To The Moon!

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Today is the 92nd anniversary of Kurt Schaffenberger’s birth! He was one of those veteran artists I encountered often during my ’70s adolescence (being an avid reader of DC’s Superman Family), but never quite appreciated as much as flashier, younger superstar creators like Jim Starlin and Marshall Rogers.

As I grew older, however, I saw the brilliance of Shaffenberger’s ability to balance cartoon-like characters with realistic settings. Few artists outside of C.C. Beck could make Tawky Tawny a viable part of a super-hero universe and qualify as one of the medium’s better Good Girl artists.

Few characters suited Schaffenberger’s style better than the original Captain Marvel (aside from Superman, perhaps, but that’s six of one/ half-a-dozen of another). From Whiz Comics #120 (Fawcett, April 1950), here’s “Rockets To The Moon” with pencils and inks by the great Kurt Schaffenberger.

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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!

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.

New Girl

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“And a Happy New Year to you … in jail!”

Mary Marvel’s debut as Wow Comics’ headlining feature was certainly stacked in the Shazam Girl’s favor as Otto Binder’s story not only featured The Big Red Cheese, but also featured appearances from Mr. Scarlet and Pinky and doubled as a heartwarming Christmas story.

Under such circumstances, Mary could hardly fail. She remained Wow Comics lead character for the next five years and enjoyed a three-year run in her own magazine. Although her star fell a bit further than the other Marvels during the post-war super-hero slump, Mary continued appear in Fawcett’s successful Marvel Family comic until the publisher closed down its comic-book operation in 1953.

Mary Marvel Week continues with “The Night Before Xmas.” The story originally appeared in Wow Comics #9 (Fawcett Publications, January 1943) and was written by Binder and drawn by Marc Swayze.

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Mary Mary

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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.

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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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Marvel Comics

It’s a good thing that DC recently rebranded Captain Marvel as “Shazam” because the cynical, self-serving brat the company served up a few weeks ago in Justice League #0  sure has heck had nothing to do with the character created decades ago by C.C. Beck and Bill Parker.

Rather than post a long screed about the wrong-headedness of DC’s new approach to Cap and many other of its characters (don’t get me started about Amethyst), let’s just turn back to a time when Billy Batson was heroic and selflessly – if somewhat stupidly at times – put himself into the line of fire to help someone else.

Plus, the following story features killer barracudas and Nazi spies. Awesome, right?

“The Baron Of Barracuda Bay” originally appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #30 (Fawcett, December 1943). The writer and artist are uncredited.

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Hmmm, guess Cap conveniently forgot that he possessed the speed of Mercury as those Axis agents threw themselves over the cliff. Oh well … they were dirty Nazis anyway. Golden Age justice!

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.

*Sniff*

A Very Marvel Christmas

Now that two-thirds of my family is in the throes of the dreaded December cold virus, today seems as good a time as any to spread a little holiday cheer around the Blogosphere.

So, for the entire week The Time Bullet will present vintage comics and other miscellany celebrating the obscure, Wintertime celebration known as “Christmas!”

First up, “Captain Marvel And Billy Batson’s Xmas” by the Hall of Fame team of writer Otto Binder and artist Pete Costanza. The story originally appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #69 (Fawcett Comics, February 1947).

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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