Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Shazam! It's Fawcett's Captain Marvel

A long time ago, Billy Batson first uttered the word, Shazam at the beckoning of the old wizard with that name, and became Captain Marvel!

Let's take a look back at the glory days of Captain Marvel, and the whole Marvel Family!

Captain Marvel

Billy Batson was the one who started it all, when he followed a stranger (secretly Mercury) into a subway tunnel, to meet an old wizard, who was dying and wanted to pass on his power to the boy...

...and bid Billy to speak the wizard's name, Shazam!...

....then Billy became Captain Marvel, as the wizard died, passing on his power.

All this (and more, including a battle with Sivana, the world's wickedest scientist), as well as Billy getting a job at Whiz Radio for Sterling Morris in Whiz Comics #2 (February, 1940) by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck.

Billy's powers were the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury, gained when he said "Shazam!" and was struck by the mystical lightning (and that's also how Cap changed back to Billy...

...all of which really meant he could fly, was invulnerable, super-strong, fast and smart).

Captain Marvel seemed like Superman, but in his earliest adventures, was serialized more like Flash Gordon, and was a young orphan boy's wish be able to speak a magic word and become an adult and solve all his own problems.

Billy wasn't alone, he had many foes, such as Dr. Sivana, beastman King Kull, demonic powered Ibac, atomic powered Mr. Atom, the sinister Mr. Mind and his Monster Society of Evil, and, as he began during World War II, he also fought the Axis powers, and their representative, Captain Nazi (who was the villain that led to the beginnings of the Marvel Family).

Billy and his alter ego were the star of Whiz Comics until it ended, with Whiz Comics #155 (June, 1953), as well as Special Edition Comics #1 of 1940, which led to Captain Marvel Adventures, who ran 150 issues from January 17, 1941 (it was bi-weekly in its early days) to November, 1953... well as being the main feature of America's Greatest Comics for its 8 issues from 1941 to 1943, that spotlighted other Fawcett characters as well, such as Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Minute Man and Mr. Scarlet.

A team-up with Spy Smasher led to our next hero...who ended up having ties to Captain Marvel! 

Captain Marvel, Jr.

Freddy Freeman was a victim, after a battle between Captain Marvel, Bulletman and Captain Nazi in Master Comics #21 (December, 1941), Captain Marvel followed Captain Nazi to Whiz Comics #25 (December 12, 1941, by France Herron, C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy), where Captain Nazi killed Freddy's guardian, grandpa Freeman, and injured the boy, forcing Captain Marvel to take desperate matters to save the child.  Forecast at the hospital not to live, Billy kidnapped Freddy and took him to the subway tunnel where he had gotten his powers from Shazam, and communicating with the spirit of Shazam, came up with the idea to transfer a bit of his power to the boy to save his life, thus allowing Freddy to become Captain Marvel, Jr. whenever he spoke his hero's name.

Captain Marvel, Jr. had pretty much the same powers as Captain Marvel did, only his appearance (other than getting a blue uniform) didn't change as much as Billy's did when he became Captain Marvel, and whenever he was only Freddy, he walked with a limp, as a reminder of Captain Nazi's attack.  Captain Marvel, Jr. worked with Bulletman in Master Comics #22 (January, 1942) to thwart Captain Nazi, and Captain Nazi became more of Junior's foe for a time.

Captain Marvel, Jr. had a few foes of his own...

...such as Captain Nippon (it was wartime), demonic Sabbac, slippery Mr. Hydro, flexible Mr. Acrobat, dreamy Mr. Morpheus, Vampira the Queen of Terror, mobster Graybeard, and even the scientist son of Sivana, Sivana Jr. (as well as facing off against Sivana himself more than a few times, both alone and with the rest of the Marvel Family....).

Captain Marvel, Jr. was the main feature of Master Comics until its end with Master Comics #133 in April, 1953, as well as having his own title, Captain Marvel Jr. for 118 issues, from #1 in November 18, 1942 to #119 in June, 1953 (miscounting one issue), and Jr. also teamed up with other Fawcett heroes occasionally, like Bulletman and Spy Smasher...

...even taking the lead of the one and only issue of All-Hero Comics #1 (March 17, 1943), as well as being there for the final issue of America's Greatest Comics...

