I was sent to the Special Collections Book Room with the task of finding items that exemplify the scope of the collection and could make interesting social media posts. In other words, to find cool stuff and take pictures of it. One of the last items Wendy Hall, Special Collections Librarian, showed me on my trip was a limited edition reprinting of the original Mary Marvel comic by Fawcett Publishing. What? As someone who has recently began to delve into the world of comics (see: Gwen Poole, Future Quest, Doom Patrol, Snotgirl, and X-Men), I knew enough to know that I had no idea what was going on: I had heard of Captain Marvel from DC, who was a kid? I think? But there was also Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel from Marvel, whom Rogue totally put into a coma in the X-Men animated series in the 90’s? BUT, I know that Carol is also now called Captain Marvel? Maybe? And what is Shazam? Why does she say that, I thought Shazam was also a superhero? In short, I was confused.
To be able to comprehensibly describe the item, and for my own satisfaction, I knew I had to do some research. Just by flipping through the comics, I found Mary to be part of the Marvel Family. She is a regular girl, until she utters the word “shazam,” which is how she transforms in “The World’s Mightiest Girl.” Her sidekicks are Uncle Marvel, whom I later discovered was not her real uncle, and his niece, Freckles. To better understand Mary’s origin, I researched Captain Marvel, who turns out to be Mary’s twin brother (sometimes, but bear with me).
I found that Captain Marvel was an original character by Fawcett Publishing. His civilian name is Billy Batson, and he is ten years old. A wizard named Shazam gifted him with the powers of Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed), whose names anagram the word “SHAZAM.” Just as I had seen Mary do, to activate his powers, Billy says, “shazam.” This transforms him into his adult, super-powered alter ego, Captain Marvel. In this continuity (timeline), Mary Baston is Billy’s once-lost twin sister, who is also gifted the powers of Shazam, and soon given her own spin-off series titled “Mary Marvel,” which is what we have in our collection.
My main question was still left unanswered, though: why are there so many Captain Marvels? From fan-made forums to DC and Marvel’s official websites, I searched for a definitive explanation, but no one source had the answers I was looking for. Much like any collection we process, I ended up compiling my research from many sources. What I found was that in the 1950s, DC Comics sued Fawcett for the rights to Captain Marvel and the whole Marvel Family, including Mary, over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman. As DC cleared the rights to the Captain Marvel character, however, Marvel Comics secured the title rights to “Captain Marvel” for their own superhero, Captain Marvel. In 1968, Marvel’s Captain Marvel took form in an alien military officer named Mar-Vell. Mar-vell and his successors, who would also wear the mantle of “Captain Marvel,” are completely unrelated to the shazam-ing Fawcett family. DC, however, did not want to throw away their own (acquired) Captain Marvel, so, the titles of all of DC’s Captain Marvel projects were carried out under the Marvel Family catchphrase, “Shazam.”
So, how are Marvel Marvel and Billy Baston incorporated into comics more recently? In 2011, DC cancelled all of their ongoing comics and launched 52 new series, creating a totally new continuity, complete with revamped origin stories. Billy Baston made his New 52 debut in Justice League Issue #7. In this new continuity, Billy is a foster child bounced between homes after the death of his parents. Eventually he ends up in the Velasquez home, where he has five adoptive siblings, one being Mary. In the New 52, DC also completely re-brands Billy as “Shazam,” instead of Captain Marvel, most likely to avoid confusion with Marvel’s popular, ongoing Captain Marvel series. While Mary has been temporarily given powers along with the other adopted siblings, it is not apparent whether or not she will develop powers of her own, or be given an in depth backstory in this series.
Recently, DC announced plans for a full live-action Shazam movie. Other than a loose date of 2019 and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being announced as Shazam’s main villain, Black Adam, we know nothing. Who will play young or adult Billy Baston? Which origin story will transform Billy into Shazam? Or will a completely new story be created? Will Mary make an appearance? If so, will she have powers?? Will the dynamic duo make a return to twinhood???
Questions aside, I found this small project to be really fun. It’s a perfect example of the importance research skills, inside and outside of an academic setting. Knowing where to find, how to interpret, and how to compile information are talents that allow us to process our collections, let researchers meaningfully make use of our material, and, now, help me quickly untangle a mess of Marvels.
If you want to check out the Mary Marvel comics in our special collections, just make an appointment!
Bricken, Rob. “The Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel/Shazam Clusterf*ck Explained.” Io9. N.p., 04 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-captain-marvel-ms-marvel-shazam-clusterf-ck-explai-1251423862>.
Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) – Marvel Universe Wiki: The Definitive Online Source for Marvel Super Hero Bios.” Marvel Universe Wiki RSS. Marvel, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://marvel.com/universe/Captain_Marvel_(Mar-Vell)>.
Holmes, By Adam. “Shazam: What We Know So Far.” CINEMABLEND. N.p., 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Shazam-What-We-Know-So-Far-71717.html>.
“Mary Batson (New Earth).” DC Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Mary_Batson_(New_Earth)>.
“Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) – Marvel Universe Wiki: The Definitive Online Source for Marvel Super Hero Bios.” Marvel Universe Wiki RSS. Marvel, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://marvel.com/universe/Ms._Marvel_(Carol_Danvers)>.
“SHAZAM!” DC. DC, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://www.dccomics.com/characters/shazam>.
Wilson, Matt D. “The Messed-Up History Of Marvel’s ‘Captain Marvel’ And Why It Doesn’t Matter.” Comics Alliance. Comics Alliance, 30 July 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <http://comicsalliance.com/captain-marvel-history-carol-danvers-mar-vell-shazam/>.