Tuesday, August 20, 2019

CAPTAIN AMALGAM! Part 16 of the Blog History of ALL the Captain Marvels!

Before we get too far away from the 20th century, there is one short-lived Captain Marvel and several related characters we should mention for the intriguing possibilities of these characters as well as the groundbreaking means by which they were created.

By 1995, the comic book boom had pretty much busted. The excitement engendered by the birth of Image and Valiant Comics, the Death of Superman, and the reveal of the new Batman after Bane broke Bruce Wayne's back had run its course. Sales were dropping, comic book shops were closing, and independent companies were dying off.

Marvel Comics itself, having been acquired by Ronald O. Perelman in 1989, went public that same year, spent hundreds of millions of dollars under Perelmen buying up or into companies that produced toys, stickers, trading cards, and other comic books, and a distribution company, and by 1995 found themselves under mountains of debt.

Since the success of Marvel's Contest of Champions, and Secret Wars, and DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, company-wide crossover events had become the go-to attempted circulation boosters for both Marvel and DC. Furthermore, comics fandom was always a-chatter with theories and speculation on what would happen if superheroes from the two big rival companies were ever to meet.

With this no doubt in mind, DC and Marvel got together and launched DC Versus Marvel, a crossover between both companies! In this 1996 4-issue miniseries, (with one "#0" free preview giveaway issue), fights were staged between comparable characters of the two companies.. This included Superman vs. The Hulk, Batman vs. Captain America, Aquaman vs. the Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman vs. Storm, and Captain Marvel vs. Thor. (Marvel Comics' Captain Marvel, still technically Monica Rambeau, only appeared n one panel, and Genis-Vell, the all-but-official inheritor of the title whose comic had recently been cancelled did not appear at all).

There was an extra gimmick to this series, though, that did engender greater reader interest, and that was that for the matches between the bigger names of each company, the winners would be decided by reader vote! For better or worse, however, Captain Marvel vs. Thor was not one of those matches.

I suppose this was as logical a matchup as one could imagine. Both of them being of godly power and with a lightning and thunder theme. And though they threw in a one-panel gag that acknowledged how one character was a rip-off of the other, DC's Snapper Carr and Marvel's Rick Jones razzed each other.

The fight was won by Thor in a conclusion some Captain Marvel fans felt unsatisfying. But that was not the last appearance of a Captain Marvel in the DC-Marvel co-production.

The story that contained these battles was extended to bring the two universes, Marvel's and DC's, together in an amalgam not just of the worlds, but of the characters and the companies. Superman and Captain America became "Super Soldier." Batman and Wolverine became "Dark Claw." Wonder Woman and Storm became "Amazon," and Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel became..."Captain Marvel."

The conceit of the concept was that it was a line of comics called "Amalgam Comics," and that these "amalgamated" heroes had been around all along, in place of the ones with which we were familiar. There were backstories and publishing histories of each character with made-up titles of comics combining titles of existing comics. Captain Marvel fit into this paradigm easily.

Though only seen briefly in two published comic books and a few trading cards, he had a secret identity and backstory. His alter ego was young Billy Mar-Vell, who upon saying the alien word "Kree!" would "super-scientifically" transform into Captain Marvel, with a white suit, green gloves, boots, briefs, and yoke, and green lightning bolt logo on chest. He had powers of super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, and flight.

As he was only one of a bunch of heroes in "Judgement League: Avengers," he didn't get much to say or do, but he did express disdain and distrust of aliens and "metamutants." This disappointed me, as all other Captain Marvels had actively fought against prejudice in some form or another.

The fictional history of this character included him first appearing in "Whiz Marvels #1,"  being a founding member of the "Judgement League: Avengers" and  present in the "Secret Crisis of the Infinity Hour" (a crossover epic that was never really published, but key story points were related in a series of trading cards) when "American Girl"  (a pastiche of Ms. Marvel and Supergirl named "Carol Barnes," a combination of Carol Danvers and Bucky Barnes) sacrificed herself to save the universe. 

For her part, "American Girl" was a successor to "Super Soldier," the living legend of WWII, and his fellow hero, "American Belle" (herself a pastiche of Marvel's Miss America and DC's Liberty Belle).

And speaking of Carol Danvers, a character by that name was the alter-ego of Amalgam's "Huntress," a former US secret agent super-spy with a crossbow (an amalgam of DC's Huntress and Marvel's Hawkeye, along with elements of Carol Danvers' Marvel Comics history) who filled a sort of "Batwoman" role to Dark Claw.

