Who is The World's Mightiest SHAZAM!, er, I mean Captain Marvel Fan?!?

The following is a semi-autobiographical look at the origins of my love of Captain Marvel and at the end I reveal the identity of The World's Mightiest Captain Marvel Fan! Be aware that it does take a turn at the end!

I love Captain Marvel and yes, I love Shazam! I don’t see that as a contradiction and I don’t see loving the New 52 Shazam! as a black mark or that I’m not a real or true Big Red Cheese fan.

I was born in 1960, so I missed the Original Captain Marvel by about 7 years … not that I came out of the womb being able to read or even understand printed pictures but I do remember having a copy of World’s Finest in my crib (at least I think it was because it had Superman, Batman, and Robin in it). By the time I was 10 years old, I was a hard and fast DC Comics fan, who also read Marvel Comics. My favorite comic was Justice League of America and I adored the JLA/JSA team-ups. If asked, I could give the secret identities of even the most obscure DC character (thanks to the text pages that E. Nelson Bridwell sprinkled in many books). I couldn’t get enough of the reprint books, especially the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars and Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains. It was books like those that helped cement my knowledge.

But I knew nothing about Captain Marvel, other than the character that premiered in Marvel Comics’s Marvel Super-Heroes #12 in 1967, a comic that I (or rather my father) bought for me off the stand.

Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (Dec 1967)

In the summer of 1970, my dad stopped at Gee-Jay Liquors on 79th and Western Ave. on the south side of Chicago. While my dad was picking up a twelve pack of Schlitz, I was looking at the magazine and the paperback rack. And there I saw it in it’s yellow-covered glory… All in Color for a Dime! Along with the Superman logo and Batman symbol, the book was adorned in the nomenclature of the time: Shoosh, Baraam, Kraskk, Btam, and... Holy Moley!

All in Color For A Dime  - Paperback edition (1970)

When I flipped open the book, I was struck by the full-color cover of Master Comics #16 featuring a patriotic-clad character named Minute-Man! I had to find out more about this character, so I begged my dad to spend the $1.50 on the book. For another 50 cents, he could’ve purchased an additional six pack of beer, but he caved in and bought the book for me!

All in Color for a Dime contains a series of essays about the golden age of comics and its characters and was edited by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson. I gobbled it up. But I slowed down and read and reread one essay over and over: "The Big Red Cheese" by Dick Lupoff! Through it, I learned about Billy Batson and Captain Marvel, the wizard Shazam, Captain Marvel Junior, Mary Mary, Uncle Marvel, the Lieutenant Marvels, and even Freckles Marvel as well as the villainous Dr. Sivana, the nefarious Mr. Mind, Black Adam and a host of others! 

Lupoff’s descriptions were so vivid that I wanted to read the real thing! But in 1970, there were no real comic shops, yet, (at least that I knew of) and although older issues could be found in barbershops, the selection was scarce and Captain Marvel had been gone nearly 20 years by that point!

There weren't many avenues for a 10 year old to find back issues then.

Fast forward to 1972 and imagine my surprise when I flipped through Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains #4 and saw the following ad:

Coming in December... DC's Christmas Gift to You! SHAZAM IS COMING! ad from
Wanted: The World's Most Dangerous Villains #4 (Dec 1972)

Holy Moley! Cap was coming back with art by his creator! I had to get this! So I kept visiting the newsstands and drugstores in my area searching for the first issue. And I couldn’t find it. Anywhere. At that time, back issue comic shops had started to pop up in Chicagoland but I didn’t know anything about them. And newsstand comics were distributed to drug stores and newsstands by the Chas. Levy Company. Unknown to me, a couple of the back issue store owners had somehow bought up all of the issues of SHAZAM! #1 from the Levy Company and that’s why I couldn’t find it! What was I going to do?

My great aunt lived just over the border in Wisconsin and we visited her nearly every weekend. A few miles from her house was a drug store in Silver Lake and as I knew they sold comics. So I got my aunt to drive me there and I scoured that rack and after looking through every slot and through every issue, there it was… the very last comic! I grabbed that only copy… and read it and reread and reread until it became tattered. I'm not kidding! I generally keep my comics in pristine condition even back then but this one got trashed! 

