Researching the history of Captain Marvel can be a daunting task. There are six different Marvel Universe characters who have used the name, and even a few at DC Comics — and that’s without mentioning the U.K.’s Captain Marvel knock-off, Marvelman, or his non-trademark-infringing U.S. version, Miracleman.
While looking into all these Captains, both Marvel and Marvel-adjacent, in advance of Captain Marvel, Polygon stumbled across one more from a very unexpected source.
Captain Carvel, of the Carvel ice cream franchise.
For decades, Carvel TV ads were known for the folksy appeal of the company’s founder and the inventor of soft-serve ice cream, Tom Carvel. Carvel was the first CEO to appear in his own company’s commercials, according to the company’s website, and his deep voice and not-exactly-news-announcer narration was memorable. Saturday Night Live even parodied it in a 1983 sketch (which has a racist joke in it and contains some slightly NSFW images, so click at your own risk).
A Carvel representative tells Polygon that Captain Carvel, the chipper cape-and-helmet-wearing mascot, was just another logical extension of Carvel’s marketing strategy.
“Once [Carvel’s marketing team] had a firm grip on print, radio and television advertising,” says the rep, “they tried some ‘out of the box’ initiatives. The launch of the comic books in 1973 was just that. They featured Captain Carvel, Freezy the Talking Cake, Mikey Icy Wycy, and many other characters. Each edition typically featured Carvel advertisements and the books were sprinkled with ‘product placements’ puzzles and games.”
Carvel stopped producing Captain Carvel promotional material in the 1980s, but bits have survived. The blog Pop Dose reproduces the entire first issue here. And you can even find pictures of Carvel signage made available to franchisees.
“When I owned the Carvel store in Cheshire, CT,” chescrowel writes on Flickr, “there was such a lack of promotional material coming from Carvel Headquarters that I decided to revive Capt. Carvel myself.”
He includes a picture of his life-sized, hand-cut and painted plywood depiction of Captain Carvel, which declares “Take home an ice cream cake today!”
“The dumb thing was really quite popular however,” chescrowel concludes. “Some students at Cheshire High School even dressed as Capt. Carvel for Halloween one year. It was so dumb that it worked.”
So there’s no connection to Captain Marvel?
Definitely not Marvel’s Captain Marvel.
Carvel was unable to tell us specifically who designed Captain Carvel’s look. But, even though Marvel began publishing Captain Marvel six years before Captain Carvel was created, he was not exactly Marvel’s best known character. It’s reasonable to assume that nobody at Carvel was aware of the similarity in the name.
Instead, Captain Carvel’s red costume, cape and yellow boots and belt are more likely to have been influenced by Fawcett (and later DC) Comics’ Captain Marvel, the best-selling superhero of the 1940s. Yes, he was even more popular than Superman at the time.
But by the time Captain Carvel came around, there hadn’t been a Fawcett Captain Marvel comic in over two decades. DC Comics had picked up the license from Fawcett and started publishing new stories under the title Shazam! in early 1973, but, again — It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Carvel’s team to have no idea that that was happening.
Captain Carvel is just a silly — and delicious — coincidence.
Speaking of delicious, did Captain Carvel have an ice cream treat?
Unfortunately, as a Carvel representative told us, no. But he did ride a Flying Saucer on at least one Carvel sign.
Some heroes burn brightly at their beginning, like Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, and some heroes take a long time to spring to pop culture popularity, like Marvel’s Captain Marvel. And some heroes, like Captain Carvel, never quite get there.
But maybe you could honor him by getting a Flying Saucer as you head to Captain Marvel or Shazam! this spring?