I have made no secret of the fact that my all-time favorite superhero is Captain Marvel. Though known primarily as “Shazam” by less-cultured folks, Captain Marvel debuted from Fawcett Comics in 1940 and was pretty much the top-selling superhero in comics until 1953, when his publisher decided to cut their losses after years of a nagging copyright infringement suit filed by National Periodical Publications, now known as DC Comics, the publishers of Superman.
The suit had little merit, but questionable rulings in appeals courts, coupled with a massive decline in comic book sales, convinced Fawcett Publications to give up. Fawcett decided to quit the comic book business and paid off DC, agreeing never to publish Captain Marvel again without DC’s permission.
Mired in another comic book sales slump in 1972, DC made an agreement to lease (and later purchase outright) Captain Marvel so they could publish him themselves. Unfortunately, during the time Captain Marvel was out of the public eye, Marvel Comics trademarked the name for their own character (they didn’t want anyone else publishing a book with “Marvel” in the title after Myron Fass had released his own legendarily-awful character with that name) so DC had to go with “Shazam” as the title of their book (actually the full title was “With One Magic Word, Shazam”).
The character went on to star in his own live-action Saturday morning program and during the 1970s was one of DC’s four most-visible heroes. Kids in the 1940s and the 1970s fell in love with Billy Batson, who could turn into the super-powered Captain Marvel just by saying “Shazam.” DC had mixed results with the character in terms of sales, though, and the original Captain Marvel has been rebooted, with great versions and not-so-great versions many times over the years.
But tonight we go back to the original incarnation of the hero at the height of his popularity for the entire 12-chapter serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. from 1941. This is widely considered to be the greatest superhero movie serial from the golden age of Hollywood, and while it’s not entirely faithful to the comic book, it’s a great adaptation and a lot of fun.
So set aside three and a half hours and enjoy the show, or order the DVD, which has just been released, so you can watch one chapter at a time. Either way, this is the REAL Captain Marvel, not a lady using the name, or a big dumb guy calling himself “Shazam.”