A Tribute to the of

Lately I’ve been feeling a nudge that has worked its way to a full-blown shove. Captain Marvel is demanding my attention and it’s a little bit surprising.

At the risk of sounding boastful, I’ve successfully cranked out over 400 editions of the Silver Age Sage, but Captain Marvel has only come up a couple of times [Sage #300 & #361]. He just never was my thing as a kid. The webmaster and I were drawn to DC’s offerings of superheroes who were less satirical than the good Captain.

As I look back, though, maybe I was missing the point. Captain Marvel is a phenomenon all his own and occupies a particular place in comic book history.

Getting back to my original premise, a series of little events have brought me here and the more I considered it, they’d been going on longer than I’d realized. Clear back to childhood, in fact.

The webmaster and I decided at one point, probably as most young comic book fans who couldn’t draw to save their souls did, that maybe we could craft a comic book story. While the majority of the details are lost to me, I do remember that we settled on a Captain Marvel adventure. We wrote it up and I began to narrate it into a portable cassette player.

Even then, the webmaster served as an editor to some of my writing, because he kept having to correct the places where I had dialogue mentioning the wizard, Shazam. Billy Batson uttering the name would, of course, have caused the mystical lightning that changed him into the World’s Mightiest Mortal, so he kept inserting “the old wizard” into the text.

Thunder, feel the thunder, lightning then the thunder, thunder” – Imagine Dragons “Thunder”

We kind of chuckled together as kids when “Captain Thunder” came to take on Superman in his own book in issue #276. It was obvious who the character was based upon. I mean, really, Willie Fawcett? A kid in a red sweater who can transform himself by rubbing a belt buckle and shouting, “Thunder!” But what I didn’t know at the time was that Captain Thunder was the originally conceived name for what would become Captain Marvel. (This story's dustup with the Monster Society of Evil is a nod to Captain Marvel's epic two year battle with his universe's version.)

It just so happened that I took the opportunity to ask writer Elliot S! Maggin about that story, too, back in 2009:

Was your story “Make Way for Captain Thunder!” in Superman #276 originally intended to feature Captain Marvel?

Maggin: Nope. I never intended for Superman and Captain Marvel to meet. We had all these alternate universes kicking around the Multiverse, remember. I figured Superman and Cap lived in non-contiguous worlds where you just couldn’t get there from here without getting caught in a very treacherous probability field trying. With Captain Thunder I told Curt Swan to think of Captain Marvel the way he’d look in “the real world.”

Fast forward a lot of years later and as I’ve shared before, Mark Waid and Alex Ross turned us on our ears with Kingdom Come and my old love of comic books was rekindled in a big way. That story prominently utilized Captain Marvel in a most believable way and it only recently occurred to me that perhaps the mind controlling worms Lex Luthor was using on the adult Billy Batson were a sly nod to one of the Big Red Cheese’s old nemeses, Mr. Mind.

Other little bread crumbs came along. For reasons I don’t recall at present, I reached out to colorist Tom Ziuko with a question in 2007 and included with his gracious reply was a cover he’d recently colored for the TwoMorrows Modern Masters series spotlighting artist Jerry Ordway, who has had some impressive work on Captain Marvel. Check it out.

It didn’t really hit me at the time, but I had the privilege in 2012 of conversing with Ken Bald, [Sage #294] who actually worked right there at the Jack Binder shop and he helped produce many of the Fawcett stories for the Captain’s original run of adventures. We didn’t talk much about that specifically, but he was there and was involved.

Not long ago, the webmaster gifted me with the Blu-ray DVD containing the old black and white Republic serial of “The Adventures of Captain Marvel,” starring Tom Tyler as our hero with Frank Coghlan, Jr. as young Billy Batson. It has the distinction of being the very first comic book superhero to be adapted to film, clear back in 1941! Some say it remains the best of the old serials and after having watched it, despite a few hokey special effects, but remember this was 1941, I must agree that they were very well done.

The little nudges continued when I noticed the same eBay vendor that I got the Superpac from was selling a whole slew of other items as well and among them were a lot of two 100-page Super-Spectaculars in excellent condition: Shazam! #8 (December 1973) with a cover by C.C. Beck and Shazam! #13 (July/August 1974).

