Monday, July 7, 2008

Something about Mary...and the rest

One spin-off begat another, as Billy Batson's long-lost twin sister appeared, and was found to also have to power to transform into a hero upon saying “Shazam!” She turned into Mary Marvel, who was unique among female superheroes of the period. She was one of the the few female superhero who was not marketed on her sex appeal. Her beauty was meant to inspire affection, not lust. She was a young teenage girl, after all. Her powers were also different from Captain Marvels; for her, the acronym of Shazam stood for:

Selena = Grace
Hyppolita = Strength
Ariadne = Skill
Zephyrus = Fleetness
Aurora = Beauty
Minerva = Wisdom

These powers were indicative of a society in which it was important to stress certain differences between males and females, boys and girls. A later age would find women debating and rebelling against some of these assumptions, as would future female Captain Marvels.

Rounding out the Marvel Family were three Lieutenant Marvels, boys from different backgrounds all named Billy Batson who, when they all said the magic word together, became grownup Marvel versions of themselves; Uncle Marvel, a lovable fraud inspired by W.C. Fields; and Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny, the Marvel Family's entry into the genre of funny animal comics.

There was never any deep examination of the psychological relationship between Billy Batson and Captain Marvel (or the other Marvel family members, for that matter). It appeared that Captain Marvel was a separate person from Billy Batson; that both people were aware of the other's memories, but were not psychologically tortured by the fact that they were trapped in the other's body. It was more like Billy Batson actually became a different person when he said the magic word. This was reinforced by moments when, for instance, Billy would buy Christmas presents for Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel would say “when Billy said the magic word...” and one early story where Billy needed help on a test ad whispered “Shazam,” at which point a ghostly apparition of Captain Marvel appeared over his shoulder to whisper the answers into his ear. Hey, this was magic, and it was a comic book, after all!

Next: Mr. Tawny, the feline Everyman


wvms said...

I think you're giving a bit too much importance to the Lieutenant Marvels. They only appeared in one or two stories, IIRC. A kind of digression equivalent to the appearance of a backwoodsman named "Sylvester Superman" (or whatever his first name was) on the Superman TV series.

An interesting application of sympathetic magic, though.

And Hoppy the Marvel Bunny never entered the Shazam universe, thank God. Important mostly as an illustration of how popular the concept had become.

Captain Zorikh said...

The brevity of this post actually prevents me from giving proper importance to the Lieutenant Marvels. They were the first superhero team, pre-dating the Justice Society of America. They were also the very first Captain Marvel spin-off characters. It is possible that they were to have been a more regular part of Captain Marvel's adventures than they ultimately did. They actually appeared in something more like three or four Golden-Age adventures, rather than a simple "one or two."