...even showing up in a few Captain Marvel Adventures, like #52 to meet the son of Sivana, or all the way back to Captain Marvel Adventures #18, to meet our next character....   

Mary Marvel

Mary Batson first met Billy and Freddy in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 11, 1942, by Otto Binder and Marc Swayze), and this could be considered the first appearance of the Marvel Family, as the three main members were there.  But, at the time, Mary was known as Mary Bromfield.  Mary was the twin sister of Billy, meeting him thanks to competing on a game show Billy was hosting.  Criminals take Billy and Freddy hostage, and Mary finds out that she too can gain the powers of Shazam by saying his name, turning into a female version of Captain Marvel, called Mary Marvel during her time at Fawcett Comics.  Mary had a brief training session with her brother in the next issue of Captain Marvel Adventures, before heading out to her own series in Wow Comics, starting in Wow Comics #9 (January 6, 1943), where she also worked with Mr. Scarlett and his partner, Pinky.

Mary's powers were slightly different from her brother's...

....with Shazam breaking down as Selena for grace, Hippolya for strength, Ariadne for skill, Zephyrus for fleetness, Aurora for beauty and Minerva for wisdom...

...but she could pretty much keep up with the boys in super-feats.

Mary also spent more time facing supernatural threats, or more closely, adventures that sent her to magical lands, than fighting foes..

...though she did have a few... Mr. Night, Mr. Question, Nightowl, and even the daughter of Sivana, Georgia, who also had a penchant for scientific crimes, like the rest of the Sivana family.

Mary lasted in Wow Comics until Wow Comics #58 (September, 1947), and for 28 issues of her own, Mary Marvel, series, that went from December, 1945 to September, 1948.  Mary worked with a few other Fawcett heroes here and there as well, but her biggest contribution to the Marvel Family was finding Uncle Dudley.....

Uncle Marvel

Dudley Batson was Mary Batson's uncle, and introduced in Wow Comics #18 (October, 1943) by Otto Binder and Marc Swayze.  Dudley found Mary's diary, and claimed to be Mary's uncle, but the Marvel's figured better.

Thing is, Dudley was charming and mostly harmless (except to himself)... they let him hang around and fed his fantasy to keep him safe (and others safe from him).

Dudley didn't have any powers, but did fashion his own "Shazam" suit to stand with the rest of the Marvel Family.

Uncle Marvel appeared in Wow Comics #24 (April, 1944), met Captain Marvel in Captain Marvel Adventures #43 (February, 1945) and Jr. in Master Comics #61 (May, 1945), (with appearances in Mary Marvel #34 and #35 between), before finally being accepted as a member of the Marvel Family with Marvel Family #1 (December, 1945).

It was a good thing, too, as Dudley was the one who stopped Black Adam (Shazam's evil protege from ancient Egypt) who had the full Shazam powers, and planned much evil on Earth, at least until Dudley got him to say Shazam, turning Black Adam back to his mortal form of Teth-Adam, where he died of old age.

Uncle Marvel, or Dudley, appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #53 (February 1, 1946), Captain Marvel Adventures #59 (April 26, 1946), Marvel Family #2 (June, 1946), Marvel Family #8 (February, 1947), Marvel Family #10 (April, 1947 - facing the combined might of the Sivana Family), Marvel Family #14 (August, 1947), Mary Marvel #17 (October, 1947) and Mary Marvel #28 (September, 1948), before fading out for a time.  But, the Marvels really didn't need an unpowered man around, when they had three more men with the power of Shazam!

Lieutenants Marvel

Back to Billy Batson.  But Captain Marvel's alter ego wasn't the only Billy Batson, there were three others (at least) that also had that name, and they met in Whiz Comics #21 (September 5, 1941) by C. C. Beck

A tall Billy from Texas, a "hill" Billy from the Ozarks and a fat Billy from Brooklyn all got together, and the four were threatened by Sivana...

...and the only way the group could escape was to all yell "Shazam!" at the same time as too much noise was being made for the old wizard to hear Captain Marvel's alter ego...and this resulted in all four of the Billys being turned into versions of Captain Marvel, just in time to defeat Sivana. 

Each of the three other Billys (Tall Marvel, Hill Marvel and Fat Marvel) had the same powers as Captain Marvel...

...but the three could only change if all four Billys were present and said Shazam... by necessity, you always saw the three Lieutenant Marvels together. 

