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Captain Marvel is Shazam? What you need to know

The endless reaches of outer space are nothing compared to the vast depths of popular culture, which run so deep that they accommodate two completely different comic-book superheroes with the name “Captain Marvel.” Each is owned by a different publisher; each comes complete with their own complicated backstory and sprawling cast of characters. 

Captain Marvel is Shazam? What you need to know

In each case, there have been multiple individuals who bear that name “Captain Marvel” at different times. And somehow, by cosmic coincidence and the vagaries of the intellectual property market, both of the two Captain Marvels will soon star in their own big-budget Hollywood movie released within a few weeks of each other: first Marvel’s Captain Marvel, and then DC’s Shazam! In comic-book terms, it would be described as an epic battle: Captain Marvel vs. Captain Marvel.

Article culled from - VanityFair 

The first of the two new Captain Marvel movies, due on March 8, is based on the Marvel Comics character, who has been around for 50 years. But this Captain Marvel is a newcomer compared to the original Captain Marvel, created in 1939 and returning to the big screen April 5. 

The first Captain Marvel was one of many bullet-proof, airborne strongmen created in the wake of Superman, the literary creation who simultaneously mass-popularized the closely intertwined concepts of the costumed superhero and the four-color comic book.

When the original Captain Marvel, created by writer Bill Parker and artist C. C. Beck, premiered in February 1940, their Kryptonian inspiration was undeniable: the bright, primary-colored tights (red rather than blue); the insignia (a lightning bolt rather than a big red “S”)); the cape; the boots; the secret identity; the chiseled chin and rugged good looks. On the cover of Superman’s first appearance, in Action Comics #1 (published by the company that later became DC), the Man of Steel is shown lifting a car, and is presumably about to throw it; on the cover of his debut in Whiz Comics #2 (published by Fawcett Comics), Captain Marvel is hurling a car and the bad guys in it against a brick wall.

Yet the first Captain Marvel was still very much his own man; his origin and powers were rooted in magic and fantasy rather than Superman’s fictitious science, and his alter ego was Billy Batson, a tween boy who transformed himself into an adult hero by uttering the magic word: “Shazam.” 

That element especially struck a chord with the comic-book industry’s core audience of young male readers; the idea of becoming a grown-up flying hero by saying a magic word resonated more strongly than being born on another planet and disguising oneself as a mild-mannered reporter. 

Captain Marvel’s adventures were also much more whimsical than Superman’s—and gorgeously illustrated (and frequently written) by Beck, who often seemed to be spoofing the superhero genre even as he was helping to invent it.

This Captain Marvel’s central villain and nemesis was a grumpy, bald-headed evil scientist named Doctor Sivana, who was clearly an overt parody of Lex Luthor-like evil scientists. He referred to the Captain as the Big Red Cheese. 

They existed in a universe partially populated by anthropomorphic “funny animal” characters, like Tawky Tawny, a talking (and conspicuously clothed) tiger, and the villainous Mr. Mind, a bespectacled worm who spoke by means of a teensy amplifier around his neck.

In 1941, Captain Marvel became the first superhero to star in a live-action adaptation: Republic Pictures’ classic movie serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. The Big Red Cheese was also the center of a comic-book franchise, although he didn’t have a love interest à la Lois Lane or a kid sidekick like Robin, either. 

But he did have a female counterpart, Mary Marvel (Billy Batson’s sister), as well as an entourage of three Lieutenant Marvels, a W. C. Fields-like Uncle Marvel, and even Hoppy the Marvel Bunny (don’t ask). There was also Captain Marvel Jr., a disabled teenager who transformed into a Superboy-like figure—a favorite of a young Elvis Presley.

All the while, Superman’s copyright owners were seething; they launched a lawsuit that eventually was decided, in 1952 (and by a storied judge named “Learned Hand;” no, you can’t make some of this stuff up) in DC’s favor. 

Fawcett had to cease and desist publishing Captain Marvel comics—although by that point, sales of superheroes had generally fallen off since the war years, and they were likely about to retire the franchise in any event. Thus the first Captain Marvel hung up his cape and tights.

Except for a couple of fits and starts, the name Captain Marvel was then barely heard for almost 15 years. In the interim, the publisher known as Timely Comics in the 1940s and Atlas in the 1950s rebranded itself as Marvel Comics in 1961. 

In 1967, Marvel’s chief auteur, writer-editor-publisher Stan Lee, decided to come up with another character who would use the Captain Marvel monicker. He and artist Gene Colan envisioned an alien soldier named Mar-Vell (get it?), originally sent to earth from the alien Kree empire as a military observer, before switching allegiances and helping the earthlings fend off enemy attacks. 

Their approach was a canny business decision, capitalizing on at least three popular 1960s genres: the character was a superhero-slash-spy from outer space. And though the new Marvel was only moderately popular at first, he would prove to have a lot of staying power.

Not to mention competition. In 1972, DC decided that the original Captain Marvel was too great a comic-book character to remain in limbo, and the company that once tried to squash Captain Marvel 1.0 acquired the rights to the character from Fawcett. 

The only drawback was that since Marvel Comics now owned the Captain Marvel trademark, DC was now importuned to call its new title Shazam! instead. The revived character, who would himself eventually be re-christened Shazam, proved popular enough he starred in his own live-action TV series that lasted three seasons, from 1974 to 1976.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s Captain Marvel also saw his stock rising; as an alien superhero, he found himself at the epicenter of what became the “Cosmic” Marvel wing, whose most famous representatives in the 21st century are the Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Still, Mar-Vell himself was a bit of a snooze, and found himself gradually eclipsed by his one-time love interest, Carol Danvers. In the first Captain Mar-Vell stories, Danvers was a pilot and security officer, and thus already considerably more empowered than your typical comic damsel in distress. 

In 1977, Danvers was revived as one of first major costumed heroines of the post-Gloria Steinem era; her early issues proclaimed, “This Female Fights Back!” Ms. Marvel, who was given a rather complicated origin story that unfolded over many issues (lots of amnesia and even schizophrenia) was immediately more interesting than her male predecessor and counterpart.

Mar-Vell himself was killed off in a famous 1982 graphic novel, but multiple generations of writers couldn’t leave Carol Danvers alone; over the decades, she has been continually re-invented, raped, and impregnated. 

She has also been reborn as at least two other superheroines, Binary and Warbird—almost always in a costume that’s surprisingly skimpy for an ostensible feminist heroine. Along the way, she’s joined the Avengers, the X-Men, and Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Finally, as a literal reward for sticking it out over 45 years of such abuse, Danvers was promoted, replacing her one-time boyfriend in 2012 to become the current Captain Marvel, the one who’s being portrayed by Brie Larson in the new movie.

And later in the spring of 2019, Shazam/Captain Marvel will also return, in a film loosely inspired by a reworking of that backstory that was also launched around 2012. Zachary Levi, who plays this Captain Marvel, has already tangled with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; now he’ll go a few rounds with the former Ms. Marvel. Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, however, still has yet to get his own movie—though in a world where eve Howard the Duck could anchor his own reboot, anything seems possible.

Article culled from - VanityFair 

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