DC’s Captain Marvel Officially Changing His Name to the Non-Trademark Infringing ‘Shazam’
“Well, there are a lot of reasons for the change,” Johns said. “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.”
If one of those reasons seems a little vague, Johns does promise that the change will make sense within the story itself, which Johns is creating with his Action Comics and Batman: Earth-One artist collaborator Gary Frank.
This also isn’t the first time DC has tried to change the Captain’s name in order to make the name of the star match the title of the comic.
The character was originally created in 1940 for the long-defunct publisher Fawcett Comics, who ceased publication of their Captain Marvel in the early 50s under legal pressure from DC Comics, who claimed the character infringed on Superman. In 1967, while that Captain Marvel was still in publishing limbo, Marvel Comics created their own character with the name of “Captain Marvel,” and trademarked it. So when DC eventually gained the rights to publish former rival Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, they couldn’t call him that on the covers of any books featuring him.
Instead DC has focused on “Shazam,” which is both the name of the ancient wizard who granted young orphan Billy Batson the magical ability to transform into the Superman-like Captain Marvel and the magic word by which the transformation is affected. So DC’s 1970s revival was titled simply Shazam!, and over the years we’ve seen books entitled The Power of Shazam, Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil, The Trials of Shazam, Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam and now, of course, Johns and Frank’s upcoming Curse of Shazam.
It was during 2006’s Trials series, by writer Judd Winick, that DC most recently tried changing the Captain’s name. In that story, Captain Marvel took the place of the dead wizard Shazam, taking the still legally problematic name “Marvel.” Meanwhile Captain Marvel’s protegee, Captain Marvel Jr., took over for Captain Marvel, and started going by the name “Shazam.” (If the previous sentences don’t make a whole lot of sense, you can see why Winick’s reorganization of the franchise didn’t last long).
Everyone “outside of comics” thinks Captain Marvel is Shazam anyway, and the long under-discussion movie, which Johns also discusses in the same interview, will also be called Shazam, so why not just change the character’s name to fit public perception?
Depending on how dramatically Johns reboots Captain Marvel’s origin, the name-change could prove rather problematic for the character in the story itself. After all, every time Billy Batson says “Shazam,” there’s a roar of thunder, and he’s struck by a bolt of magical lightning, transforming him into Captain Marvel. And every time Captain Marvel says “Shazam,” the same thing happens, only he transforms back into Batson. But if the word that gives him power doubles as his code name, will Batson be afraid to speak it for fear of exposing his secret identity, thereby rendering him powerless?
What do you think about the name change? Let us know in the comments.