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Captain Marvel

Entry updated 3 January 2022. Tagged: Character, Comics, Publication.

US Comic-book character, in fact a sequence of characters, the first of which to bear the name was created by artist C C Beck (the first to draw the character) and writer Bill Parker. Captain Marvel first appeared in 1940 in Fawcett's Whiz Comics (1940-1953) and then contemporaneously in Fawcett's Captain Marvel Adventures (1941-1953); Jack Kirby and Mac Raboy were among its many later illustrators. Foremost among its scriptwriters was Otto Binder (see Eando Binder), who developed Captain Marvel's distinctive whimsical humour. Newsboy Billy Batson, on speaking the magic word "Shazam!" – an acronym for Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury – becomes Captain Marvel, an invincible Superhero. Captain Marvel was successful enough in the late 1940s to be given a whole Marvel Family, including Captain Marvel Jr, Mary Marvel (Captain Marvel's sister), Uncle Marvel and even the anthropomorphic Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. His film debut was the Republic serial Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941).

Captain Marvel bore some resemblance to Superman, and thus became the subject of a lawsuit brought by National Periodical Publications (later DC Comics); this was contested until, for financial reasons, Fawcett capitulated in 1953. Popular overseas, the Captain Marvel character was revised and transformed in the UK to become Marvelman (later, Miracleman) after Fawcett ceased the original character's publication.

A small company called Lightning Comics tried to revive the Captain Marvel character but, owing to National's assumed ownership of the copyright, found it necessary to rework the concept, first as Todd Holton, Super Green-Beret (1967; magic word turns boy into soldier) and then, more amazingly, as Fatman the Human Flying Saucer (1967; magic word turns boy into UFO), this latter being drawn by C C Beck, who had created the original Captain Marvel. Neither character lasted long; however, the incident served to apprise both DC National and Marvel that there was a dilemma. Marvel quickly created another Captain Marvel in Marvel Superheroes #12 (1968); this was a more conventional superhero, in this case an alien warrior who rebels against his leaders and takes the side of Earth. As long as Marvel continued to publish the exploits of this character, Marvel reasoned, DC could not revive their own 1940s Captain Marvel without causing an undesirable confusion. However, the prospect did not deter DC, who resurrected the original Captain Marvel, integrated into the Superman universe, in a comic called Shazam! (1972-1978), later continued as Shazam: The New Beginning (1987). Nevertheless, Marvel Comics continue to maintain a token Captain Marvel simply in order to stop DC publishing a comic book with the word "Marvel" in the title; thus, even though Marvel's Captain Marvel was killed off in the Graphic Novel The Death of Captain Marvel (graph 1982) written and drawn by Jim Starlin, yet another Captain Marvel was created to replace him (although he was later resurrected by way of Time Travel).

There was, very briefly, a further Captain Marvel from M F Enterprises, whose Captain Marvel launched in 1966, changed title after four issues to Captain Marvel Presents the Terrible Five and folded with #6 in 1967. It was one of the worst comics of all time. This Captain Marvel's magic word was "Split!", the saying of which caused a part of his body to detach itself. Needless to say, writs flew. A further variant was Ms Marvel, created by Gerry Conway and John Buscema in 1977, who went on to be known as Binary, Warbird and Captain Marvel – the last incarnation being the protagonist of Captain Marvel (2019). [RT/JP]

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