Saturday, 28 May 2016

A Game of Marvels: Part Two - SHAZAM!

Billy, do be a hero…

Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s Captain Marvel -
the first superhero to be given a movie serial (played by cowboy star
and sometimes mummy, Tom Tyler).
The original Captain Marvel, created in 1939, possessed the Wisdom of Solomon, The strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, Invulnerability of Achilles and speed of Mercury. Young Billy Batson only had to speak the acronym made from the first letters of those mythological deities names: SHAZAM, and ‘the world’s mightiest mortal’ would appear in his place.

It’s a wonderful concept, which DC comics finally admitted it to themselves in 1972, licensing the rights from the company they forbade from continuing the Captain’s adventures in 1953 - Fawcett comics.
Unbelievably, before this happened, yet another Captain Marvel appeared briefly on the comic stands.

Always falling apart in a crisis, this Captain Marvel didn't last very long.
An android who could disassemble himself by shouting “Split” and recombine with the suspiciously familiar cry of “Xam!” was published by MF Publications under the title of Captain Marvel in 1966 but only lasted a few issues before splitting forever.

Room for one more?
During the 1950s L Miller and Son published black and white reprints of Captain Marvel’s adventures in Britain. When DC successfully shut down Fawcett comics continuation of the character, Miller and Son found suddenly themselves deprived of their successful product. So they created a barely altered version of the Captain called Marvelman, popular enough to run until 1963. “Kimota!” (‘Atomik’ backwards) replaced the catchphrase ’Shazam’. The character was later revived in 1982 under the name Miracleman (Marvel comics objected to the use of their name), but that’s another story.
Marvelman, and the angsty, 1982 revived version 'Miracleman'.
Back to DC and their purchase of the original Captain Marvel at the beginning of the 1970s. They found that they now owned the character, but not the title, which had been trademarked by Marvel comics since 1967. And so, whenever the Captain has appeared in his own DC comics adventure, the name on the cover has been Shazam! (leading to the ‘Doctor Who’ syndrome - it’s the title of his series, not his name)

DC recognises the character's brilliance and 'with one magic word' bring
him back in 1972. Marvel Comics objected to the tagline 'The original Captain Marvel'
so it was eventually changed to 'the world's mightiest mortal'.
As an upbeat Golden Age figure Captain Marvel has had a checkered history in the modern DC comics world, joining the Justice League International but most successfully used as a supporting character. Altercations with his historical rival Superman are often depicted, usually as a result of one or the other falling under malign mind control.

Boys will be boys... not for the first, or last, time Captain Marvel
and Superman come to blows over a misunderstanding.
(Personally, I'd like to see them both just beat up Batman)
Most recently, he has been sporting a ‘hoodie’ and the moniker 'Shazam' in an attempt to emphasise the magical aspects of the character.  Hmmm...

It remains to be seen where DC's most recent reboot will leave the Captain. But despite these abuses the world’s mightiest mortal perseveres. He is still an instantly recognisable figure and DC have even optimistically announced an upcoming film version. Having the Marvel and DC Captain Marvels in the cinema at the same time would be quite something.

More than any other superhero, the original Captain Marvel remains representation of a sunnier, more innocent past, ‘the Man of Yesterday’ rather than tomorrow, and perhaps that’s why he is still popular today.

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