Shazam! Family Archives volume 1


By unknown authors, Mac Raboy, Al Carreno, Mark Swayze & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0779-3

One of the most venerated and beloved characters of America’s Golden Age of comicbooks, Captain Marvel was created in 1940 as part of a wave of opportunistic creativity which followed the stunning success of Superman in 1938 and Batman one year later.

Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett champion quickly moved squarely into the area of light entertainment and even straight comedy, whilst as the years passed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action, drama and suspense.

Homeless orphan and all-around decent kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard named Shazam to periodically employ the powers of six ancient gods and heroes to battle injustice. Thereafter he could transform from scrawny, precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s acronymic name – invoking the powers of legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received magazine for WWI veterans entitled Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the comicbook decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and “can-do” demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

Captain Marvel was the brainchild of writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant illustrator Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Before eventually evolving his own affable personality the Captain was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst junior alter ego Billy was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, boldly self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

After homeless orphan newsboy Billy was granted access to the power of legendary gods and heroes, he won a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and first defeated demonic Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, setting a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel – and many of his fellow Shazam!-powered pals – were published twice monthly and frequently outsold Superman, but as the Furious Forties closed, tastes changed, sales slowed and Fawcett saw the way the wind was blowing.

They settled an infamous, long-running copyright infringement suit begun by National Comics in 1940 and the “Big Red Cheese” vanished – like so many other superheroes – becoming no more than a fond memory for older fans…

Fawcett in full bloom, however, was a true publishing innovator and marketing dynamo – now regarded as the inventor of many established comicbook sales tactics we all take for granted today. This stunning and lavishly sturdy full-colour hardback compendium features magnificent examples of the most effective strategy: spin-off characters linked to the primary star…

Fawcett was the company responsible for creating crossover-events and in 1942 they devised a truly unforgettable villain and set him simultaneously loose on their stable of costumed champions whilst using his (temporary) defeat to introduce a new hero to their colourful pantheon.

The epic creation of Captain Marvel Jr. and his originating antithesis Captain Nazi was covered in Shazam! Archives volume 4 so this subsidiary collection gathers his subsequent appearances as brand new headliner in Master Comics #23-32 (February to November 4th 1942) plus the first issue of his own solo title ( 18th November 1942) and also includes the first appearance of mighty Miss Mary Marvel who debuted in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 11th 1942)

Featuring a stunning array of breathtaking and evocative patriotic covers by Mac Raboy and Beck, this splendid compendium kicks off with an erudite and incisive Foreword by P.C. Hammerlinck (artist, editor, historian and former student of C.C. Beck) who reveals many secrets of the original comics’ production before the cartoon classics commence.

Sadly, although the artists involved are easily recognisable, the identities of these tales’ writers are lost to us but strong possibilities include primarily Rod Reed and Ed “France” Herron (both early editors of Fawcett’s comics line) as well as Bill Parker, Joe Millard, Manly Wade Wellman, Otto Binder and William Woolfolk.

Before the advent of the World’s Mightiest Boy, Bulletman – ably assisted by his companion Bulletgirl – was undoubtedly Fawcett’s runner-up star turn; hogging the cover spot in monthly Master Comics and carrying his own solo comicbook. However, that all changed with the twenty-first issue and the murderous arrival of Captain Nazi. Hitler’s Übermensch made manifest, the monstrous villain was despatched to America to spread terror and destruction and kill all its superheroes.

The Horrendous Hun stormed in, taking on Bulletman and Captain Marvel who united to stop the Fascist Fiend wrecking New York City. The battle ended inconclusively but restarted when the Nazi nemesis tried to wreck a hydroelectric dam. Foiled again, the monster sought to smash a new fighter plane prototype before Captain Marvel countered him, but was not quick enough to prevent the killer murdering an old man and brutally crushing a young boy.

Freddy Freeman seemed destined to follow his grandfather into eternity, but guilt-plagued Billy brought the dying lad to Shazam’s mystic citadel where the old wizard saved his life by granting him access to the power of the ancient gods and heroes. Physically cured – except for a permanently maimed leg – there was a secondary effect: whenever he uttered the phrase “Captain Marvel” Freeman transformed into a super-powered, invulnerable version of his mortal self…

The prototype crossover epic concluded in Master Comics #22 when the teen titan joined Bulletman and Bulletgirl in stopping a string of Captain Nazi-sponsored murders, victoriously concluding with a bold announcement that from the very next issue he would be starring in his own solo adventures…

The triumphant parade of epic adventures starts in this tome with ‘Captain Nazi’s Assassination Plot’ (Master Comics #22), immaculately rendered by the Alex Raymond-inspired Raboy who would produce some of the most iconic art of his illustrious career, albeit struggling all the time with punishing deadlines and his own impossibly harsh standards…

Earning a living selling newspapers on street corners, young Freddie spots Captain Nazi again and dogs his corpse-strewn trail as the fascist kills a British agent and attempts to murder President Roosevelt. Then ‘Death by Radio’ introduces sinister serial killer Mr. Macabre who brazenly broadcasts his intention to assassinate former business partners until the young Marvel confronts him…

