Have you guys seen this yet?
The trailers made it out to be a fun movie. And it delivered.
But I really don’t want to talk about that. I mean, yeah, it was fun and I enjoyed the heck out of watching it. I loved the references to other DC superheroes and the story played out just about the way I expected it to. I want to talk about something that was ridiculous about the movie.
It’s really not just something that’s ridiculous about the movie, it’s ridiculous in every medium that uses this character that we seem comfortable referring to as Shazam!
This guy… this super-hero… started out in the pages of Whiz Comics, a title published by Fawcett Comics back in the 1940s. And he wasn’t called Shazam. He was called Captain Marvel.
It’s important to note that, at the time of Captain Marvel’s introduction to the world, Marvel Comics as we know it did not yet exist. At this point in time, the company that would eventually be known as Marvel was operating under the name Timely Comics.
We’ll come back to that later. In the meantime, DC Comics decided that this Captain Marvel character was way too much like Superman. Which meant that Fawcett Comics was clearly taking some of their market share and DC just couldn’t have that. So they did what any large publishing corporation in the United States would do. They sued the pants off of them.
Y’all, this thing went on for 12 years! Eventually, DC won the case and Fawcett Comics was pretty much shut down. And what would be the point of continuing their little comic book company when their only recognizable character was no forbidden to exist in the pages of their comics?
But the good folks over at DC were nice enough to throw Fawcett a bone and purchased the publication rights to Captain Marvel and all related characters. It’s okay for Captain Marvel to exist, as long as he’s fighting side by side with Superman and not stealing his fans.
By this point, it’s the 1970s. Timely Comics has gone through a number of changes and are now known as Marvel Comics. This poses a problem for DC and their newly acquired Captain Marvel. It’s a problem because Marvel also has a character (several, actually) named Captain Marvel.
I smell another lawsuit.
Okay… well, there wasn’t actually a lawsuit. But while DC and Fawcett were tied up in court and Captain Marvel sat dormant for more than a decade, the folks at Marvel rushed to trademark the name for themselves. This made it impossible for DC to market Captain Marvel as Captain Marvel once they began publishing stories using the character.
As I understand it, and I could definitely be wrong because I am not remotely an expert in the laws that govern trademarks and copyrights, nor do I care enough to seek out and read the documents that resulted from whatever legal activities led to Captain Marvel being called Shazam, Captain Marvel can still be referred to as Captain Marvel within the pages of a comic book or TV show that features the character. Just as long as the title of said comic book or TV show does not use that name.
For example: should Captain Marvel show up in a title called Shazam! or The Power of Shazam! or something similar, he can still be called Captain Marvel in a panel on page three of the issue. Also, as the character has appeared on the Young Justice cartoon, he has been referred to as Captain Marvel repeatedly.
In the latest incarnation of the character, excellently portrayed in live-action by Zachary Levi, the hero is never once called Captain Marvel. I do think that the writers were clever about playing with his super hero name throughout the movie. “Captain Sparklefingers” is probably my favorite.
But you just can’t call the character Shazam. That’s not his name. That’s the name of the wizard who gives Billy Batson the power to become Captain
Sparklefingers Marvel. If he was meant to be known as Shazam, how would he introduce himself when he gets invited to Justice League mixers?
He reaches out to shake Aquaman’s hand and says, “Hi, I’m Shazam!” And then boom, he’s turned back into a 14-year-old kid and Aquaman is fried. See the problem?
Whenever he says the name, “Shazam!” he transforms, either into the super hero once known as Captain Marvel or back into the child Billy Batson. His name just cannot be Shazam.
But it didn’t stop there. Oh… and spoilers from here on out. Because there’s something I’m about to talk about that kind of ruins what’s meant to be a surprise for the final battle in the movie. So if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to know this part, come back when you see the movie.
So, in the end, in order to defeat the evil Dr. Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins, the unnamed captain figures out that he can share the wizard’s powers with his foster brothers and sisters. At this point, each of the kids becomes a grown up super hero in the same way that Billy becomes the grown up Captain Marvel.
Now, I’m not too familiar with Captain Marvel/Shazam’s most recent origin story, which I believe does include his foster family receiving powers, just like in the movie. But when I was growing up and reading DC’s titles, Captain Marvel was basically supported by only two others: Freddy Freeman, who became Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Batson (or Bromfield in modern stories), who became Mary Marvel.
Sidebar: Mary Marvel was introduced a full 17 years before Supergirl made her comics debut. Why didn’t Fawcett countersue DC for infringing that copyright? Hmm…
Anyway… No one is referred to as a Marvel anything in the Shazam! movie. Even in the credits, the other kids are referred to as Super Hero _____ when crediting the adult actor portraying them.
I get it, I really do. You can’t have two movies out that are called Captain Marvel. It would just be confusing. Call the movie Shazam! That’s fine. But can we just let them get away with calling the guy by his proper super hero name?
I know… the answer is no.