In late 1972, I saw an advertisement in a DC comic book. I cannot recall which one, but it said that DC was giving comics readers a Christmas present - and that gift was the following (here, I've used a scan of the original art, used recovered clip art for the center of the wreath and re-colored it based on the printed version):
Click Here to see how it looked in print and the genesis of this advertisement.
I was elated for two reasons - firstly, because I had read Captain Marvel's origin in "The Great Comic Book Heroes" by Jules Feiffer, but knew scant else of him other than part of his origin and what was revealed here in this ad. Secondly, I had never developed a fondness for Marvel's version of the character and had noted how hard they tried to make him into the Fawcett Captain Marvel (particularly by having Mar-Vell and Rick Jones trade places by use of twin "Nega-Bands" worn on their wrists which, when slammed together, caused one of them to transfer to the Negative Zone and the other to be here on Earth). To see the original seemed like a LOT more fun. Plus, he was an 11-year-old kid - like me!
And, as promised in December, this book shipped (I've reconstructed the cover from multiple examples in order to ensure the entire image, both in the header and the cover drawing):
One found, upon closer inspection, that Captain Marvel's creator, C.C. Beck, was very involved in the book. The stories were written by no less than Denny O'Neil and Elliot S! Maggin. The first issue re-introduced the Marvel Family and their supporting cast and the Sivana family, complete with a Key to the Characters in the book to help familiarize readers with the world writers were re-building. The introductory story, itself, allowed the series to pick right up and move along without hesitation.
The story was remarkably good, and while it's never been spoken of, the Marvel Family's final appearance seemed to have foretold both their apparent demise in comics, as well as the reappearance 20 years later with this cover from Marvel Family #122:
In the following months, Jack Adler gave us some lovely infinity covers in the first several issues:
There were also some covers hearkening back to the Golden Age Marvel Family! First Up was #2, which was also an infinity cover, inspired by two different cover images (thanks to Captain Marvel Club Facebook member Rick Mesch for the heads up on this one!):
Also, this end of the year issue hearkening back almost 30 years to Mac Raboy's new year cover:
Even after the first issue's eventful origin story and ret-con back into existence, and a few reprints (Otto Binder stories, no less) as backups, I yearned to learn more about the fabled Captain's history. DC obligingly provided access - in several forms. In the fifth month after Cap's return, the biggest comic book my 11-year-old eyes had ever seen arrived on the newsstands. A tabloid-sized comic with reprints of Captain Marvel's adventures from the Golden Age of comics - DC Limited Collector's Edition C-21:
Four months later, the planned 100 Page Super Spectactular (DC-23) became Shazam #8 replete with more reprints (of which there was a large backstock, curated by E. Nelson Bridwell). For more on this pivotal issue in the 100-Pager story (and an unpublished cover by C.C. Beck), see our page dedicated to DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars!
Shazam! #10 was C.C. Beck's final issue. He is reputed to have initially enjoyed the first several issues and their stories, although he would later disavow the entire series. Mr. Beck was a wonderful artist and creator. He had his own motivations for his departure and there are differing stories told on both sides. Eventually, it appears that - after he had been invited to submit a story script, it was returned with heavy editing and he became frustrated attempting to draw the changed script and ended his work with DC. Personally, I was saddened that Cap's creator was no longer with the book, but it did not impact my enjoyment of the characters from that world.
With the 12th issue, DC began printing Shazam! bi-monthly, but they made up for it by switching to the 100-Page format for the coming year, giving both new stories and reprinted stories. For those of us who had subscribed, they honored the number of comics shipped for the subscription without any added cost!
Not much later, another DC Limited Collector's Edition (C-27) was published:
Even this cover was a callback to the Golden Age - Whiz Comics #22:
With the success of the Shazam! Television Series - starring Michael Gray and Jackson Bostwick as Billy Batson & Captain Marvel, respectively - at the top of Shazam! covers appeared "Meet TV's Newest Super-Star!". Also, the subheading of the "Shazam!" title changed from "The Original Captain Marvel" to "The World's Mightiest Mortal". The TV series was popular for a couple of years and featured Billy was traveling the US in a Winnebago with a weird combination of Uncle Dudley & the Wizard Shazam named "Mentor", played by Les Tremayne. It doesn't age well, but it featured the MOST accurate version of the classic Captain Marvel uniform. And it did spawn a sort-of spinoff in "The Secrets of Isis" telvision series, which featured a character who similarly changed identities with a magic phrase.