Master Comics #22 sees Freddie investigate a little lad’s broken balloon in ‘The Case of the Face in the Dark!’ only to stumble upon a cunning plot by the Japanese to invade Alaska. Whereas his senior partner’s tales were always laced with whimsy, Junior’s beautifully depicted exploits were always drenched in angst, tension and explosive action. The climax, which involved the bombastic boy-warrior shredding wave after wave of bombers, is possibly one of the most staggering spectacles of the Golden Age…

On a smaller scale, the next issue featured ‘The Return of Mr. Macabre!’ as the killer, turned sickly green after a failed suicide attempt, kidnaps a US inventor ferrying vital plans to England. The plot goes well until Macabre’s rendezvous with Captain Nazi in mid-Atlantic is interrupted by Junior who saves the day by ripping their battleship apart with his bare hands…

In a rare display of close continuity, Freddie then carries on to London in MC #27 to counter ‘Captain Nazi and the Blackout Terror’, with the malign master of disguise setting out to neutralise the city’s anti-Blitz protocols. For his service Freddie is made a special agent for Winston Churchill…

Never captive for long, in the next issue the Hunnish Hauptman spearheads an Atlantic reign of terror and kidnaps America’s chief of War Production until Junior single-handedly invades ‘Hitler’s Headquarters of Horror’, linking up with the German Resistance movement to free the crucial captive.

After such smashing successes it was no surprise that in #29 British Intelligence tapped innocuous Freddie Freeman to infiltrate Hitler’s Fortress Europa and prepare the enslaved populations under ‘The Iron Heel of the Huns’ to rise when the inevitable Allied counterattack came…

Master #30 saw the wonder boy back in the USA to stop Captain Nazi’s plan to poison an entire military base in ‘Captain Marvel Jr. Saves the Doomed Army’ before malignant Mr. Macabre joins the Japanese to abduct a crucially-placed diplomat in ‘The Case of the Missing Ambassador’ inevitably tasting frustrating defeat and receiving the sound thrashing he so richly deserves…

With Master Comics #32, the title became a fortnightly publication but Freddie barely noticed since he was embroiled in a decidedly domestic atrocity where corrupt orphanage officials collected and abused disabled kids to turn a profit from ‘The Cripple Crimes’

A blockbuster hit, “The Most Sensational Boy in the World” won his own title as 1942 drew to a close, but with Raboy already hard-pressed to draw 14 pages a month to his own exacting standards, Captain Marvel Jr. #1 was illustrated by reliable Al Carreno – a Fawcett regular who had covered almost every character in the company’s stable.

The bumper book began by briefly reprising ‘The Origin of Captain Marvel Jr.’ before depicting ‘Wings of Dazaggar!’ wherein Junior follows Captain Nazi to an occupied West African colony and uncovers a flight of secret super-planes intended to bomb America to dust…

After scotching that scheme Freddie is drawn into an eerie murder-mystery as a succession of gangsters and investigative reporters fall victim to ‘The Shadow that Walked!’, after which thugs snatching beggars off the street to fuel a fantastically callous insurance scam make their biggest mistake by grabbing lame Freddie Freeman as their next patsy in ‘The Case of the Cripple Kidnappers’

The soaring sagas conclude on a redemptive note as Captain Marvel Jr. “encourages” ‘The Cracked Safecracker’ to renounce his criminal ways and look after his elderly, ailing and extremely gullible parents…

This superb graphic treat concludes with ‘Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel’ capably rendered by Fawcett mainstay Mark Swayze from Captain Marvel Adventures #18. Preceded by a glorious painted cover from Beck of what would become known as “The Marvel Family”, the story saw boy broadcaster Billy Batson hosting a radio quiz show and finding himself drawn to sweet rich kid Mary Bromfield.

During the course of the show – which also includes Freddie Freeman amongst the contestants – Billy is made shockingly aware that Mary is in fact a long-lost twin sister he never knew he had (take that, Luke Skywalker!) but before he can share the knowledge with her, gangsters kidnap her for a hefty ransom.

Although Captain Marvel and Junior rescue her they foolishly fall under the sway of the crooks and are astounded when Mary idly mutters the word “Shazam!”, transforms into the World’s Mightiest Girl and rescues them all…

Crisis over, the trio then quiz the old wizard and learn the secret of Mary’s powers – gifts of a group of goddesses who have endowed the plucky lass with the grace of Selene, the strength of Hippolyta, the skill of Ariadne, the fleetness of Zephyrus, the beauty of Aurora and the wisdom of Minerva – before welcoming their new companion to a life of unending adventure…

Notwithstanding the acute implied sexism of Mary’s talents coming from goddesses rather the same source as the boys’, her creation was a landmark of progress which added a formidable and unbeatable female to the ranks of the almost universally male mystery-man population of comicbooks.

The original Captain Marvel is a true milestone of American comics history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. These enchanting, compelling tales show why “The Big Red Cheese” and his oddly extended family was such an icon of the industry and prove that such timeless, sublime graphic masterpieces are an ideal introduction to the world of superhero fiction: tales that cannot help but appeal to readers of every age and temperament…
© 1942, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.