Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Episode #105: Superman Vs Captain Marvel!

The reason I chose this topic for the episode was because, on December 14, 1972, DC Comics published its first Captain Marvel comic book with Shazan #1, cover dated February 1973. On the cover Superman introduced this new addition to DC's superhero pantheon. Captain Marvel was not created by DC, however. He was created by Fawcett Comics a few years after Superman's creation spawned the superhero genre and a legion of imitators.

DC, then known as Detective Comics, was quick to defend their smash hit superhero from all copycasts they deemed copyright infringements. One of the earliest was Wonder Man, published by Victor Fox's studio. Wonder Man was actually created by the Eisner & Iger comic book packaging house. DC took Fox to court, which ruled in DC's favor, and Wonder Man was retired after only one issue. DC also sued Fawcett over their character Master Man. He lasted six issues in his own title before Fawcett dropped him in the face of legal action, replacing him with Bulletman in Master Comics beginning with the seventh issue.

Captain Marvel was created by writer Bill Parker and artist C. C. Beck, and based the Captain's facial features on the actor Fred MacMurray. Originally called Captain Thunder, he was published in two ashcan editions, Flash Comics and Thrilling Comics, both #1's, for establishing copyright. (An ashcan is a publication that is printed in limited copies for legal reasons like establishing copyright, and is usually not widely distributed.) Fawcett found that they could not copyright Captain Thunder, Flash or Thrilling Comics because those names were already in use. Fawcett renamed their character Captain Marvel and he first appeared in Whiz Comics #2, so numbered because it followed the numbering of the original ashcan edition. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon helped produce the stories for Captain Marvel Adventures #1, and then the Fawcett staff produced the stories for subsequent issues.

The World's Mightiest Mortal, as Captain Marvel was called, quickly became Fawcett's flagship character, and became the best selling comic book superhero ever, by most accounts. That may have been one reason that DC filed suit against Fawcett over Captain Marvel, beginning with a cease and desist letter, in June 1941. The Big Red Cheese's popularity (as Captain Marvel was also known) was probably why Fawcett decided to fight DC in court instead of dropping the character, as they had done Master Man.

While both Superman and Captain Marvel are superheros with powers, costumes and capes, many of their superpowers are different. While Superman's powers were based in science fiction, Captain Marvel's abilities were based on magic. As noted in the beginning of Superman #1, Superman could leap an eighth of a mile, lift tremendous weights, run faster than a speeding train, and nothing less than a bursting shell could pierce his skin.

Billy Batson was Captain Marvel's human identity, who became the world's mightiest mortal by shouting the magic word SHAZAM!
S: the wisdom of Solomon
H: the strength of Hercules
A: the stamina of Atlas
Z: the power of Zeus
A: the courage of Achilles
M: the speed of Mercury.

In September of 1941 Detective Comics filed a lawsuit against Fawcett Comics. Legal action ensued until 1948, when the case went to trial. DC's case focused on the similarities between Superman and Captain Marvel, super strength, speed, invulnerability, a skin tight costume with a cape and a news reporter secret identity. Fawcett highlighted the differences between the two characters. Captain Marvel's alter ego waa child, not an adult, his powers were magic based, not science fiction. The ruling was a mixed result for both companies. While Fawcett was found in violation of Superman's copyright, but DC was found to have lost Superman's copyright because some of the Superman comic strips had not been copyrighted.

Detective Comics appealed the decision in 1951 to the U. S. Court of Appeals 2nd Circuit, presided by Judge Learned Hand, one of the most quoted lower court judges in U. S. legal history. IN 1952 Judge Hand upheld the violation of copyright ruling but rejected the other ruling that DC had allowed its Superman copyright to lapse. He sent the case back to the trial judge for an assessment of damages.

Fawcett instead decided to settle the case instead of fighting it further. Perhaps one overriding reason was the fall of the popularity of superhero comics in favor of other genres. Fawcett agreed to pay DC $400,000.00 in damages and agreed to stop publishing Captain Marvel comic books. The supporting character Hoppy the Marvel Bunny was sold to Charlton Comics and became Hoppy the Magic Bunny. Fawcett closed its comic book publishing business entirely, focusing on its magazine publishing division and expanding into the growing paperback book market of the 1950's. Captain Marvel's last appearances were in Captain Marvel Adventures #150, November 1953, published around November 7, 1953, and Marvel Family #89, January 1954, published around January 7, 1954. The world's mightiest mortal would disappear for the rest of the 1950's and the entire decade of the 1960's.

In the U. K., the British publisher of black and white Captain Marvel reprints adapted the character into Marvelman, which has had his own tangled legal history, and was in turn reprinted in the States as Miracleman. Earlier in 2009 the U. S. rights were bought by Marvel Comics. There is no news yet about any Miracleman reprints through Marvel.

In 1972 DC licensed Captain Marvel from Fawcett. However, in 1967, through a legal loophole, Marvel trademarked the name Captain Marvel and began publishing their own version of the hero, which probably was more similar to Superman than Fawcett version, since he was an alien from another world who had traveled to Earth as an adult. While DC could still call the character Captain Marvel, they could not publish him in a comic book with the same name. That is how Shazam #1 came to be published. The series ran for 35 issues until 1978 and would reprint some of the original Fawcett stories from the 1940's - 1950's. In 1980 DC bought the character from Fawcett outright, and in 1987 pubished the mini-series Shazam: The New Beginning. These first DC Captain Marvel stories have been reprinted in two editions, Shazam: The Greatest Stories Ever Told and Showcase Presents: Shazam! vol. I.

Captain Marvel would never become as popular for DC as he had been for Fawcett, but has continued to be a recurring member of DC's pantheon ever since, through various versions of his own title and Justice League.

Superman and Captain Marvel did battle in the comic book pages, decades before the mini-series Kingdom Come. But the conflict was not printed in a comic book published by either DC or Fawcett Comics. That honor went to Mad Magazine #4, April/May 1953. I bought a reprint of the story in Tales Calculated To Drive You Mad #2, Winter 1997. DC Comics, which now owns Mad Magazine, has reprinted it in a hardbound edition in Mad Archive, Vol. I, which collected the first six issues of Mad. To read the story on the internet go to: http://kitscomics.com/captain/34.htm.

For any updated information about reprint editions to Captain Marvel, Marvelman or Miracleman, or Superman go to the Collected Comics Library podcast and blog at http://www.collectedcomicslibrary.com/.

Superman Fan Podcast is a proud member of the League Of Comic Book Podcasters at http://www.comicbooknoise.com/league and the Comics Podcast Network! http://www.comicspodcasts.com./

Superman Fan Podcast is at http://supermanfanpodcast.mypodcast.com/ . Send e-mail about this podcast to supermanfanpodcast@gmail.com .

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at http://mypulllist.blogspot.com/ . Send e-mail about this blog to mypulllist@gmail.com .

Join the Superman Fan Podcast and My Pull List groups on facebook, and follow the podcast and blogs on twitter @supermanpodcast.

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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