How The First Shazam Film Helped Lead to Captain Marvel's Departure

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Captain Marvel becoming the first superhero to star in a film inadvertently led to the character eventually ceasing publication entirely in the early 1950s.

With Captain Marvel about to get his own film (now with the character dubbed Shazam), I thought it would be interesting to note the trouble that occurred the FIRST time that Captain Marvel got his own movie.

In case you didn't know, Captain Marvel was actually the FIRST superhero (at least the first superhero who debuted in a comic book) to get his or her own movie, with the 1941 Republic Pictures movie serial dubbed The Adventures of Captain Marvel...

This was not the film that Republic Pictures WANTED to do as their first superhero film. No sir. Their original plan was to do a Superman film, but as I described in an earlier edition of Movie Legends Revealed, those plans were squelched by a threatened lawsuit by Paramount Pictures, who insisted that, despite National Comics thinking otherwise, the film deal that National had cut with Paramount for a series of Superman animated films actually covered Superman in film PERIOD, so a live action serial could not be made.

So Republic turned to Captain Marvel.

Now, after the introduction of Superman in 1938, National Comics (now DC Comics) were extremely protective of their new hero. They sued Fox Publications and their Wonder Man character...

And (likely BECAUSE they had just recently succeeded in their lawsuit against Fox over Wonder Man) they had gotten Fawcett Comics to drop their first attempt at a Sueprman-like character, Master Man...

However, it is important to note that while Master Man was sued right away, National did NOT sue Fawcett when Fawcett launched Captain Marvel in 1940's Whiz Comics #2...

It is clear that Fawcett was regularly wondering when they would get sued by National, but Captain Marvel not only did not draw a lawsuit, he even got his own ongoing series and National did not sue. Fawcett, of course, believed that the character was different enough from Superman that they SHOULDN'T have been sued, even if they clearly WERE trying to knock Superman off with the character (just with, you know, a magical twist with Captain Marvel being a 12-year-old boy who turned into Captain Marvel, Earth's Mightiest Mortal, whenever he said the word "Shazam!"). They believed he was different enough for it to be okay.

As it turned out, it was actually the MOVIE SERIAL that was the final straw for National Comics. The company was already irked that its attempt to do a movie with Republic was squelched because of their deal with Paramount, so when they saw their would-be film partners just turn to a rival instead and do a Captain Marvel movie, that was the final straw.

So, in June 1941, a couple of months after The Adventures of Captain Marvel first hit cinemas (since it was a serial, it was still in theaters when the cease and desist letters were sent. It was probably just at the end of its initial run), National sent a cease and desist to Republic Pictures to stop showing the movie and to Fawcett to stop publishing Captain Marvel comics.

They both ignored National's request and soon after, in September 1941, National (actually, in conjunction with Detective Comics, which was technically a connected but separate entity) sued both Facwett and Republic.

By the time that the case wrapped out, years had passed and Republic was dropped from the suit (Detective and National had also officially merged by then). They went back and forth on appeals until finally Fawcett decided that it was no longer selling enough Captain Marvel comic books for this to be worth it, so they settled the suit in the early 1950s and ceased making Captain Marvel comics.

Therefore, it was over a year before National actually sued. Is it possible that they were destined to eventually sue? Perhaps, but it is clear that the film was the driving force behind them suing in September 1941 and thus, being the first superhero live action film might have caused problems for ol' Captain Marvel.

The legend is...

STATUS: Basically True

Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film. Click here for more legends specifically about superhero movies!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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