Greetings from the Odinson,
A Look at Comics History: Part 8 of 10 – Superman and Captain Marvel
The Odinson has written down the names of ten different odd couples on Post-its, threw them in my winged helmet, and each week I will pull one at random and discuss the Comic Book History of these characters.
This week, the Last Son of Krypton and the World’s Mightiest Mortal.
NOTE: Before we begin, the Odinson does not care what the suits and ties say. Billy Batson is Captain Marvel! SHAZAM is the wizard! That is all.
Superman is the Last son of Krypton, the Man of Tomorrow, and the symbol of truth and justice, a paragon of the super hero pantheon. By uttering a magic word teenager Billy Batson is transformed into the adult hero Captain Marvel, the earthly avatar of Olympian might and a symbol of hope all across the multiverse.
The Lawsuit that Nearly Silenced the Thunder – 1938, in the pages of Action Comics #1, Superman makes his debut and launches the Golden Age of superheroes. A little over a year later, in Whiz Comics #2, Captain Marvel made his glorious debut. One year later, National Comics Publication (a.k.a. DC Comics) sued Fawcett Comics for copyright infringement, declaring that Captain Marvel was a rip off of their Man of Steel. For over a decade this lawsuit carried out in the courts and after rulings and appeals, DC proved victorious and Captain Marvel’s adventures were ultimately canceled.
Meanwhile, in the modern era we live in now, from Hyperion to Gladiator, Apollo to Omni-Man, Goku to Icon, Sentry to Supreme, and so many more, Superman has more homages, copies, and blatant rip-off clones than any other character in comics. And, of them all, Captain Marvel is arguably the least flagrant of the bunch.
What’s worse? In the nearly two decades Captain Marvel was out of print, Marvel Comics stepped in and introduced the Kree super soldier Mar-Vell and dubbed him Captain Marvel. So in the 1970s, when DC Comics got the rights to the character they put out of business, they couldn’t even use his name on the covers of their comics. For decades they danced around this by putting SHAZAM on the covers of the comics he appeared in until ultimately in 2011, with the launch of the New 52, DC just gave up on it all together and renamed the character SHAZAM.
So, let me see if I have this straight.
DC Comics sued because they thought Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman which helped put Fawcett Comics out of business, thus canceling all Captain Marvel titles. They then bought the rights to Captain Marvel but by then, Marvel Comics had taken over ownership of the name Captain Marvel, so DC could not even use the name (on the covers) of the character they sued over and bought. While all that was going on, across the sea, the UK hero Marvelman, a very blatant rip-off of Captain Marvel (the original Bill Batson version, not Mar-Vell), made his debut. This time it was Marvel that sued and Marvelman had to change his name to Miracleman. Fast forward a few decades and Marvel Comics owns the publishing rights to Miracleman.
Now, in 2020, the general public knows Captain Marvel as Carol Danvers, who was originally Ms. Marvel, whose powers were taken by Rogue, who is now a member of the X-Men. Danvers who eventually regained her powers and changed her name from Ms. Marvel to Binary then to Warbird, back to Ms. Marvel, and finally to Captain Marvel. Meanwhile, the original, original Captain Marvel, now owned by DC Comics, not Fawcett, is called SHAZAM. SHAZAM, the name of the wizard that originally gave Billy Batson the powers of Captain Marvel in the very beginning.
How does this stuff get so complicated?
A Second Chance to Play Nice – In the early 70s, DC Comics decided to bring back the Big Red Cheese and who should be welcoming him with open arms on the cover of SHAZAM #1? None other than the Man of Steel himself. Over the decades to comes, Captain Marvel would be integrated into the DC Universe proper and become an integral part of DC, and Superman, History.
Clash of the Titans – Superman and Captain Marvel are without a doubt, two of the strongest heroes in comic books. So, just like Hulk vs. Thing, comic fans want to know, who would win in a fight? The very first time the Odinson knows of these two icons clashing happens in the pages of Justice League of America #137. When Red Kryptonite turns the Man of Steel evil, only Billy Batson possesses the power to stop him. They battle again in SHAZAM #30, even if this Superman is a man of steel of Dr. Sivana’s creation.
In Action Comics Annual #4, when the evil of Eclipso takes over the Man of Steel, once again it’s up to the Big Red Cheese to wrangle in the out-of-control Superman. In Superman #102, Superman sets out to stop Cyborg-Superman’s wanton destruction, while Captain Marvel intercepts Black Adam. The only problem is Cyborg-Superman is Captain Marvel and Black Adam is Superman and now my head wants to explode! In The Power of SHAZAM #46, once again these two mighty heroes are set against each other, but once the dust settles, they decide to have an arm-wrestling contest to settle the debate once and for all!
However, their ultimate showdown takes place in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ seminal tale Kingdom Come. This time when these two titans come to blows, the outcome of their battle will determine the fate of the world!
When Worlds Collide – With heroes as revered as Superman and Captain Marvel, heroes whose origins are rooted in polar opposite domains, (Superman in science fiction and Captain Marvel in magic) you can bet your bottom dollar that every time they meet it’s an event.