While the departure of C.C. Beck was sad, he later indicated that he felt that the trend toward "realism" in comics art was a bad idea. However, even the most "realistic" artists of the time - Neal Adams & Dick Giordano - were entirely capable of capturing the cartoonist appeal of Captain Marvel and maintaining an aesthetic that felt very much in the vein of Beck himself. Here's an example from the 1976 DC Calendar:
There's been plenty of wrangling around the name "Captain Marvel", but his name was originally going to be "Captain Thunder". Had they gone with a name change, we wouldn't be trying to call him "Shazam" these days (making him a hero who can't tell anyone his name). They can't do that currently, because there is a copyright on that name for a different character. Be that as it may, I've put together a cover that "might have been" had they decided to go with the original name. Knowing that C.C. Beck was fond of some of his Golden Age cover designs, and utilizing Beck's drawings from the mid-to-late 1970's (an homage to Whiz Comics #22 and a Marvel Family portrait), it's apropos to the Bronze Age:
Speaking of Captain Thunder, not only was Superman in on the introduction of The Original Captain Marvel, but fans kept demanding a showdown. While there have been many covers depicting this in the years since, the first iteration was shown on the cover of Superman #276. However, this was, in fact, a "Captain Thunder", rather than Captain Marvel. His alter ego, rather than Billy Batson, was Willie Fawcett (interestingly, the namesake of Fawcett Publications' founder, Wilford Fawcett). He would say the magic word "Thunder" (Tornado - Power, Hare - Speed, Uncas - Bravery, Nature - Wisdom, Diamond - Toughness, Eagle - Flight, Ram - Tenacity) and rub his magic belt buckle, resulting in a change ("Sha-Boom!") into the adult Captain Thunder. His powers were given to him by the last Mohegan medicine man, Merokee, who granted him the belt and great powers of the Mohegan Shamans. While fighting the Monster League of Evil (a group of Universal Monster look-alikes) across 1953 dimensions of time-and-space, he somehow appeared in 1974 Metropolis. Captain Thunder was masterfully rendered inside by Curt Swan and Bob Oksner, and the answer to the question posed on the cover was given by Superman: "If one of us is stronger, the difference is too small to measure". Regardless, the cover by Nick Cardy is iconic. I always felt that if they had had Captain Thunder in the foreground, it would have been less obvious that this was not Captain Marvel. But I'm not an artist and certainly nowhere in the ballpark with the design sense of Nick Cardy and Joe Orlando (Cover Editor) it's a wonderful, enduring image nevertheless (and one of the few that Cardy signed during this period):
Speaking of Bob Oksner, his involvement was planned on the Shazam! title beginning with a Mary Marvel backup feature. He was well-suited for the job. Having done many female-oriented comics and also humor comics, he had the experience necessary to bring Mary to life. It's no wonder that he was later tapped to take over the art duties on the regular Captain Marvel feature as soon C.C. Beck was no longer continuing with the character at DC. Here's Oksner's version of Mary, which was drawn for "Who's Who in the DC Universe":
DC also managed a coup by engaging Dave Cockrum to draw the backup feature of Captain Marvel, Jr. His style was reminiscent enough of Mac Raboy to bring the appropriate flair to the character and he was at the height of his powers drawing this character. Sadly, DC's ruined relationship with Cockrum resulted in his departure for Marvel (where he co-created the New X-Men soon afterward, so he landed on his feet, as it were). Here's a latter-day drawing of Captain Marvel Jr. by Cockrum - from Dave's portfolio during the year that he transitioned from DC to Marvel:
I really loved this period of Captain Marvel in Shazam! Fun stories, great art involving all members of the Marvel Family and a ton of history to discover. I missed out on seeing Don Newton become the new artist on the Marvel Family's adventures and - while I'm a big fan of Don Newton's and Don Newton was a huge fan of the Original Captain Marvel, I have not truly developed enough of an appreciation to collect these stories as a whole or comment on them at all. That said, I also enjoyed Jerry Ordway's injection of a new mythology for the Marvel Family. Speaking of the Marvel Family, here they are, rendered by Bob Oksner for DC Limited Collector's Edition C-35.
The current movie did a great deal to bring me around on the current iteration of Cap, although I'm not personally fond of the idea that he's supposed to be called "Shazam" instead of "Captain Marvel". While I understand the legal difficulties, I thought it was hilarious the way they treated the concern by avoiding use of "Shazam" as his name and referring to him as "Captain Sparkles" and the like whenever someone asked his name. Lots of fun!
The recent Shazam! movie (2019) is an indication that the World's Mightiest Mortal still has legs. And if that's insufficient to convince you, here's a list of comics, live-action and animated characters - all inspired by The Original Captain Marvel - illustrated by none other than Alex Ross (on an 11" x 17" piece of paper, mind you). Entitled "Echoes of Captain Marvel". Click on the image for a key to all of the characters:
I've mentioned a couple of times having Captain Marvel and Billy Batson on television was something of a boon to the comics. But it was also important to the show that they have a "built-in" audience, so in August of 1974, you saw many, many ads in comic books, touting the arrival of a live-action Captain Marvel series, "Shazam!". Here's essentially what the ad looked like:
I look forward to hearing from anyone who enjoys The Original Captain Marvel or any of the other pages on MetropolisPlus.com. Links to E-mail me below!
I hope you enjoyed this trip throught he past - I enjoyed bringing it to you!
Long live the World's Mightiest Mortal!
Brian G. Philbin
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