Monday, February 29, 2016

Captain Marvel Chooses His Birthday

February 29 is a special day as it only comes around every four years.  However, for Captain Marvel, February 29 holds special significance as it is the day he chose to be his birthday!

Captain Marvel had a birthday dilemma that began in the pages of Whiz comics #47.  In this comic, Mr. Sterling Morris (Billy Batson's boss at WHIZ radio) is running for Alderman in what is proving to be a very tight election.  Billy Batson isn't old enough to vote but Captain Marvel is!  Captain Marvel intends to vote for Mr. Morris but then is stumped because he cannot prove or provide his birthday.  Both Captain Marvel and Billy try all avenues to find out when Cap was born, but to no avail. At the end of the issue we see a forlorn Captain Marvel asking his legion of loyal fans to write in and let him know if he can borrow their birthday!

Whiz comics #52 is where we find out what day Cap chooses as his birthday in the story, "Captain Marvel and His Death Day!"  Dr. Sivana has determined that Captain Marvel will die on February 29, 1944 and disguises himself as a creepy singing telegram to let Cap know!  

Sivana has created a trap for Cap and finally lures him into it.  But, as always is the case, Sivana's scheme is ruined and Captain Marvel is not killed.  Sivana returns to his laboratory to find a note left for him from Captain Marvel.  February 29 wouldn't be Captain Marvel's death day, but it will be his chosen birthday!

Captain Marvel had a dilemma about his birthday, and his loyal fans and loyal foe (Sivana) helped him choose February 29th as his birthday!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Re-Telling of Captain Marvel's Origin

I found it interesting that Captain Marvel's origin has been told six times in the pages of his comics.  Each time it has been told, the main elements have been consistent while some parts of the story changed.  Here is a chronological look at the telling and re-telling of the origin of Captain Marvel!

The first time we read Captain Marvel's origin is in the comic that started it all - Whiz comics #2 (published December 1, 1939).  Here's a brief account of Cap's origin as told in this comic.  Billy Batson is led by a mysterious stranger to a meeting with the wizard Shazam.  Shazam has Billy speak his name and transform into Captain Marvel!  Shazam commissions Cap to be his successor and fight evil in the world.  Then, as Captain Marvel says, "Shazam!", a massive granite block falls on Shazam and he is seen no more.

The second time Captain Marvel's origin is told is in Whiz #47 published on September 15, 1943.  Billy is trying to find information on his birth certificate and returns to the orphanage he spent some time at as a young child.  Here, a nurse uses magic cards to try and help determine Billy's age.  We don't find out Billy's age, but we do get a truncated telling of Captain Marvel's origin!  I won't comment much on this one as it is so short compared to the original telling in Whiz #2.  However, we can see a slight change in the sequence of when Shazam is crushed by the huge granite block.

The Marvel Family #1 (published November 21, 1945) gives us Captain Marvel's origin as told by Shazam himself.  This origin slightly changes the sequence of events from Whiz #2 and adds some additional information.  Compare the story below with the one from Whiz #2.

Notice that in this origin, Shazam dies right after Billy transforms into Captain Marvel for the first time.  Then Shazam comes back in ethereal form and gives Captain Marvel his mission of fighting evil on earth.  Shazam also adds that if he is ever needed, Cap only needs to light the incense burner and he will return.  

The next time we are given Cap's origin is in Captain Marvel Adventures #80 (published October 29, 1947) in the story, "Captain Marvel in a Twice Told Tale."  Interestingly, this story also has the first villain Cap ever faced, Dr. Sivana.  Here we have Sivana, tired of always having his schemes foiled by the Big Red Cheese, creating a way to go back in time to destroy Billy Batson.  Sivana schemes that if Billy Batson is destroyed, Captain Marvel will never be created!  This version of Cap's origin follows the sequence presented in The Marvel Family #1 and has the additional information of Shazam saying, "So it is written that I must go!"  (Based on some research, I believe when Shazam says, "So it is written that I must go!" he is referring to what has been written in The Book of All Knowledge as seen in Captain Marvel Adventures #93.  I'll have more to say about that in an upcoming article!)

Captain Marvel Adventures #100 (published  July 1, 1949) gives us another re-telling of Cap's origin.  Once again Sivana, with a captured Tawky Tawny, goes back in time to destroy Billy Batson.  Sivana's plot is foiled this time by Tawky Tawny, and Tawky has the privilege of seeing with his own eyes the first meeting of Billy Batson and the wizard Shazam - and the first appearance of Captain Marvel!  This version of Cap's origin follows the sequence introduced in The Marvel Family #1 and Captain Marvel Adventures #80.  However, this one also includes Shazam's words from Whiz #2 that Captain Marvel was to be Shazam's successor!

