How do you suppose it came to be that "Captain" became the military rank most often adopted by super-heroes who did adopt a military rank as part of their super-hero code-name?

Sure, once it became established as a popular choice, there was probably a certain amount of "me-too-ism" in its adoption for subsequent characters, but how did it get so established in the first place?  Yeah, you see the odd "Sergeant" or "General" or "Major" or "Colonel", but "Captain" seems to be the most common. How come, do you think?

The only thing I can come up with is that maybe "Captain" resonates with a certain amount of authority, but not so much that it starts to have a "top brass" vibe that might not be a good fit for the "Everyman" sort of character that super-heroes tend to be.

So, what do you think?

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That's always been my assumption. Captain in the Army is equivalent to Lieutenant in the Navy -- not very far up the ranks, but still an officer capable of commanding company-size groups of men.

The success of Captain Marvel (SHAZAM!) and Captain America made it an easy trope to follow, though sometimes a character would be named "Major" Something as if that made them better than the famous Captains!



Philip Portelli said:

The success of Captain Marvel (SHAZAM!) and Captain America made it an easy trope to follow...

Has anyone ever said why "Captain" was chosen for either of those characters, though?

Captain Marvel comes from the earlier publication Captain Billy's Whiz Bang.



Ronald Morgan said:

Captain Marvel comes from the earlier publication Captain Billy's Whiz Bang.

Interesting. I'd forgotten that.  

"How do you suppose it came to be that "Captain" became the military rank most often adopted by super-heroes who did adopt a military rank as part of their super-hero code-name?"

I don't know, but "Captain Why?" sounds like a superhero name Grant Morrison or Rick Veitch migh have come up with.



The Baron said:

Ronald Morgan said:

Captain Marvel comes from the earlier publication Captain Billy's Whiz Bang.

Interesting. I'd forgotten that.  

And Captain Billy's Whiz Bang was named for a real person who was a real officer, U.S. Army Captain Wilford Hamilton Fawcett. Captain Fawcett launched Fawcett Publications, of course, which all started with Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, a bawdy humor magazine. It seems a bit reductive to assume the whole "Captain" business started with Captain Billy, but it must have had an influence.

Just to muddy the waters, National Allied Publications, which evolved into DC Comics, was started by Army Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, but "major" didn't become the ubiquitous rank that captain did. Among those who affected ranks they didn't earn (Tom Parker, Harlan Sanders), "colonel" seemed to be the favored rank.

I was under the impression that the business of calling yourself "Colonel" was peculiar to Kentucky.

According to Wikipedia:

"Kentucky colonel is the highest title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Commissions for Kentucky colonels are given by the governor and the secretary of state to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation. The sitting governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky bestows the honor of a colonel's commission, by issuance of letters patent."

Nebraska has something similar (again according to Wikipedia):

"Nebraska Admiral (formally, Admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska) is Nebraska's highest honor, and an honorary title bestowed upon individuals by approval of the Governor of Nebraska, the only triply landlocked U.S. state. It is not a military rank, requires no duties, and carries with it no pay or other compensation. Admirals have the option of joining the Nebraska Admirals Association, a non-profit organization that promotes ‘The Good Life’ of Nebraska."

How do you suppose it came to be that "Captain" became the military rank most often adopted by super-heroes who did adopt a military rank as part of their super-hero code-name?

My guess would be that it comes from not from the Army, but the Navy, where captain is not just a rank, but also a title.  Any commanding officer of a ship, regardless of his rank, is addressed as "captain". Perhaps the idea of naming a hero as "Captain _________" was meant to invoke the understanding that he was the guy calling the shots and making the difficult plays.

Captain Marvel was extremely popular. It would make sense other heroes would try to imitate him. I'm sure if National had allowed it we would have seen characters like Super Marvel and Super America.

Speaking of "Captains," here is a collection of them drawn by Don Rosa (including Captain Kentucky).

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