Rick Jones was not left out of this. He appeared in an amalgam with his DC counterpart/inspiration, "Snapper" Carr, as Snapper Jones, a.k.a. "Bismouth," a member of "Magneto's Magnetic Men" who appeared in an eponymous comic. He was super villain, an  amalgam of Tin, a member of DC's Metal Men, and Toad, a member of Marvel's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Apparently, he was created by Magneto, killed, revived, gained sentience, told to live a human life, and became a street musician.
(Incidentally a Steve "Snapper" Jones was a star basketball player in the American Basketball Association who became a popular broadcast announcer)


Another miniseries involving the Amalgams came out in 1997, titled Unlimited Access. In it, the character of "Access," a normal Earth Human who wound up with the power to amalgamate characters from the DC and Marvel universes, created more of these amalgams, only some of them with less apparent relevance between the component characters.

The Captain Marvel-related character here was "Captain America, Jr," (appearing in Unlimited Access #4) whose alter ego, Freddy Rogers, could transform into his hero by shouting "Uncle Sam!" His powers appeared to be based on characteristics of United States presidents, including the strategy of Eisenhower and the trickery of Nixon. He only appeared in this one issue.


Next for the DC Marvels: Society, Leagues, and crises, crises, crises!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

GENIS, PHYLA, AND MONICA: Marvels in the New Century (Part 15 of the blog history of ALL Captain Marvels)

As the first decade of the New Century ground forward, Marvel Comics found itself with several Captain Marvels and a seeming lack of ability to make any of them "stick."

The most game, and outrageous, attempt, was Peter David's version of Genis-Vell. To catch us up on his status at the time, here is the "splash page" from an issue of that era...

Genis-Vell, as written by Peter David, had gone mad from his constant "cosmic awareness." He also had omnipotent power. This made him a self-described "mad god." He killed himself to end it all, but it didn't stick. He wound up convincing Entropy, (one of the Cosmic Entities of the Universe), to kill his brother Eternity, thus ending the universe. The only survivors were Entropy, Epiphany, Genis-Vell, and Rick Jones. The resultant nothingness was boring, so Rick and Genis convinced Entropy to remake the universe exactly as he knew it, and Entropy became the new Eternity.


This was actually the origin of Marvel's next Captain Marvel. Try to stay with me on this...

In this new universe, things were ever so slightly different. Genis-Vell was not quite as insane as he was in the original universe. However, the Genis that had existed in the past of this new universe that was just created (complete with a past and everything, so the experience for Genis and Rick Jones was rather like picking up a familiar book and opening it in the middle) was replaced by the Genis that had existed in the original universe (the titular character in this eponymous comic book).

Also in this new universe, Genis-Vell's mother Elysius, who had died in the original universe, was alive here, was aware of the Universal Recreation, and did not like the new Genis-Vell. So she cloned Mar-Vell again, this time into a female named Phyla-Vell, artificially aged her  (as she had Genis-Vell), gave her nega-bands, and made sure she had her father's cosmic awareness. She was to replace Genis-Vell as "The New Captain Marvel."

The obligatory conflict ensued, and when the dust settled, Genis-Vell claimed that he was no longer insane and would work to improve himself and make the universe a better place. Was this the truth, or was he now just going to hold his insanity closer to the vest? Only time would tell.

Or would it? Genis and Rick went on to have a few more adventures, one that proved to make him the most tragic superhero ever. It was a time-travel story that led to him deciding to kill his baby son in his crib to  prevent him from growing up to be a super-powered evil galactic emperor. This story confirmed that he would marry and have at least one child with the reformed super-villain, Songbird.


The series was cancelled with the following issue, in a finale that revealed that Rick Jones actually knew that he was in a comic book. In that final issue, it was also revealed that Phyla was a lesbian and she hooked up with the psychic superhero Moondragon, daughter of Drax the Destroyer.
Expediency, one of the "Friendless," personifications of aspects of the universe, informs Genis-Vell of the end of his series.

Matthew Younker wrote a great little article about Genis-Vell's insanity for PopOptique.

Genis-Vell then joined the team of reformed super-villains known at the New Thunderbolts (in their self-titled series), of which Songbird was a member. He was killed by the team's giant, Atlas, in a manipulated rage over a her, then came back to life with a new power set and took on a new name, "Photon."

This last part pissed off Monica Rambeau (again), but in a discussion over beers, she decided to call herself "Pulsar."

Genis eventually proved to be an unstable element in the space-time continuum and was torn into pieces and sent to the far corners of space and time by Baron Zemo. He has not been seen since, despite not yet having married Songbird.