"Captain Marvel and Sivana's Time Trap" from Captain Marvel Adventures #121 (published April 4, 1951) gives us our final recount of Cap's origin.  It follows the origin as told in The Marvel Family #1, Captain Marvel Adventures #80 and #100.  It again has Shazam telling Captain Marvel is to be his successor and that, "So it is written that I must go!"

Captain Marvel's origin was told six times over a span of 12 years.  While the vast majority of his origin was consistent, we find that there were some slight changes to it made in The Marvel Family #1, and those changes remained throughout the rest of Cap's published history.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Captain Marvel's Magic

While I knew the wizard Shazam gave Captain Marvel his powers, I didn't know that Shazam also taught Cap how to use magic!  No, not the 'let me pull a rabbit out of the hat' type of magic, but powerful magic for good (think of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, or the wizard Shazam!).  I found this out in Captain Marvel Adventures #12 in the story "Captain Marvel and the Slap-Happy Magician."

I won't give a narrative of the story, but at the end of the adventure, Captain Marvel must use magic to save the day from an amateur magician.  Captain Marvel then warns the magician that it would be best to "leave magic to those who understand it!"  Then, at the end of the adventure, Billy fills us in that Captain Marvel learned magic from Shazam!

It was exciting to learn this fact about Cap!  It also tells us that there are other arts Cap learned from Shazam that we don't know about.  Off the top of my head I can't recall any story I've read where Cap has used magic, but now I'm on the look out for one - or more!  When I find them, I'll be sure to let you know.

(Note:  According to Captain Marvel Adventures #18 in the story, "Captain Marvel and the 3 Wishes of Tim Tucker" we learn "There is no magic greater than that of all-powerful Shazam..." - that tells us how powerful Shazam's magic is!)

The Original Marvel Family

The original Marvel Family was made up of Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and Mary Marvel.  Each of these family members received their powers from the wizard Shazam.  In later years, other characters would come to be considered part of the Marvel Family but they did not have any powers.  Uncle Dudley (Uncle Marvel) and Freckles Marvel are examples of the non-powered Marvel Family members.  (There were also the three Lieutenant Marvels (Hill Billy, Tall Billy and Fat Billy) introduced to us in Whiz Comics #21, but they were not considered members of the Marvel Family.)

Captain Marvel was introduced to us in Whiz Comics #2, published in December of 1939.  We are given Captain Marvel Jr.'s origin in Whiz Comics #25 in November of 1941.  Then, in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (on sale November of 1942), both Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. introduce us to Mary Marvel!  Each Marvel Family member had met the wizard Shazam and was given powers by him.

All three would go on to star in their own comics as well as other Fawcett titles.  Captain Marvel primarily starred in Whiz and Captain Marvel Adventures.  Captain Marvel Jr. would land in Master Comics and his own Captain Marvel Jr. comic.  Mary Marvel would appear in Wow comics and also her very own Mary Marvel comic.  

While they had tremendous adventures on their own, they also had combined adventures told to us through The Marvel Family comics, with issue #1 going on sale November 21, 1945.  This series had a total of 89 issues, the final issue published in September of 1953.  If you haven't read any of these comics, you are missing out on some fantastic stories!!

In the near future I hope to publish articles on the origin of Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel.  I'm also planning on writing about Freckles Marvel and Uncle Dudley, the Marvel Lieutenants, etc., as well.  

Did You Know...

Did you know that Uncle Marvel (Uncle Dudley) was once given the Shazam powers for 24 hours?  We learn about it in Mary Marvel #28!

Uncle Marvel has no powers but that never stops him from trying to help the Marvel Family.  While he's helping Mary Marvel on a case he gets knocked out by a bad guy.  Mary wishes Uncle Marvel could have super-powers like her or Captain Marvel, if only for a little while.  Unbeknownst to Mary Marvel, the Shazam gods and goddesses hear her wish and Uncle Marvel is given super-powers for 24 hours!

It's pretty funny to see the physical transformation of Uncle Marvel and to see him use his new-found super-powers.  For just one day he was the World's Mightiest Uncle! 

Did you know Uncle Marvel once had the powers of Shazam for 24 hours?  Now you do!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Billy Batson Before the Thunder!

