Real Name: Billy Batson
Voiced by Jerry O'Connell
Orphaned by his parents' murder and abandoned by his legal guardian, young Billy Batson was forced to fend for himself on the streets of Fawcett City. Adapting to his situation, he sold newspapers at night and subsisted on scraps of food, while managing to keep himself in school during the day. However, destiny intervened, as one night he was guided to a mysterious cave underneath the city, where he encountered an ancient wizard known as Shazam. Recognizing his courage and good heart, the ancient wizard granted the boy the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury—which transforms the young boy into the adult body of the super-powered Captain Marvel.
Capable of tapping into his patron's abilities by shouting the wizard's name, the World's Mightiest Mortal has used these abilities—as well as the power of flight—to combat everything from power-mad scientists to super-intelligent alien worms. Meanwhile, Billy Batson has made good with his own life, becoming a newscaster for WHIZ Radio and making enough money to support himself while he continues his education. While not as well known as Superman, whom he bears a passing resemblance to, Captain Marvel is nearly as powerful, and capable of fighting the Man of Steel to a standstill.
A later addition to the expanded Justice League, the awestruck Captain Marvel was a favorite among his peers, who appreciated his optimism and friendly, outgoing nature. However, he reluctantly left the team after a much-publicized falling out with Superman, after realizing that his ideology was radically different from that of his former idol. Today he flies alone, protecting Fawcett City from all who would threaten it.
Alex Ross on Captain Marvel #1: "Captain Marvel, the Marvel Family, and the whole Fawcett Comics lineup were always huge childhood favorites of mine. [...] In my earliest perceptions of of DC's highest pantheon, I always saw him as a top-ranking member because the amount of promotion and merchandising that DC did for the character was in the mid-1970s. It's been harder for me to understand why the character was not used more often in years since and why his appreciation level, especially because of what he meant to comics history, was not greater (courtesy of Kingdom Come Revelations)."
Alex Ross on Captain Marvel #2: "What most people don't realize is that in the mid-1940s—the height of the comics industry in terms of sales—the Marvel Family titles outsold anything else, Superman and Batman included. And Captain Marvel provided the roots of so many concepts in comics that were routinely copied: the idea of a 'family' of superheroes, a girl sidekick, a magical quick change of identities, a super-powered boy hero. I feel I just scratched the surface of what I've done with Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. I hope I can return to them someday (courtesy of Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross)."
Grant Morrison on Captain Marvel: "The way to make Captain Marvel simultaneously child-like and grown-up is to make the character a kid's idea of what his dad would be like. [...] He's an incredibly noble and really nice guy who doesn't seem to have much sexuality about him. [...] He's the Sir Percival character; the real innocent, perfect shining knight (courtesy of Wizard Magazine)."
Paul Dini on Captain Marvel's aborted Superman episode (circa 1998): “We were going to do [a] Superman / Captain Marvel [team-up] and while we were working on the story we said, ‘Well, let’s put them on the Justice League satellite, they’re just up there and we bring in the other characters. We just do the Justice League for no good reason other than they’re there and see if we can make it work on the show.'
“We had fun sort of
brainstorming that episode, but in the process of writing it we had to call DC
and see what characters we can use—we went to them with a list—and in the
time it took for them to get back to us, [Alan Burnett] had been developing the
Aquaman story, and it worked better. So
we put that one aside and did the Aquaman story (courtesy of [website
Bruce Timm on Captain Marvel's aborted Superman episode (circa 2000): “We really did want to do the Captain Marvel / Superman fight and, since we're not going to be doing any more Superman episodes, that doesn't seem likely to happen. That's one that I'll kinda miss doing (courtesy of Comicology Magazine).”
Bruce Timm on Captain Marvel's aborted appearance in “Hereafter”: “At that time, the rights to Captain Marvel weren’t available to us, so we couldn’t do that. Somehow that story got mixed up with ‘Hereafter,’ and somebody, I can’t remember who, said, ‘If we can’t have Captain Marvel replace Superman, who would be the best person to replace him?’ Well, it couldn’t be anybody obvious that people would suspect, and we came up with Lobo. Within five minutes we had that whole story plotted out; everything just fell into place (courtesy of RetroVision CD-ROM Magazine).”
DarkLantern on Captain Marvel (circa 2004): “As I recall, Alex Ross and Paul Dini created a proposal for a Shazam animated series; things didn’t work out. The legality of using Captain Marvel in the animated medium is almost as complicated as Wonder Woman, and despite Diana being a regular character on the show—and that is primarily how they beat her legal snafu—I wouldn’t hold my breath for Cap to guest star (courtesy of Toon Zone).”
Alex Ross on proposed Shazam animated series (circa 2003): "That was something I did for Paul Dini to pitch a Shazam animated series to Cartoon Network. They said they were very interested, but nothing's come of it so far. I can only say I hope it was only temporarily shelved. The drawing is a mixture of the Bruce Timm style and the simplicity of the Powerpuff Girls (courtesy of Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross)."
J.M. DeMatteis on Captain Marvel in “Clash”: “This was similar to what Keith Giffen and I did with Captain Marvel during out ‘80s Justice League run. He’s just a kid in a superhero’s body—still innocent, a little naïve, and totally idealistic. I’d love to see Captain Marvel spun off into his own show (courtesy of ToyFare Magazine).”