The team next appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #4 (October 31, 1941, but not on the cover), then Whiz Comics #29 (April 17, 1942), Whiz Comics #34 (September 4, 1942) and Whiz Comics #40 (February 19, 1943)...

...before becoming official Marvel Family members with Marvel Family #2 (June, 1946).  It sure took some time as they predated the rest of the Marvel Family!

The Lt's next appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #62 (June 7, 1946) and Captain Marvel Adventures #71 (April, 1947) before disappearing for a time...

...but neither of those appearances have the 3 Lieutenants on the cover, so instead, take a look at this happy gathering from Whiz Comics #59 (October, 1944), to take a look at the extended Marvel Family in an impossible photo (as Billy, Mary and Freddy are in the picture, along with Cap, Mary and Junior, as is Uncle Marvel!  Even the old wizard, Sterling Morris and a few others like Beautia Sivana, and foes like Sivana, Mr. Mind and Ibac showed up here as well....).

Sadly, with the ironic cover of Marvel Family #89 (January, 1954, drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger), the Marvel Family was gone, or at least Fawcett's version of them was.

Kurt went to work for DC Comics, and snuck him in an issue of Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane (#42 from July, 1963, for only a cameo, and colored differently in green, but colored correctly for the reprint in Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane #104 of September-October, 1970), and later still, DC made it official and purchased the Captain and his family...

...though failing to secure the rights to the Captain Marvel name on the cover, Stan Lee and the Marvel folks caught that in the 1960s, and created their own Captain Marvel.

So, when Captain Marvel debuted at DC, the comic ended up being called Shazam, which was a defining phrase of the hero!  This continued on the adventures of the Fawcett Marvel Family, moving them into the 1970s for 35 issues, then a back up feature in World's Finest Comics, and two issues in Adventure Comics (as a digest-sized book), and they survived through the Crisis on Infinite Earths, with their separate status on Earth-S ending with that series.

Captain Marvel was the first of the Marvel Family to come back, with Legends #1 (November, 1986), and later, after Jerry Ordway retooled Captain Marvel with his Power of Shazam Graphic Novel (January, 1994), which led into a Power of Shazam series, even Mary and Freddy came back as well.

Holy Moley!


  1. Nicely done, Dave, especially for a very short treatment of a very long history. I might point out that CMA was not bi-weekly in its earliest days, but rather that happened in the mid-40's for a while. By the way, an upcoming issue of ALTER-EGO will have my "What If?" style article in which I imagine what might have happened had Marvel, rather than DC, revived the Marvel Family. And I cover the Bronze Age of the Marvel Family in an issue of BACK ISSUE later this year.

    1. Maybe should have phrased it as biweekly in its heyday.....

      I think I was influenced by the upcoming articles I saw on the big red cheese...and looking forward to them all, and I encourage anyone who reads this to look for those issues of Alter Ego and Back Issue! I'll probably also delve back into Cap and others from Fawcett. So much good stuff to talk about there!

  2. Tom Tyler brought Captain Marvel to life and proved to be a diverse actor having appeared in everything from A list to B-westerns, 1940’s dramas in supporting roles, and of course, the mummy in "The Mummy's Hand" and “The Phantom.” I have a petition to encourage Turner Home Entertainment/Warner Brothers to digitalize his surviving FBO silent film westerns which are stored in European film archives – thank you to all who support this effort!

  3. It's very interesting how there are many Versions of Captain Marvel .More in fact by Marvel than even by DC.But of course the worst one by DC was from Shazam!:The New Beginning with The Obnoxious Billy Batson who turned into the Obnoxious Captain Marvel then this incarnation was faded out by Final Night as according to a late Friend of mine Rich Morrissey.Next to follow would be The Power of Shazam with the newest incarnations of The Marvel Family.As we also know there's Captain Thunder from Superman #276 of which was meant to be an ice breaker for before Superman and Captain Marvel would meet in J.L.A.#137 then later on have a more/real true battle in DC Collector's Edition #58 of which may've as a result been by popular demand.Captain Thunder of Superman#276 would also show up in cameo in The Power of Shazam!I've even read that in Flash comics #1 by Fawcett Captain Marvel was even first addressed as Captain Thunder.Then the following issue would become Whiz Comics with his new name of Captain Marvel but let's do our own further researches and see if in any Shazam Reprint books if it'll say so.