The importance of a comic book cover can never really be overstated. It's the first thing a potential reader sees, and especially back before we had solicitations and previews, in the days of newsstands --- and sour-lookin' newsstand owners who were quick to remind you that this ain't a library --- it was often a creator's only chance to convince them to pick it up and at least check out what was inside. Because of that, there are decades of comics out there that are either so bizarre that they pretty much demand to be read, like just about every Silver Age DC book, or books plastered with over-the-top dramatic titles like "And There Must Come... A Destiny!"
In 1945, however, things were a little different. So different, in fact, that the fine people at Fawcett Magazines once decided that it would be a good idea to use that precious bit of real estate on the cover of Captain Marvel Adventures to let you know that you were about to get a story where Captain Marvel went to Columbus, Ohio. Although to be fair, they also determined that this was less important than the story about an old man who found a piece of string on the ground.
C.C. Beck was born on June 8, 1910, attended art school in Chicago, and started his career in pulp magazines with Fawcett Publications in the early 1930s. When the popularity of pulps began to fade, he moved over work on Fawcett's line of comics – and in 1939 he co-created a character that originally bore the name "Captain Thunder", but was re-dubbed Captain Marvel shortly before the release of his first adventure. In that initial story, young newsboy Billy Batson meets a great wizard, and is given the power to transform into "The World's Mightiest Mortal" when he says one magic word...Shazam!
Today, one day after what would have been his 104th birthday, w've reached out to a few of today's best comics creators to ask for their thoughts and impressions on Beck and his creations.
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.
After a long month of obsessing over various spooks, ghouls and haints, it is finally Halloweek -- which basically means that next Monday, I start thinking about Christmas. But before I do, I wanted to make sure that I gave you a glimpse of the ultimate in harrowing horror. A story designed to chill you to the bone, to bring the fear of the dark back into your life, to remind you that there are things out there, unknowable and unstoppable, waiting for you. It would have to be a story with not one monster, not two, not even three, but five unstoppable terrors that could fill even the world's mightiest mortal with fear.
And, you know, it would also be nice if at least one of those monsters got punched in the face with a windmill while we were at it. Fortunately, I found one that fits the bill, just in time for our final trick-or-treat!
A few weeks ago, I asked my pal Andrew Weiss if he knew of any Captain Marvel stories that involved boxing that I could use for my annual pugilism-themed December 26th post, and he pointed me to Captain Marvel Adventures #35 and the story of Radar, the International Policeman...
Last week, Captain Marvel Shazam Billy Batson and his super-powered alter ego returned to the spotlight in the pages of Justice League #0. For the new version, DC's going for a grittier, edgier version of the character that's sure to delight middle aged readers everywhere who want to see a little kid be a dick to everybody, but let's be honest: That grim darkness was always there, right from those original stories...
Oh, relax. Despite the unfortunate modern-day subtext of that panel, the crook here only means it in the sense of generally harming. Point is, I've been reading through a lot of Golden Age Captain Marvel Adventures comics lately, and if I've learned nothing, it's that Billy Batson and his super-heroic alter ego face even stranger situations than the average Golden Age hero, and that's saying something...
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