Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thunder is Marvelous

Comic books at this time were still mostly anthologies with several stories of different characters. The first Fawcett comic book would be no different in this regard. The lead feature would be the costumed super hero of Fawcett's concept. Daigh selected Bill Parker, a supervising editor of Fawcett's movie magazines, to be the editor and develop the material that would fill this new comic book. He wound up writing every story and creating all its characters. Charles Clarence Beck, a staff artist and cartoonist at Fawcett, was assigned to be the artist for this new superhero Roscoe Fawcett wanted

Parker's original concept for the super hero lead feature was to be a team of a half-dozen heroes, led by a Captain Thunder. This captain and his lieutenants would each have a different power, such as strength, speed, wisdom, etc., which they would use to fight evil. This would have been the first super hero team in comics, coming before the Justice Society of America and even before Batman had his sidekick, Robin. This idea was dropped, though; in favor of one hero who would have the powers of several ancient gods and heroes granted to him by a bolt of lightning and his name would be "Captain Thunder!"

Captain Thunder would be the lead feature in a new comic called Flash Comics. An "ashcan" issue was produced, dated January 1940. Unfortunately, All-American Comics, an enterprise begun by Max C. Gaines in partnership with Detective Comics, released their Flash Comics, the same month. Fawcett's book was retitled Thrill Comics. Then pulp magazine publisher Standard Magazines introduced Thrilling Comics. Finally it was decided to give Fawcett Publication's first comic book the title of Whiz Comics, harking back to Captain Billy Fawcett's first magazine, Captain Billy's Whiz-Bang.

The hero himself had to go through a name change, though. At the last minute, the name “Thunder” was rejected, and artist Pete Costanza suggested the name “Marvelous,” which was shortened to “Marvel.”

The original Captain Marvel appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (most historians credit the ashcan as being #1) in 1940. In the story, young orphan newsboy Billy Batson was invited into an abandoned subway station by a mysterious figure in a dark hat and trench coat. The stranger took him to meet and old wizard named Shazam. The wizard introduced himself as one who had used the powers of a half-dozen ancient heroes to battle evil for thousands of years. His name was a acronym of those heroes:

Solomon = Wisdom
Hercules = Strength
Atlas = Stamina
Zeus = Power
Achilles = Courage
Mercury = Speed

Shazam told Billy to speak his name. When he did so he was transformed into Captain Marvel, a tall, muscular fellow in a red suit with a strong resemblance to Fred MacMurray (artist Beck's idea).

Next: Captain Marvel: The Early Days

No comments: