Despite what DC attorneys argued at the time, the Golden Age Captain Marvel wasn’t all that similar to a certain Man Of Steel. They could both fly, bend steel in their bare hands and laugh away a hail of bullets, but the Big Red Cheese’s cheerful outlook and whimsical adventures were far different from the more serious Superman’s.
Such differences mattered little to DC, however, who viewed the Captain’s swift and massive success as a serious threat to the Superman franchise and filed suit. By the end of the ’40s, the two publishers had been locked in litigation for more than seven years and were headed for a courtroom showdown.
At that point Captain Marvel was no longer the cash cow of the World War II years (Adventures was published bi-weekly at its peak with a circulation of 1.3 million copies an issue), but still earned enough profit to support an entire line of comics. A judgement in DC’s favor would not only wipe out the Big Red Cheese but every other title published by Fawcett.
In their typical whimsical matter, Captain Marvel co-creator C.C.Beck and the equally legendary writer Otto Binder addressed this situation in Captain Marvel Adventures #97 (Fawcett Publications, June 1949).
Beneath an ingenious cover illustration of a photographed hand “wiping out” the Big Red Cheese, the issue contained the tale of a felonious artist who acquired a magic eraser that could eradicate any person or object.
As a plot device, the eraser worked on a variety of levels. It served as a seemingly unbeatable challenge for Captain Marvel while subtly acknowledging the hero’s entire world as nothing more than a series of drawings on paper.
(C.C. Beck himself even makes a one-panel cameo toward the end of the tale.)
I wouldn’t be surprised if the eraser was also a commentary on the ongoing DC/Fawcett lawsuit. And is it just me, or does the story’s villain resemble a young Jerry Siegel?
As we all know, Captain Marvel was indeed wiped out a few years later after Judge Learned Hand ruled against Fawcett. The Marvel Family and every other character and title published by the company disappeared from the face of the Earth for decades.
A few publishers trotted out their own Captain Marvels before DC revived the one and only Big Red Cheese in the early ’70s. Although a host of talented creators have taken their shots at the Marvel Family (including Jerry Ordway, Mike Kunkel, Jeff Smith, Mike Norton and C.C. Beck himself), no one has ever quite captured the artistic or commercial spark that made the Golden Age tales so memorable.
These days, the Marvels are barely a presence in the DC Universe. Those rare times when Cap interacts with The Man Of Steel – his rival of long ago – it’s usually in the role of a glorified sidekick.
It’s hard to imagine Cap ever being an upper-tier character for the very company that engineered his downfall. But then again, perhaps the Big Red Cheese has already enjoyed the final laugh.
After all, to steal an insight from Grant Morrison’s Supergods, DC was eventually knocked off its lofty perch by a company named “Marvel.”
Here’s “Captain Marvel Is Wiped Out” by Binder and Beck.