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Captain Marvel, by Alex Ross

Captain Marvel, a superhero magically brought to life when young Billy Batson speaks the word "Shazam!", is a comic book character created by C. C. Beck for Fawcett Publications in 1939. At one time the largest-selling character in its genre, litigation by rival National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) caused a ceasing of publication for many years and the folding of Fawcett's comics division, as well as the rights to Captain Marvel being transferred to DC Comics.

Comics lore

Young Billy Batson is a kid abandoned by his parents and forced to survive on the streets selling newspapers. One day he was led into an abandoned subway tunnel by a mysterious stranger; the end of the journey found him before a wizard on a throne. Amid the cracklings of thunder and lightning, the wizard proclaims "I am Shazam!" and tells Billy that he has been selected to be his new champion to fight evil. On the wall behind the wizard, Billy notices the inscriptions of the great elders whose names form Shazam: Solomon (wisdom); Hercules (strength); Atlas (stamina); Zeus (power); Achilles (courage); and Mercury (speed). Shazam then says "Speak my name". As Billy does that, a bolt of lightning hits him and he is magically transformed into Captain Marvel.

Marvel Family

February, 1940 edition of Whiz Comics, featuring the first appearance of Captain Marvel

As popularity grew for Captain Marvel in the early 1940s, his comics "family" grew as well, leading to a cast of supporting characters and villains:

Mary Marvel (Mary Bromfield), and Billy's sister; she was adopted by the Bromfield's.
Captain Marvel Junior (Freddy Freeman), who can transform by saying "Captain Marvel" instead of "Shazam". As a paper boy in Fawcett City, his origin story tells of his being crippled during a battle between Captain Marvel and Captain Nazi; Captain Marvel makes up for the accident by giving Freddy some of his power.
"Uncle" Marvel (Uncle Dudley), Billy's legal guardian. Although he sometimes wears the red-and-yellow costume, he has no powers at all. He pretends that he has powers, but claims that his "Shazambago" prevents hims from using them. The rest of the Marvel Family humors him.
Lieutenant Marvels (Tall, Fat, and Hill), in actuality three unrelated individuals who also were named Billy Batson.
Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny. A rabbit from an alternate universe.


Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, a mad scientist, is the leading villain of Captain Marvel, continually looking for the ways and means to destroy him. A bald criminal with thick glasses, Sivana was based on C. C. Beck's neighborhood pharmacist. The term "big red cheese" was coined by Sivana to derisively describe Captain Marvel; this in turn led to Marvel's affectionate fan label.
Mister Mind, an alien worm capable of mind control, first appearing in a large, 25-part comic serial (1943-45) titled "The Monster Society of Evil."
Black Adam (or "Teth Adam"); the first champion (in ancient Egypt) to whom Shazam granted his power. Although a hero at first, his power corrupted him, causing Shazam to strip him of them, not to be regained until after Shazam's death in the 20th century.


Since its creation in 1940 and stunning success in the comic industry during the first half of the 1940s, Captain Marvel was the target of rival National Periodical Publications, who brought a lawsuit against Fawcett for copyright infringement; National felt Captain Marvel was too close to their own chief comic hero, Superman. After 12 years of litigation, and despite the fact that several elements identified with Superman actually had its origins in Captain Marvel (Captain Marvel was the first superhero to fly; he had a bald villain, a solitary mountain fortress, among other things), National succeed in convincing a court that copyright infringement had occurred. Fawcett agreed to settle the matter and retired the Marvel family. Since Captain Marvel constituted the bulk of their comics revenue, they were forced to retire from publishing comics in general until the mid-1960s.

In 1972, the publisher of DC Comics (National's new name) sought and received the lease rights to Captain Marvel from Fawcett; this would be followed by an outright purchase by 1981. Limited stories and graphic novels were published over the years under the title "Shazam!", as the original "Captain Marvel" title was trademarked by rival Marvel Comics for use of their own character.

Film and television

The Adventures of Captain Marvel came on to the big screen as a 12-chapter serial in 1941, starring Tom Tyler in the title role. The plot involved a mad scientist, a masked man who dubbed himself “the Scorpion”, seeking the means with which to conquer the world. The first film to portray a comic book superhero, The Adventures of Captain Marvel has been critically-acclaimed to be among the finest serial films made in that genre. (Muir, 9) [1]

Captain Marvel would not be filmed again until the 1970s when Shazam! came to television on CBS in 1974. Filmation executives Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott had marked success with Saturday morning cartoons, using a progressive approach to children’s programming, particularly with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Archie Show, and the successful transfer of Star Trek to animation in 1973. Going into live-action fantasy television, Shazam! was a half-hour series focusing on morality and civic responsibility rather than action; violence was avoided. Michael Gray starred as Billy Batson, who traveled the country in an RV driven by Mentor, played by Les Tremayne. Captain Marvel was played by two actors: Jackson Bostwick (1974–75), and John Davey (1976). The last two seasons had Captain Marvel paired with a female superhero, Isis, in The Shazam/Isis Hour. (Muir, 400)

After the cancellation of Shazam!, NBC broadcast another Filmation entry on the hero, The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! It ran on Saturdays in 1981, and this time featured the other members of the Marvel Family, as well as the classic villains Dr. Sivana and Black Adam. (Muir, 400)

A major motion picture was planned for the character and scheduled for release in 2009 by New Line Cinema; the lack of an acceptable script caused the project's cancellation in 2007. At this time the rights had reverted to Warner Bros. and a new script is being penned by Bill Birch and DC consultant Geoff Johns. [1][2] Peter Segal, director of the New Line project, has been retained to direct the Warner film. The film was released in theaters on April 5, 2019.


  • Muir, John Kenneth. The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina (2004)

External links