Mary Mary

Captain Marvel Adventures #18 - Page 1

For the next seven days, I’ve decided to highlight the Golden Age adventures of one of my favorite comic-book heroines: Mary Marvel!

Created by Otto Binder and Marc Swayze, Mary’s adventures were generally fantasy-oriented affairs geared toward young girls – an audience that is apparently invisible to Marvel and DC these days.

The good-hearted Mary Batson, whose appearance was obviously modeled after Judy Garland, fulfilled just about every function of a fictional role model for children and – unlike her Silver-Age descendants – was unafraid to throw a hay-maker or two in the pursuit of justice.

She was as clever and self-reliant as any Golden Age character, even if Miss Batson did have an unfortunate tendency to find herself bound and gagged.

(To be fair, though, Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman often found themselves in similar situations. It’s one of the hazards of being a Marvel, I suppose.)

Like her Marvel Family compatriots, Mary disappeared from the newsstands for several decades after Fawcett finally acceded to DC’s demands in the infamous “Superman vs. Captain Marvel” lawsuit.

The “Marvel” spirit lived on, however, in the form of Supergirl – a move Superman Tyrant-In-Chief Mort Weisinger commissioned to expand the Man Of Steel’s market to the young girls once enamored of Mary Marvel. In a bit of irony, the writer assigned to bring Kara Zor-El to life was none other than Otto Binder.

Of course, DC would later bring the Marvel Family back into print but we all know what eventually came from that attempt.


From Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (Fawcett, December 1942), here’s “Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel.” The story is by Binder and art by Swayze, with Captain Marvel Jr. figures illustrated by Mac Raboy.

The original cover, shown at the top of this post, was painted by C.C. Beck.

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7 thoughts on “Mary Mary

  1. This story illustrates the key inconsistency in the Marvel Family: Captain Marvel Jr is Freddie Freeman with super powers; Mary Marvel is Mary Batson/Bromfield with super powers; but Captain Marvel is a different person from Billy Batson. (In other stories, Billy plainly thinks of the Captain as a different person, or the Captain thinks of Billy as a different person, or Shazam represents them as two different people.)

    I think that the original idea was for Captain Marvel to be seen as an adult Billy Batson, but that sort of thing would be hard to sustain and explain, so it was abandoned.

    Because she is not replaced by an adult nor physically matured, Mary is really an analogue to Freddie, rather than to Billy. It’s interesting to consider the reasons why there is no female member of the family who is not a closer analogy to Billy.

    I think that there are at least two reasons. The first is that Captain Marvel is thus the unquestioned leader of the family. The second is found in the relative significance that our culture put and puts on the sexuality of women. (Note that one of Mary’s powers is beauty, while Adonis isn’t either β€˜A’ for the Captain.) Captain Marvel could be a nearly sexless character without the readers much noticing. But an adult female Marvel could not have been. She would have either had to have been a Plain Jane or a Hot Ticket. Few or the readers would have fantasized about being the former, and the latter would have completely disrupted the atmosphere of this fictional world.

    (A juvenile female character who matured β€” rather than being replaced by an adult β€” would have been especially problematic.)

    • Agreed on the inconsistency — and when the Lieutenants Marvel were introduced, they became adults as Cap did, rather than becoming super-powered versions of Tall Billy, Hill Billy, and Fat Billy. Still, one great feature of the Shazam mythos is that no matter how confusing things may have gotten, the default explanation “a wizard did it” is ALWAYS appropriate.

  2. Mary Batson Bromfield, or Mary Marvel, was something of an unliberated woman (unlike Sheena or Wonder Woman ) even for those times. Poor Mary never had even the hint of a romance, despite the fact that girls and women were buying great quantities of romance comics. Binder didn’t seem to have a flair for fictitious females, although his brother Jack, who handled a great deal of the art for Mary Marvel’s exploits, portrayed her with more flair than his other artistic attempts (Jack Binder’s primary skill seems to have been organizational, perfecting the techniques of comics production necessary to keep a comics company running).

    • Well… I’d argue Mary Marvel was targeted to younger kids than either Sheena or Wonder Woman or – especially – romance comics. The fact that she often threw haymakers at male criminals also made her a lot more liberated than – say – Sue Storm a few decades later.

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