Friday, April 21, 2017

Number 2039: The original, marvelous Captain Marvel

Here is the original Captain Marvel: the young boy, Billy Batson, given the power of a magic word, Shazam!, which changed him into a fully grown man with super powers. There is a usurper Captain Marvel coming soon to theaters, a woman no less. I have nothing against her except this Captain Marvel I present today is the one I recognize. (If you came here looking for her, you are now disappointed.)

The stories are taken from the UK version of Captain Marvel Adventures #125 (1951). Grand Comics Database tells us that C.C. Beck and Pete Costanza did the artwork for “The Return of the Ancient Villain,” and Beck did the art chores for “The Mechanical Man Mystery.” Otto Binder wrote both stories. Otto also created the sentient robot, Adam Link, in Amazing Stories, so he knew a bit about mechanical men with personalities.

I presume Binder also knew that Robert E. Howard created a character called King Kull, but by the time Binder used the name Howard was dead, and Binder could have thought that his young audience would probably not notice. I noticed when I saw the first reprinting of the story in the volume Shazam from the Forties to the Seventies, which Harmony Books published in 1977

Here is a Marvel Family story I especially enjoyed, posted in 2012. Just click on the thumbnail.


Ryan Anthony said...

Oh, boy, the Captain Marvel situation again. Every time that's brought up, I get irritated. I can understand why Marvel Comics decided to use the name; Fawcett was long defunct, there was no sign that the original Cap would ever fly again, and the only other hero to use the name had lasted only a handful of issues before splitting (see what I did there?). But I feel like the first guy with the name should still have some claim on it and not have to hide behind his magic word at all times. The oversized comic Superman vs. Shazam made no sense, because Supes didn't fight the old wizard; inside the comic, he fought Captain Marvel (they just couldn't use his name on the cover). when Mattel added the Marvel Family to the Justice League Unlimited action figure line a few years ago, they had to jump through convoluted hoops naming them. Mary Marvel became Mary Batson (as if she had no secret ID), Shazam became the Wizard, and the package for Cap was just labeled "Shazam" with the quotes, not even pretending that it was his name. Around the same time, DC Comics tried to solve the problem with a miniseries called Trial of Shazam, in which Cap took on the Wizard's role (complete with long white hair) and Freddy Freeman earned the superhero identity Shazam. But that didn't last long in continuity. Then, in 2011, as part of the New 52 line, Cap's name officially became Shazam, which he could say to introduce himself without changing identities. That's the version that was going to be in the recently cancelled Shazam movie. But I have a simpler solution to the whole copyrighted name issue: just call him Captain Thunder. First, that was Bill Parker's original name for the character and, Second, DC used the name for a Marvel-type character in the early 70s before introducing the real guy to their universe. Yep, Captain Thunder would work for me. Whatta you think, Pappy?

Neil Hansen said...

The material by Beck is so easy to follow. It harkens back to a time when storytelling was to really make the readers job easy. Anyway you can reprint the Captain Marvel Jr. story where he meets his future counterpart from the same volume so people can see how perfect Raboy's stuff was?

Daniel [] said...

Of course, any other story by Binder about a benign anthropoid robot invites comparison to “Adam Link”.

But I'm also reminded of the utter ruthlessness with which Superman would send his own robots to their destruction. (“Goodbye, Master!”) I hated that.

Pappy said...

Daniel, the Superman robots, especially in those issues of Superman and Action Comics, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane I read in the late '50s and early '60s were just props. They were convenient to introduce into a story to get Superman out of a jam when his secret identity was threatened. Other than that I didn't think much of them. Hmmm. "Goodbye, Master!" In the Mort Weisinger Superman universe the props were more disposable. Guess when you read about them they had acquired some human characteristics...?

Pappy said...

Ryan, I saw some of the Shazam! live-action Saturday morning TV episodes when first broadcast, and remember being a little peeved that they could not use "Captain Marvel." But by that time the damage was done. I understood the need to change the name to avoid copyright issues with Marvel Comics. After all, Marvel had usurped the name fair and square! There was a thought in the sixties that due to the lawsuit the original Captain Marvel would never come back, so I guess the name was then considered fair game.

I thought the name Captain Thunder was a bit tepid. Not bad, just not as good as Captain Marvel. All in all, the Captain Marvel I like appeared decades ago. Since I live in the past, I will always think of him as THE Captain Marvel.

Daniel [] said...

It was probably intended that the robots be imagined as lacking consciousness, but they would have passed a Turning test, and a device says “Goodbye, Master!” (as opposed to something more clinical) exactly to behave like something with a mind. And Superman would order his robots to their destructions for no better reason than that he had no present use for them. I wouldn't do that to a calculator, let alone to a robot. (Batman would have kept any robot deactivated in the Batcave, next to the cookware that he took from the Waffler.)

joe musich said...

Delicious ! Thanks Pappy. The more Captain Marvel and clan the better. Nothing will surpass these tales of wit, wisdom and humor. The stories of the proletariat becoming super powered are rare. Everybody else seems to be strictly upper crust. Except maybe the Parker kid. Was his last name a tribute or rip off the early Fawcett creator Bill Parker ? We will never know. I am almost pleased the Shazam movie was canned. Most everything D.C. Warner has tried with the Captain only partially resonates.