A Tribute to the of

I was invited to take in the new Elvis movie and while it was sort of in my peripheral radar, I didn’t particularly have any plans to see it. Among the trailers prior to the film rolling was the one for the upcoming Black Adam, which has me mildly interested.

Boy, did I learn a lot about Mr. Presley. Some I knew, but a lot I did not. I was genuinely disturbed to learn more about the unscrupulous and manipulative “Colonel” Tom Parker. What a waste of human flesh.

At the beginning, though, in his early life I was reminded of something I’d heard before about Elvis Presley. As a boy in Tupelo, Mississippi, he had a favorite comic book character. Captain Marvel, Jr. They even portrayed him wearing a facsimile lightning bolt around his neck and the story, told at least partially from the POV of Tom Parker, said that one of young Elvis’ fondest childhood dreams was to be able to take his family to the safety of the Rock of Eternity featured in the Captain Marvel storylines.

It seems only fitting to recount a classic Captain Marvel, Jr. tale in this edition of the Silver Age Sage, which I suppose will be more aptly called a temporary Golden Age Sage since the story, a reprint from Shazam #8 with a publication date of December 1973 and an on-sale date of September 11, 1973 and edited by E. Nelson Bridwell with a C.C. Beck cover, was originally presented in Captain Marvel, Jr. #14 while the characters were still in the Fawcett stable, with its own publication date of December 1, 1943 with an on-sale date of November 19, 1943. Note that holiday cover by the great Mac Raboy. Editing was credited to Rod Reed. “The Vest Pocket Levitator” was also illustrated by Mac Raboy, but no other credits are available.

For those uninitiated, Captain Marvel, Jr. is the super-heroic alter ego of Freddy Freeman, a crippled newsboy, who encountered Billy Batson, aka Captain Marvel and the highly generous hero shared some of his power with Freeman, creating Captain Marvel, Jr. who is now the World’s Mightiest Boy and unlike his mentor, speaks not the word “Shazam,” but “Captain Marvel” to make his transformation. His uniform is a knock-off of the Big Red Cheese’s duds as far as the yellow accents, i.e., the gauntlets, lightning bolt chest emblem, cape trim and boots, but the uniform itself is set apart by being blue with a red cape rather than white. On to the story.

Things open with a diary entry by Freddy Freeman: “Dear Diary, Captain Marvel, Jr. has had many strange adventures, but one of the strangest was when Jonas Weatherby bought the Handy Vest Pocket Levitator, and set out to get a million dollars. For a while it looked as if Jonas was more than Captain Marvel Junior could handle, but Jonas was a man with one idea and that was his downfall. Freddy Freeman.

In a setting clearly pulled from the 40s, we see what was once a common sight with a pitchman set up on a busy street corner selling goodies from a folding case on a stand. Freddy Freeman happens by and takes things in while the man begins his spiel, pushing “The new, sensational, portable, flying fortress eggbeater, guaranteed to beat even the toughest egg! No home is complete without one! Contains its own battery – nothing to plug in!”

Unbeknownst to the onlookers, a tiny green gremlin appears (hey, it could happen) and tampers with one of the units. Just then, that very unit is picked up by the curious Jonas Weatherby, who quickly finds himself airborne, putting him into a bit of a panic as he cannot seem to control his trajectory and causing mayhem in his wake amongst the people on the streets of the city.

In what may have been an omission, Freddy monologues that the man is going to need Captain Marvel (don’t you mean Captain Marvel, Junior?) and of course the intonation of the phrase transforms him into Captain Marvel, Jr. After the lightning strikes, he takes to the air as well and chases down the hapless man, bringing him back to terra firma.

Relieved, Weatherby says he doesn’t know how it happened, that he merely touched the object like this and…away he flies into the skies again, causing more excitement in his wake. He knocks a woman off the top of a building while she’s hanging laundry and Cap Jr. saves her, but loses track of the flying fellow.

