clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Marvels’ place-swapping hijinks are an old tribute to Billy Batson and Shazam

Because comics are just like that

Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) looks confused in Kamala Khan’s bedroom, which is decorated with Carol Danvers memorabilia and fanart in Ms. Marvel. Image: Marvel Studios
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Today’s trailer for The Marvels, the upcoming superhero movie starring Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, and Iman Vellani, is about one thing only: Swapping places!

It’s a good indication that the Captain Marvel sequel, due in November, will be all about the space-travel shenanigans that occur when Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) starts erratically trading places with space agent Monica Rambeau (Spectrum) and intergalactic savior Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel).

It’s a fun gimmick for a Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, but it’s also got roots in the Marvel Comics canon of Captain Marvel. But if we go even farther back, it really starts with one of DC Comics’ flagship superheroes.

How did bodyswapping become a Captain Marvel thing?

Zachary Levi as Shazam points into the camera and smiles, with members of his hero family behind him, in Shazam! Fury of the Gods Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Years before Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel, the role was held by an alien guy named Mar-Vell (played by Annette Bening in Captain Marvel). And the reason that Marvel had a Captain Marvel character at all was because the company had snatched up the trademark to an older, very popular superhero called Captain Marvel. Today, thanks in part to that trademark grab, we know that character as Shazam.

When Marvel Comics picked up the Captain Marvel trademark, Shazam was still a kid who yelled a magic word and swapped places with an adult superhero, but for another set of ironic reasons, Fawcett Comics hadn’t published a story about him since before Marvel Comics was even called Marvel Comics. So, as you can imagine, Marvel was pretty gung ho to make their own Captain Marvel a hit with readers.

And in one of those early attempts, Marvel creators Roy Thomas and Gil Kane decided to lean into it. Instead of an alien with energy powers, they paired Mar-Vell up with a teenage sidekick named Rick Jones and trapped him in the Negative Zone.

Fortunately, Rick had a pair of bracers called the Nega-Bands, which he could activate to swap places with Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell would appear wherever Rick had been standing, and Rick would take his place in the Negative Zone — pretty much the same arrangement as Billy Batson and his superhero buddy. At least until DC Comics snapped up the copyright to Billy Batson from Fawcett, kicking off a character cold war between Marvel and DC that stretched all the way to the 2010’s.

How are Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel trading places?

(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, holding up her hand, which is glowing with strange energy, and Matt Lintz as Bruno in Ms. Marvel. Image: Marvel Studios

It’s all about the bangle — in the events of Ms. Marvel on Disney Plus, Marvel rewrote Kamala Khan’s comics origin story, tying her powers to her genetic mutation and a family heirloom. And in one of the show’s final scenes, we saw Kamala’s bangle inexplicably pulse with energy and send Kamala flying across the room, only for Carol Danvers to pick herself up from the floor.

Ms. Marvel didn’t tell us much more about Kamala’s bracelet, only that it was passed down to her from her great-grandmother, who was a refugee from another dimension. But there’s also some indication that it’s Kree in origin — the same militant alien race that kidnapped and brainwashed Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel. We can certainly expect to find out more about the mysterious piece of jewelry in The Marvels, which hits theaters on Nov. 10.

The next level of puzzles.

Take a break from your day by playing a puzzle or two! We’ve got SpellTower, Typeshift, crosswords, and more.