The Secret History of Captain Marvel
With the new Captain Marvel movie upon us, here is a list of relevant key books for your reference. I would also like to explore a hidden story. Disney has built an empire using free works in the public domain, like Snow White and The Little Mermaid. At the same time, they have fought to extend copyrights to keep their own original material out of this public resource.
Opponents of copyright extensions argue that updating and building onto past works is how our culture expands and progresses. The tale of Captain Marvel’s evolution is an interesting illustration of how this progression works. It’s also a tale of how big business can weaponize copyright lawsuits to intimidate and suppress competition and why there are so many Captain Marvels in comics. Enjoy.
Our story begins when Bill Parker and C.C. Beck are hired by Fawcett to create a hero to compete with Superman. In January of 1940, a small amount of ashcans titled “Flash Comics” were produced for copyright purposes. These would debut their new hero, Captain Thunder!
Unfortunately, National Periodicals (DC) already owned “All American Flash Comics,” so the Flash title name could not be used.
January, 1940. A new ashcan was immediately created and sent to the copyright office. They would discover that both “Thrill” and the name Captain Thunder had already been copywritten.
Whiz Comics 2. In February of 1940, Billy Batson, a homeless newspaper boy, is given a magic word by a wizard and transforms into Captain Marvelous (shortened to Captain Marvel at the last minute.) Almost immediately, DC sues for plagarism. The book also introduces The Wizard and Dr. Sivana, his arch-villian.
A child becoming a super-powered man, a unique idea at the time, resonates with young readers. Soon, Captain Marvel would begin to outsell Superman.
Master Comics 21, Dec. 1941. First appearance of Captain Nazi
Whiz Comics 25 introduces Captain Marvel Jr., Dec. 1941. He would become the first solo teenage superhero, pre-dating Superboy. Elvis Presley’s Captain Marvel Jr. comics are still in the attic of Graceland. It is widely believed that he was the inspiration for Elvis’s hairstyle, TCB lightning logo and short caped stage costumes.
Captain Marvel Adventures 8, Dec. 1942. First appearance of Mary Marvel, Billy Batson’s twin sister. Argueably, the first appearance of her modern, adult incarnation is Power of Shazam 4, 1996. It has a DC Universe variant that seems to be on the rare side.
Captain Marvel Adventures 22, Mar. 1943. First appearance of The Monster Society.
Captain Marvel Adventures 26, Aug. 1943. First appearance of Mister Mind.
Fawcett’s Funny Animals 1, Dec. 1942. First appearance of Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. His first modern appearance is DC Comics Presents 34. His arch-enemy, Captain Black Bunny (after Black Adam,) first appears in Fawcett’s Funny Animals 32.
Wow Comics 18, Oct. 1943. First appearance of Dudley H. Dudley (Uncle Marvel.) A loveable, oafy grifter who becomes an honorary member of the Marvel Family.
Marvel Family 1 introduces the villain Black Adam, Dec. 1945. It is his only golden age appearance.
Captain Marvel Adventures 52, Jan. 1946. First appearance of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana Jr.
Captain Marvel Adventures 79, Dec. 1947. First appearance of Mr. Tawny, the talking tiger.
Captain Marvel Adventures 150. Final issue, Nov. 1953. After a 12 year legal battle with DC, Fawcett loses their case and ends publication of Captain Marvel. In America, the sales of superhero books are in decline.
But in the U.K., superheros are still popular. L. Miller has been successfully selling Captain Marvel comics in both Britian and Australia. With Fawcett ceasing production, the source material came to an end. Mick Angelo was hired to create a “new” Captain Marvel. In the UK edition of Captain Marvel 19 and Captain Marvel Jr. 19, their “new” creation was announced on the club page. *both titles are marked “vol.1” but they are the second volumes published by L. Miller.
February 3rd, 1954 – Micky Moran, a young newspaper copy boy, meets an astro-physicist who gives him the key harmonic of the universe, “Kimota!” This secret word, replacing “Shazam!” transforms him into Marvelman. Mick Angelo creates an “Ultimates” version of the Marvel Family where atomic energy replaces magic. Close enough for british readers to recognize but different enough to avoid copyright problems. Marvelman and Young Marvelman are born in the 25th issues of these now re-titled series. There’s no record of the last time either of these books have come to market. In 2014, a copy of Marvelman 26 sold at auction for $4,330. Issues between 25-100 are considered extremely scarce.
Marvelman 27, 1954 introduces Dr. Gargunza, who replaces Dr. Sivana.
Young Marvelman 67 introduces Young Nastyman who replaces Black Adam.
Young Marvelman 100, First appearance of Young Gargunza, replacing Dr. Thaddeus Sivana Jr.
Marvelman 102 introduces Kid Marvelman and the new Marvel Family is finally complete. July 30th, 1955.