Phyla, meanwhile, spent a brief time as a Captain Marvel, but then gained the quantum bands of  Quasar, Defender (not "protector") of the Universe, and took on that mantle. She served with the Guardians of the Galaxy and went through more drama (at one point, Moondragon actually became a real, space-faring dragon, and the two became the hottest cross-species lesbian superhero couple in comics). She was involved in several company-wide crossover events with the Guardians. Eventually she changed her name to "Martyr," and ultimately got killed. Twice.
Phyla-Vell getting killed by Magus, the future, evil version of Adam Warlock.

Monica reappeared as the leader of a new, satirical superhero team, NextWave, Agents of H.A.T.E., in their eponymous, possibly-not-in-canon 12-issue limited series.

In 2009, she appeared in a mini-series titled Marvel Divas, a sort of Sex and the City take on the friendship between several female superheroes in New York City.

Then, in 2013-2014 she became the field leader of the Mighty Avengers, a new version of Marvel's premiere superhero team, this time led by Luke Cage, Power Man, and notable for having not one member who was not female or a person of color for a time.

More about Monica Rambeau, and how she teamed up with Carol Danvers, to come!

Part 14: Power of SHAZAM!
Part 13: The Legacy of Mar-Vell!
Part 12: The New Beginning for SHAZAM!
Part 11: SHAZAM's World's Finest Crisis!

Part 10: The Marvelous Miracleman!
Part 9: Miracleman! The Marvelous Revival of the British Captain Marvel Rip-Off!
Part 8: Marvelman!
Part 7: Death and Energy!
Part 6: Whatever Happened to Carol Danvers?

Part 5: The DC Revival!
Part 4: Marvel's first Marvel!
Part 3. I Gotta SPLIT! XAM!
Part 2.  The Silver Influence
Part 1. The First Marvel and the World's Mightiest Lawsuit

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Mr. Tawny Closeup!

This little article posted on Heroic Hollywood shows a closeup of those buttons/clasps/brooches/whateveryouwanttocallthem on the costume of the hero of the recent SHAZAM! movie. Between that, repeated tiger references, and one particular homeless-looking guy in a crowd scene, I am pretty confident that a talking tiger will come into play in this franchise...

The original Instagram post

Mr. Tawny falls strongly into the category of "beloved" among fans of the character. He was a genial everyman, created and written by Otto Binder to represent himself and his concerns and struggles (you can find out more about this in The Fawcett Companion and Bill Schelly's biography of the writer, Words of Wonder). He was loyal and true to his friends, Billy Batson and Captain Marvel and excelled in his job as a tour guide in the local natural history museum.

Despite this, he would often seek something more, something new, something different in life. He would bemoan his boring, everyday life and fall for a get-rich-quick scheme, or try to recapture his lost youth, or gain everlasting fame or great popularity, or attempt to return to the free life of an animal in the wild.

In teh end of each of these comedic adventures, however, he would find that just being himself, a regular guy, was what was best in life and most satisfying for him.

These stories were sopme opf the best-written in the Fawcett run of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. the love for the character form the writer was clear, and artist C.C,. beck was at the top of his game. Gwuandanaland recently published a collection fo all of hi sstories, including the very best  C

I made mention of Mr. Tawny references in the movie in my on-the-spot review. In case you missed it, here it is...

Den of Geek has made mention of these disks and their tiger faces, also making the Mr. Tawny connection as part of a pretty thorough rundown on the suit that was designed for the movie.

And on page 2 of this ScreenRant article, the designer himself talks about the tiger imagery on the suit.

Personally, I think that Mr. Tawny is going to turn out to be that homeless-looking bearded guy who was oddly prominent in two shots of the crowd during the "caught the bus" scene. This would be consistent with Jeff Smith's  interpretation in "Monster Society" and the Superman & SHAZAM! vs. Black Adam animated short film.

What do you think?

Monday, June 17, 2019

POWER of SHAZAM! and the history of ALL the Captain Marvels (Part 14)

Note: This page is continually being updated. Please feel free to revisit to see updates as more information and images get added to this entry.

In the early 1990's DC wagged its tail to the speculator market no less than Marvel. Although they did not have an exodus of artists like Marvel, they still needed to do something to remain relevant. Thus came The Death of Superman.

As we saw in the last chapter, the 1993 Death of Superman saga at DC was the high-water mark of the speculator's market and the comics industry serving it. As we also saw in Part 11 of this history, DC had combined all of its multiple "universes" into one through the Crisis on Infinite Earths in the 1980's. As the 1990's approached the midway point, both of these events were showing their downsides. The speculator's market bubble burst, leading to a precipitous decline in sales across the board, and inherent contradictions and unsettled character histories revealed weaknesses in the continuity of the new DC universe.

