Bizarro Back Issues: Captain Marvel Battles Sir Marvel! (1946)
If you’ve been reading ComicsAlliance for a while, then you’ve probably noticed that when it comes to back issues, I tend to gravitate towards the ones where really weird stuff happens. Power Man and Iron Fist battling the Daleks, Godzilla traveling through time to battle dinosaurs, an entire robot Smallville being constructed specifically to fool aliens into nuking the wrong city — that’s all stuff that’s just inherently bizarre, and I love them. But sometimes, it’s not the events that are strange, it’s how they’re presented.
Take, for instance, what the fine folks at Fawcett did back in 1946, when they took a story that, by itself, was nothing special, and then skewed it just far enough that it’s one of the most mind-boggling comics I’ve ever read.
That’s not to say that the actual events of this comic aren’t strange themselves, you understand, but by the standards of superhero comics? Particularly Golden Age comics? It’s the sort of thing that even back then, we’d seen a hundred times. It’s just that this time, they’re putting the pieces of a familiar story together in a way that… well, it’s just weird.
But then, that’s kind of what I love about Golden Age stories. Despite what Scott McCloud says about how sequential art dates back to cave paintings, comic books as a mass medium — and especially the superhero genre — were pretty new, and nobody who was making them really had any idea what the rules were. That’s what makes them so fun to read, even when those stories are downright unreadable (which they frequently are), you can see people just figuring it out right there on the page, seeing what’s going to work and form the foundation of the rules of the new genre, with plenty of stuff that seems completely insane thrown out there along the way.
Believe it or not, Captain Marvel Adventures is usually one of the least bizarre, even when they’re doing stories about Cap growing a billion times bigger than he usually is so that he can fight Reltih the Reverse Hitler. The stories, especially under Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, formed so much of what would become the archetypical Silver Age story that, in retrospect, they’re years ahead of their time and usually feel pretty familiar.
This one in Captain Marvel Adventures #59, on the other hand — written by Bill Woolfolk with an unknown artist — has a ton of those those familiar elements that it carries all the way to the last page and then throws out the window in favor of sheer crazy.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. Which, in this case, is 546 AD! Even more specifically, this is the time of King Arthur, when some suspiciously medieval knights are battling it out for supremacy, including one who just happens to wear bright red armor with a golden lightning bolt on the chest. This is Sir Marvel, the World’s Mightiest Mortal (of 546 AD).
Now, if you’ve read more than, let’s say five superhero comics in your lifetime, you already know how this is going to play out: Sir Marvel is going to end up coming to the present (well, 1946) to slug it out and eventually bro down with Captain Marvel. And that’s sort of what happens. It’s where this story deviates that’s the key.
Sir Marvel wins the tournament to crown the toughest knight in all the lands, but what’s this?! There is one knight who couldn’t attend the tournament, the Champion of the North, who has declared that no man can truly be declared the champion until he has been faced in single combat! He could not attend the tournament, you understand, due to “affairs of state,” which is the most weirdly specific concern I have ever seen anyone express in a Captain Marvel Adventures story.
Thus, Sir Marvel is dispatched to deal with all that, and promptly falls into a glacier.
This is the first place that things get weird, because this stuff with the Champion of the North and his Affairs of State and his presumed rivalry with King Arthur is just immediately dropped. He is never mentioned again. Sir Marvel, however, tumbles into a glacier and is frozen, but you already knew that.
Cut to a 1400 years later, and some genius at radio station WHIZ has decided that it’s a good idea to send a ten year-old to cover some arctic glacier science. Now, again, this is clearly taking place north of whatever city it was that Billy Batson lived in, but if this is the same glacier that Sir Marvel fell into, shouldn’t that be somewhere in England? Then again, that’s nitpicking, when there’s a lot more crazy to come.
Predictably, S.M. gets thawed out and, thinking that he’s still on his way to settle some jumped-up vassal’s hash, immediately starts causing a ruckus — and since Billy’s around, it’s time for him to say that magic word and get Captain Marvel involved:
By the way, there is no way you will ever convince me this is not the single greatest superhero transformation of all time.
Sir and Cap battle it out for a little, but when the knight’s lance snaps off on Captain Marvel’s chest, he heads off to search for a replacement, leaving his opponent to wonder if this entire thing was some weird hallucination. That’s one of the things I really love about this story — that when an unfrozen knight from King Arthur’s court wearing bright red armor jumps out of a glacier and starts hitting him with sticks, the first thing Billy Batson thinks is “this is too weird to have actually happened.”
Thus, Captain Marvel goes to get his eyes checked while his time-lost rival ends up in a shack with a friendly hermit who wants to share his soup and show him movies from the library:
Again, pretty standard “here you are in the future” sort of stuff, but this is where it starts to get weird. Sir Marvel is so infuriated by these motion pictures that he rides down to the city — again: FROM WHERE GLACIERS ARE — and starts wrecking up posters of Captain Marvel that are put around the city by people who are just really stoked to have a superhero hanging around.
Cap himself shows up to put a stop to all this, but when Sir Marvel takes a swing, Cap notices that his 1400 years are catching up to him:
So then they take him to the hospital and he dies.
SERIOUSLY. THAT IS HOW IT ENDS.
Admittedly, there’s one last thing before that, where he demands on his deathbed that Captain Marvel admit he’s the stronger man — he actually yells “BOW TO ME!” which is pretty great — and, because he is watching someone dying in front of him, Captain Marvel agrees:
There’s no being sent back to his time to deal with his original problem, which I think is how we all expected this one to go, dude just straight up dies. It is bonkers. Oh, and in case that wasn’t Funky Winkerbean enough for everyone, his horse dies, too, right there on the street, legs pointing straight up and everything!
Maybe it’s best that they figured out that at least the horse should live.