Young Justice recently acknowledged the complications sparked by the Captain Marvel / Shazam naming controversy and how it affected Mary Marvel.
Warning: the following contains SPOILERS for Young Justice temporada 4, episodio 9, “¡Odnu!”
Young Justice Season 4 addressed the question of how he’s handling the Captain Marvel/Shazam naming controversy, which was sparked by the complicated copyright dispute between DC Comics and Marvel Comics. He did this by entering the Young Justice version of Mary Marvel as Zatanna’s apprentice and referencing her complicated past as a superhero. This past was further complicated by Mary being unable to say what her superhero name had been for some unspecified reason, in what was clearly a clever nod to the show not wanting to mention her parent company’s main rival.
The controversy surrounding the original Captain Marvel (now called Shazam) and his name is one of the most fascinating and controversial in American comic book history. Captain Marvel was originally created for Fawcett Comics in 1940, but became the property of DC Comics following a lawsuit that claimed Captain Marvel was a clear Superman scam. DC Comics attempted to start publishing new Captain Marvel stories, only to find that Marvel Comics had trademarked Captain Marvel’s name for their own use. This led to an agreement between the two companies that DC Comics could continue to publish comics featuring the original Captain Marvel character and could use the Captain Marvel name, but they were unable to use the Captain Marvel name in any book title or logo. This led an entire generation to think that the codename for the classic Captain Marvel was “Shazam“Which was the name of the wizard who gave Billy Batson the power to transform into Captain Marvel by saying his name. Rather than fight him, DC Comics picked up the character’s story in 2012 and began calling out Billy Batson’s alter ego Shazam.
This controversy raised some interesting questions for Young Justice, which featured Billy Batson using the Captain Marvel name in its first two seasons. The character was credited as Shazam in the only episode of Young Justice season 3 in which he had a speaking role, “Triptych,” but his name was not said during the episode. The series finally broached the subject in Young Justice Season 4, Episode 9, “Odnu!” which introduced the Earth-16 version of Mary Bromfield (aka Mary Marvel) as one of Zatanna’s apprentices. The episode revealed that Mary was trying to find a way to express her magical powers as magic spells, rather than using her magic to enhance her body as she had done in the past.
When one of Zatanna’s other students, Khalid Nassour, asked Mary what Zatanna had meant when she said “you keep thinking too much like a superhero, “Mary began to explain that she”used to be a superhero named Sergeant …But then it was cut off before the Marvel world could say. (His original superhero codename had been Sergeant Marvel in the comics.) Mary then tried to explain that she had the power of Shazam, but had to cut herself again before she said the name of the wizard Shazam and made herself lose her powers. Embarrassed, Mary admitted that she couldn’t actually say the name herself, allowing Zatanna’s third apprentice, Thirteen, to mockingly mutter the name.Shazam” for her.
While this was all played for a laugh and doubled down as a reference to a comic book joke where Captain Marvel Jr. couldn’t say his own name as he had to say the name.Captain Marvel“To activate his powers, it was also a clever way of circling the question of what name Billy Batson is using in the reality of Young Justice now. It seems that Billy has not only adopted the Shazam name on Earth-16, but that the show’s producers don’t risk using the name of DC Comics’ commercial rival. Of course, this hasn’t stopped them from referencing their wonderful competitor in other ways, like parodying Spider-Man with the evil Black Spider.