Why did DC Comics’ Captain Marvel change his name?

Christopher Baggett
Captain Marvel, throughout the Marvel and DC universe

The Captain Marvel at DC Comics debuted years before the Marvel character did, so why did DC have to change the character’s name?

It’s hard to imagine, but the Captain Marvel of DC comics made his debut decades before Marvel took a swing at the character. Originally published by Fawcett Comics, Billy Batson is a young boy bestowed with the power of ancient gods when he says the magic word Shazam! 

But flash forward to 2023, and Captain Marvel has all but dropped the name, while a multitude of heroes have used the identity at Marvel

The DC iteration of Captain Marvel has been incredibly popular over the years, but legal snafus and copyright issues mean the character has had to go by Shazam ever since 2011’s New 52 reboot. So how did Captain Marvel get to the point that he lost his name? 

Why Fawcett Comics stopped publishing Captain Marvel comics

Fawcett Publications was a smaller press publisher started in the wake of Batman and Superman’s success. They published their own superhero, Captain Marvel, starting in 1940’s Whiz Comics #2. 

Captain Marvel drew direct inspiration from Superman. He had similar powers, but they were derived from gods instead of being an alien. He wasn’t a journalist, but he worked for a radio station. Most importantly, as opposed to a grown man, Captain Marvel was secretly Billy Batson, a young boy who transformed into an adult with the magic word Shazam. 

Captain Marvel makes his debut in Whiz Comics #2
With a magic word, Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel, Earth’s mightiest mortal

The stories were successful, but that just meant they caught the eyes of DC Comics. DC filed suit against Fawcett, alleging that Captain Marvel infringed on its Superman copyright. The legal war was a lengthy one, including years of litigation and a retrial. 

In the end, it was ruled that Captain Marvel himself was not copyright infringing, but many of his stories were too similar to early Superman adventures. In 1953, Fawcett paid a $400,000 settlement and agreed to never publish Captain Marvel comics again. 

Why DC’s Shazam is no longer called Captain Marvel

With superheroes out of fashion after World War II, Fawcett, like other publishers, attempted to venture into horror comics with limited success. Fawcett Comics would close its doors in 1953. By the time Captain Marvel got another shot at comics, it was the 1970s. 

Superhero comics had come back into fashion as the generation that read them during the war grew into adulthood. Carmine Infantino, the artist responsible for creating Silver Age DC hits like The Flash and Batgirl, was the publisher for DC by this time. He opted to give Captain Marvel a new lease on life, licensing the characters from Charlton to publish under DC Comics.

It wasn’t going to be that easy, though. In the decades in between, Marvel Comics had pounced on the dormant licensing opportunity, publishing their own Captain Marvel. Unable to reference the character in the title of the comic, Captain Marvel’s adventures were instead published under the title Shazam!

Captain Marvel arrives in Kingdom Come
Appearances in books like Kingdom Come not only boosted Captain Marvel’s popularity but informed readers what a big deal he was.

Captain Marvel would dance around the issue for years, appearing as a supporting character in more popular books and headlining a few titles of his own, like The Power of Shazam. He also made huge cameos that reminded fans of his popularity, like his shocking appearance in Kingdom Come. With the New 52 reboot, DC opted to rebrand the character, dropping the Captain Marvel moniker entirely. 

For a time, he would go by the name Shazam. In-universe, this caused issues as he couldn’t say his own name without transforming. In more recent stories, Billy has begun experimenting with new code names and appears to have settled on The Captain. 

To read more about Billy Batson’s quest for the perfect codename, Shazam is available monthly from DC Comics. For more Shazam and DC Comics news, be sure to follow all of Dexerto’s coverage