Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Captain Marvel (DC Comics)
Captain Marvel is a comic book superhero. Created by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker , he first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (1940). He was originally published by Fawcett Comics and is now owned by DC Comics.
With a premise that taps into adolescent fantasy, Captain Marvel is Billy Batson, a fourteen-year-old radio news reporter chosen to be a champion of good by the wizard Shazam. Whenever Billy speaks the wizard's name, he magically transforms into an adult, Superman-like hero. Several friends and family members, most notably Marvel Family cohorts Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr., could share Billy's power and become "Marvels" themselves.
Captain Marvel, nicknamed "the Big Red Cheese" by his fans, was the most popular superhero of the 1940s, regularly outselling all of DC Comics' characters and becoming the first superhero to be adapted into film. Because of a decline in the popularity of superheroes and a plagiarism suit alleging similarities between Captain Marvel and Superman, Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel in the 1950s and ceded rights to the character to DC Comics. He has been integrated into the "DC Universe" and DC has attempted a few revivals but Captain Marvel has not found widespread appeal with new generations although a live action television series featuring the character in the 1970s was very popular.
Whiz Comics #2 was the first of that title to actually be published; issue #1 had been a dummy issue created for advertising purposes. (Consequently, the issue is sometimes referred to as Whiz Comics #1, despite the issue number printed on it.)
The series began with a homeless young newspaper seller, Billy Batson, who was confronted with a dark clothed stranger who led him down a subway station. There, a strange train appeared which carried the pair to the secret lair of the wizard Shazam. There, the ancient wizard revealed that he had selected Billy to be his champion to fight for good as the world's mightiest mortal.
To that end, Shazam ordered the boy to speak his name, which was actually an acronym for various legendary figures who have agreed to grant aspects of themselves to a willing subject:
- S for Solomon for wisdom
- H for Hercules for strength
- A for Atlas for stamina
- Z for Zeus for power (usually in the form of resistance to any injury)
- A for Achilles for courage
- M for Mercury for speed and by extension, the power to fly.
Billy complied and he was immediately struck by a magic lightning bolt, which turned him into an adult superhero wearing a bright red costume with gold trim with a lightning bolt for a chest symbol. The costume included a white collared cape trimmed with gold flower symbols, usually asymetrically thrown over the left shoulder and held around his neck by a gold cord. This came from the ceremonial cape worn by the British nobility, photographs of which appeared in newspapers in the 1930s. He later learned that he only had to speak the word again and he instantly changed back into Billy.
With that, Shazam immediately died and Billy vowed to fulfill his bestowed role. Marvel's first call to duty was saving the world from the evil mad scientist Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, who threatened to silence radio forever unless he was paid a large sum of money. Resuming his regular form, Billy tells WHIZ radio mogul Sterling Morris that he can stop the Radio Silencer and Sivana; a disbelieving Morris offers Billy a job on the air if he can do so.
Finding the crooks' hideout, Billy transforms into Captain Marvel and destroys Sivana's radio silencing machine and apprehends his henchmen. Sivana, however, got away, setting the stage for a long line of future confrontations. Marvel transforms back into Billy, who presents the captured criminals and destroyed Radio Silencer to Sterling Morris, who, true to his word, makes Billy an on-air news reporter for WHIZ radio.
Through his adventures, he soon gained a host of enemies such as a super intelligent worm from Venus called Mister Mind; an older Egyptian renegade Marvel called Black Adam; and an artificially intelligent nuclear powered robot called Mister Atom.
The Marvel Family
However, he also gained allies like a sister, Mary Batson/Bromfield, who could call upon the same power to become Mary Marvel (in recent comics, she has also gone by the name of "Captain Marvel"), and a disabled friend named Freddy Freeman who could become Captain Marvel Jr. when he spoke the name of his favourite superhero, Captain Marvel (which also created the odd problem that he could not identify himself without changing; in recent comics, his adoption of the nickname "CM3" was an attempt to get around this problem). In addition, Billy met three other boys named Billy Batson (nicknamed Tall Billy, Fat Billy, and Hill Billy—the latter because he was from Appalachia) who learned (apparently) that because they also were named Billy Batson, they could also draw on the powers of Shazam. They were known as the Lieutenant Marvels. They vowed only to use their power if asked by Captain Marvel, and only if all three were together to say the magic word, "SHAZAM!" Billy also had an eccentric "Uncle" Dudley, who claimed that he was not only a relative of the Marvels but also a Marvel himself; although neither was true, his relatives liked to humor him.
Fawcett vs. DC Comics
Through much of the Golden age of comic books, Captain Marvel proved to be the most popular superhero character of the medium with his comics outselling all others, including Superman. Part of the reason for this popularity included the inherent wish fulfillment appeal of the character to children, as well as the humorous and surreal quality of the stories. This popularity was probably one reason why National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) sued Fawcett Comics for plagiarism, due to the alleged similarity of Captain Marvel to Superman. After years of litigation, Fawcett agreed to stop publication in the 1950s, feeling that a decline in the popularity of superhero comics meant that it was no longer worth continuing the fight.
When superhero comics became popular again in the mid-1960s (in what is now called the Silver Age of comics), Fawcett was unable to revive Captain Marvel because of its earlier concession. Eventually, the characters were licensed and revived by DC Comics in the early 1970s. Because Marvel Comics had by this time established its own claim to the name Captain Marvel, DC published their book under the name Shazam! Since then, that title has become so linked to Captain Marvel that the general public has taken to identifying the character as Shazam instead of his actual name. While the series began with a great deal of fanfare, the book got lackluster reviews and was eventually cancelled and relegated to a back story series in the series World's Finest Comics.
Eventually, DC Comics bought the Fawcett line of characters, and with their miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths in the mid-1980s, fully integrated the characters into the mainstream DC superhero setting. Since then, the characters have appeared in miniseries, a graphic novel called The Power of Shazam which was followed by a relatively shortlived ongoing series of the same name. In addition, Captain Marvel was a member of a later incarnation of the Justice League while Captain Marvel Jr. (under the name "CM3", in order to say his name without reverting to Freddy Freeman) had membership in the Teen Titans. Mary Marvel became part of the "Superbuddies," a group consisting largely of former Justice League members.
Ironically, a typical use for Captain Marvel guest appearances in current comics is as a backup for Superman when a flying strong man is called for. In 2003, Captain Marvel became a member of the revived Justice Society of America. During his tenure on the team, he dated Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl, which put him in an unusual position: while he could legally date Courtney as Billy Batson, it looked very strange for the grown-up Captain Marvel to be with the teenaged Stargirl. He was asked to leave the team over this problem, though it is hinted that he will return soon.
Outside comics, Captain Marvel was portrayed in the movie serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel (Republic Pictures, 1940), which is often ranked among the finest examples of the form. He also appeared in the live action Saturday morning TV series Shazam!, produced by Filmation, as well as an animated series by the same company. He also was a character in the low budgeted comedy special, Legends of the Superheroes in 1978.
In the 1950s a small British Publisher, L. Miller and Son, published a number of black and white reprints of American comic books, including the Captain Marvel series. In 1954, their supply of Captain Marvel material was abruptly cut off, and they requested the help of a British comic writer, Mick Anglo , who created a British copy of the superhero called Marvelman.
- In the Fox Network animated series American Dad, Steve's favorite t-shirt has Captain Marvel's signature lightning bolt on it (although he repeatedly refers to it as a "Shazam" shirt, which is technically incorrect).
- Captain Marvel will eventually make an appearance in the animated series Justice League Unlimited.
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