In IP Paradox, Two Captain Marvels Set to Face-off at the Box Office


DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment will face-off at the box office with characters both called Captain Marvel in movies slated for release in 2019. 

However, the trademark war was won by Marvel long ago in a twisted intellectual property case history that has allowed two costumed superheroes with the same name to live on in parallel universes. 

DC titles its comic books as Shazam!, although the character in the books goes by Captain Marvel. 

Variety recently reported that actor and singer Brie Larson is being considered for the lead role in the Marvel comic adaptation. That movie will be made by Marvel Studios, a Disney subsidiary. Warner Brothers is planning a Shazam! movie starring Dwayne Johnson. DC is a subsidiary of Time Warner

Major movie studios are clearly spending big money to bring superheroes—which are huge properties for their owners—to the screen. This summer’s big budget blockbuster season alone includes “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” ($250 million), “Captain America: Civil War” ($250 million) and “X-Men: Apocalypse” ($178 million), according to Box Office Mojo. 

 Captain Marvel has been a player in the costumed superhero world since almost the beginning of the genre’s now seven-decade history. And DC—Marvel’s big rival—was on the winning side of a copyright fight involving the character early on. 

The story starts in 1939, when Fawcett Publications entered the then-new superhero genre, debuting their Captain Marvel in Issue No. 2 of Whiz Comics. In that series, 12-year-old Billy Batson could transform into the superhero by shouting “Shazam!” 

But in 1941, the company now known as DC Comics accused Fawcett of copyright infringement, claiming Captain Marvel was a knockoff of Superman. DC had already won a similar claim against Fox Comics and its Wonderman character. 

DC prevailed and, by 1954, Fawcett had stopped publishing its Captain Marvel stories. In the late 1960s, Marvel decided to take up the abandoned Captain Marvel name for an unrelated character. 

Over the years, Marvel managed to keep the name in use, although the character wasn’t very popular until recently, by publishing a comic book with the Captain Marvel title every year or so. Each time, the character changed a bit and had a new secret identity. 

That was a good strategic move for Marvel, because it established the company as the exclusive owner of “Captain Marvel” as a trademark for superhero comics. 

Fast forward to 1977, when Marvel turned the character of Air Force pilot Carol Danvers into a superhero known as “Ms. Marvel.” Promoted in 2012 to the latest Captain Marvel, Danvers’s character is the subject of the planned movie that Larson is reportedly under consideration for.

Meanwhile, DC acquired the Fawcett portfolio and, by the 1970s, wanted to revive the Captain Marvel character but couldn’t use the title “Captain Marvel” due to Marvel’s trademark rights. So DC’s Captain Marvel has, ever since, been appearing in publications under the name Shazam!