As many of you know, these old square-bound beauties didn’t hold up well. It was just too many pages for the binding and they tended to split after enough readings or careless laying of them in an open, face down position. The price on the lot was so reasonable and with the added enticement of combined shipping, I decided to bid on those also, and…I got ‘em.

These were from the recently relaunched title, licensed from Fawcett by DC Comics. They actually did a number of 100-page editions and despite the tie-in with the live action television show, the sales just weren’t there. The revived title folded after issue #35 in the summer of 1978.

By the way, as I’ve researched for this particular piece, I learned that the tagline on the cover, “The ORIGINAL Captain Marvel,” had to be dropped due to a cease and desist order from Marvel Comics, who, as most of us already know, successfully scooped up Fawcett’s lapsed copyright on the name after they ceased publication of their comic book line in 1953. More’s the pity. (In 1966 DC put a stop to this.)

So again, while my comics radar is usually active at all times, I just recently happened to stumble upon a tasty tidbit at one of the Facebook groups I frequent. Here is the text to the post by Gary Land:

In 1972, DC Comics decided to start using the character Captain Marvel (SHAZAM) and was accepting submissions on who would be the artist. C.C. Beck submitted this Rip Van Winkle image of the Big Red Cheese, and Julius Schwartz decided on him, the original artist who visually co-created the character.

There was also a link to a blog that gave a fascinating insight to the character of C.C. Beck and his relationship with his most well-known creation.

Get a load of these wonderful, historic images of C.C. Beck, his submission, and the artist in the editorial offices of DC Comics with Sol Harrison on his left and Julius Schwartz on his right that accompanied the post.

Well, I don’t need a block of stone to fall on me (more on that later) to understand that all these little coincidences might be more than that. Perhaps after all these years and reviews, it’s time at last to give the ORIGINAL Captain Marvel (you know what you can do with your cease and desist order) his full due here at the Silver Lantern. After all, I’ve got some fabulous source material in my reference library to include Jim Steranko’s History of the Comics Volume 2” (1972) where he does an in-depth take on the World’s Mightiest Mortal. (Steranko fared better in his efforts to reacquaint the public with Captain Marvel than noted comics historian Jules Feiffer did; in his book "The Great Comic Book Heroes," [1965] he was allowed only only a few panels from Whiz Comics #2 to illustrate Cap's beginning. He offered this footnote as explanation.) I’m also lucky enough to have the entire run of the Amazing World of DC Comics, issue #17 (April, 1978), the final one, in fact, is available to me and is an all Shazam issue, to include some valuable history and behind the scenes information.

You’ve been thunderstruck!” -AC/DC “Thunderstruck”

After that long and windy prelude, let’s take a look at Shazam #8, which is actually a collection of classic reprinted stories from the Golden Age. This is an ideal issue for those uninitiated in the Captain Marvel mythos as it features the origin stories of the major members of the Marvel Family.

The incredibly prolific Otto Binder wrote most of the stories and the majority of the artwork, pencils and inks, were by Cap’s co-creator, Clarence Charles Beck (I’d have probably gone by C.C., too), although the first story, “A Twice-Told Tale!” (Captain Marvel Adventures #80, January, 1948) was inked by Pete Costanza and is essentially a rehash of the good Captain’s origin story. Editor for this compilation issue is E. Nelson Bridwell.

The gist of the first story is that Dr. Sivana, Captain Marvel’s arch-foe, has decided to go back in time and to alter it so that Captain Marvel doesn’t exist. He pops back into time and we get to see the unfolding of the way that Billy Batson first met the wizard, Shazam.

Young, homeless and orphaned newsboy, Billy Batson is hawking papers outside the subway when a mysterious figure, completely concealed by a dark hat and coat that The Shadow would have envied, leads him down into a secret subterranean and abandoned part of the subway, where he passes by figures of the seven deadly enemies of man: Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred (substituted for Wrath), Selfishness (substituted for Gluttony), Laziness (substituted for Sloth) and Injustice (substituted for Lust). The unspeaking figure leaves and at the end of the cavern, sitting on a massive marble throne, Billy encounters for the first time, the ancient wizard, Shazam. A large book is propped on one side of the throne and a globe of the earth is on the other. A large burning brazier provides light.

