James Gunn is one of Marvel Studios' top directors, the guy who got Guardians of the Galaxy off the ground when many believed he couldn't. Even now, he's helping to steer the Marvel Cinematic Universe's future in preparing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but sometimes comic book history just comes first.
After news broke last week that he'd be playing DC Comics hero Shazam! in David Sandberg's upcoming film based on the character, star Zachary Levi began referring to the character as the "original Captain Marvel" on social media. This prompted some fans to accuse Levi of disrespecting Marvel Comics (Levi has appeared in two Marvel Studios films) and its own Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, who'll have her own movie in 2019.
Gunn, a lifelong comics fan, was quick to point out that Levi is correct.
The character we now call Shazam! -- a boy named Billy Batson who has the power to transform into a powerful hero by saying "Shazam" -- was originally created in 1939 by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck for Fawcett Comics, at a time when Marvel Comics as we know it did not yet exist. The character was extremely popular in the 1940s, but National Comics -- as DC Comics was then known -- took exception, feeling that the character's overall look and power set was basically just a ripoff of their own Superman. A lengthy legal battle ensued that ultimately led to Fawcett agreeing to cease publication of comics featuring Captain Marvel in the early 1950s. In the early 1970s, DC decided to license and revive the old Fawcett characters, but by then Marvel had already trademarked their own character with the name "Captain Marvel." As the pubisher has maintained that trademark ever since, DC was forced to refer to the original Captain Marvel by a different name, and chose "Shazam!" as his new moniker. Comic book history is a wild ride.
So, while some fans may take offense to Levi referring to the character by a name now popularized by a rival publisher, he and Gunn are both correct. Billy Batson, aka Shazam!, is "the original Captain Marvel."