Superhombre 1, 1958. Mick Angelo creates a “new” character for the Spanish market. The red outfit and short white cape are returned but the lightning bolt has been changed to a Sun. “Shazam!” is replaced with “Disco del Sol!”
Captain Miracle, 1961. Mick Angelo starts his own publishing company and creates a slightly altered Marvelman using old strips.
Marvelman 370, Feb. 1st 1963. Final issue. After a falling out with Mick Angelo over creator rights, L. Miller publishes a few more issues with reprinted material and calls it quits. Marvelman falls into obscurity.
Miracle Man 1, 1965. After a few color changes, Superhombre is translated and published for the UK market. “Disco del Sol!” is now replaced with “Sun Disc!”
Captain Marvel 1, April 1966. When Fawcett’s copyright expires, M.F. Enterprises scoops up the name and publishes 6 issues before surrendering it to Marvel Comics.
Marvel Super-Heroes 12, December 1967. After a small payment of $4,500 and threats of legal strong-arming, Marvel aquires the name “Captain Marvel” from M.F Enterprises. A new hero is born.
Shazam! 1, Feb. 1973. In an almost unbelievable turn of irony, DC licenses Captain Marvel from Fawcett and begins publishing new material. To avoid legal trouble with Marvel, the new title would be “Shazam!” This character, once legally considered too similar to Superman, would now share a universe with him. DC would also partner with Filmation to produce a live action “Shazam!” television program.
Shazam 25, 1976. Andrea Thomas as Isis was originally a live action TV creation that crossed-over into the Shazam TV show. DC first incorporates her into comics with this issue.
DC’s Week 52 issue 12, July 2006. First appearance of Adrianna Tomaz, the modern Isis.
Shazam 28, 1977. Black Adam is reborn into the DC universe.
Warrior Magazine 1, March 1982. Marvelman, now strangely considered England’s first original super hero, is rebooted by a young Alan Moore. In this anthology, he was given the freedom to create a darker, violent and more serious story. The popularity of this new tone would argueably change the course of comics and help give rise to the Copper Age. Of course Marvel Comics would step in and object to the name “Marvel” being used. Due to this and other disgreements, Moore would choose to no longer work with Marvel. Instead, he would go on to help modernize the DC universe throughout the 1980’s.
Spider-Man Annual 14, Oct. 1982. First appearance Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel. She is unrelated to their first Captain Marvel, who dies of cancer. It would seem she was only given the name to maintain copyright control.
Miracleman 1, Aug. 1985. Eclipse Comics first publishes Moore’s Marvelman in America. The name is changed to avoid legal issues with Marvel. It’s not clear if the name “Miracleman” was purposely taken from Mick Angelo’s later work, but it seems a likely homage. At Eclipse, the story of Miracleman would continue. Alan Moore passed the torch to Neil Gaiman at issue 17. He would continue till issue 24 when Eclipse ran out of money. Though issue 25 and other related issues were finished, they have never been released. Fans have been left in limbo for over three decades. Todd McFarlane would purchase Eclipse and seemingly all of it’s properties in 1996.
Hellspawn 6, Feb. 2001 would introduce a reporter named Mike Moran. Todd McFarlane, believing he now owned the rights to Miracleman, incorporates him into the Spawn universe. Gaiman had been given the rights from Moore so a legal battle ensued. It would be determined that Eclipse only had publishing rights from Quality Comics, who never actually owned the Marvelman rights at all. It would also be found that even L. Miller, who sold their material to Alan Class whom was now also involved, never bothered to copyright the early books. The earliest copyright mark that could be found was on Captain Miracle 1 from 1961, published by Mick Angelo. After almost 50 years, the “original” creator was awarded official ownership.
Avenging Spider-Man 9, Sep. 2012. First appearance of Carol Danvers as yet another Captain Marvel.
Miracleman 1, Jan. 2013. This ground breaking series has now been out of print for almost 30 years. With the legal problems seemingly out of the way, Marvel works a deal with Mick Angelo to create remastered editions of Miracleman and classic Marvelman. Their goal was to finally finish the series with Neil Gaiman’s unpublished material. Five years later, they have yet to finish the series. Marvel announced the series will be continued in 2019. Fans are still waiting limbo.
In April of 2019, a new chapter in the history of Captain Marvel is about to begin. Will the story of young Billy Batson resonate with a new generation of children. With the mediocrity of the current Superman franchise, will the Marvel Family once again rise to number one? I can’t wait to see.
Big thanks to Topher for some suggestions and corrections. He suggested Daredevils 7 (UK) and Marvel Super Heroes 387 (UK) for the first modern Miracleman named. I don’t own copies of those books, so the appearance in context is unknown to me. It’s a complicated story with a long history. This is just a cliff notes version as I did not want to bore readers with heavy details. There are deeper articles out there by comic historians on this subject. If you are interested, I strongly advise searching them out.