SHAZAM! #1 (Feb 1973) - Bought off the comic rack in Silver Lake, WI

Examining the cover of that beat-up copy and the grease pencil arrival date on the "S" and "H" in the logo, it looks like it came in on Wednesday, December 20, 1972. I eagerly read Denny O'Neil's story of The Marvel Family's hibernation in Dr. Sivana's Suspendium and I studied the cast of characters who also survived with them!

The partial list of survivors of Sivana's Suspendium are revealed in SHAZAM! #1 (1973)

E. Nelson Bridwell's "SHAZAM and Son" text page filled me in on the survivors (many of whom I knew from All In Color For a Dime)... and was one of  the reasons my copy became so chewed up! I looked forward to each new issue and although I found many of the early stories childish at my very mature age of 12, I still couldn't get over the simplicity and strength of the concept of a young boy transforming into an adult super hero.

A quick aside here... I've always viewed Billy Batson and Captain Marvel as the same person. Even as a kid, I recognized that along with his body changing and gaining powers that his mind changed as well gaining the Wisdom of Solomon. I've never understood why they would be considered different beings. It very much negates the whole wish fulfillment of the transformation. The biggest blunder of later incarnations of the character was the failure to realize and capitalize on this duality. Instead of dumbing the character down and creating and over playing the immaturity of Billy, the character could have retained the sensibility of an adult while still maintaining a sense of wonder.

So, even though I found the stories childish, I continued on and very soon he became my all-time favorite hero beating out the Golden Age Flash and the Barry Allen Flash. I guess I was a sucker for his costume because I enjoyed the Silver Age Flash's so much. It wouldn't be until much later that I learned that Carmine Infantino was also a fan of Cap and based the Silver Age Flash's costume on the Big Red Cheese and that's the reason it and Captain Marvel's costume look so similar.

That summer, DC released it's first super-hero Limited Collectors' Edition and it featured Captain Marvel! And it reprinted 6 of his Fawcett adventures! The Captain Marvel stories were from the late 1940s and the 1950s. I would later find out why.

Limited Collectors Edition C-21 (Summer 1973) - The first super-hero LCE.

The stories in this issue were less childish and more whimsical and the art was awesome. While I came to love C.C. Beck's style, I was already familiar with Kurt Schaffenberger and was delighted to learn that he had drawn the Big Red Cheese back in the Fawcett days!

One thing to point out: at this point the masthead of the SHAZAM! logo still featured the text, "The Original Captain Marvel". Although DC couldn't use the words "Captain Marvel" as the logo of the comic book, they side-stepped the restriction by adding his name to the masthead. This would continue until SHAZAM! #15 (Nov-Dec 1974) and the famous Lex Luthor cover where it was dropped and replaced by "The World's Mightiest Mortal". And that's the title used by the three volume hardcover reprinting of the 1973 SHAZAM! series and Cap's adventures in World's Finest and Adventure Comics.

SHAZAM! #15 (Nov-Dec 1974)

According to The Comic Reader #109, SHAZAM! #15 was released on Tuesday, August 20, 1974 just one month before the 1974 Saturday Morning Live-Action SHAZAM! TV show starring Michael Gray, Les Tremayne, and Jackson Bostick debuted.

Up to this point in time, there were three Captain Marvel ages: The Fawcett comics, the Adventures of Captain Marvel serial, and SHAZAM! #1-14. Starting with SHAZAM! #15, the SHAZAM! TV show, and the SHAZAM! merchandise that started to appear at that time, the death knell of the original Captain Marvel name began. The public consciousness saw SHAZAM! everywhere... on TV, and as the logo on toys. Not only was he being referred to as SHAZAM! but he was also often confused with the Silver Age Flash whose costume was so similar!

But all that aside, the advent of the SHAZAM! TV show started the fourth age of Captain Marvel. The importance of the show cannot be understated. Not only was the wizard removed entirely (although Mentor is really the Wizard in the TV continuity) but it sure seemed like Billy and Captain Marvel were two separate people. There were only a couple of times during its run that it seemed like they shared the same consciousness.
The SHAZAM! TV show cast: Les Tremayne as Mentor, Michael Gray as Billy Batson, and Jackson Bostwick as Captain Marvel followed by John Davey in that role. 

Due to the lack of characterization of the main characters and the limited amount of time to race through each moralistic story in 22 minutes, the series had to rely on the powerful charisma of the three main acters with Bostwick's Captain Marvel mostly relegated to the end of the episode to provide cleanup and then in an epilogue to sum up the moral of the story. The series is fondly remembered.

Around the same time, in 1975, Gillette started running an ad for its hairspray, The Dry Look.

If the name, "SHAZAM!", wasn't ubiquitous enough by this point, the Dry Look certainly made it more prominent!

The next age of Captain Marvel began in SHAZAM! #26 (Sep-Oct 1976) when the comic, after a series of reprint issues, mimicked the TV show and sent Billy and Uncle Dudley (recast in the Mentor) role around the country in a series of stories that harkened back to the Fawcett Captain Marvel tales of the 1940s where Captain Marvel visited a number of real-life cities. The series really took off at this point as writer E. Nelson Bridwell jettisoned most of the silliness and returned the Captain to his whimisical roots.

At the end of the SHAZAM! series run with issue #34 and ending with #35 (May-Jun 1978), Cap took a dramatic turn with a more modern artistic look, first by Alan Weiss and then by Captain Marvel fan, Don Newton. Newton's portrayal of Captain Marvel continued in World's Finest Comics #253 (Oct -Nov 1978) through #270 (Aug 1981) and then  #271 (October 1981) through #282 (August 1982) before ending in Adventure Comics #491-492 (Sep 1982 - Oct 1982). The unsung hero of the Newton stories was writer E. Nelson Bridwell who brought that newly found sense of serious that complemented Newton's artwork.

Now, I could continue on with SHAZAM!: The New Beginning, The Power of Shazam!, SHAZAM!: The Monster Society of Evil, Trials of Shazam!, Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam!, and the New 52 Shazam!, where DC finally changed Captain Marvel's name to Shazam, but my point is that Captain Marvel has been around for 80 years with a lot of different jumping on points.

Each time Captain Marvel gets re-jiggered, a new set of fans learns about the character which speaks to his longevity and core concept. Is a fan who started with the New 52 SHAZAM! any less of a Cap fan who started in the 1970s? Or does a fan had to have read the original Fawcett stories to be a "true" fan? If a fan likes the military flap version of Cap's uniform better than a fan who prefers the flap-less version more of a fan? Is it permissible for a fan to like the New 52 hood? If a fan doesn't like the Fawcett stories a pariah?

No. Any fan who claims Captain Marvel, or SHAZAM! as his or her own is a true fan. Because any fan who embraces the lightning is keeping the spirit of Captain Marvel alive! No character is trapped in amber. Superman has been re-imagined many times and his costume (and hair style) has changed to reflect those re-imaginings. So has Batman, and Wonder Woman, and The Flash, and Iron Man, and the Hulk, and Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula!

I buy Captain Marvel product because I want DC to keep the character alive regardless if I enjoy everything they release because when they see fan interest, they publish toys and collections I do like! And when other fans do the same, all the better.

It really irks me when I hear fans of the good Captain denigrate other fans because they don't honor the character in the same way. We can agree and disagree on which version is the best but we can do so with civility. To say that a fan who likes the newer stories is not a true Captain Marvel fan is nonsense! To say that a fan who refers to Captain Marvel as Shazam is not a true fan is silly. To say that a fan who doesn't hold up the Fawcett stories as the best or who doesn't like the SHAZAM! TV show is not a true fan is ridiculous! We are all Lieutenant Marvels and we don't have to like the good Captain in the same way.

It's time to put away this petty one-upmanship.  We are all fans in spirit! Yes, some fans have more knowledge about the Big Red Cheese than others. But the best of those fans share that knowledge, so that it can continue! Being a Captain Marvel fan means being aligned with one of the happiest characters in comics!

So what is the answer to the burning query of the age? Who is the World's Mightiest Fan? That's an easy question to answer... you are! SHAZAM!

  



 

 


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