There have been nearly a dozen characters named Captain Marvel in the last seventy-five years of comics, but only one of them has headlined the best-selling comics franchises of a decade, and, indeed, one of the best-selling series of all time. And guess what? It wasn't the one who could make his arms and legs fall off.
The very first of these Captains Marvel debuted on this day in 1939, in Fawcett Comics' Whiz Comics #2, which was, somewhat counter-intuitively, actually the first issue of that series. The character was originally named Captain Thunder, but someone else already held that trademark. And so, in a story by Bill Parker with art by CC Beck — who would go on to become the defining artistic voice for the character — and with some hastily re-lettered word balloons reflecting the last minute name change, Captain Marvel zoomed toward his destiny in the last days of 1939 (issue cover dated Feb. 1940).
Many of comics’ most popular heroes have been around for decades, and in the case of the big names from the publisher now known as DC Comics, some have been around for a sizable chunk of a century. As these characters passed through the different historical eras known in comics as the Golden Age (the late 1930s through the early 1950s), the Silver Age (the mid 1950s through the late 1960s), the Bronze Age (the early 1970s through the mid 1980s) and on into modern times, they have experienced considerable changes in tone and portrayal that reflect the zeitgeist of the time.
With this feature we’ll help you navigate the very best stories of DC Comics’ most beloved characters decade by decade. This week, we’re taking a look at the best Captain Marvel comics.
Charles Clarence Beck, better known by his initials as C. C. Beck, was born on this day in 1910. A monumentally talented artist and cartoonist, Beck co-created and defined the look and creative direction of one of comics' most iconic characters, who also happened to star in what was, at the time, the best-selling comic in the world: Captain Marvel.
The number one movie of last year was based on a comic book. The year before, two of the top five movies were based on comics. The year before that, both of the two top movies of the year were inspired by comics; both went on to make more than $1 billion worldwide and are now among the top 15 highest-grossing movies in history. Next year, no less than ten (10) movies based on comic books will open in theaters. Blessed are the geeks, for they have inherited the earth, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned.
Christmas has once again come and gone, but before the holidays are over, there's one last celebration we all have to get through before New Year's rolls around and puts a cap on it: Boxing Day! The only problem is that the True Meaning of Boxing Day has been explored in roughly zero movies (as opposed to the True Meaning of Christmas, which has been pretty thoroughly dealt with in about 4,926), so I always just tend to think of it as a wintry celebration of people punching each other in the face.
I always try to celebrate with the most pugilistic comic I can find, and this year, that led me to 1944's Captain Marvel Adventures #35, which promised a boxing match between Billy Batson's alter ego and a soldier, and then went on to become one of the all-time craziest comic books I have ever read.
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.
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!
As weird as they are, Otto Binder and C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel comics hold up better than just about anything else from the Golden Age. They're full of amazingly bizarre concepts and adventures, and few are stranger than the idea that Captain Marvel hung out with a talking tiger who stood upright, wore a suit and got into trouble: Mr. Tawny. That's pretty common knowledge, but what you might not know is that in 1953, Binder and Beck tried out a newspaper comic strip starring Tawny as a solo act, completely without his superheroic pal.
Now, thanks to CA favorite Jon Morris, we've got a look at the six strips they created to pitch the strip. Check 'em out below!
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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