The next couple of years are going to be interesting. While the character doesn’t go by that name anymore, DC Comics and Warner Bros. are pretty much getting ready to see who has the better Captain Marvel when their hero Shazam faces off against Marvel’s trademark-winning titan. But which Captain Marvel is which?
The last couple of decades have seen multiple characters assume that identity, with lawsuits aplenty thrown about between them. Here’s a brief guide to the absolute mess that is the name known as Captain Marvel.
The original, and most absurd. Maybe. Let me paint you a picture: It’s 1939, Superman has proven to be a runaway success and DC Comics (Then known as National Comics) has created an icon. Clearly, other comic book publishers wanted a piece of that lucrative pie. Publisher Fawcett Comics tried their luck at creating several new heroes with writer Bill Parker chucking plenty of colourful capes out that year, but nothing managed to resonate with audiences until executive director Ralph Daigh took a liking to Parker’s idea of a team of six heroes each being imbued with the power of an ancient god.
But why have six heroes, when you could roll them all up into one character instead (And save that idea for comics decades down the line hello Flashpoint!)? The initial amalgamation of these six characters from Parker and artist Charles Clarence Beck was Captain Thunder, but that was a name that Fawcett Comics couldn’t trademark. Staff artist Pete Constanza suggested that they change the name of their new hero to Captain Marvelous, which was then thankfully simplified to good ol’ Captain Marvel.
Thus a legend was born. An adolescent kid with a good heart, who is transformed into an adult and given the powers of seven ancient mythological deities by the wizard Shazam and encompassing the best attributes of Superman into a character that kids could relate to. A novel idea at the time, but one that would soon give way to an enemy worse than Doctor Sivana or Mister Mind: Legal red tape.
DC Comics would sue the pants off of Fawcett in 1941, claiming that Captain Marvel was printed copyright infringement and clearly based off of Superman. The case dragged on for years, and although the judge ruled in favour of DC Comics, he also decided that their negligence towards actually copyrighting several Superman elements was all their fault. In 1951, Fawcett Comics triumphed.
The battle wasn’t over yet however, as an appeal from DC Comics in the case saw the Superman copyright deemed valid in regards to specific stories or acts of heroism. While Captain Marvel wasn’t considered a direct infringement, the damage was done and Fawcett settled out of court to the tune of $400 000. The rest of the 1950s weren’t any kinder, with flagging sales resulting in Fawcett closing up shop in 1953.
Captain Marvel would kind of live on in the pages of British publisher L. Miller and Son as Miracleman, but that’s a massive can of worms that deserves to be opened in a separate article.
In 1972, DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino revived Captain Marvel by purchasing the rights to the character and incorporating the “Big Red Cheese” into the DC multiverse. The spanner in the works here, was that Marvel Comics had risen to prominence in the 1960s, and already had a different character also named Captain Marvel operating since 1967.
DC got around this by calling their book Shazam! The Original Captain Marvel, but a cease and desist letter from the House of Ideas quickly saw those comics retitled as Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal. It gets even more cluster-f***ed from this point on. DC Couldn’t promote their character as Captain Marvel in other medium, which explains the Shazam TV series and upcoming film starring Zachary Levi.
You market a character like that for several decades and the public eventually begins to link Earth’s mightiest mortal with that name, so DC decided to rid themselves of the original moniker. With the New 52 reboot of the DC Comics universe in 2011, Billy Batson returned as Shazam, a superhero born from fantasy and mythology. No more confusion, no more litigation to worry about. Easy as that.
A pity the same can’t be said for Marvel’s use of the title.
While Captain Marvel/Shazam may be one character in DC Comics, that name can be applied to several other heroes in Marvel Comics. Here’s a quick breakdown of them in chronological order:
Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell)
The first Captain Marvel (at least at Marvel Comics), who debuted in 1967 and was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in Marvel Super Heroes #12. The original hero is a Kree military officer named Mar-Vell sent to spy on our planet, but who instead rebels against his superiors, becoming a traitor to his own people. He’d eventually die thanks to super-cancer and a battle against the walking Baysplosion known as Nitro.
Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau)
Next! Captain Marvel deux is Monica Rambeau, a former police lieutenant who has the nifty power of being able to transform herself into any form of energy that exists. Or even doesn’t thanks to flexible writing. Naming herself in honour of the famous first Kree superhero, this new Captain Marvel would even end up serving on the Avengers. Rambeau eventually dropped the Captain Marvel title to the son of the original hero though and would assume a whole host of other names in the years to come, including Photon, Pulsar and Spectrum.
Captain Marvel (Genis-Vell)
Mar-Vell’s son, this Captain Marvel was originally known as Legacy when he popped up in a 1993 Silver Surfer annual. A genetically-engineered combination of Mar-Vell and his partner Elysius, Genis would don the Nega-Bands that his father wore and bond with Hulk sidekick Rick Jones and sweet Galactus this is getting a bit much. Let’s move on already.
Captain Marvel (Phyla-Vell)
Right, previous Captain Marvel supposedly died, his final sacrifice resulting in his atoms being scattered across all of time, space and the Darkforce dimension. Phyla-Vell was the daughter of Genis-Vell’s younger sister, and was introduced back in 2004 when Genis-Vell reset the universe and created several time anomalies that resulted in the birth of Phyla.
This Captain Marvel played a massive role in the Annihilation event, eventually going on to become the next hero to earn the mantle of Quasar, and then later the avatar of Oblivion before she finally died saving the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Captain Marvel (Khn’nr)
Captain Marvel number five. First appearance was in a 2007 Civil War tie-in issue, as a Skrull sleeper agent who mixed Mar-Vell’s DNA with his own and assumed his identity thanks to his personality being overwritten to create the perfect sleeper agent for the Secret Invasion. Guess what? He rebelled against the Skrulls and ended up living a long and fruitful life after the war had ended.
No wait, that’s a lie. He dead.
Captain Marvel (Mar-Vehl)
The Captain Marvel of the Ultimate Universe. Who is also dead just like the rest of his reality and yeesh. Marvel has no chill.
Captain Marvel (Noh-Varr)
Originally known as Marvel Boy, this Kree officer would fill the role of Captain Marvel for Norman Osborne’s Dark Reign. When Osborne went crazier than a bag of a weasels and was stripped of his command following the Siege event, Noh-Varr would leave the title behind and set up shop as Protector. He’s also not dead, believe it or not.
Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers)
For many years, US military officer Carol Danvers operated as a hero under the name of Ms Marvel, but it wasn’t until 2012 when she became the latest Captain Marvel as Marvel Comics looked to reposition her as their premium female superhero. Still a hero under that name, Danvers is a name that you’ll soon recognise when she hits the big screen, as Marvel’s mightiest mortal. She’s got a number of powers under her belt from her time as Ms. Marvel and Binary, that includes the usual super-strength, flight and durability. She’s also got nifty energy absorption and projection powers, making her an all-around powerhouse in Marvel. According to Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, the movie version of Carol Danvers, played by Brie Larson, will be the most powerful hero the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen thus far.
And now you know which Captain Marvel, is which.
Last Updated: November 1, 2017