"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
This is the ninety-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous ninety-eight. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
This week’s installment is a special themed week – ALL CAPTAIN MARVEL URBAN LEGENDS!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Dealing with the integration of Captain Marvel into the DCUniverse caused the creation of a new superhero in the pages of Superman.
As I discussed in the second installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, after a lengthy lawsuit with DC Comics and with sales dwindling, Fawcett Comics decided to simply cease publication of their comic book superheroes, putting such notable heroes as Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. into mothballs.
This is where they remained for many years, until the late 60s, when rumors began circulating that DC was interested in dusting the old Fawcett Comic characters out of the mothballs and publishing them again.
Earlier in the 60s, Marvel began trademarking various titles that had the word Marvel in it, but it was not until they heard that DC was interested in bringing Captain Marvel back, that they rushed out their own title, called Captain Marvel, to establish their trademark (this was all detailed in a previous Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed installment here).
Still, DC continued to consider publishing the Fawcett characters, and by the early 1970s, DC pretty much had determined that they WOULD give licensing Fawcett’s superheroes a shot (DC was in a pretty strong bargaining position – as who ELSE would try to license Captain Marvel from Fawcett and risk a DC lawsuit?), but they were unsure as to HOW to do the comics.
Ultimately, DC decided to just bring the character back the same way he appeared 19 years earlier, as Captain Marvel. They just decided to title the new book Shazam!, after the magic word Billy Batson says to become Captain Marvel.
The new title debuted in early 1973.
Even though Superman appeared on the cover of Shazam! #1, he did not appear in the comic itself. The Shazam! series was set in its own separate universe (and I just don’t mean in the sense that there was Earth-1, Earth-2, etc., I mean there was no reference to the multiverse in Shazam! comics). They were basically designed as a continuation of the Fawcett line of comics.
Well, in 1974, DC figured it was about time to try to think about integrating Captain Marvel into the DC Universe proper, and what better way to do so than with an appearance in the title of their foremost superhero – the same hero who graced the cover of Shazam #1 – Superman!
More precisely, Superman #276, out in the Summer of 1974.
Elliot S! Maggin wrote the issue, and Curt Swan drew it, but DC decided it was too early to have them meet.
Thanks to commenter Vic Perfecto, we have this quote cfrom Elliot! Maggin (courtesy of the Krypton Companion):
We were trying to do the traditional Fawcet-style Captain Marvel in the Shazam! book in those days. The style of artwork was different from Superman’s. The degree of suspension of disbelief in the two story threads-Shazam! as opposed to Superman-were different. I never really believed that Superman and Captain Marvel belonged in the same story and neither did Julie. The Captain Thunder story was a piece of speculation as to what Captain Marvel might be like if he lived in the “real world.” I think Metropolis in the ’70s was what we thought of as the real world at the time.
So instead of using Captain Marvel, what did the folks making Superman #276 do?
Well, you do what all good jazz musicians do – you improvise!!!
So Superman #276 brought us Superman vs. Captain Thunder!!!
This was a reference to the Golden Age origin of Captain Marvel, as the character was ORIGINALLY named Captain Thunder, but Fawcett discovered before publication that another hero was going by that name, leading to the name change.
Thanks to Rick Meyer’s neat Comic Book Profiles site, we have some nice scans from the issue, which introduces us to Captain Thunder and his young counterpart, Willie Fawcett.
Willie rubs his mystical Indian belt buckle and shouts “Thunder” to bring down a magical starburst to turn him into Captain Thunder. Captain Thunder was given his belt of power from Merokee, last of the great medicine men of the Mohegan tribe.
As you can see, everything is basically just slightly changed – from the slight name changes to the slight costume changes, it is basically an entire issue of Captain Marvel, just with the names changed to protect the innocent.
Captain Marvel and Superman would not meet “for real” for over two years after Superman #276, in late 1976, in the pages of Justice League of America #137.
And it would not be until 1978 that we saw the oversized Collector’s Edition devoted just to Superman and Captain Marvel squaring off.
Still, you have to hand it to Maggin for coming up with a pretty clever substitution for all the Shazam backgrounds.
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