Shazam greets Billy by name and explains he is an ancient Egyptian wizard who has fought evil, but his time is over and Billy is to be his successor. He instructs Billy to speak his name and when the lad does, the magical lightning strikes and he is transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal. Right after this incredible event, however, a large block of stone that had been suspended by a thread above Shazam’s throne crashes down and crushes him.

Heck of a way to start your career, eh? Then, the spirit embodiment of the wizard appears and continues: “I name you---Captain Marvel! Through my name, you are given the powers of these six elder gods! Henceforth, you will fight evil on Earth!”

The acronym of Shazam should be familiar, but just in case:

Solomon – Wisdom

Hercules – Strength

Atlas – Stamina

Zeus – Power

Achilles – Courage

Mercury – Speed.

Well, the rest of the story goes as you might imagine, with young Billy pulling off a promotion at station WHIZ from lowly newsboy to boy broadcaster, courtesy of impressing his boss, Sterling Morris and he metes out a little justice as Captain Marvel and also beats Sivana at his attempt to change history, all in 9 pages.

That’s a good entry point, but I think the third story in this volume right after introducing Mary Marvel, is even better at introducing us to the Marvel mythos. Written by Otto Binder and illustrated by C.C. Beck, “The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!” was originally printed in The Marvel Family #1, from December of 1945. The introductory panel says it all: “Capt. Marvel! Capt. Marvel, Jr.! Mary Marvel! Each of these names alone makes for a great story! But now, all three Marvels combine in the greatest adventure of all, as the mighty Marvel family wages grim battle against the most frightful menace of the ages—Black Adam!

Things get started at the Rock of Eternity, described as being located somewhere far out beyond the realm of mankind. There we find Shazam busily chiseling a record onto a rock wall:

Record of the mighty Marvel Family. Living on Earth, fighting evil, are Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel.

I, Shazam, created them to fight evil on Earth! But also, it must be recorded that before them, I created Black Adam, much to my sorrow! I called him Mighty Adam first, but when he turned evil I renamed him Black Adam.

For his crimes, I banished Black Adam to the farthest star! And yet it was not far enough, for he was to return and challenge the might of the Marvel Family! The story of this battle opened in the office of Sterling Morris, owner of radio station WHIZ!

And so it does, as Sterling Morris dispatches his newsboy to find out what’s going on at the observatory, where they’ve detected an unidentified object hurtling toward the earth. When Billy arrives, the astronomer notes that it’s a small object, but coming at the speed of light. He decides to use the observatory’s larger telescope, although he notes it is in need of repairs.

Well, wouldn’t you know that the ‘scope begins to collapse. Billy is forced to invoke his magic word and Captain Marvel saves the day.

Back to the chisel wielding Shazam: “But perhaps you are wondering who this Capt. Marvel is and where he came from! Years ago, when Billy Batson was just an obscure orphan, he came to a forgotten subway tunnel at my summons.” The tale is recounted and the old wizard continues his narrative in the stone: “But to continue the record of Black Adam, Billy Batson left the observatory after Capt. Marvel had saved the astronomer.

Billy Batson now visits his friend Freddy Freeman at his newsstand and the boys discuss the mysterious object hurtling toward the Earth. Then Billy begins to cross the street, but a car is headed toward him, piloted by a gent who is distracted by something in the sky. Freddy sees that Billy is unaware of the danger, and utters, “Captain Marvel!” The magical bolt of lightning strikes and Freeman is transformed in to Captain Marvel, Jr. and he scoops Billy out of harm’s way.

Back to the Rock of Eternity: “I must now record who Capt. Marvel Jr. is, and how he came into existence! Freddy Freeman, a poor newsboy, was one day nearly killed by an injury that was to leave him forever a cripple! Rescued by Captain Marvel, the dying boy was brought down to my underground abode by Billy Batson!

Billy lights the brazier and the spirit of Shazam appears. He explains the situation and asks if the Egyptian wizard can save the boy. Shazam says that there is only one way, that as Captain Marvel, he must pass along some of his powers. He says the magic word, Shazam!

