Friday, June 27, 2008

Early Captain Marvel

Immediately Captain Marvel and Whiz Comics became a success. It is not hard to see the attraction Captain Marvel may have had to young boys. He was, in his alternate identity, a young boy. This boy was a resourceful, adventurous kid, who could handle himself in tough situations, but when faced with a challenge that was greater than a normal man could handle, he could change into a grown man, a mighty hero, by simply saying a magic word. As more than one historian has commented, this was total wish fulfillment. It may have been more difficult for young boys to identify with a grown man who was an alien from outer space.

Further, while the early adventures of Superman were tales of social justice, and laced with the sexual tension of the Superman/Lois Lane/Clark Kent triangle, the adventures of Captain Marvel had it's heroes (Billy Batson and the Captain) battling absurd, almost comedic plots to conquer the world, with little or none of the embarrassing awkwardness of a Clark Kent/Lois Lane exchange. In fact aside from Captain Marvel being particularly shy around women, the whole romance angle was conspicuously absent.

Captain Marvel's primary adversary was Dr. Sivana, a bald scientist who was struggling to rule the world and ultimately gain the crown he believed he deserved, that of the “Rightful Ruler of the Universe.” His look was inspired by C.C. Beck's childhood pharmacist. This was one of the most tenacious and entertaining villains in history.

Shortly after Captain Marvel first appeared, the US entered WWII. Bill Parker went into the service, and never returned to comics. After a while Otto Oscar Binder, an already successful writer of science fiction famous for, among other things, the original “I, Robot” stories, got a job writing for Fawcett's comics. He got the Captain Marvel job and ultimately wrote more than half the Captain Marvel and related character stories published by Fawcett. His writing style established the sense of “whimsy” that so many historians have described Captain Marvel's stories to have. After the end of Fawcett Comics, he went on to write for DC, adding a similar sense of humor to many Superman-related stories, and creating characters like Supergirl.

Next: The Blue Boy

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