In Superman #276, an alternate version of Billy Batson named Willie Fawcett suddenly finds his alter ego, Captain Thunder, compelled to do evil things. Luckily, the Man of Steel is on hand to help young Willie get his groove back. In DC Comics Presents #33-34, this time it is Superman who goes to Earth-S and finds himself in a predicament as Superman and Captain Marvel switch costumes and powers?! In Action Comics #768, when the Marvel Family’s powers run out of control, the Last Son of Krypton must merge with the Big Red Cheese Fusion Dance style in order to confront an angry god.
DC Comics Presents Annual #3 is, hands down, the Odinson’s All-Time favorite crossover between Superman and Captain Marvel. In this mind-blowing tale, the evil Dr. Sivana steals the power of SHAZAM! and traps Captain Marvel beneath the Rock of Eternity. He then travels to Earth-2 where he overpowers the Golden Age Superman. Finally, he makes his way to Earth-1 where his magical might threatens to humble the Man of Steel! This is an issue that comes with the Odinson’s highest recommendation. A++
Super Friends – At the end of the day, Billy looks up to Superman and Clark really likes Billy and sees he has the potential to surpass even his own heroic accomplishments. So it’s no real surprise that these supermen are friends. Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #4 sees our two heroes joining forces to take on the demonic evildoer Satanus. The tale First Thunder retcons the first time these legends meet. This modern tale sees them dipping their super toes in each other’s worlds. Superman takes on a clandestine cult steeped in mysticism. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel battles giant robots! Unfortunately for our super friends, Lex Luthor and Dr. Sivana are on hand to punch holes in their sails.
The Adam Problem – 1978’s Superman vs. SHAZAM, the Man of Steel suddenly finds himself under attack by the World’s Mightiest Mortal. When Superman retaliates, these mastodons of justice collide. Luckily, Supergirl and Mary Marvel are on hand to help them figure out that this was all just a ruse perpetrated by Black Adam. Like Billy, Adam gains his power from the gods of myth and legend, only his power comes from the Egyptian pantheon. In some ways, if only in experience and maturity, Adam is stronger than Captain Marvel. So, it is always a pleasure to see him pitted against both the Man of Steel and the Big Red Cheese, especially at the same time.
Superman and Captain Marvel are in the discussion for mightiest super heroes in all of comics. They constantly have to hold back so as not to hurt others, even bad guys. However, Black Adam is a man with the power of a god and none of the restraint. In DC Comics Presents #49, Black Adam invades Earth-1 and using magical lightning threatens to conquer the world. It takes the combined efforts of Superman, Captain Marvel and Billy Batson to stop the super criminal. In Action Comics #831, during the Villains United scandal, Black Adam and the Man of Steel battle to a standstill that leaves the fans wanting more! Plus, during the Forever Evil campaign, Black Adam is among the super villains that Lex Luthor assembles to stand their ground against the invading evil Superman and his Crime Syndicate of Amerika. This is a major DC conflict that is ultimately solved when the power of SHAZAM! is evoked.
In Times of Crisis – When the world is on the brink, these two icons are always at the forefront of the event. During the benchmark event Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Marvel Family and Earth-S are merged with the DCU proper and Captain Marvel, along with both Supermen, is part of a coalition of the multiverse’s most powerful heroes that storm the Anti-Monitor’s stronghold in the foreboding Negative Universe in Crisis #7. In Legends and in War of the Gods, when the immortals of the DCU threaten mankind, Captain Marvel stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Superman and the champions of Earth to meet the challenge head-on.
In The Power of SHAZAM! #20, when the Final Night struck Fawcett City hard, Superman lends Captain Marvel a hand in protecting his city. In Crisis Times Five, when the all-powerful genies of the Fifth Dimension invade the DCU, the Justice League and Justice Society must combine their forces to meet this threat head-on. However, when Superman is about to sacrifice himself against the forces of magic, Captain Marvel sucker punches the Man of Steel for the K.O. in order to save Superman’s life and take his place.
Infinite Crisis – In Lightning Strikes, a lead-up tale for DC’s next Crisis event, the power of Superman is usurped by the evil of Eclipso and only Captain Marvel may have a chance of saving the Man of Steel’s soul. Next in Day of Vengeance, Captain Marvel bravely battles the Spectre who has been seduced by Eclipso into eradicating all magic in the universe. This ultimately leads to a showdown between the mad Spectre and the wizard SHAZAM. After the wizard falls, the battle destroys the Rock of Eternity and scatters its fragments across the cosmos, leaving Billy Batson unable to recall the magical word that transforms him into Captain Marvel. Because of this, a powerful piece is taken of the board and Captain Marvel is unable to stand with Superman in the final battle.
In Final Crisis, during the epic side quest Superman Beyond 3-D, Captain Marvel joins the Man of Steel as a part of the Supermen of Five Worlds as they embark on a mind-blowing adventure beyond all concepts of time, space, and reality.
From lawsuits to multiverse shakeups, Superman and Captain Marvel have a history that goes all the way back to the very beginning. 80 years on and their histories have been interconnected. Every single time these legends share the page, it’s electrifying and the readers know they are in for something special.
Be sure to tune in next week as the Odinson picks another pair of random names from my winged helmet and explores their shared Comic Book History.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: Be sure to check out my new book – Autumn Dawn: A Glen Haven Tale. Available in Paperback, on Kindle, and Audiobook