There’s Something About Mary

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The late, great E. Nelson Bridwell once estimated that Otto Binder wrote “986 stories … out of 1,743, over half the entire Marvel Family saga” over a 12-year period.

In that time, Binder not only co-created Mary Marvel but also added such characters to the mythos as Uncle Marvel, Mr. Mind, Black Adam, Tawky Tawny and the evil Sivana siblings, Georgia and Thaddeus Jr.

(And that doesn’t even factor in the endless classics Binder wrote for Quality, MLJ, Timely and – eventually – DC Comics and Superman.)

Our last entry in Mary Marvel Week features Uncle Dudley, but I picked this particular story because it highlights how Mary Batson is heroic even without the Shazam powers. After all, it’s easy to be brave when a mystically powered, self-actualized alter ego can handle the heavy lifting.

Due to Uncle Marvel’s lovable incompetence, Mary Batson finds herself unable to access Mary Marvel’s power for 24 hours. Thrown into danger, she copes a lot better than you’d expect from a teen-age girl outnumbered by thugs.

It may be a simple story, as unrealistic as any other Golden Age tale, but Otto and his brother Jack definitely tap into a sentiment that runs through most of my favorite super-hero comics: It’s the person, not the power, that makes a super-hero.

Mary Batson, with or without the Shazam powers, is definitely a super-hero.

“The Big Test” originally appeared in Mary Marvel #8 (Fawcett, November 1946). The story and art are by Otto and Jack Binder, respectively.

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Super Girlfriends

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If there was anything rarer than super-hero team-ups in Golden Age comic-books, it was probably super-heroine team-ups in Golden Age comic-books.

Mary Marvel broke that particular glass ceiling in the eighth issue of her own magazine, though, when she met up with Bulletgirl and fought two of the Flying Detective’s deadliest enemies: Doctor Riddle and The Weeper.

(Or his son, anyway.)

Although Mary and Bulletgirl still got knocked out and tied up a couple of times, it’s still refreshing to see female characters from the 1940s take down super-villains without any male assistance.

Mary Marvel Week continues with “Riddles Of Death.” The story, which originally appeared in Mary Marvel #8 (Fawcett, December 1946), was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jack Binder.

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Mary Malevolent

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Mary Marvel is such the quintessential good girl that certain writers and artists over the years have been tempted to concoct a heel turn for the character. Although such impulses usually result in less than memorable stories (to be charitable), the concept of a “Good Supergirl Gone Bad” did make for a few interesting twists and turns during Mary’s Golden Age heyday.

(It probably helped that the Mary Marvel of the 1940s was one of Fawcett’s top characters, rather than an “underused property” needing some sort of gimmick to gain the attention of an increasingly jaded modern comic audience.)

The twist in this particular story is that Mary Batson is corrupted and subsequently wages war against her virtuous alter ego, Mary Marvel. And yes, in this particular story the two Marys are depicted as separate individuals. It’s even spelled out on the original comic book cover …

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“The Milk Of Inhuman Kindness” originally ran in Wow Comics #17 (Fawcett, Sept. 1943). No writer’s credit this time, but the artistic honors go to long-time Mary Marvel contributor Jack Binder.

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The Wizard Of Wha?

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Oops! It seems that time got away from yours truly on Thursday!! That’s what I get for wasting an hour on Katie Couric’s softball interview of Manti T’eo.

Well … it just means that Mary Marvel Week will be extended by one day. I’m sure the Shazam Girl wouldn’t want the Time Bulleteers to feel cheated.

Today’s story takes Mary Batson’s decided resemblance to Judy Garland’s Dorothy Gale a step further by introducing our heroine to three analogues of Oz’s most famous residents: a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and … ummm … a giant talking sausage.

(I guess a talking lion was a bit too similar to Captain Marvel’s feline friend, Mr. Tawky Tawny.)

From Wow Comics #48 (Fawcett, October 1946), here’s “The Modern Wizard Of Oz.” The story was written by Otto Binder and drawn by his older brother, Jack.

Georgia On My Mind

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A hero or heroine is only as good as his or her villains, so Otto Binder gave Mary her very own Sivana in the first issue of the Shazam Girl’s own title.

Without further ado, Mary Marvel Week continues with the self-explanatory “Mary Marvel Meets Sivana’s Daughter – Georgia” from Mary Marvel #1 (Fawcett Publications, December 1945).

(*Whew. That’s a lot of “Mary Marvel” in one sentence.)

The story, as usual, is by Otto Binder. The art is uncredited, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was provided by the studio run by Otto’s older brother, Jack.

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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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