Thursday, July 01, 2004


With one mighty word...

So, I was explaining to Shelswick about Captain Marvel--the SHAZAM one, not the trippy Jim Starlin one--and some of the loopiness of the character back in the Golden Age of comics. Now I'm in a Captain Marvel mood, so bear with me.

The short version: When he speaks the magic word "SHAZAM," 10 year-old Billy Batson is transformed into CAPTAIN MARVEL, the World's Mightiest Mortal. SHAZAM is an acronym for the seven gods who give "The Big Red Cheese" his powers: Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed).

It gets weirder, people.

Captain Marvel's face was originally modelled on Fred MacMurray. Yes, the Shaggy DA.

Since his debut in 1940, Cap was a major success, at its height even outselling Superman, which led DC, naturally, to sue. By then, the cast had grown into "The Marvel Family," incorporating not only the original Captain Marvel, but also Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, Uncle Marvel, the three Lieutenant Marvels (three nonpowered guys who just happened to also be named Billy Batson--there was Tall Billy, Fat Billy, and Hill Billy), and of course, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, who came from an alternate world inhabited by talking animals.

Seriously, it gets weirder still.

Captain Marvel's nemesis was a freaky little German dude named Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, "the World's Wickedest Scientist." They loved their alliterative nicknames back then.

Freakier still was Mr. Mind. Who was Mr. Mind? Mr. Mind was the leader of an organization called The Monster Society of Evil, whose epic battle with Captain Marvel lasted an epic 24 issues--this in an era long before the advent of continuity in comics. At the beginning of this story, Mr. Mind's identity was kept secret. It was eventually revealed that Mr. Mind was a superintelligent worm from another planet.

Captain Marvel ceased publication in 1953, as a result of DC's lawsuit. Ironically, DC themselves bought the character in the 70s, and attempted a failed revival. By then Marvel Comics had come up with their own Captain Marvel (that's the Starlin one), forcing DC to call Cap's title SHAZAM! (note the exclamation point) rather than name it after the main character. The character has hung around the DC universe ever since, never really making a splash except as a counterpoint to Superman.

Rumor has it that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, of "Batman: The Animated Series" fame, tried to get a Shazam animated series going; I remember seeing some character designs by Timm, and Dini wrote a one-shot for DC featuring the character, but the idea seems to be dead in the water.

Which is a shame. From what I've been reading, there was definitely a loopy intelligence and humor going on in those old stories. I may have to track them down.

If you found this article interesting, let me know and I'll clue you in about the Alan Moore connection.
Copyright 2004 Rich Bowen

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