Man’s Best Friend

Although The Curse Of Shazam isn’t a series I plan on purchasing, your humble host has tried to refrain from joining the chorus  – an admittedly small one, I must add – of outraged Captain Marvel fans decrying the wholesale reconstruction of a beloved Golden Age character.

After numerous failed attempts to revive a once-thriving creation that DC itself once put out of business, it seemed inevitable that the company would one day throw the baby out with the bathwater and rebuild the Big Red Cheese – errrrr, I mean “Shazam” – from scratch to better fit the needs of a modern comic book universe and its continuity-crazed fans.

To be frank, despite the noble attempts of such creators as Jerry Ordway and Jeff Smith, the classic Captain Marvel never really seemed to click with modern readers at any rate. I first discovered the Marvel Family during DC’s first revival in the ‘70s, and found myself far more captivated by the Golden Age reprints included in the comics than anything devised the creative teams of that period.

The gentle humor, quietly detailed characterization and old-fashioned thrills of the Fawcett era belong to an earlier age that seemingly can’t be recaptured by writers and artists – no matter how talented – in the 21st century.

So why not rename the character Shazam? The real Captain Marvel and family flew into the sunset back in 1953 anyway.

The following story is a nice example of how Golden Age Cap stories often dug a bit deeper than one would expect from a series featuring talking tigers and evil alien worms. I can’t imagine a tale like this playing to the far older and cynical audience comics are directed toward these days, but it remains affecting all the same.

From Captain Marvel Adventures # 38 (Fawcett, August 1944), here’s “The Man Nobody Loved” by writer Otto Binder and artist Pete Costanza.



8 thoughts on “Man’s Best Friend

  1. The problem for Captain Marvel is not the audience, but the writers. Talented? In most cases (though I howl in outrage whenever anyone claims this of Elliot S. Maggin). Willing? No. The writers of the Bronze Age and later simply haven’t been willing to adopt the underlying ideology (and I mean “ideology” in more than a political sense) of the Captain Marvel universe for purposes of writing about the characters of that universe.

    (And, frankly, any time that a writer bastardizes a character, we should recognize that the writer is acting like a bastard.)

  2. I agree with your sentiments, but I’ve reached the point where I simply believe that whether purposely or not, modern day sensibilities can’t do justice to the good Captain. It may also be a case that – like Jack Cole with Plastic Man and William Moulton Marston with Wonder Woman – the only people truly able to “get” the character are its creators.

    As far as Maggin goes, he had his flaws but I’ll always maintain he crafted the definitive Lex Luthor.

    • I’d agree that we might as well accept the hand that we have been dealt. It is no longer plausible that DC might restore Captain Marvel, and no one who might is going to get the rights.

      I don’t see it as an issue of modernity as such, though; we have, after all, seen other, fairly modern characters d_cked over once they fell into the hands of writers who actively disliked the worldview informing those characters.

      Plastic Man really does seem to be a character that only Cole could write, but this is illustrated by the results of golden-age attempts by other writers and artists. Do you see a similar problem for Captain Marvel with golden-age efforts by writers other than Binder?

      As to Wonder Woman, I’d bet that if we first narrowed the search to writers with a particular set of sexual deviations̷.

      • I think Denny O’Neil, Elliott S! Maggin and E Nelson Bridwell tried to recreate the Golden Age spirit, but even with C.C. Beck (who didn’t like the stories) and Kurt Schaffenberger around the comics were very pale imitations of the original.

      • But was Binder the only writer in the Golden Age who could do a proper Captain Marvel story, as Cole was the only writer in the Golden Age who could do a proper Plastic Man Story? If, so, then Captain Marvel is arguably a character that only his creator properly understood; if not, then we have to seek a different explanation.

        Beck was beyond merely disliking the stories; he was furious. He treated the failure as ultimately willful.

      • Definitely not. The character was co-created with Beck by Bill Parker and Bill Woolfolk wrote several stories as well. Of course, it helps that both Binder and Woolfolk were two of the most skilled and prolific writers in the Golden Age era (and, I’d argue, in the history of the medium itself).

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