An Oral History of CAPTAIN MARVEL: The Fawcett Years, pt. 2
An Oral History of CAPTAIN MARVEL 2
Welcome back to our special tribute to the 70th anniversary of Captain Marvel, featuring interviews with some of the biggest creators associated with the character!
And now, on to…An Oral History of SHAZAM, the World's Mightiest Motal
The Original Captain Marvel - The Fawcett Years: 1940-1954, Part Two
In the early 1940s, Captain Marvel outsold every other hero, including Superman, and DC’s lawsuits weren’t capable of putting him out of business. DC responded by, well, imitation. Hey, if it had worked for Fawcett…
Michael Uslan (Executive Producer on all Batman films, forthcoming Shazam film): “If you go back and look at when Captain Marvel first started outselling Superman, this was a huge, huge turning point in the Golden Age of comics. And the way DC responded was by ordering a more comical, silly direction for Superman.
“All of a sudden, you started to see one-after-another covers of Lois dropping the pie she’d made on Superman’s toe, or Lois cutting Superman’s hair in a barbershop. They started to switch it over, since Captain Marvel had the lighter tone and was outselling Superman.
“That’s when you started seeing more of Mr. Mxyzptlk, more of the Toyman and Prankster. That’s when you started seeing Susie, Lois Lane’s bratty niece, who was like an imp to Superman. It was all trying to tilt him in Captain Marvel’s direction.
“It was a vast change in direction for Superman, and it didn’t feel comfortable.”
The bulk of the Captain Marvel stories – 986 in total, according to most counts – were written by Otto O. Binder (pronounced “Bender”), author of a popular series of science fiction stories with his brother Earl under the pseudonym “Eando Binder” (“Eando” = “E and O”).
If a goofy con man calling himself “Uncle Marvel” became a hit, then the W.C. Fields-inspired character could hang out with Captain Marvel and friends, sometimes saving the day in spite of himself. A whole world sprung up around Captain Marvel, bursting with imagination and ideas.
Captain Marvel saved Freddy’s life by convincing the spirit of the wizard Shazam to grant him part of his powers. By saying “Captain Marvel,” Freddy became Captain Marvel Jr., The Mightiest Boy in the World (and technically, a character incapable of saying his own name without losing his powers).
But more significant was the look. While C.C. Beck’s style was rooted in whimsical cartoons, Captain Marvel Jr. had a style that hewed closer to Norman Rockwell or Howard Pyle, like a children’s storybook come to life.
The artist behind this was Emmanuel “Mac” Raboy, whose previous experience with the Works Progress Administration gave Captain Marvel Jr.’s tales a sense of being grounded in a world in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Later, Raboy would be picked to succeed Alex Raymond as the Sunday page artist of the newspaper strip Flash Gordon, a position he held until his death in 1967.
Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, other Captain Marvel stories): “Looking back, it’s very strange in that sense – getting an artist with a completely different look from the main book instead of making it all homogenous. Raboy’s Captain Marvel Jr. stories are not like anything else in that universe at all. It’s amazing.”
Chip Kidd (author, Shazam!: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal): “Mac Raboy was sort of Alex Ross before there was an Alex Ross. I found his artwork interesting because it was so different, and unusual, and his use of silhouette was really cool.”
Alex Ross (Kingdom Come, Shazam: Power of Hope, Justice): “Mac Raboy’s work always stood out to me as a symbol of the type of work I always wanted to create in comics. The fact that it already was created long ago and its quality was received with great respect and success made me more secure in the idea that realistic comics worked.
“The realistic origins of superhero art relating to Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon were crystallized through Mac Raboy’s work with Captain Marvel Jr.”
Beck actually disliked Raboy’s work on Captain Marvel Jr., claiming it was “illustration” and not “cartooning.”
Chip Kidd: “It’s such an interesting situation, because Beck and Raboy had completely divergent styles. They stood apart, but they also had to stand together. Can you imagine if Robin had to be drawn in a completely different style from Batman? It would have seemed very strange.”
Chip Kidd: “I loved the tabloid reprints of the 1970s. That was like Proust’s Madeline – ‘I remember that! Captain Marvel Jr. helping the trolls!’ ‘Captain Marvel Battles the Plot Against the Universe’ – that was so great. They could get so conceptual on those.”
Mark Waid: “The Monster Society of Evil is obviously a favorite. Specific stories from the Fawcett era are hard to think of, but book-length epics like ‘Captain Marvel Battles the Plot Against the Universe’ or the Marvel Family stories like Black Adam and so forth were just great.
“Many of the shorter stories are fun, but don’t really stick to your ribs – there’s a lot of repetition and not as much mythos after a while. You see the formula at work over and over again, but that said, they’re good for what they were, and I tend to read them in big giant chunks, and they weren’t meant to be read like that – they were meant to be read on a monthly basis.”
Jackson Bostwick (TV’s Captain Marvel): “My favorite is the origin story. I don’t know what issue that it first appeared – maybe it was in a Whiz Comics (I had it, but as stated: mom - God love her - tossed all my comics out while I was in the Army), but that, along with the theatrical serial starring Tom Tyler, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, is what got me hooked. I also always liked it when Cap went after King Kull or Captain Nazi.”
Alex Ross: “The long Monster Society of Evil storyline and the tale of Sivana’s takeover of the Rock of Eternity are great examples of the best that Otto Binder and C.C. Beck created. The oversized reprints of these tales are how I came to find them, and they capture the perfect hybrid of fun, drama, and great storytelling that the Fawcett era produced.
“Like many fans, Freddy, Mary, and Black Adam have captivated me since I was a kid. The realism of (Raboy’s) art and mood made him quite different from Captain Marvel as well as being compared to Superboy.
“The extended family and the overall rogues’ gallery seemed like some of the best in comics history. There was so much creativity then, it was an apex of the art form.
“Many of the simplest ideas, like the quick-change to hero transformation and even lightning as a pivotal element, have been repeated endlessly in countless comics and fantasy characters so as to almost be in the DNA of mythmaking. Exact copycats of Captain Marvel are so numerous but without their success extending to him.
Next: The Fawcett Years conclude as Captain Marvel battles Black Adam, the Monster Society of Evil, King Kull and Mister Atom…but it’s a real-world foe that finally defeats him.
Evan Shaner (www.evansharner.com) provided the homage to Captain Marvel vs. his foes, the shot of the Marvel Family, and a color piece of Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.
Jon Berk provided the original page of Mac Raboy drawing Captain Marvel Jr. from Master Comics #27.
Michael Wm. Kaluta (www.kaluta.com) provided the black-and-white piece of Mary Marvel.
Tom Beland (www.tombeland.com) provided the color piece of Mary Marvel.
Jerry Ordway provided the piece of Captain Marvel with Mr. Tawny.