Making Magic

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DC Comics has taken to depicting Billy Batson as a delinquent Harry Potter, but as today’s tale proves the Golden Age Captain Marvel’s familiarity with magic began and ended with Zeus’ lightning bolt. After that, as writer Nate Cosby once stated, his arsenal generally consisted of punching bad guys real hard.

(And if that didn’t work, he could always punch them even harder …)

Other than that, the Captain generally approached supernatural menaces with the same determined, good-hearted attitude that made him one of the most popular characters of the 1940s and early ’50s. If a little strategy was required, well … let’s just say Billy Batson generally relied on his intelligence a bit more than the guy who supposedly possessed the wisdom of Solomon.

The 13 Days Of Halloween continue with “The Witch Of Haven Street.” It originally appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #136 (Fawcett, September 1952). The writer was Otto Binder and the artist was C.C. Beck, two of the all-time greats among comic-book creators.

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Billy, Mr. Morris and friends in drag might have been the scariest part of the story. Good thing Tawky Tawny wasn’t asked to dress up…

Coming tomorrow: Face-Off: The Prequel!

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The Marvel Age

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To celebrate Free Comic Book Day, here’s the complete Captain Marvel Adventures #78 (Fawcett, November 1947), advertisements and all.

This particular issue features two of my favorite Captain Marvel stories: the hero’s epic battle against Mr. Atom and an excellent human interest tale entitled “The Street Of Forgotten Men.”

According to the Grand Comics Database,  the issue was produced by the following creators: “Captain Marvel Meets Mr. Atom” was written by Bill Woolfolk and drawn by C.C. Beck and Pete Costanza; “Lucky Boy” was written and drawn by George Marko; “Climbs To New Heights” was drawn by Al Liederman; Captain Marvel Saves Sivana was written by Woolfolk and drawn by Beck and Costanza; “Stone Head” was written and drawn by Marko; “The World Stealers,” a Jon Jarl text adventure, was written by Otto Binder under the pseudonym Eando Binder and “The Street Of Forgotten Men” was written by Binder and Costanza.

Anything else that wasn’t ad-related was written and/or drawn by the ubiquitous “Anonymous.”

The issue was scanned, of course, by the good people at the Digital Comic Museum.

Mummy Dearest

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Captain Marvel, Junior and Mary face their greatest challenge – well, next to DC’s legal team – as The Time Bullet continues its pulse-pounding countdown to Oct. 31!

From The Marvel Family #79 (Fawcett Publications, January 1953), it’s “The Dynasty Of Horror!” The story was written by Otto Binder and drawn by C.C. Beck (pencils) and Pete Costanza (inks).

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Marvel Vs. DC

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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.

Captain Jobber Meets Superman

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.

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Enemy Mine

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Fawcett’s Captain Nazi was as bloodthirsty a villain as could be found in the Golden Age.

Sent by Hitler himself in Master Comics #21 (story by Bill Woolfolk, art by Mac Raboy) to “humble America,” the not-so-good Captain sought to undermine democracy by the most direct method possible: killing as many people as he possibly could with his bare hands.

From Master Comics #11 Art by Raboy

Unsurprisingly, Nazi’s rampage attracted the attention of such heroes as Captain Marvel and Bulletman. After a particularly brutal battle against The World’s Mightiest Mortal in Whiz Comics #25 (story by France Herron, art by C.C. Beck & Raboy), the villain found himself helpless in the middle of the ocean.

An elderly man and his grandson tried to lend a hand, but …

From Whiz Comics #25, Art by Raboy & Beck

Captain Marvel saved the boy’s life but was shocked to learn the young victim’s back had been broken. Billy Batson, the Big Red Cheese’s alter ego (but you already knew that, right?), subsequently decided to take matters into his own hands and brought the crippled boy to the wizard Shazam.

The result? A new champion of justice is born: Captain Marvel Jr.

From Whiz #25 Art by Beck & RaboyFrom Whiz #25 Art by Beck & Raboy

From Whiz #25 Art by Beck & RaboyFrom Whiz #25, Art by Beck & Raboy

Junior’s subsequent confrontations with Captain Nazi were understandably a tad more intense than a stereotypical Marvel Family adventure. Those Golden Age tales weren’t all talking tigers and evil worms, you know …

The following story concerns Captain Nazi’s attempt to fatally poison American soldiers, a macabre plan that Freddy Freeman vows to stop. “Captain Marvel Jr. Saves The Doomed Army” originally appeared in Master Comics #30, Fawcett (September, 1942).

The writer is not credited but the story’s striking artwork is rendered by the great Mac Raboy.

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