This new Captain is a real Marvel

  • Article by: ANDREW A. SMITH , Scripps Howard News Service
  • Updated: March 29, 2012 - 4:37 PM

But character can be confusing.

"Captain Marvel" No. 2

Marvel Entertainment announced a new Captain Marvel at WonderCon on March 17, a character with a lot of strikes against her. But most fans are cheering.

The major problem is that the character can be confusing. To most folks, Captain Marvel is an entirely different character from a different company: Billy Batson, the boy who shouts "Shazam!" to become a lighthearted adult superhero in a red costume. He was really big in the 1940s, rivaling Superman in sales.

Which was his doom. National (now DC) Comics, publishers of Superman, sued Fawcett Publications, publisher of Captain Marvel, for copyright infringement in 1940. The case dragged on until 1953, when Fawcett settled out of court and got out of the comics business.

With the original Captain Marvel kaput, the name was up for grabs. MF Enterprises used the name for an android superhero in 1966, but it lasted only four issues.

Also in 1966, Marvel Comics decided to appropriate the name for a new superhero from outer space -- a captain in the alien Kree military, whose real name was Mar-Vell. That character died in 1981, but the name was used again at Marvel for his son Genis-Vell (now dead), his daughter Phyla-Vell (also dead), an unrelated light-based superheroine named Monica Rambeau (now code-named Pulsar) and another Kree named Noh-Varr (now code-named Protector). The name gets around.

Before most of that, DC had obtained the rights to the original Captain "Shazam" Marvel, and began publishing his adventures in 1971. Ironically, DC was unable to name its Captain Marvel comic book "Captain Marvel," because Marvel held the trademark. So, while DC could still use the name for the character, it had to use something else for the title of his books -- usually "Shazam!" Recently, DC has simply given up on the Captain Marvel name and just renamed the character Shazam.

Meanwhile, a supporting character in the original Marvel Captain Marvel series (I told you it's confusing), got superpowers and her book in 1977, "Ms. Marvel." This character, Carol Danvers, had previously been an Air Force captain, an espionage agent and Mar-Vell's girlfriend. When "Ms. Marvel" got canceled, she got new powers and called herself "Binary," then lost those powers and became "Warbird," then shifted back to "Ms. Marvel" for a recently canceled series. And it is that character that will once again be Marvel's Captain Marvel in July.

The more non-whiny, unapologetically strong women in comics, the better. Marvel needs an iconic female standard-bearer like DC's Wonder Woman, and what could be better than one with "Marvel" right in the name?

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