More Shazam! talk.

§ March 30th, 2005 § Filed under big red cheese Comments Off on More Shazam! talk.

Rereading Power of Shazam, and following along with the comments sections for my previous posts, has got me considering DC’s previous publishing attempts with the Big Red Cheese.

Well, there’s the Captain Marvel “tryout” in Superman #276, featuring “Captain Thunder” – but I found this great article about it and I don’t really know what to add.

Then there was the 1970s series…DC’s highly anticipated Shazam! title, notable for the amount of “speculation” and “investment” in the first issue which didn’t pan out. In fact, it wasn’t until relatively recently that the early issues of this series started getting pulled out of quarter boxes and given premium prices. One of the ironies here is that due to years of it being treated as an overprinted “junk” comic, I don’t see many Shazam! #1s in nice condition…thus making near mint copies worth a pretty good chunk of change!

As for the actual interiors…well, to have heard the artist most associated with Cap, C.C. Beck, tell it, the stories were entirely too childish and dumbed down, and Beck couldn’t leave the book fast enough (allowing fellow former Fawcett artist Kurt Schaffenberger to take over). I didn’t think the stories were that bad…a little silly at times, and trying to squeeze ’70s fashions into the book seemed a bit out of place:

…but overall it was a light, fun read. Even better, a good number of issues had back-up stories reprinting some of the classic Marvel Family stories from the ’40s and ’50s. If you can get your hands on any of the 100 Page Giants in this series (and there are quite a few of them), do so, as they’re chock-full of classic Captain Marvel reprints.

Near the end of the run of this series, the “old-fashioned” aspect of the series made way for a grittier, more “realistic” art style, provided by Alan Weiss…though Billy was still drawn with the simpler Beck-ish facial features. This “realistic” version tried to turn Captain Marvel into your standard issue superhero with standard issue superhero problems (as evidenced by the above image from the cover of #34), but it didn’t really gel, and the series was cancelled with #35.

E. Nelson Bridwell and Don Newton’s run on the Captain Marvel character in late ’70s/early ’80s issues of World’s Finest was, in my opinion, probably the best melding of the old-style whimsical Fawcett stories and the more modern comic sensibilites. Newton had an appealling cartoonish style, and Bridwell wrote some fairly uncomplicated and enjoyable stories. After the series left World’s Finest, Newton’s work on Captain Marvel would continue in new stories for the Adventure Comics digest…that printing size is hard on eyes as aged as my own, but still worth seeking out. In fact, even though I know there’s absolutely no chance of this happening ever, it’d be nice to see a reprinting of Newton’s work on the character.

Outside of these series, Captain Marvel popped up here and there there. There was that Superman vs. Shazam treasury edition (in which Captain Marvel refers to a mode of attack that eventually gets used in Kingdom Come…noted, if I may toot my own horn, by yours truly in the Kingdom Come annotations, under “page 16”). One of my favorites as a young Mikester was this two part story in DC Comics Presents, teaming Supes and the Captain against the meeting of the Misters, Mind and Mxyzptlk. He got involved in a JLA/JSA crossover, he puts in an appearance in All-Star Squadron, he cameoed in Crisis…but he didn’t really become a regular part of the DC Universe again until the Legends mini-series, where he played a major part. That of course spun-off the Giffen-era Justice League series, where the character was maybe played a little too much as a goody-two-shoes…though in the context of the “sitcom” feel of this particular series, it worked well enough. It was certainly a darn sight better than the other spin-off from the Legends: this ghastly thing, which I mentioned yesterday.

And of course that brings us up to the Power of Shazam! graphic novel by Jerry Ordway, which shares with the spin-off series of the same name the qualities of beautiful art and somewhat clunky dialogue. It’s still a nicely done book, and I appreciate the conceits of 1) Billy’s dad being named after C.C. Beck, and 2) that Billy’s dad is also the spitting image of Captain Marvel.

Nowadays Captain Marvel is a more integral part of the DC Universe…he’s teamed up with Superman several times (with another highly-publicized teaming in the near future), he was a central part of the Underworld crossover as well as the aforementioned Kingdom Come, and he was one of the more touching elements in Frank Miller’s much-maligned Dark Knight Strikes Again. And, of course, there’s the much-anticipated Jeff Smith mini-series. Plus, don’t forget his forthcoming appearance in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.

Okay, I think that’s driven most of the Captain Marvel talk out of my system. Thanks for coming along…and thanks especially for the interesting discussions in my comments sections. I particularly liked commenter Cole’s points regarding the place of Captain Marvel’s wish fulfillment fantasy in regards to modern comic book fans.

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