Billy Batson's life before he met the wizard Shazam is known briefly from the pages of Whiz comics #2 where we are told the origin of how Billy was given the power to become Captain Marvel.  But we don't know what Billy's life was truly like.  However, Captain Marvel Adventures #88 sheds some additional light on Billy's life that we didn't know before!  To some degree, you can consider Captain Marvel Adventures #88 as the prequel to Whiz comics #2.

In Captain Marvel Adventures #88 we have "Captain Marvel in Billy Batson's Boyhood!"  We find Billy gathering some old clothes to give to charity and he reminisces about his life before he met the wizard Shazam years earlier.  What was life like for the young orphan while he lived with his Uncle Ebenezer?  It was a life of tremendous hardship.

Uncle Ebenezer was a cruel man, and he tried to make Billy steal for him.  Billy wouldn't steal and instead stood for hours in the cold selling pencils, trying to make money for his uncle.  His uncle beat him and barely fed him regardless of how much money Billy was able to earn.  Billy's clothes were patched, his shoes had holes in them, and he has no proper winter clothing.  Billy was truly living in a desperate situation.

One day, Ebenezer and Billy receive the news that a distant relative of Billy's has died and left Billy with a large sum of money.  Ebenezer says he knows exactly how to put the money to good use, and that won't include new shoes for Billy.  Ebenezer throws Billy out into the snow for Billy's ungratefulness for not appreciating the care Ebenezer provides him!

Luckily for Billy, a police officer finds him half-frozen sleeping on a park bench covered in snow.  The policeman takes him to the hospital where Billy is treated with a kindness that he has never known.  The nurse tells him to eat up as he is half-starved from the horrible care received from Ebenezer.

By the time Billy is fully recovered, winter is over and it appears to be spring time (notice the snow is gone).  Billy returns to the home of Uncle Ebenezer only to find that it's been abandoned!  A neighbor tells Billy that Ebenezer left right after he came into a good bit of money!

It's at this point that Billy's boyhood story in Captain Marvel Adventures #88 ends.  I'm assuming that when Billy returned to an empty home - a home his uncle had kicked him out of - that is when Billy took on the job selling newspapers and sleeping in the Fawcett City subway as described in the pages of Whiz comics #2.

I have to admit that there are some inconsistencies between Whiz comics #2 and Captain Marvel Adventures #88.  Whiz #2 says Uncle Ebenezer stole the money and bonds given to him from his father, but Captain Marvel Adventures #88 (CMA #88) says that Billy came into a good sum of money from a distant relative.  Here are two possible ways to reconcile these differences.  The first possibility is it could be Uncle Ebenezer had already taken Billy's inheritance from his father (as mentioned in Whiz comics #2) but is living a miserly life in a ramshackle house.  When he gets the additional money from Billy's distant relative in CMA #88, he kicks Billy out.  The second possibility is that the money from Billy's distant relative in CMA #88 is actually the money Billy's father left to him (Whiz #2) and Uncle Ebenezer lies to Billy, saying the money is from a 'distant relative'.   I think both of these offer a plausible explanation for the slight inconsistencies between Whiz comics #2 and Captain Marvel Adventures #88.

To say Billy Batson had a hard life is an understatement.  He was an orphan, beaten and betrayed by his Uncle Ebenezer. He had already lost his parents, and he almost lost his life from the neglect of his uncle.  For many people, that would be a convenient reason to turn your back on kindness and allow yourself to be embittered and broken.  How many people could recover from so many devastating blows?  Billy's young life was truly tragic, but that tragedy never corrupted his heart.  It is for these reasons we see Billy as a true hero and role model.  Billy never lost his good heart and positive outlook, and those are the things the wizard Shazam saw in him that made him his choice to become Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal.  

Monday, February 8, 2016

Captain Marvel's Powers: The Stamina of Atlas

The wizard Shazam gives Billy Batson the powers/abilities of six gods.  Billy gains them by uttering the magically mystic word, "Shazam!" which transforms him into Captain Marvel - the World's Mightiest Mortal!

I want to examine Captain Marvel's stamina, which he gets from Atlas, in this article.  Who was Atlas?  What is stamina and why would Captain Marvel need it?  When has Captain Marvel displayed this stamina?  I will answer those questions below!

Atlas is a character from Greek mythology who is described as the "Titan god of  endurance."  He was a leader in the war against the Olympians, and was known for his leadership and durability.  Because of his role in the rebellion against Zeus, he was sentenced to stand on the western edge of the known earth to hold up the sky and heavens.

