Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Captains Marvel!


Fawcett's Captain Marvel has arguably the most celebrated publishing history of any superhero. Created during the 1940's the character spearheaded Fawcett's comics line-up and proved to be massively successful, more so even than DC's Superman. So DC came knocking with one of their lawsuits and ultimately when comics had dwindled a bit, Fawcett gave up publishing Captain Marvel. Decades later in perhaps the greatest single irony in comics publishing, DC bought those rights and put out their own Captain Marvel comics. To that end Cap found his way into several of DC's over-sized Limited Collector's Editions.

Notice that Oksner kept the clouds from the original Beck source, but they didn't make the final cut.

The art for this issue's cover was done by Bob Oksner, a fact I don't think I realized until I found this original artwork online. I've always loved this pose featuring (impossibly) both the "Big Red Cheese" and his alter ego Billy Batson which was originally done by Beck many years before.

C.C. Beck and Pete Costanza
Oksner's clean effective line and blacks really evoke the simple elegance that defined the best of Captain Marvel as designed by C.C. Beck so many years before for a cover of Whiz Comics.

Cap Meets the Old Red Cheese by Newton and Dan Adkins
DC has seen fit to revise the good Captain several times over the decades, but to my mind the most effective was the transition wrought by Captain Marvel fan supreme and lamented artist Don Newton who was tasked with making the whimsical Beck characters more like his fellow DC Universe counterparts. He did a magnificent job of striking a balance. 

Homage by John Lucas
While Fawcett's Captain Marvel was in legal limbo, Stan Lee and his publisher Martin Goodman stole a march on the field when they put out their own Captain Marvel, this one a space traveler who ends up doing superhero work on the Earth. Going through many transformations, this Captain Marvel was finally found by Jim Starlin who turned him into a relative success but at the same time evoking the classic Captain Marvel. The artwork above is an homage to one of Starlin's earliest issues.


This is an action filled comic which is notable for its stunning craftsmanship by Starlin and for the fact that it features for the first time in full reveal the mad Titan Thanos.

For more work by the artist John Lucas who did the homage above, go here.

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6 comments:

  1. I truly did enjoy the 1970’s DC revival of Shazam! (criminal that he couldn’t that he have original name back.) Denny O’Neil & Elliot S! Maggin scripts with some nice, light art by Kurt Schaffenburger and the great C.C. Beck himself. The first 100-page Super Spectacular (was it #8?) – I recall as a real potent treat/overview of Cap, the Marvel Family, Uncle Marvel, Mr. Tawky Tawny etc. Really was a well-defined, innocent little universe unto itself – while still remaining true to the Fawcett originals (though these were way before my time.) Sadly, the umpteen DC retcons of these characters now make them all completely pointless & barely recognizable. Ah well…sometimes you just have to savor the limited runs one can find of a comic done well.

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    1. It was those 100-pagers where the Captain Marvel material thrived. The new stuff alongside great vintage reprints made for a nice bundle of entertainment. The old CM stuff really stood the test of time because the craftsmanship for so many of the comics was so good. Since the original reboot they do seem to have been at a loss how to proceed. Captain Marvel's time alas seems to have come and gone.

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  2. Newton truly loved the character, something that is hard to fake, which is why his version worked so well. Before he became a pro. he created a lot of beautiful Captain Marvel fanzine art. including some absolutely stunning paintings. I can't recall any writer in his early DC stories who was much in tune with the character (often it felt condescending when it aimed for childishness). Beck was evidently driven off by the quality of the writing. which is too bad. He may have been a crank. but he was one of the original creators who made Captain Marvel a big seller in the Golden Age and it was a real coup to get him back for the revival.

    And just as Newton was right for Captain Marvel, I felt that the Alan Weiss version of CM Junior was close to perfect, in the spirit of Mac Raboy, but at the same time wholly original.

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    1. I thought Dave Cockrum's CMJr. was outstanding but you're not far wrong with Weiss. The "new" stuff they produced was clearly written for "children" and I put the quotes there to suggest they misunderstood the audience. DC was making a lot of bonehead mistakes at this time, and the miserable launch of Shazam was just one. Newton did seem to love the character and it showed as he grokked what made him click.

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  3. I don't remember seeing the Don Newton CM, but I bought the '70s revival of Cap. It didn't really grab me, to be honest. Perhaps that's because most comics of the time were striving to be socially relevant, whereas Shazam! seemed to be aimed primarily at kids. Maybe I was just the wrong audience. I really enjoyed Jerry Ordway's run on the character 'though.

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    1. DC never seemed to be able to find the right audience for the series. Oddly, adults liked the tongue-in-cheek approach, but very few adults read comics back then. Not enough to support a comic book. (Back then, comics were expected to sell six figures or better.) Most comic book fans were kids, and they wanted their superheroes played straight.


      I remember the Shazam back-up strip in World's Finest ca. 1980. Agree that his style struck a good balance between whimsy and realism.

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