Sorry, what was that? Could you say your name a bit louder sir? Oh, now you’re a small boy. That’s odd.
It’s a tall order to completely baffle the comic book reading public. All six of us are fairly used to character reversals, costume changes and universe-spanning catastrophes by now.
Rename one of the most powerful superheroes in comics though and the fanboys and fangirls are totally stumped, while the rest of the world carries on turning.
DC did exactly that today with Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns’ revelation via the New York Post that the big red cheese, Captain Marvel, is ditching his name to take up the moniker of his 3,000-year-old wizard mentor, Shazam. The 72-year-old superhero will make his debut appearance in Justice League #7 on 21 March.
Johns admitted a few factors influenced DC’s choice to lose the Captain Marvel name. Mostly, however, it was because “a lot of people already thought that was his name, anyway”. Brace yourselves for Aquaman’s relaunch as Fishpants during New 53 in 2013.
What’s so weird about changing names? Characters are called different things all the time, right? Over at Marvel, Hulk was Joe Fixit and The Professor for a while, Hawkeye became Ronin, and Galactus only knows how many identities Hank Pym’s had. DC have played the name game already this year too by linking the upcoming World’s Finest team of Power Girl and Huntress to the names Supergirl and Robin.
There’s only one problem with Captain Marvel calling dibs on Shazam. Admiral Acronym would be more appropriate. Whenever teenager Billy Batson says the magic word SHAZAM he calls on six mystical powers bestowed by the wizard Shazam. A lightning bolt strikes the boy and he turns into the fully grown Captain.
So let’s recap that. Theoretically, otaku should love Captain Marvel. Every time Billy says the word Shazam he transforms. It’s kind of like cutting out the middle-man and rebranding Power Rangers to Itsmorphintime. Except in that case the pain-relief industry might sue.
On the subject of lawsuits, the history of the Captain Marvel name is a long and storied one. Marvel and DC have published characters called Captain Marvel, but the DC version originated at Fawcett Comics only a few years after Superman and Batman.
Over decades, DC pressured Fawcett legally and claimed their Captain Marvel infringed on the intellectual property of Superman. Let’s not go into the Siegel and Shuster debate. By the ’90s DC owned the rights to Fawcett’s Captain Marvel and his various relatives, including Elvis Presley’s boyhood favourite, Captain Marvel Jr.
At Marvel, they actually picked up the copyright of the name Captain Marvel when Fawcett dropped the ball. Marvel’s Captain Marvel, the Kree warrior Mar-Vell – no Superman infringement there – popped his clogs in the company’s first graphic novel.
The trademark has stayed at the House of Ideas’ with periodic revivals of the name. Most recently, Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy Noh-Varr took up the Captain Marvel identity during Dark Reign. Even more recently, Noh-Varr is now called Protector. Go figure.
Modern characters have resembled the Golden Age Fawcett Comics Captain Marvel too. Malibu Comics’ Prime and Mark Millar and Leinil Yu’s Superior spring to mind as good examples. A rose by any other name.
Confused yet? Putting aside the renaming announcement, it’s interesting to note that Captain Marvel’s newly hooded look is reminiscent of the New 52’s mystery woman Pandora.
Apparently, Johns’ Justice League has hinted Pandora once worked for an agency called the Circle of Eternity. The wizard Shazam resided in the Rock of Eternity. Chinstroking o’clock, friends.
Maybe it’s finally time for DC to put the Captain Marvel association behind them, but with the wisdom of Solomon we ask: how much more mileage can DC get out of relaunches?
Read our discussion of Pandora’s identity here.