I vanished as the magic lightning brought the world’s mightiest mortal, and when the injured boy regained consciousness and murmured his hero’s name, there was a blinding flash of lightning that changed him into Captain Marvel, Jr.! And that was how Capt. Marvel, Jr., the world’s mightiest boy, came into being! But now, after saving Billy Batson from the car, Capt. Marvel Jr. is faced by a terrifying menace!”

Cap Jr., of course, has a similar uniform, although the color scheme is different being blue with a red cape. Just then, he and Billy Batson see what has been hurtling toward the Earth when Black Adam arrives, wearing another uniform with a stylized lightning bolt on it, but his costume is appropriately black in color with the gold accents and is sans cape. It only took him 5,000 years to get back and he is ready to take over.

A local police officer instructs him to stop blocking traffic and Black Adam introduces himself by striking the officer. His service pistol is of no use as the bullets bounce off the blackguard, but before he can do further damage, Captain Marvel, Jr. flies into action. Both figures trade ineffective blows when Billy Batson invokes the lightning and changes into Captain Marvel. The World’s Mightiest Mortal soon discovers his punches are no more effective than Jr.’s and Black Adam, pondering matters, decides to slip away into the crowd.

The allies decide to consult Shazam about Black Adam and change back to their regular identities by saying the words Shazam and Captain Marvel, but they were being observed by Black Adam, who deduces their powers are also derived from Shazam, who he seeks to take vengeance upon, so he secretly tails them to the subway tunnel.

As they consult the wizard, he is surprised to hear that Black Adam has returned and quickly explains his origin, which the Rock of Eternity Shazam proceeds to carve into the rock: “It was then I told Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman about Black Adam! Back in ancient Egypt, 5,000 years before, I had decided to pass on my powers to a worthy man! I picked Teth-Adam, whose soul I thought was good and pure!

Mighty Adam is given the power of Shazam, but it quickly takes over his better self and he dethrones the Pharaoh. Horrified, the wizard confronts him, dubs him Black Adam and uses his magic to banish the fiend to the farthest star. The incident makes Shazam rethink his plans for succession and so he waited until the idea came to him that a boy would be a better choice in his innocence and ultimately Billy Batson was chosen. He speculates that Black Adam sped back toward Earth at the speed of light for the last 5,000 years and instructs the boys that they must stop him.

Before they can make the attempt, though, Black Adam emerges and binds and gags them. Elsewhere, Billy Batson’s sister, Mary, is fielding a call from Sterling Morris, who is looking for his employee. Mary is accompanied by Uncle Dudley and they decide to check Freddy Freeman’s newsstand, but of course they cannot find either boy. Dudley suggests they consult with Shazam, but when they enter the tunnel and see what’s happening, it’s time for action. Mary speaks the old wizard’s name and is transformed into the World’s Mightiest Girl, Mary Marvel. Dudley, meanwhile, has changed clothes into Uncle Marvel. The record of Shazam continues: “But before we go on, let me tell you about the origin of Mary Marvel! One day, Billy Batson received the thrilling news from a dying nurse that he had a long-lost sister, Mary Batson! Mary was later captured and held for ransom by crooks. Billy came to her rescue, but was nabbed also by the desperadoes.

Mary knew of Billy’s gift and wondered if it would work for her. “Mary Batson said the magic word for the first time and instantly there was a blinding flash of lightning and Mary Marvel appeared! I granted Mary Marvel the Shazam powers like her brother! As for Uncle Marvel—well, now, there’s something I can’t quite explain myself! He’s not a true Marvel at all! He’s a fraud! He shouts my name and always pretends to change by magic, too, but he really just whisks away outer clothing, revealing a red suit that he made!

It seems the Marvel family are all aware of Dudley’s schtick, but they overlook it. As Mary explains, “…he’s such a lovable old fraud that we’ve all accepted him into the Marvel family!

Now, Mary and Uncle Marvel are about to take on Black Adam, but of course the non-powered Dudley is no match and Mary has no more luck than Captain Marvel or Junior in defeating the villain. While she makes the attempt, Uncle Marvel frees the boys, who quickly transform into their super selves, but even with three Marvels on the attack, Black Adam stands there stock still while the blows rain down on him.

