Whether it is used as his name (which it shouldn’t be) or as the magic name of the wizard who gives his powers (which it should be), the word SHAZAM! is central to the Captain Marvel mythos.
Within Captain Marvel’s narrative world SHAZAM! is ultimately a mystical acronym of the heroic names from which all of Captain Marvel’s powers derive.
Interestingly, the description of these storied figures will sometimes show up as heroes (as above) and sometimes as gods in their own right – as in this recent panel from Injustice: God’s Among Us (Year 4) #13:
Considering the vast number of writers who have worked with the character over the years it should be no surprise that we have inconsistencies in the presentation of who gave Captain Marvel his power. Nonetheless, when I see the Cap’s benefactors described as gods I am a bit surprised. I realize an increasingly secular age is also increasingly uninformed about religions but, on the other hand, dictionaries exist. By my count the list contains 1 Titan (Atlas), 2 gods (Zeus, Mercury), 1 demigod (Hercules), and two supernaturally gifted humans (Solomon, Achilles).
Accuse me of picking nits do you? That may be an accurate charge. My counter: this is one of my favorite characters and our language has adjectives that would, in fact, encapsulate all six benefactors (the aforementioned heroes, legends, etc). Truth be told, I think there is some rich narrative resources for writers in the differences in category found among these power donors. Maybe someday… (actually, if you know of anything I’m forgetting where a creator has parsed this out please let me know).
According to the official DC Comic’s Shazam character description the donated powers work out to the following in-story powers profile:
Both ComicVine and the Shazam Wiki have extensive records of how Captain Marvel’s powers have manifested throughout his lengthy career. Again, you see that while there has been remarkable consistency in the donors who give Cap his powers there has been very little consistency in how those powers specifically manifest. Another example is Cap’s on-again-off-again ability to throw lightning bolts, as seen in the footage below from the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game.
Considering that Captain Marvel has the power of Zeus and that Zeus hurling lightning bolts is one of the most common images of Zeus dating back to antiquity it seems reasonable to me that this should be considered a regular component of the Captain’s powerset.
I would like to see an official, even if from a previous era, presentation from DC of the Cap’s strengths compared to the other heavy hitters of the DC Universe (i.e. Superman, Wonder Woman, etc), other speedsters, and other magic-wielders. If that has been done and you have access to it please let me know. The closest we’ve seen is the 1985 Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. However, as you can see below, it adds little clarity save for the notes about Captain Marvel’s athleticism and hand-to-hand prowess.
In light of the legal conflict surrounding the Captain Marvel character one of the fundamental issues that has to be addressed is what to call this guy.
DC has settled on calling the character SHAZAM in their latest reboot. Here’s the rationale (per Comics Alliance) from creator Geoff Johns:
Well, there are a lot of reasons for the change. One is that everybody thinks he’s Shazam already, outside of comics. It’s also, for all sorts of reasons, calling him Shazam just made sense for us. And, you know, every comic book he’s in right now has Shazam on the cover.
I am suspicious that “lots of reasons” and “all sorts of reasons” are code for “we want a trademark we can defend.”
This, then, is one of the central ironies of DC’s ownership of the rights to Captain Marvel: the character they shut down legally is now unable to be marketed under the most reasonable brand because of trademark law precedent DC established fighting the very same character.
Since receiving the property and realizing that Marvel Comics’ rights to the name Captain Marvel is pretty much unshakable in a legal sense DC has tried for years to switch to “Shazam” as a name for the character. To whatever degree that Geoff John’s statement above that “everybody thinks he’s Shazam already outside of comics” is true it is true largely because of DC’s efforts to brand this valuable property.
As early as 1973, when bringing Captain Marvel back to the market as a DC property, the center of attention was on SHAZAM! rather than Captain Marvel.
That trend continued 1987’s Shazam – The New Beginning:
The absolute zenith of the re-naming craziness (and resulting confusion) came with Judd Winnick’s 2006 series The Trials of Shazam where the wizard, whose name within the historic narrative for the character is Shazam (spoiler alert I guess), dies and is replaced by the former Captain Marvel in a palette swapped costume. Freddie Freemen, the erstwhile Captain Marvel, Jr. (more on him in later posts) now has the costume and powers of the traditional Captain Marvel but goes by the name of… you guessed it: Shazam.
Feel free to pause reading long enough to let the nosebleed that resulted from reading that paragraph to subside.
All of this leads up to 2012’s reboot of the DC Universe called The New 52, one component of which was DC’s official changing of the character’s name from Captain Marvel to Shazam, announced ultra serious fashion through The New York Post.
So, as of this writing, DC’s formal name for the character dating back to the 1940’s is Shazam, with “Captain Marvel” reduced to an alias on their official character page.
Here’s the only problem: all of that effort put into changing the character’s name is a bunch of undiluted nonsense.
Yes, I realize that this is a fictional character we are talking about and thus subject to whatever changes the rights holder may choose. However, we have history with this character. We’ve known his name for too long to forget – and the internet certainly has a longer memory than we do.
Furthermore, DC clearly wants to maintain historical connectivity between the character they are publishing and the one Fawcett trotted out to whip Superman. You see this clearly in the fact they stick close to the character’s canonical vocabulary rather than naming him Mister Lightningtights or whatever other name their marketing department could come up with.
In reality, while I’m sure the legal rights dispute really boils down to Marvel Comics wanting to stick it to their biggest competitor, the problem assumed by the dispute – that comic readers won’t be able to figure out which character being published under the name Captain Marvel is the one they want to follow (read: buy) and thus cost the rights holder sales – is as outmoded as Superman leaping tall buildings in a single bound. That the name Captain Marvel is still a thing five years after the conclusion of Lost is unbelievable. God forbid a comic reader ever work with two guys named Taylor or, as in the current case, one woman named Taylor and one man with the same name. How will they ever tell them apart?!?
The most entry-level comic book reader, not to mention those who make a simple attempt to look in to the characters, know the difference between the Kree-powered superwoman and the guy in the red tights with a lightning bolt on his chest. In fact, now that I mention the lightning bolt logo, it is far more likely that a novice reader would wonder why both The Flash and Captain Marvel wear such a similar logo.
It is high time that, in the interest of treating their readers as base-line intelligent and allowing fans of the comic medium to enjoy their favorite characters and stories, Marvel and DC shake hands and agree to both publish characters under the name Captain Marvel. No one is confused anymore. If some member of an indigenous people group who has never made contact with Western society does wander in to a comic shop and experiences the briefest instant of confusion I think we can safely assume the proprietor will clarify for them – if, you know, they haven’t Googled it already.
Yes, you can rest easy. Google and conversation have saved us from Judd Winnick’s clarification and whatever intrinsic confusion existed between Marvel Comics’ character and DC’s.
So I’m here to tell you, at least under the auspices of The Shazamcast, all that name-change stuff is a load of hooey. He’s Captain Marvel.
Just like he always has been.
If you’ve found your way to the Shazamcast you likely already know something of the confusion created by comics’ two biggest companies, DC and Marvel, both writing books (and marketing more broadly) competing characters bearing the name Captain Marvel.
If this is news to you then it may very well surprise you that the character doesn’t bear the name Marvel because he represents Marvel Comics. No, the first Captain Marvel showed up before there even was a Marvel Comics. And that Captain Marvel is the property of DC. As you can probably guess, there has been no end to the litigation between DC and Marvel over the name “Captain Marvel.”
In another slightly ironic twist, there is a pretty good primer in Les Daniels’ Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics.