Some Marvels: SHAZAM continued

I only really wanted to talk about the Fawcett Golden Age Captain Marvel to get him out of the way before looking at the ‘Marvel Marvels‘, but for such a generic character, he appears to sit at the cross-roads of so many important aspects of the genre. There is his success in the 1940s, the lawsuit from DC, his subsequent purchase by DC, the creation of Marvel Man in the UK (a knock-off of a knock-off) and the legal antics this expy went through. He is even an early example of the ‘family’ superhero.

And yet, his basic concept is incredibly dull. Boilerplate ‘Parsifalism’ (Eco’s term for the conduct of the superhero towards women (just like Superman), a power-set so ill-defined he could weaponise his flatulence (just like Superman), a mad scientist as his enemy (just like Superman). His personality is determined by his relationship with Billy Batson, eventually leading to a child in a man’s body. I don’t think I have ever read a solo Captain Marvel story, although he is part of a few team comics I have enjoyed.

Oh yeah, apparently he is in the Alan Moore proposal from the 1980s that DC are thinking about publishing now. I think he does a sex with Mary Marvel in this one and has a dynasty. Christopher Knowles (Our Gods Wear Spandex) would doubtless argue that this recalls the traditions of the Egyptian pharaohs, who were up for incest as a way of ensuring the concentration of political power.

Still, he is very meta-textual, commenting on the relationship between reader and superhero, with Billy Batson being the first stand-in for the fan. The magic word and the transformation are nice metaphors for the experience of reading a comic book. Apparently, years later, Chris Claremont would invent Mr Sinister with a similar concept (although it was changed by the time that the character made it into The Uncanny X-Men).

Dave Cockrum and I … were coming towards was a mysterious young boy—apparently an 11-year-old—at the orphanage where Scott (Cyclops) was raised, who turned out to be the secret master of the place. In effect what we were setting up was a guy who was aging over a lifespan of roughly a thousand years. Even though he looked like an 11-year-old, he’d actually been alive since the mid-century at this point—he was actually about 50 […] He had all the grown up urges. He’s growing up in his mind but his body isn’t capable of handling it, which makes him quite cranky. And, of course, looking like an 11-year-old, who’d take him seriously in the criminal community? […] So he built himself an agent in a sense, which was Mister Sinister, that was, in effect, the rationale behind Sinister’s rather—for want of a better word—childish or kid-like appearance. The costume… the look… the face… it’s what would scare a child. Even when he was designed, he wasn’t what you’d expect in a guy like that.[3]

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