Monday, January 4, 2016

Superman Vs Captain Marvel: A Brief Comparison

In this article I wanted to point out two differences between the Captain Marvel and Superman that might not be obvious on the surface.  Let me also state up front that I write this with all due respect to Superman and Captain Marvel fans.  I'm of the opinion that there is no need to run down and put down someone else's hero.  Heroes are like family to us, and if you mess with our hero, you've insulted us as well!  

Captain Marvel and Superman do have many things in common.  Both Superman and Captain Marvel can fly.  They both can leap tall buildings in a single bound and are faster than a speeding bullet.  Billy Batson and Clark Kent are both in the news industry.  But now consider two seemingly small differences below that truly make a big difference between the two characters.

  • Superman is always Superman - even when he is disguised as Clark Kent he continues to have his super powers.
  • Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel.  Billy Batson has no super powers at his disposal until he says the magic word, "Shazam!" and becomes Captain Marvel,  possessing the powers of six heroes/gods.

  • Superman's powers on earth depend on the difference atmospheric/gravitational differences between the Earth and Krypton.  Superman on Krypton would not have the same super powers that he has on earth and he would not be a super man! (Note: The explanation for Superman's powers on Earth have evolved and changed over time.)
  • Captain Marvel's powers remain constant regardless of location.

Captain Marvel and Superman are both remarkable heroes.  Both have a tremendous army of fans and rightfully so.  They both have some powers in common, but they also have some significant differences that their respective fans can truly appreciate.


  1. Wow, it appears I maxed out the comment length, so here's Part 1 of 2 of my thoughts!

    Thank you for digging into and briefly hitting on some of the differences between the characters, as a fan of both characters it drives me nuts when I see them compared as a 1:1 swap, or surrogates for each other (Superman is my favorite, Captain Marvel is definitely in my top 5, right now I probably have him as 3rd favorite after Captain America). Really the only thing they have in common is dark hair and being incredible powerful. The nature/source of their powers is incredibly different, as are the powers themselves.
    They both share flight, invulnerability, and super do a lot of other super heroes created not only in the Golden Age, but today in modern comics as well.
    Superman's powers come from science or his unique alien physiology, whereas Captain Marvel's powers are obviously magic based.
    As you mentioned, the explanation of how Superman's power work have changed many times over his 78 year history, as has his power set itself. Me personally I'm kind of partial to the origin told in the early 1939 Newspaper strips where Krypton was home to a race of Supermen, as far as a logic and reasoning standpoint that always made for sense for some of Superman's powers like X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, Freeze Breath, etc. that weren't tied to the gravity differences between the 2 worlds. So obviously in that case, some of Superman's powers would be constant, regardless of where he was, but many of them like super strength and invulnerability, would be tied to worlds with less gravitational pull, much like Edgar Rice Burrough's character John Carter and his exploits on Mars.
    Which is another important point, I've heard a lot of people make the argument that technically every brightly-clad, costumed superhero is a derivative of Superman, and while one could make an argument for that, you can't discount the multiple influences that Superman is derived from as well. He is by no means a purely unique or original concept, Siegel very clearly drew much inspiration from Philip Wylie's 1930 novel "The Gladiator." Really the experimental aspect of Superman was taking that power set and putting it in a bright costume for display as a public hero in the spotlight, which nowadays of course seems like a no-brainer. Other heroes obviously followed the costume motif but took their inspiration from the Pulp heroes and detectives. Obviously the Pulps really served as pre-cursor to comic books, as did the popularity of syndicated newspaper strips that had been around since the 1800's. In my own head I can't help but credit the pioneers of the serialized Pulps like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard as kind of the hidden grease behind the comic book industry, had their work on characters like Tarzan, John Carter, and Conan the Barbarian not had such an impact in the Pulp magazines starting in the early 1900's, I don't know if there would have been a precedent or popularity set for serialized adventure stories starring reoccurring action characters that could eventually transition into the new comic book medium in the mid 1930's. But that's just my opinion.