Atlas' great display of stamina is holding up the sky without growing weary.  That takes stamina to say the least!  I found it very interesting that our word stamina is synonymous with endurance, these words can be used interchangeably.  According to Wikipedia, stamina is defined as "the ability of an organism to exert itself and remain active for a long period of time, as well as its ability to resist, withstand, recover from, and have immunity to trauma, wounds, or fatigue."  Notice the two components of stamina; 1) the ability to exert itself/remain active for long periods of time and 2) the ability to withstand, recover from trauma, fatigue, etc.  Both of these components are exhibited in Captain Marvel, and he would need the stamina of Atlas to carry out his commission to defend the poor and helpless and to crush evil everywhere.

Here are a few examples that display Captain Marvel's stamina.  The first example comes from Whiz #25.  Captain Nazi has sabotaged huge turbines so that they are going to explode, killing many people and ruining a new power plant.  Captain Marvel shows his stamina by using his own shoulder to slow down and stop the turbines before they explode!  (Remember, stamina also means immunity from trauma or injury!)

The Marvel Family Adventures #59 provides us with another example of Cap's stamina.  Here we see not only Cap's great strength, but it's also a display of his stamina to keep pushing back billions of tons of ice without losing his strength!  (Stamina is the ability to exert oneself for long periods of time!)

Captain Marvel Adventures #144 showcases Cap's stamina.  Atlas' stamina is called upon as Captain Marvel must bear the weight of millions of tons of concrete on his shoulders for an hour as workmen repair and shore up a dam damaged by an attack by Dr. Sivana.  

In Captain Marvel Adventures #148 we find two examples of his stamina.  First, Cap uses molten lava to reconnect South America to the rest of the continent.  Cap isn't hurt at all by the lava!

Then we have Cap seemingly crushed between two glaciers, only to appear unscathed as he is impervious to all harm!

The final example of Captain Marvel's stamina is from Captain Marvel Adventures #53.  Here we have the testimony of Captain Marvel himself that tells us that he is indestructible!  His stamina gives him the tremendous ability to withstand and have immunity from all harm.

The third power Shazam gives Captain Marvel is the stamina of Atlas and we see Cap display this stamina throughout his adventures.  Captain Marvel's stamina allowed him to stop sabotaged turbines, push billions of tons of ice without losing strength, bear the weight of millions of tons, handle molten lava and get crushed between glaciers without harm, and be indestructible.  Captain Marvel's stamina is just one power that truly makes him the World's Mightiest Mortal!

(Note:  I updated this article on December 28, 2016 to include an example found in Captain Marvel Adventures #144.  I learned that, according to this comic, it is the power of Zeus and not the stamina of Atlas that makes Captain Marvel indestructible.  I've decided to keep this article as is and would like to think that the stamina of Atlas only contributes to his indestructibility but it is not the source!)

The Death of Captain Marvel!

Decades before the comic world was shocked by the death of Superman in 1992 and Captain America's demise in 2007, we had the untimely announcement of Captain Marvel's death!

Captain Marvel Adventures #88 gives us the story, Captain Marvel's Funeral.  The story begins with a mystic by the name of Draka, Master of Zogo, being banished from his native land of Tibruk.  Draka makes his way to Fawcett City and we discover that he has brought Sterling Morris under the spell of his Zogo magic.  

Captain Marvel discovers that Draka is using the power of Zogo to get Mr. Morris to leave his entire fortune to him when Cap saves Mr. Morris from jumping out a window.  When Draka is confronted by Captain Marvel, he zaps Cap with a spell that makes Cap's spirit leave his body!  Cap's body lies on the floor while he desperately tries to get people's attention to tell them he's not dead.  Only Draka can hear him - and he's not going to help!

Draka is free to act with Captain Marvel unable to do anything to stop him.  But Captain Marvel finds a way to defeat him.  Mr. Morris is reading a book on Zogo and Cap sees the spell that is needed to get his spirit back into his body.  He's able to get Morris to read how he can rescue him, and Morris heads off to the funeral home to give it a try.

Mr. Morris says the magic words, "Ala - ka - whom!" over Captain Marvel's body, and just in the nick of time Captain Marvel's spirit and body reunite and is able to save Mr. Morris from Draka's dastardly attack!  Draka is just about to zap Cap again when Captain Marvel hits him so hard that Draka forgets everything he ever knew about Zogo!

This was another great adventure that blends humor and action together.  To some degree, Mr. Morris is the hero of this adventure as he was the one that gets Captain Marvel's spirit reunited with his body.  So while this 'death of Captain Marvel' wasn't on the same scale as Superman and Captain America, it was just as entertaining and marvelous to read.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Captain Marvel - Football Champion!

