Superman v. Captain Marvel
National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications

1951: Shazam!
It Takes Scarcely More than a Glance

Action Comics 1
June 1938

The markings on this cover indicate that it was evidence in the S.D.N.Y case.

Whiz Comics 2
Feb. 1940
Another Superman infringement case involved Fawcett Publishing's Captain Marvel, a boy who could turn into a costumed, super-powered man by uttering the magic word "Shazam!"  The case dragged on through the 1940s, finally resolving in the Second Circuit in 1952. Experts on both sides analyzed the various comic books.  The district court compared "facial appearances, costumes, etc., and the superhuman feats performed," although, notably, the duplication of powers in the abstract was not considered.  Comparison of the characters included an analysis of physical attributes, costumes, recounted feats, setting, dialogue, and story elements. There was also discussion of the intent of the creators to infringe, citing interviews with artists instructed to "imitate the 'Superman' strips and the dialogue and script as closely as possible."

In Judge Learned Hand's appellate opinion, he accepted the findings of infringement of the District Court and primarily detailed the arcane copyright notifications required under the now-defunct 1909 Copyright Act.  On the issue of the standard of infringement for "these silly pictures," Judge Hand stated that "a plagiarist can never excuse his wrong by showing how much he did not plagiarize." He concluded that as to the infringement of Superman, a final judgment required "scarcely more than a glance at corresponding strips of 'Superman' and 'Captain Marvel' to assure the observer that the plagiarism was deliberate and unabashed."

Action Comics 10
Mar. 1939

Whiz Comics 7
Aug. 1940

Action Comics 13
June 1939
Whiz Comics 18
June 1941

"In the beginning everyone was jumping onto the comic book bandwagon. There was no question that Captain Marvel derived from Superman . . . We had our Superman-type character just like everyone else had theirs.  So why did Superman's publisher pick on us? Simply because we were beating them in sales!  The lawsuits dragged on for years; there were three of them: We won the first, lost the second, won the third . . . but then there was a problem.  One artist, I don't know who, took either a page or a panel from Superman comics and traced it exactly . . . and simply inserted Marvel where Superman was.  That killed us.  We settled out of court.  We paid them $400,000.  The settlement said that we do not admit to copying Superman but promised never to publish Captain Marvel ever again." P.C. Hamerlinck, "The Fawcetts Could Do It As Well, Or Better, Than Anybody": The Roscoe K. Fawcett Interview, in Fawcett Companion: The Best of FC 13 (Paul Hamerlinck, ed., TwoMorrows Publishing 2001) (quoting Fawcett circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett).

Action Comics 21
Feb. 1940

Whiz Comics 10
Nov. 1940

Action Comics 26
July 1940

Whiz Comics 11
Dec. 1940

Action Comics 27
Aug. 1940

Whiz Comics 6
July 1940

Superman 6
Sep.-Oct. 1940
Whiz Comics 16
Apr. 1941
Note the similar signatures in the bottom right corner.
Superman: Very truly yours, Clark Kent (Superman)

Whiz Comics: Yours Truly Captain Marvel

Action Comics 35
Apr. 1941

Captain Marvel Adventures 12
June 1942

Superman 12
Sep-Oct. 1941

Captain Marvel Adventures 8
Mar. 1942
In subsequent years, the character would be entirely abandoned, see , and "Marvel" was adopted by Timely Comics as its new name. When DC Comics leased the rights to publish Fawcett's Captain Marvel character from then-owner Charlton, Marvel Comics immediately produced its own Captain Marvel comic book starring a new space-based superhero of the same name, to protect its trademark.  By subsequent agreement with Marvel, DC Comics can publish the adventures of Captain Marvel, but cannot use the term "Captain Marvel" on its covers or promotional materials.  Thus the DC Comics version is typically identified as "Shazam!"

Brian Cronin Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #6!, Comics Should be Good, Jul. 7, 2005,

Brian Cronin, Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #12!, Comics Should be Good, Aug. 18, 2005,

Stan Lee & Gene Colan, Out of the Holocaust: A Hero!
Captain Marvel
1 (Marvel Comics, May 1968)
 Denny O'Neil & C. C. Beck, In the Beginning,
1 (DC Comics, Feb. 1973)

The "Captain Marvel" subtitle ended with Shazam 15,
replaced with "The World's Mightiest Mortal"

Back to Main Page

Superman, Action Comics, Shazam!, Whiz Comics TM and (c) DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Captain Marvel TM and (c)  Marvel Characters, Inc.

This site is a supplement to an article in a scholarly legal journal for educational use only.
No affiliation or endorsement is actual or implied by the use of these images
Terms and Conditions of Use