Shazam’s DC Comics History Explains How He Was Actually The Original Captain Marvel

The DC Extended Universe is continuing to grow. On April 5, Shazam! will hit theaters, with Zachary Levi taking on the title role. If you haven't heard of this superhero before, Shazam's DC Comics history might surprise you. Specifically, the fact that Shazam's original name was Captain Marvel. Yes, exactly like that Captain Marvel. The one who is currently making a ton of money and who is very much from Marvel Comics... as one would expect.

First, let's look at what's going on in the film version of the DC character's story. The lead character is a teen boy named Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who turns into an adult superhero after being summoned by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who tells him to say the word "shazam." This being an origin story, Shazam (that's his superhero name, too) then has to adjust to all of his powers and, in this case, the fact that he's now in an adult man's body. The only person who knows about the whole "shazam" situation is Billy's friend from foster care, Freddy Freeman. Billy also faces off against a villain named Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Much of this story matches up with the comics: Billy does get his powers from a wizard by saying "shazam." There is a villain named Dr. Sivana. There's a character named Freddy Freeman. The primary difference is in the name of the superhero Billy can become, which is particularly interesting given the state of superhero movies right now.

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The hero now known as Shazam was first introduced in Whiz Comics Vol. 1 #2 in February 1940. He was created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, and the comic was published by Fawcett Publications. (DC Comics was already around at this point; it was founded in 1934.) In the comic, Billy was a young newspaper boy, who was led to a wizard named Shazam. Shazam then told Billy that if he spoke his name, he would become his champion, a hero named Captain Marvel. The letters in Shazam stand for Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury — Billy received powers related to all of them.

Obviously, this Captain Marvel is not called Captain Marvel anymore, so what happened? Well, as reported by comic book site Newsarama, way back in the 1950s, DC (then called National Comics Publications) got Fawcett to stop producing Captain Marvel comics claiming the character was too similar to Superman. Fawcett still owned the rights to the name Captain Marvel, and that fact came into play in the 1960s. Newsarama reports, "Realizing that since Fawcett had ceased publishing the adventures of Captain Marvel almost 15 years prior in 1953, in 1967, the still newly-christened Marvel Comics (formerly Atlas) realized that the famous hero moniker that included their namesake was not in use — and decided to make their own Captain Marvel."

From there, DC licensed the original Captain Marvel and other characters from Fawcett in 1972, as reported by i09, but couldn't call him Captain Marvel because now Marvel Comics had trademarked this name. So, DC started calling the character Shazam, an obvious choice since the word was so closely tied to the story, anyway.

Now, in 2019, we have a Captain Marvel movie and a Shazam movie that are both going to be in theaters at the same time. And to think, legal disputes between comic publishers of the mid-20th century led to this very moment.