Superbowl 50 is just a few days away so I thought it was a good time to tell the tale of Captain Marvel, football champion!  This adventure comes from the pages of Whiz Comics #11.

The story begins with star newsboy Billy Batson sent to Marvel College undercover to try and uncover if football coach Slug Samson is up to no good.

With the help of Ben Strang, the football team captain, Billy becomes the water boy!  It doesn't take long for Billy to realize Coach Samson is up to no good.  Samson tells the team to take it easy as their opponents are pushovers and they can beat them with their eyes closed.  Billy is immediately suspicious that coach Samson is trying to throw the game.  Later, Billy follows coach Samson and finds he's in on a plan to throw the game, making a lot of money in the process!  

Captain Marvel has been in on the action as well.  He makes the football team under the fake name of Smith, a freshman who wants to do his part for the football team.  Luckily for Captain Marvel, the Marvel College varsity football team wears uniforms patterned after Captain Marvel's!!

The day of the big game arrives and sure enough, some sideline shenanigans begin and Marvel College team players start dropping out with injuries until only Captain Marvel is left to play!  With only 3 minutes left in the game, Cap shows his pigskin power and wins the game!!

I need to point out that there is a cameo appearance by Pete Costanza as a Marvel College football player.  Costanza was C. C. Beck's (Captain Marvel's primary artist) assistant.  Beck included his fellow Fawcett artist in this issue, and according to notes I've read, Beck drew him into some other stories as well.

I learned some things from this comic, for example, I didn't know there was a Marvel College in Fawcett City!  What I really enjoyed about this story is the way both Captain Marvel and Billy combined forces to foil coach Samson's plan.  I love football, so seeing Cap play and win the big game was awesome!  I only wish at least one NFL team would do the right thing and model their uniform after Captain Marvel's!!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Captain Marvel's Powers: The Strength of Hercules

The wizard Shazam gives Billy Batson the powers/abilities of six gods.  Billy gains them by uttering the magically mystic word, "Shazam!" which transforms him into Captain Marvel - the World's Mightiest Mortal!

I want to examine Captain Marvel's strength, which he gets from Hercules, in this article.  Who was Hercules?  What is strength and why would Captain Marvel need it?  When has Captain Marvel displayed this strength?  I will answer those questions below!

Hercules is a mythical character known for his great strength.  Hercules was the son of Zeus and a Greek woman named Alcmene.  Unfortunately, Zeus' wife Hera was so upset with Hercules' birth that she sent snakes into his crib to kill him.  Baby Hercules showed his strength by strangling the snakes - even as a baby he was strong!  According to one website, "Hercules was both the most famous hero of ancient times and the most beloved. More stories were told about him than any other hero."  Hercules is also know for his 12 Labors - feats of great strength and heroism that added to his legend.  

Here are two examples of Hercules' great strength.  The first example was when he killed the Nemean lion.  The Nemean lion was a mighty creature that seemed all but invulnerable.  Hercules used his mighty strength to catch the lion with his bare hands and strangle the lion to death!  The second example involves none other than Atlas.  According to legend, Hercules once took Atlas' place in holding up the sky for a while!  

We understand Hercules is strong, and Captain Marvel gets his strength from Hercules, but just what do we mean by the word 'strength'?  The best understanding of strength is this: Strength is known as a consistent, slow, exertion of force over a period of time.  For example, if you were to bench press, your strength would be tested by completing one full repetition at the heaviest weight that you can handle (Commonly known as “maxing” or “maxing out”).  Strength can also be thought of as raw force.  

There are many examples of Captain Marvel's strength that can be seen throughout the pages of his comics, I'll give a few examples.  

Captain Marvel Adventures #53 gives us our first two examples.  First, Captain Marvel uses his great strength to repair a gaping hole in a ship, saving the crew from a disaster!

Then, Captain Marvel uses his strength to keep a house from being destroyed by a fierce storm!

Captain Marvel Adventures #148 gives us our next example.  Here, Captain Marvel rescues the continent of South America that has broken away from North America!

However, there is one example that tops them all for me!  In The Marvel Family #59 we see Captain Marvel, along with Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. using their great strength to push billions of tons of ice over 100 miles to save the earth.  Captain Marvel's great strength allows him to move the ice and save the world!

The second power Shazam gives Captain Marvel is the strength of Hercules and we see Cap display this strength throughout his adventures.  Captain Marvel's strength allowed him to repair a sinking ship, save a house from a raging gale, move a continent and move billions of tons of ice to save the world from disaster!  Captain Marvel's strength is just one power that truly makes him the World's Mightiest Mortal!