Dwayne McDuffie on Captain Marvel's appearance in "Clash" (circa 2005): "We finally got permission to use Captain Marvel, if only for the one time, so I'm pretty much cool (courtesy of Comic Buyers Guide Magazine)."
Shazam Proposal Artwork #1 | Shazam Proposal Art #2 | Captain Marvel Image #1 | Captain Marvel Image #2
Captain Marvel Image #3 | Captain Marvel Image #4
Captain Marvel Image #5 | Captain Marvel Image #6 | Captain Marvel Image #7
"My whole life I've looked up to the League. You were my heroes, every one of you. And you...you were more than a hero. I idolized you, I wanted to be you. Whenever I was out there facing down the bad guys, I'd think, 'What would Superman do?' Now I know.
"I believe in fair play, I believe in taking people at their word and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Back home I've come up against my share of pretty nasty bad guys, but I never had to act the way they did to win a fight. I always found another way. I—I guess I'm saying I—I like being a hero, a symbol, and that's why I'm...quitting the Justice League. You don't act like heroes anymore."
Captain Marvel (to Superman and the Justice League) in "Clash"
In terms of DC Comics' history, Captain Marvel is an oddity: specifically as a DC Comics character, he is B or C-level hero rating roughly around Elongated Man and Firestorm in terms of importance but, as a comic book character in general, he is an important icon, with a history going back almost as far as Superman himself. As the first superhero to capitalize on the "boy-turns-magically-into-adult-hero" concept, Captain Marvel was the forerunner for characters such as Eclipse Comics' Miracleman, Image Comics' Mighty Man, and the Ultraverse's Prime. However, due to circumstance, the Big Red Cheese (as he is sometimes affectionately known) has never been able to recapture his Golden Age success.
Created in 1939 by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck and published by Fawcett Publications, Captain Marvel made his debut in Whiz Comics #1 in 1940. Innovative for its time, their stories featured gimmicks that would soon become standard issue in the comic book industry, such as their dependence on continuity between issues (“The Monster Society of Evil,” Captain Marvel’s most famous story arc, ran for 25 issues over three years). In addition, Captain Marvel was the first superhero to develop a family of related characters around him; including Mary Marvel (a female version of the hero, a forerunner for Supergirl, Batgirl, etc.) and Captain Marvel Jr. (a teenage version of the hero, a forerunner for Superboy, Aqualad, etc.). These innovations brought success—as mentioned by Alex Ross above, Captain Marvel titles outsold Superman for awhile—but success also brought consequences, as DC Comics took Fawcett Publications to court, making the accusation that Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman. However, while Fawcett won consistently in lower court hearings, DC Comics continued to appeal and, coupled with the decline of comic book sales in 1953, Fawcett Publications eventually chose to cancel their line of comics, promise to never to use the character again, and sold their remaining characters to competitor Charlton Comics.
However, seeing potential in the character, DC Comics leased—and later purchased—Captain Marvel and his stable of characters from Fawcett, intending to replicate the success of their previous years. However, during the period that Captain Marvel was in publishing limbo, Marvel Comics created their own Captain Marvel character (seen here in a Timm-drawn illustration) and registered the name, which meant that Billy Batson’s adventures had to be published under the title Shazam! when he made his DC Comics debut in 1973. The series, however, lasted only thirty-eight issues and, afterwards, Captain Marvel existed on the fringes of the DC Universe, an inhabitant of Earth S (an alternate reality in the pre-Crisis continuity) and was only used for the occasional crossover. In terms of current continuity, Captain Marvel was rebooted in 1994 with The Power of Shazam, a hardcover that redefined Captain Marvel for modern audiences; this was followed by forty-seven issues of a new comic book series (which ended in 1999). In addition, he’s served in the Justice League and (most recently) in the Justice Society of America, but he’s probably still best known to modern audiences for his 1996 appearance in the mini-series Kingdom Come, where Captain Marvel fought Superman for the fate of their superhuman brethren.
As is the case with Marvel's comic book career, attempts to introduce Captain Marvel into the DCAU have met with a series of false starts. A proposed appearance on Superman fell through, as did a potential one-shot comic book featuring Superman meeting Captain Marvel for the first time, which would have been created by Alex Ross and Paul Dini. The original pitch for "Hereafter," which featured Superman's "death" and the League's reaction to it, was originally supposed to have Captain Marvel temporarily replace the Man of Steel but, again, the rights issue came up again, and the Big Red Cheese was sidelined in favor of Lobo. For awhile, it looked like Captain Marvel was going to share the fate of Black Lightning, Blue Beetle, Swamp Thing, and a sea of others—omission from Justice League—but, fortunately, a compromise was met, allowing him to appear in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Clash."
Aside from a few stylistic touches, Captain Marvel is virtually identical to the version that Otto Binder drew roughly sixty years ago. Overall, his debut could not have come at a better time, as he provided a vital counterpoint to Superman in "Clash," showing the Man of Steel just how much the events of the DCAU ("Legacy," the Justice Lords, Cadmus) have changed him from the hero he was when "The Last Son of Krypton" premiered in 1996. As of this writing, it would appear that the window of opportunity that allowed the creative team to use Captain Marvel has closed once again (according to Dwayne McDuffie in a recent interview), but there is always hope that the opportunity will come again on Unlimited, should the series continue.
Images courtesy of Toon Zone, Alex Ross Art, Heroic 'Toons!, DC Comics, The Bruce Timm Gallery, and timmfans. Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell version) courtesy of Marvel Comics.
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