (February 1940, reprinted March 2000). "Capt. Marvel" Whiz Comics #2. New York: Fawcett Publications (reprint by DC Comics).
  • Beck, C. C. and O'Neil, Denny. (February 1973). "In the Beginning" Shazam! #1. New York: National Periodical Publications.
  • Benton, Mike. (1989). The Comic Book in America: An Illustrated History. Dallas: Taylor. ISBN 0-87833-659-1
  • Grogan, Walt. The Marvel Family Web. Retrieved 16 June 2005.
  • Markstei, Donald D. (2000–2004). "Captain Marvel". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Retrieved 16 June 2005.
  • Ordway, Jerry (1994). The Power of Shazam! New York: DC Comics. ISBN 1-56389-153-0.
  • Thomas, Roy and Mandrake, Tom. Shazam! The New Beginning #1–4. New York: DC Comics.
  • Wright, Bradford W. (2001). Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. ISBN 0-8018-7450-5

External links