Earlier this year, another tie to my lost youth was cut. My very favorite comic book character, Captain Marvel, was sent off into the sunset.
In my youth, Captain Marvel was, along with Superman, one of the leading superheroes in our universe. They never worked together. Captain Marvel had his own comic books and own big city, Fawcett City, to work in. Superman (and later Superwoman and Superboy) had different comic books and worked in Metropolis.
I rooted for Captain Marvel. Bandits could be holding up a bank while nearby Billy Batson was crossing the street. Batson would shout this command: SHAZAM!! A jagged lightning bolt would come down from the sky and smack him, which turned him immediately into Captain Marvel, complete with cape, sleek indestructible uniform and boots. Then he’d fly over and pick up the bandits and haul them off to jail. Then, he’d say SHAZAM!! again and turn back into Billy Batson crossing the street.
Superman, by contrast, didn’t get his superpowers by a bolt from heaven. He was Superman, right there, with his uniform on as underclothes and over that his disguise—a hat, glasses, business suit and tie and a fake name, Clark Kent, who was this harmless, bungling newspaper reporter.
He’d see a burglar—he still does this—and he’d run into a closet or bathroom or, more often than not, a telephone booth and take off all his Clark Kent clothes. He’d bound out as Superman and just jump off into space to fly over and take the bandits off to jail, then go back to where he left his disguise and put it back on.
This was very dishonest is what I thought back then. He’s lying to everyone. I was seven years old.
I told my friends that I preferred Captain Marvel. Some of them agreed with me. Others went with the liar.
Anyway, Captain Marvel is going out the door. The owners of this superhero character have created an entirely new superhero to take his place. He looks a lot like Captain Marvel, but he has different clothes. And he goes by a different name: Shazam. Yes. They have a new character who is named what Captain Marvel used to have to say in order to get his superpowers.
This is a terribly unfair thing to do to Captain Marvel. It’s bad enough they don’t want him in Fawcett City anymore. Now they have this new Shazam fellow, so if Captain Marvel says Shazam, he gets nothing, but this new fellow shows up? What the hell is that?
Fawcett City, by the way, patrolled by Captain Marvel, is a really nice city. In contrast, Superman’s city, Metropolis, is a dump. Was then. Is now. Shazam will have a very nice city to strut around in, thanks to Captain Marvel.
The only other comic book superheroes in my youth that mattered enough for me to remember were Batman and Robin, the Shadow, the Phantom and Spider–Man. The Phantom had super strength but otherwise just sort of snuck around finding himself in the right place at the right time. Spider-Man couldn’t fly, but he could weave enormously large webs onto the sides of skyscrapers and swing from them to get from place to place. As for the Shadow, he was invisible. He could just walk through walls and nobody could see him. He’d just scare the bad guys into surrendering. He’d use an invisible telephone to call the commissioner to send some cops over to make the arrest and the commissioner would.
I didn’t give much of a hoot about Batman and Robin, either. It seemed they lived in an extremely well appointed apartment hollowed out inside a cave. Batman was actually a millionaire bachelor named Bruce Wayne. It’s never been explained how Bruce Wayne turns into Batman, or invokes Batman, or gets zapped to become Batman, but he does. He also has a sidekick, both before and during the time he is Batman, whose name is Robin. They are called to a crime scene by the commissioner shining a giant searchlight with the image of a bat on it into the night sky. I don’t know how they’d get them during the day. Come to think of it, bats sleep during the day. Batman has a neat car and it gets him where he needs to go fast. I wasn’t impressed with Batman or Robin or anyone else. I loved Captain Marvel.
I was concerned enough about Captain Marvel to want to know why he was being retired after all these years. Had he done something wrong? Had he been seriously injured? Would he retire on a pension?
What I learned is this. Years ago, Superman sued Captain Marvel for loss of business, saying that Superman held the copyright to all of the superpowers. And Superman won. So now, Captain Marvel can’t even use his own name—this gets worse by the minute—and has been beaten, not by an evil monster, alien or bad guy, but by some lawyers. This is just so sad.
There are other superheroes, more recently come on the scene, that live by magic words. Johnny Thunder turns himself into Thunderbolt by shouting “cei-u.” There’s somebody in Harry Potter who kills people by uttering a curse “Avada Kedavra” which is pretty close to abracadabra. But that seems to be it.
If anybody knows Captain Marvel, give him this message. If there is anything I can do, just let me know.