Uncle Marvel hurries over to the brazier to summon the spirit of Shazam to ask what they can do to defeat Black Adam. The counsel is short and sweet: “Get him to speak my name!” Dudley intervenes, “Stop kids! He’s so strong, let’s make him a member of the Marvel Family! After all, he got his powers from old Mazham! I mean—Hamshaz! No. I mean Shamhaz!—er—uh—” An indignant Black Adam exclaims, “You sputtering old fool! You mean Shazam!

The magical lightning does it’s work and before Teth-Adam can say it again to change back, Captain Marvel knocks him out cold. The laid out Egyptian then swiftly decomposes, because 5,000 years is hard on a human body. Shazam congratulates the Marvel Family on destroying his most terrible mistake and wraps things up at the Rock of Eternity: “—and thus was Black Adam destroyed by the mighty Marvel Family! But that is only one of their many great deeds! There are many more chapters of the Marvel Family story to record on the Rock of Eternity for their fight against all evil is waged tirelessly and unceasingly!

So, in a matter of 15 pages, we get a great synopsis of all the key players and how they came to be, which by itself is fifty cents well spent in 1973.

There is more to this issue, including a vintage Captain Marvel, Jr. tale aptly illustrated by the great Mac Raboy and the first appearance of Mr. Talky Tawny, who was more fun than I would have given credit.

By way of wrapping up, I’ll make note of the Big Red Cheese’s other co-creator, the all but forgotten Bill Parker, who was assigned to become Fawcett’s first comic book editor when the publisher decided to jump into the four-color game. Legend has it that he developed six distinct characters with each of the attributes that eventually came to define the abilities of Captain Marvel and ultimately, under the direction of the head office, the idea was nixed and then modified into what we know today.

Also, some of the comments by Kurt Schaffenberger bear repeating from the article in the Amazing World of DC Comics where he is dubbed the stepfather of the World’s Mightiest Mortal:

I always felt that Captain Marvel was a better character than Superman. It was because of the way he was handled. Superman was always so damn serious…

The article further states that Kurt believed Fawcett canceled their comic book line more due to the fact that the industry was in decline in the early 50s rather than because of the copyright infringement suit brought to bear by DC/National. (In 1963 Schaffenberger gave the good Captain a cameo in Lois Lane #42's "The Monkey's Paw!" He can be seen behind Lois.)

In the same issue, Otto Binder is quoted with a similar take on things:

Let me add one word here about that famed but non-earth-shaking event, the Superman VS Captain Marvel suit and its allegations.

First of all, I did not originate the character (that was the doing of Beck and Bill Parker; and secondly, I did not read Superman stories (even before the Fawcett ban), except at rare times. Each time I did, I felt it was NOT for Captain Marvel, who was developed into a wholly different area of humor, fantasy and “whimsy”, you might say…not the dead serious grimness and plotting “consistency” of Superman.

In my opinion, my development of Captain Marvel and his “family” (I was the chief writer and idea-man from mid-1941 till the end) was entirely my own, and, if anything, it avoided any of the “tone” of Superman completely. This I can state categorically—not one story idea was ever “lifted” from Superman!"

I tend to sympathize with the comments above. When one considers the lawsuit, it very nearly seems ludicrous, decades after the fact. Yes, both characters had great powers and wore capes and neither one, at least in the beginning, seemed to be able to do anything but squint, but at that point, the similarities seem to evaporate. Superman is a “strange visitor from another planet” who has powers granted by virtue of being under the influence of a yellow sun, unlike his native Krypton’s red sun.

Captain Marvel is a hero endowed completely by magic, hence his ability in Kingdom Come to use the magical lightning to full advantage to put the hurt on Superman. He is also very human and can still tap into the youthful innocence of Billy Batson. Their storylines couldn’t have been more different and therefore, they are distinct in their missions and adventures.

This hearkens back to my comment earlier. I never really understood what Captain Marvel was all about when I was first exposed to him, but now, I think I’m starting to get it and in large measure the thanks go to this 100-page Super Spectacular that introduced me to the world of Captain Marvel and the entire Marvel Family, a group that I knew very little about up to now.

I think I’ll look forward to the upcoming live action film, slated to come out in 2019.

Thanks, as always, for coming along on our continuing journey of discovery here at the Silver Lantern. A new review will be here in approximately two weeks and in the meantime, you can always drop a line with comments or questions to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until next time…


Long live the Silver Age!

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