Thursday, April 18, 2019

What's in a Name?

So, this past couple of month has (for us at least), been all about the Captain Marvels (yes, kids, there are more than well, three (Fawcett/DC, M. F. Enterprises, Marvel). Confused? Well there have been at least five people over at Marvel who have held the title (not including alternate universe versions) including Carol Danvers who current holds the title (and stared in her own film). M. F. Enterprise had one Captain Marvel (who starred in his own short-lived comic, but never got a movie), and of course Fawcett/DC’s Billy Batson/Shazam! (currently appearing in his own film) where there is just one “Captain” but three Lieutenants, a sister, a“Junior” as well as an anthropomorphic tiger (technically making seven).

But all of that is besides the point. What we are here to do today is to talk about the Fawcett/DC’s current, updated DCEU version of! As noted above, we’ve seen the film and thoroughly enjoyed it (There are two (2) post-credit trailers — one after the main trailers, and a second all the way at the end of the credits — stick around for both). The film itself is clearly targeted for not only a younger audience, but is far more light and uplifting than most of the DCEU previous films.

Still, we did feel that there were some dark overtones throughout (language as well as an unexpectedly brutal murder or two). Having said that, we will continue to stress the overall lighter tone to the film, especially with the constant winking to Shazam himself, as he never quite fully buys into an official name for himself. While Dr. Sivana ( Mark Strong) refers to him as the “Champion” both Shazam (Zachary Levi) and Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) — mostly Freddy — rattle off a slew of names as they splatter social media with vids of Shazam as the boys put him through his paces while testing out his powers and abilities. a short list of those names includes the following:
  • Captain Sparklefingers
  • Thundercrack
  • Mr. Philadelphia
  • Power Boy
  • ZAP-tain America
  • Red Cyclone
  • Maximum Voltage
  • Sir Zaps-A-Lot
  • Human Powerstorm
Part of the reason that this naming sequence is so entertaining is due in part to the long and convoluted history of “The Bit Red Cheese” himself (even though no one ever refers to him in that way. As chronicled here there is a rather straightforward (if slightly convoluted) reason for his name change. But forget all that. go and see what may be the most entertainingly cute superhero film you are likely to see this year.

Monday, April 01, 2019

The Captains’ Name is Marvel!

This posting is not my review of the new Captain Marvel movie (that was posted over here), this is a conversation about the Captains named Marvel. 

Well, now that Marvel’s Captain Marvel has had — not only a $153,433,423 opening weekend, but has (as of 3/28/19 — just 19 days in) and passed $918,893,856 worldwide — I guess we can safely say that there are more people interested in seeing a strong female lead in an action (superhero) movie, than there are tragic, broken, misogynist fanboys, eh?

However, before we get to all of that, let’s first get these two — no three — things out of the way right now:

  1. Captain Marvel is not Marvel’s first film with a female lead, that would have been Elektra (2005)
  2. Marvel’s Captain Marvel character was first introduced in 1967 between then and now (52 years) the title of “Captain Marvel” has been held by four different males (for a total of 31 years), and three females (21 Years). Hence any conversation anyone wants to have about the gender of Captain Marvel, is simply beyond moot
  3. There have been at least two non-Marvel Comics characters named Captain Marvel (both males), and the film for the more famous of those two will drop on April 5th

Okay, that done; let’s get on with this essay.

The very first character named “Captain Marvel” was actually neither the female character that appears in the recently-released superhero film from Marvel Studios, nor the male superhero Mar-Vell (who initially appeared in comics in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 in 1967 and then died in Marvel Graphic Novel The Death of Captain Marvel (April 1982). No, the first Captain appeared in Whiz Comics #2 that was published by Fawcett Publications which began in own publishing history back in 1919 with the magazine Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang. (Unavoidable Aside: Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang was one of the most notorious popular humor magazines of the 1920s, and the only reason that we know about it is that it was referenced in the musical The Music Man by Meredith Willson — a favorite of ours since we were a child. That Captain Billy’s magazine and Whiz Comics were even remotely related was completely unknown to us prior to researching this piece.)

But we were distracted.

Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was actually a 12-year-old child named Billy Batson, who when he spoke the magic word “SHAZAM” (an acronym of six “immortal elders”: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury), was able to transform himself into an adult costumed hero with the powers of superhuman strength, speed, flight and other abilities. This Captain Marvel (often referred to as “The Big Red Cheese”) was co-created by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker way back in 1939 and debuted in Whiz Comics #2 (cover-dated Feb. 1940. The Captain soon became so popular that his exploits soon were outselling his rival over at National Periodical Publications (the forerunner of DC Comics) selling as many as 14 million copies in 1944. In fact, the Big Red Cheese’s grew in popularity so much, that soon there was a whole family of Marvel, including three Lieutenant Marvels, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

Well, Fawcett finally settled the lawsuit in DC’s favor in 1954 legally preventing Fawcett from printing another Captain Marvel comic. Part of the reason that Fawcett capitulated, was because by then the superhero comicbook market was collapsing, making it not worth Fawcett’s effort to appeal the case again. Instead, the publisher simply closed up shop, leaving Superman to soar the skies of Metropolis without having to concern himself with any competition on the newsstands.

The funnybook world proceeded on Captain Marvel-less, until 1966, when M. F. Enterprises produced yet a new Captain Marvel. This one was an android from another planet whose main characteristic was (strangely enough) the ability to split his body into several individual parts, each of which could move on its own. He triggered the separation by shouting “Split!” and then reassembled himself by shouting “Xam!” This Captain Marvel had a young human ward named (coincidentally enough) Billy Baxton. Unfortunately for him, this Captain Marvel series (which was based on a character created by Carl Burgos) was short-lived as the previous Captain’s Legal issues blossomed anew when Marvel Comics (Formerly Timely) sued M. F. Enterprises over the use of the word “Marvel” in the title which led to M.F. ceasing publication after only five issues.

Then, in 1967 Marvel first introduced its own Captain Marvel character. This time he was — once again — an alien. Mar-Vell was a Kree warrior, from a race of warriors hailing from a planet named Hala. He spent the next 15 years superheroing throughout the Marvel universe, until he was exposed to radioactive chemicals and contracted cancer. Mar-Vell died in 1982 in one of Marvel Comic’s earliest graphic novels (written and illustrated by Jim Starlin). Soon after (in order to maintain the copyright on the name) the mantle “Captain Marvel” was adopted by police captain, Monica Rambeau, who held the moniker from ‘82 to ‘96, when she became Photon, and the name was passed to Genis-Vell (Mar-Vell’s son) who held it from ‘95 to ‘05. From Genis-Vell the mantle was passed over by his sister; Phyla-Vell who held it from ‘04 to ‘07. Then in 2012 the title was assumed by Carol Danvers.

Carol — who has been connected to Mar-Vell since his earliest days — acquired powers from her connection to Mar-Vell and was known as Ms. Marvel who from ‘77 to ‘82. (In 2013, the title of Ms. Marvel was adopted by the teenage Kamala Khan, a Pakistani American (who happens to be Muslim) from Jersey City. Khan has shape-shifting abilities who discovered that she possessed Inhuman genes in the aftermath of the “Inhumanity” storyline. Danvers herself went from calling herself Ms. Marvel to Binary then Warbird before settling on Captain Marvel. Meanwhile Monica Rambeau went from Captain Marvel to Photon, to Pulsar, and beginning in 2013, Spectrum. Genis-Vell went from Captain Marvel to Photon (causing Rambeau to change to Pulsar) while Phyla-Vell becomes Quasar (which she took over from Wendell Elvis Vaughn — who was also known as Marvel Boy and Marvel Man), and then ultimately Martyr.

Oh, and as for the Big Red Cheese himself, after Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel-related comics in 1953 (due to the copyright infringement suit from DC) he and his family languished in limbo until 1972 when Fawcett sold the rights to Captain Marvel to DC. DC then licensed the Marvel Family characters, and returned them to publication; by ‘91, DC had acquired all rights to the various Marvel Family characters and went on to integrate Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family into the DC Universe. However, due to the fact that Marvel Comics now owned the trademark to the name “Captain Marvel”; DC chose to re-brand the character using the trademark Shazam!. In 2011DC relaunched the property, officially renaming the character “Shazam” and his associates became known as the “Shazam Family” the following year

As noted at the start of this article, this year, we are being treated to the cinematic debut of Carol Danvers as Marvel’s Captain. What we didn’t say (but everyone should already know by now), is that we are also being treated to a return to the silver screen of DC’s/(Fawcett’) Captain Marvel/Billy Batson nee Shazam!. Our review of that film now appears right here. In the meantime, all hail (all of) the Captains Marvel!