Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Opinion: Why this is the perfect time to fight for the "Captain Marvel" name

If DC/WB/New Line were smart, they would go all out and declare war over the "Captain Marvel" name. With the Shazam! movie announced before anything relating to Marvel's fake Captain Marvel, and Dwayne Johnson signed to star as the villain Black Adam, DC can easily take ownership of the name "Captain Marvel" in the public square by issuing press statements and news items all emphasising a phrase like "DC Comics' superhero Captain Marvel", which would then be picked up and repeated by news and press services ad infinitum.

And, I suppose, Disney-Marvel would want to fight it. In the words of Dwayne Johnson, "Bring it!" Any publicity is good publicity. But I honestly doubt they would want to fight it. For 40 years Marvel had no real problem with DC's Captain Marvel, except for the fact they obviously didn't want DC to publish a comic book with the title Captain Marvel. And DC was cool with that, naming the series Shazam!, after the wizard and the magic word that gave Captain Marvel his powers.

"But, Marvel recently won full use of the name Captain Marvel." That's the one I'm hearing a lot. But no one has come up with evidence of this supposed court case that gave Marvel Comics full ownership of the name Captain Marvel. Probably because you can't own a name. Just ask the Avengers. No, not the Marvel group... the British spies who also were created before their Marvel counterparts. Besides, DC still uses the name Captain Marvel in Justice League Beyond and the upcoming Thunderworld. So that argument is obviously an urban myth.

The real reason for the name change is that the new powers-that-be at DC have kind of gotten lazy. "Well, everyone already calls him Shazam anyway". So, then by that reasoning, JJ Abrams should change Captain Kirk's name to Star Trek, since... you know, people are dumb, and they'll think that's his name anyway. Or Disney should change Luke Skywalker's name to Star Wars. But thankfully the movie isn't exclusively DC. Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema are involved. I have confidence in them that they would want to embrace the character's history, and keep the traditional name. Superman's current costume has nothing in common with the New 52, except for the lack of trunks. There is no turtleneck or bulky kryptonian armor with red piping. In fact, the emblem is a complete throw back to the golden age. Ben Affleck's Batman costume. Is it New 52? No... it's a 30 year old Frank Miller design. Wonder Woman? No, no New 52 there... just some Xena in patriotic colors (washed out, of course). So I am confident not only will Captain Marvel be wearing some sort of costumed based on the traditional one and not the hoodie-obsessed New 52, but he will have his traditional name. Depending on who the director will be, it may become very apparent very quickly.

As I said, any publicity is good publicity, and if Disney really were to cause a controversy over this, it would only benefit the public consciousness of the Shazam! movie. So, come on and say the name: Captain Marvel.

Take it away, comics legend Neal Adams...


Daniel said...

The reason DC abandoned the name "Captain Marvel" is all about marketing. Marvel owns the trademark for the name "Captain Marvel" meaning that DC is legally prohibited from marketing or publicizing their version of the character with the name.

That does not mean that they cannot use the name "Captain Marvel" in the content they create, but it does mean that they cannot reference it in any publicity materials (covers, posters, toys, packaging, etc.). It's why back in the 1970s the subhead "The Original Captain Marvel" was removed from the covers of the "SHAZAM!" comic book after a few issues and replaced with "The World's Mightiest Mortal."

A similar example would be the They Might Be Giants song, "AKA Driver" which was supposed to be called "NyQuil Driver" until the owners of the "NyQuil" trademark objected. TMBG were still allowed to use the word "NyQuil" in the song itself, but not in the title since the title would be on the (back) cover of the album.

DC is clearly anticipating the unnecessarily difficult task ahead of them in marketing the film version of the character when they can't use his name (for instance, no press releases announcing the casting of the character would be allowed to mention the character's name). It's a minefield that they clearly have chosen to avoid.

I'm sure a secondary reason they have essentially abandoned the name is because IT'S THE NAME OF THEIR BIGGEST COMPETITOR. For a company like Warner Bros. that is trying to build brand equity in the DC brand, having a character named after the competition doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It would be like Columbia Pictures releasing a film about a character called "Captain Paramount." Why give free publicity to a company whom you're trying to best?

Legally nothing has changed. The difference is that the stakes are now much, much bigger and the amount of money at play much, much greater. In the relatively low stakes world of comic book publishing (particularly with a character who is as marginally popular as Shazam/Captain Marvel (and I say this as a huge Captain Marvel fan)), the status quo was fine for all parties. But when you're now talking about potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at play, DC has chosen a different strategy. And to me, even though I love the name Captain Marvel, this strategy from an objective POV makes much more sense.

Shazamaholic said...

I could accept "Captain Shazam" as a replacement for "Captain Marvel", but to just call him "Shazam" doesn't seem right.

The funny thing is, if the Disney bid to take over Warners is successful, this will all be a moot point anyway.

Eternity said...

This character's fandom is divided and not united. Daniel represents the fans who tow the company line. What ever DC or Geoff Johns says is law, no argument. Shazamaholic represents the fans who are more individual thinkers, more rebels, and perhaps a streak of traditionalism. They will not settle for an empty shell of the character... will not blindly accept change to please corporate marketing and political correctness. Neither position is either right or wrong, but the position with the most power behind it will win.

jason said...

If DC wants to replace Captain Marvel with a similar but different character named Shazam, so be it, but what is wrong is that they also replaced Billy Batson with a similar but different character and still call him Billy Batson, which he isn't, any more than Shazam is Captain Marvel. Shazam's alter ego should not be Billy Batson. Billy Batson is Captain Marvel's alter ego. Lazy Geoff Johns should have come up with a new name for the troubled punk kid who is Shazam's alter ego (likewise for the different characters erroneously named Freddy Freeman and Mary).