    -Kyle Benning, of King-Size Comics Giant-Size Fun

  2. Part 2 of 2

    Anyways, Captain Marvel is truly unique in the wish-fulfillment aspect of kids wanting to become a hero. Just an ordinary child, with a heart of gold, and purity and innocence about them can become the Earth’s Mightiest Mortal by saying a magic word. How cool is that? It is THEE Great American Fairy Tale. That is such a special, unique take on a character that isn’t shared by anyone else in comics outside of the Marvel Family. Screw being a kid sidekick like Bucky, Robin, or Black Terror’s sidekick Tim Roland, I want to be Billy Batson & Captain Marvel, regular kid with the ability to summon the most incredible super powers known to man by simply saying “SHAZAM!” And while later on in comics more teenage heroes would pop-up, some with incredible super powers, but none of those other young heroes, at least in my eyes, captures the wonder or excitement of being able to go from regular kid to Mightiest Mortal in the blink of an eye. No green skin, no mutant powers making you an outcast, no need for radioactive spiders, no you can simply be a regular ol kid, trying your best to be a good kid, with a heart of gold, and someday you may be deemed worthy to inherit the Wisdom of Solomon, Strength of Hercules, Stamina of Atlas, Power of Zeus, Courage of Achilles, and Speed of Mercury. And that’s pretty dang cool.
    Also, you can’t discount that Captain Marvel actually beat Superman to the punch in flight! The first signs of Superman flying showed up in the Adventures of Superman Radio Serial in 1940, which made its broadcast debut across the airwaves on February 12th 1940. Captain Marvel’s debut in Whiz Comics #2 went on sale in early December 1939 (The first hero to actually display the power of flight was Namor the Sub-Mariner earlier in 1939). Many people point to Action Comics #65, released in August of 1943 as being the first time Superman flies in the comics, I disagree with that, I think he clearly is depicted flying in Superman’s Christmas Adventure #1 from 1940, but regardless, Captain Marvel still beats him to the punch in flight.
    So it’s sad really that the DC Lawsuit for copyright infringement ended Captain Marvel’s run in 1953. The misconception is that DC won, they didn’t, Fawcett just deemed it was no longer worth it financially to sink money into the court case while Captain Marvel’s sales were dropping in the early 50’s due to a decline in popularity of Superhero Genre comics. It’s crazy to think that the Superhero genre would be revitalized just 3 years later with the Silver Age versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and so many others, when Superhero comic characters, save for a handful, had all but disappeared by early 1951. Then again, at that time most readers weren’t “lifers” like us, the comic companies typically believed that their readership audience changed every 5-7 years, and there was a specific age range of readers that would read their books and then graduate on to other genres or titles.
    There are a whole lot of differences between the 2 characters, and if one had to argue that borrowing occurred, as is bound to happen in the industry both intentionally and even subconsciously, I think an argument could be made that the borrowing or influence of one to the other was probably a 2 way street. One could probably make the argument that the creation of Superboy in the mid-40’s, to retroactively give Superman costumed adventures as a boy, was an attempt to appeal to young readers that gravitated to the kid-hero aspect of Captain Marvel.
    Great post, obviously it got the wheels turning in my head quite a bit on the subject.

    -Kyle Benning of the King-Size Comics Giant-Size Fun Podcast

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Kyle! You have shared a wealth of information and I appreciate it. What really got me started on this article was the way fans - and even DC themselves - always want to pit Superman and Captain Marvel against one another. It really diminishes both characters when they do that. There's plenty of room in the DC Universe for both of them. Thanks again for your comments - I learned a lot from them!

  3. Comic books are released, generally, 2 months ahead of the cover date. Whiz Comics #2 (which is really #1) is cover dated February 1940. When was the issue actually released? I mean what exact date, e.g. December 7, 1939; December 31, 1939; January 2, 1940, etc.? Thanks.