Shazam! Vs. Captain Marvel: The Bizarre Battle Over a Name

Oddly enough, despite Captain Marvel seeming fairly reminiscent of both Wonderman and Master Man, Detective Comics. Inc. (by this point, they had also created a new company just to handle their Superman-related products, dubbed Superman, Inc.) did not sue Fawcett right away. All of 1940 and most of 1941 passed without incident.

The turning point occurred when Superman, Inc. was rebuffed in an attempt to release a Superman film serial with Republic Pictures.

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You might be familiar with the Superman cartoons that were released by the Fleischer Studios animation studio in conjunction with Paramount Pictures...

Superman, Inc. did not believe that its deal with Paramount for the Superman animated films precluded Superman, Inc. from doing a live action film serial, as well, but apparently the deal did, in fact, prevent Superman from making his live action film debut in a serial for Republic.

Instead, Republic just decided to do a Captain Marvel serial, instead...

Seeing what could have been its Superman film on the silver screen was too much for Superman, Inc,, so the company sued Fawcett Publications, Inc. and Republic Studios for copyright infringement in September of 1941.

The issue, of course, is that the lawsuit was about to be interrupted by a little matter of a world war. In December of 1941, the United States' naval base in Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. Thus, the lawsuit was delayed for a number of years.

During this period, Superman continued to do tremendous sales....

However, Captain Marvel sold even better at times during the 1940s, with 1944 being a highwater mark for Captain Marvel and his ever-growing "Marvel Family" of heroes, like Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel...

They were averaging a million copies sold at one point!

The trial finally began in 1948, by which point Detective Comics, Inc. and Superman, Inc. were now part of National Comics Publications, hence the lawsuit being titled National Comics Publications, Inc. v. Fawcett Publications, Inc (Republic Studios was also dropped from the lawsuit by this point).

The companies went back and forth in court trying to prove whether Captain Marvel was similar enough to Superman to infringe on his copyright. In 1950, the court ruled in favor of Fawcett, but only on a procedural issue (some of the Superman comic strips were accidentally released without copyright notices on them, thus the court ruled that National had abandoned its copyright). Even while ruling in favor of Fawcett, the court noted that it believed that Fawcett had infringed on National's copyright, it just believed that National had abandoned that copyright, so it didn't matter.

In 1951, National appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where Judge Learned Hand, one of the most famous judges in American history (who had only recently been appointed to the Court of Appeals. He had actually presided over the aforementioned Detective v. Burns case years earlier), overturned the initial ruling and found that only the copyright on those individual mislabeled comic strips had been abandoned, not the general Superman copyright. Hand, too, found that Fawcett had infringed on National's copyright and sent the case back down to the lower courts to determine how much they had infringed.

Sales on Fawcett's comic book line had dropped considerably in the late 1940s/early 1950s, so rather than continue to fight the issue in court, Fawcett agreed to cease publication of its comic book line (the magazine line continued well into the 1980s) and paid National $400,000 in damages. Fawcett's last issue of Captain Marvel Adventures came out in 1953.

Amusingly, L. Miller and Son, a British comic book company that had been publishing Captain Marvel reprints, decided to continue the comics themselves, with Captain Marvel becoming Marvelman...

Captain Marvel was now, for all intents and purposes, dead.

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