In an apparently unrelated move, the SHAZAM! franchise was revived.

DC's version of the original Captain Marvel, now (as of Part 12 of this history), the version created by Roy Thomas in SHAZAM! The New Beginning, had not been seen much since that 1986 mini-series. John Byrne proposed a version, wrote a story, and even drew a couple of pages, but that project never saw fruition. The Big Red Cheese did make big appearances; in 1991, as part of the War of the Gods miniseries, and in 1992, battling a Superman possessed by the villain Eclipso.

But while all this was happening, in 1991 Jerry Ordway was asked (according to his introduction in the most recent reprint volume of DC's initial revival of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family) to "relaunch the SHAZAM! characters." He researched the DC revival, the Fawcett comics, and even the Republic Pictures' Adventures of Captain Marvel serial. In 1994, his new graphic novel, The Power of SHAZAM! was released.

This gloriously drawn and painted, this new production was a loving tribute to the character and its history, but made certain drastic departures from the original stories.

In this story, Billy's parents, C.C. and Marilyn Beck, were archaeologists murdered during a dig in Egypt by Theo Adam, in the employ of Thaddeus Sivana, the wealthy industrialist who financed the mission. Billy wound up selling papers and living on the street when he was taken to the wizard Shazam by a stranger through a subway tunnel. Once he got his powers, though, he hated them. They were confusing and he lacked the maturity and experience to use them properly.

(And yes, this was where the recent movie got the names of Billy's parents.)

The "McGuffin" of the story, a scarab necklace on an ancient mummy, gave Theo Adam the power to transform into Black Adam, and it turned out that he was really the ancient villain reincarnated. He quit Sivana's employ, Sivana's financial empire and plans and schemes crumbled, Billy adapted to being Captain Marvel and defeated Black Adam, and the stranger who had led Billy to the old wizard turned out to be the spirit of his dead father.

But this was a different Captain Marvel. Set in a more realistic world where a 10-year-old boy living on his own would be snatched up by civil authorities, Billy Batson had to figure out how to survive, and turned out to be a scrappy, self-reliant survivor.

Jerry Ordway established Fawcett City as the home of Billy Batson/Captain Marvel (after Roy Thomas had created it for a story in All Star Squadron about ten years earlier) and made the city one that retained the modernist Art Deco style of the 1930's. This and other elements were blatant tributes to the Fawcett stories and the work of the writers, artists, and editors of those days. Streets were named after Fawcett-era writer Otto Binder and artist C.C. Beck, Billy's father was named after Beck, a scene of Captain Marvel throwing a car against a wall was an obvious tribute to the cover of Whiz Comics #2, and the subway tunnel, train car, and throne room of the old wizard were adapted very faithfully (with some detailization) from the original story.

The book was a big hit, critically and commercially, and led to a new series of the same title.

But before that new series began, in September 1994, DC began a new, company-wide, crossover epic miniseries, Zero Hour. It seems that the Crisis on Infinite Earths series of 1986 had set up a bunch of contradictions and failed to resolve certain matters in the DC Universe, so Zero Hour was an attempt to fix it.


As a result, a new DC Universe was established, mostly similar to the previous one, but it was assumed by most who cared that this re-invention of Captain Marvel was to belong to this post-Zero Hour world.

And thus did the new Power of SHAZAM! ongoing series begin in 1995. Set a few years after the graphic novel, Billy had his job at WHIZ broadcasting and was attending school. The school janitor, Mr. Dudley, helped the boy out where he could. Billy's uncle, Ebenezer Batson, had thrown him out on the street. In his Captain Marvel form, Billy would sometimes disguise himself to act as his own uncle or get work on the side.

The wizard Shazam played a much more integral part in the stories than he had in the Fawcett and pre-Crisis DC stories. It was revealed that his throne room was in the Rock of Eternity which was reached through a dimensional barrier. The old wizard had cast a spell on Fawcett City to make time pass more slowly and protect it from certain dangers, thus ensuring it kept it's Art Deco look and 1930's-'40's styles and cars all the way to the end of the 20th century.

Theo Adam/Black Adam was a regular adversary of the Marvel Family through the series. Eventually the Theo Adam personality was completely subsumed by Black Adam, to the point where his alter ego was his ancient self - Teth Adam.


The series started with both Billy and the wizard looking for Billy's sister Mary, and found that she had been adopted by the wealthy Bromfields, Nick and Nora (obviously based on the comedy-detective duo from the 1930's "Thin Man" series of films).