Jonas’ next stop is s one-point landing, jostling the object loose and straight into the hands of some underworld types nearby, who note that it must be “…one of dem gravity belts we read about in de comics!” Well, the one thug has no better luck than Weatherby, promptly being catapulted into the skies and then into the waiting arms of Captain Marvel, Jr. Our hero pulls an impressive aerial maneuver, cold-cocking both criminals over his head by knocking their noggins together and dubbing it a “double or nothing” and then discovers he’s again lost track of Jonas Weatherby. Cap Junior seems to have a bit of a Robin the boy wonder complex with his snappy patter.

What of our hapless new adventurer? He’s finally made his way home and is determined to learn how to control the object. He ultimately succeeds and decides he now has the means to fulfill his dream of having a million dollars, and what better place to find it than the local bank? Off he flies, but is spotted by Freddy Freeman on the street who quickly invokes the name of Captain Marvel and catches Jonas in the act of flying from teller to teller and counting his ill-gotten gains…okay, I cannot resist…on the fly. Captain Marvel, Jr. delivers a blow to Weatherby, who quickly retreats to the bank vault and seals himself inside, but is now faced with the prospect of how to escape.

As he is sacking up the last of the cash to complete his million-dollar goal, some bank robbers have just tunneled their way into the vault, noting this is their toughest job to date and banks are unfair to burglars. Seizing the opportunity placed before him, Jonas thanks the thieves and flies out of the newly formed escape tunnel.

Outside, the World’s Mightiest Boy is reefing on the door to the vault and is startled to see the burglars. “Hoiman” opens fire, but the slug bounces off Junior, who retaliates with a couple of haymakers before flying off to try and find Weatherby, but he once again has made good his escape.

Switching back to his Freddy Freeman persona, our hero pounds the pavement to continue his search a bit more clandestinely than Captain Marvel, Jr. could. Meanwhile, back at his home,

Jonas is counting up the cash and is dismayed to discover he has $20 extra. “There is only one course open to an honest man! I must return the twenty dollars!” Honest man?

But, as good as his word, Jonas flies the friendly skies back to the bank and is spotted yet again by Freddy Freeman, who transforms back to his heroic identity, incidentally right in front of a man on the street complete with fedora who he was questioning about seeing a flying man. “No, sonny! I’ve seen a horse fly and a board walk and I’ve seen a kitchen sink…” Move over, Henny Youngman

So, Cap Junior pursues Jonas Weatherby back to the bank where he presumes the older gentleman is going to make another massive withdrawal and goes for a literal flying tackle. Weatherby pleads with the youth not to hit him again and says that he’s only there to return the surplus. Captain Marvel, Jr. then sets the man straight. “Of all the crazy—look, when you took that million dollars, you weren’t just robbing a big vault! You were taking what belonged to people who worked hard to earn it!” Realizing the error of his ways, Jonas hands over the bag of money to the bank official. He then takes comfort in the fact that he still has his levitator, but it soon takes flight of its own accord with Jonas madly chasing it, ending this somewhat farcical tale.

The final panel contains a follow-on diary entry: “Dear Diary – Jonas Weatherby was never a real criminal, but for a moment he was tempted by too much power. But that power brought him only trouble, and in the end, he lost the power! I’m sure that he’s happier and wiser now, wherever he is! Freddy Freeman.

In the sum total of things, I can see why Elvis Presley admired Captain Marvel, Jr. I’m sure he could relate to the dream of being able to rise from the very humble circumstances Freddy Freeman found himself in to the heights of the World’s Mightiest Boy, Captain Marvel, Jr. While Elvis reached his own heights, they came at a tremendous cost. If only he’d had a hero of his own to look after his best interests.

Dateline August 15th for the next installment in this ongoing feature. My invitation stands to share feedback, requests, questions, or whatever else may be on your mind that the Sage can answer. Just e-mail me here: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you in about two weeks and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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