Bizarro Back Issues: Captain Marvel’s Inexplicable Visit To Columbus, Ohio (1946)
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.
Okay, so admittedly, it's actually a super-string from an unraveling rug that makes its way through a dimensional portal and actually belongs to the mustachioed King of Zoozland, but still. This is a comic that also has a story where Cap is cursed by the severed head of a gorgon, and another one that's called "Captain Marvel and the Hobo Newscast," but those don't even merit a mention. Billy Batson's trip to Columbus, though? That one's right there on the cover, as though anything in Ohio could ever be even half as exciting as a Hobo Newscast.
Sorry, King's Island, but you know it's true.
That said, the fact that this story made it to the cover is only slightly more baffling than the fact that it exists in the first place. It reads like something that should be put out by the city tourism board rather than being an actual Captain Marvel Adventures story by Otto Binder and Pete Costanza that was printed in the most popular comic book in the world, full of references to local politicians and landmarks that you can see for yourself when you visit the capital of the Buckeye State.
On the bright side, though, it has one of the greatest titles I've ever seen: "Captain Marvel and the Crime Egotist of Columbus, Ohio."
The egotist in question is one Vulture Vane, a crook whose love of publicity is so all-consuming that his first stop after escaping prison is to sneak into a picture of the warden, the chief of police, and the teenage reporter who turns into a superhero by saying a magic word. It is, to say the least, a bold crime --- if, in fact, it is a crime, because it's the closest thing to one that we're going to see over the course of this story --- and bold crimes call for bold solutions.
Which, for Police Chief Lester W. Merica --- a truly amazing real-life name --- basically means gunning a man down in the street for the crime of photobombing.
Fun fact: This was the only comic to feature the phrase "the Ohio skies split open with magic thunder and lightning" until the publication of the now-classic The Mighty Thor vs. Skyline Chili in 1987.
Clearly, something has to be done here before Vane's flagrant disregard for the law causes Columbus to descend into the kind of lawless anarchy that you usually only see in Cleveland. And apparently, the apprehension of exactly one criminal who can't stop wandering in front of cameras is beyond the capabilities of the World's Mightiest Mortal. If he's going to stop Vane, he's going to need help from what I can only describe as the 1946 version of the Orwellian surveillance state:
I have no idea what a "Knot-Hole Club" is supposed to be, but in researching it, I did find out that Mayor Rhodes previously ran a store where one could purchase "everything from doughnuts to stag films," and if that's not democracy, I don't know what is.
Anyway, with the Knot-Hole Club keeping an eye out for Vane, Captain Marvel ends up going on a tour of Columbus, flying over City Hall and the stadium at Ohio State University. And just in case you thought that there was still going to be a thin layer of metaphor somewhere in this story, don't: This scene is actually referred to by the characters as a travelogue. Twice!
Still, though, for all his tourism, Captain Marvel is always one step behind Vane, who manages to not only avoid him, but hand him a humiliating public defeat by dropping a conveniently placed barrel of tar onto his head:
You know, I've often remarked on how Captain Marvel is a pretty great attempt at refining the idea behind Superman into a character that's arguably better, but I think we can all agree that as far as weaknesses go, "Kryptonite" beats "random-ass roofing supplies" every day of the week.
It eventually gets so bad that it seems like Cap is throwing in the towel. Not only does he transform back into Billy Batson, but he also arranges a newscast on the local television station --- WCOL, of course, another weird plug --- in which he announces the premiere of a newsreel called "The Man Capt. Marvel Couldn't Catch." It's a depressing admission of defeat, and on top of that, every real-life guest star from the story so far has been invited to the premiere of a movie that climaxes in Captain Marvel being defeated by that barrel of tar.
But this, of course, is all a trap. Thanks to the wisdom of Solomon --- or, you know, basic comprehension --- Billy knew that Vane himself would be unable to resist sneaking into the premiere:
And with that, Columbus is once again freed from the scourge of super-crime. Really, though, I have to think that just straight up punching someone in the face in the middle of a movie theater in front of the mayor has got to be more illegal than just sneaking into someone's photograph, right?