Mr. Tawny, the talking tiger from the Fawcett/DC comics, turned up as a "pookah," a Celtic shape-changing spirit who appeared to most everyone as a stuffed tiger doll, but to Billy and Mary was a full-size, anthropomorphic tiger. He guided Mary to say the magic word, granting her powers, but instead of calling herself "Mary Marvel," she called herself "Captain Marvel," so now there were two Captain Marvels.

Freddy Freeman was a recurring character as well, a star high school athlete and Big Man On Campus, but near-death injury resulting from Billy/CM's battle with Captain Nazi led to him being orphaned and granted the power to become Captain Marvel, Jr. by saying that "Captain Marvel." Because of the difficulty in introducing himself without transforming, he eventually chose to call himself "CM3."

CM3 at first had a crush on Mary, but it didn't go over well with Billy, so the third Marvel left town, joined the Teen Titans, and later the more edgy Outsiders.

The wizard Shazam involved himself directly in the lives of the Marvel Family, breaking up arguments and guiding them to important tasks. At one point he left the Rock of Eternity to explore life on Earth again, often comparing life today with that of the 1930's and '40's, a period of which he was fond, hence the magic spell he had cast over Fawcett City.

One unique detail regarding the powers of the Marvel Family in this version was that they were limited. When two or more of them were in their "Marvel" identity, that limited power was shared. So each of them became less powerful, less invulnerable. Black Adam was even able to break Billy/CM's arm under such circumstances. This limitation, however, was eventually eliminated when Ibis upgraded their powers while covering the old Wizard's position at the Rock of Eternity.

The wizard Shazam was brought into DC's magical realms, including the afterlife, and a couple of supernatural Superman villains, Blaze and Satanus, were revealed to be his children. The old wizard even advanced to godhood before the series was over (in the polytheist, mythological, Jack Kirby's New Gods style).

Mr. Tawny, it turned out, had been a stuffed animal all along, but given the opportunity to be "real" by Blaze, if he did her bidding. When Blaze was defeated, Ibis gave him the option of remaining a real, anthropomorphic, talking tiger. He jumped at the chance, and became a recurring character in the DC universe.

The series, like the graphic novel, had a lot of references to the Fawcett years. Street names, businesses, and characters were named after writers, artists and editors from Fawcett. Obscure characters like "Muscles" McGinnis made appearances, as well as old Fawcett heroes like Ibis the Invincible and his companion Taia, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Mr. Scarlet (actually his old sidekick Pinky bearing his former mentor's identity), Spy Smasher, Minute Man, and Lance O'Casey.

Villains from the Fawcett stories that appeared included Ibac, Mr. Mind, Mr. Atom, and the Arson Fiend.

The series lasted for 47 issues (with one extra "One Million" issue as part of a company-wide crossover event that some count as the 48th). In it Ordway was able to explore the awkwardnesses of Billy trying to get along in adult society as a superhero although he was a teenage boy. He eventually got adopted by the Bromfields and they were able to live together as a family.

Additional Shazam-powered characters, some named "Captain Marvel," some not, were created in this series: C.C. and Marilyn Batson were Captain Marvels in an alternate timeline created by Sivana (now refered to as "Dr. Sivana.")
This three-part story also featured a great full-page illustration that interpreted several Captain Marvels in SHAZAM! style! (Note also the letters embedded under the golden man's arms!)

In Power of SHAZAM! One Million, the hero was a young man on the planet Mercury named Tanist, granted the power by an aged Billy Batson/Captain Marvel in the far future.

In the 1996 Power of SHAZAM! Annual, the hero was Cecebeck, who took the name "Thunder" when superpowered. She would later join the Legion of Super-Heroes.

DC had created a line of books under the imprint "Elseworlds," in which the heroes were put into alternate histories, contexts and situations. In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl #1 (September, 1998) there was a Captain Marvel in the Justice Society. This was the first black Captain Marvel to see print in DC.

During this time, Captain Marvel made significant appearances in miniseries like Kingdom Come and Underworld Unleashed. When used to best effect, Billy Batson's humanity, youth, and purity of heart were deciding factors in the outcomes of the stories.

During this time the Big Red Cheese shared stories with many DC heroes, both as guests in their books and with them as guests in his, including Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Plastic Man, Starman, and even this old favorite...

The series was highly regarded critically and sold well, but not well enough to avoid being cancelled just shy of its 50th issue (which disappointed Ordway). The final issue had a cover that was directly inspired by the cover of the final issue of DC's first SHAZAM! series:

 But though this series did not last out the decade, this Captain Marvel remained a major player in the DC universe...

Next for the DC Marvels: Society, Leagues, and crises, crises, crises!
For the Marvel Marvels: Genis-Vell cracks up! and Marvels, Marvels everywhere!