HERO HISTORY: Captain Marvel
Or – “Bahamut says ‘WHAT?’ “
In the 8 or so decades since Siegel and Shuster got shafted over the rights for the guy in the blue tights, there have been literally THOUSANDS of heroes from hundreds of companies, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. For ever Batman, you have Skateman. For every Green Lantern, you have a Blue Rajah. For every Marvel Girl, you have a Great And Powerful Turtle. And for every Captain Marvel, you have… another Captain Marvel. My rather limited research strongly implies that the first hero to stick a military rank in front of a random word was a Captain Marvel, giving the name serious Golden Age cache. Given that there are roughly ninety-seven different Captain Marvels extant, though, the question becomes: WHICH CAPTAIN GETS THE NOD?
Empowered by the wizard Shazam, Billy Batson uses the powers and abilities of the heroes and demigods of yore to fight against enemies of goodness and justice, no matter from whence they have come! With one magic word, he… Wait… No? Sorry…
Initially sent to Earth as a spy, Mar-Vell came to love his adopted people, even turning aginst his government to defend them with his phenomenal cosmic powers. As protector of the universe, he… Pardon? Still no? Okay, moving on.
Freddy Freeman’s leg injury left him with a physical impairment, but nothing could stop his courage or his heart. Empowered by his idol, he… No? DAMMIT!
After Mar-Vell’s untimely death, police officer Monica Rambeau was empowered by a freak accident with the ability to control the entire electromagnetic spectrum, even transforming herself into energy and exceeding the speed of light! Her courage led her to the Avengers, eventually even becoming their chairperson before Doctor Druid ruined the honor for everybody and… Oh, for $&@’s sake. Seriously?
The son of Mar-Vell, Genis-Vell grew up on Hala in the center of the very political turmoil his father fought against. Though he was at first a dilettante in the hero game, he eventually took on his father’s role in a… WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???
Okay, fine, I’ll just read this and we’ll be on our way. Possessed of amazing atomic abilities, our Hero History entrant this week lives quietly among Earthlings, protecting them from all manner of harm using abilities he was given in a laboratory. He gets additional power from his energy medallion, giving him more super-powers than your average Defenders lineup. Also, he’s a robot. And his most unique power has to be seen to be believed. This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Roger Winkle, who may not be the last but is without question the least of all the myriad superheroes to call themselves… CAPTAIN MARVEL!
The story of the 1966 iteration of Captain Marvel begins with a man known as Myron Fass, known to some as the “Demon God of Pulp.” Fass’ company, MF Publications, came after Fass had spent years in and around the (admittedly incestuous) comic book industry, and was known mostly for it’s wild array of “gentlemen’s magazines” (y’know, showing how to open a door and pull out a chair for a lady, I presume) as well as UFO and Pop Culture quickie mags. Captain Marvel seems to have sprung from a well fed by those twin 60’s staples of hallucinogenic drugs and plagiarism.
The interesting bit is that Carl Burgos, credited as the creator of Captain Marvel, is better known as the creator of the original android Human Torch. The Torch was an android in a red bodysuit with a medallion around his neck, and C.M. here is an android, in a red bodysuit, with a medallion around his neck. I am honestly unclear about the phrasing of “Based on a character created by Carl Burgos,” making me wonder if Captain Marvel is intended to be a semi-revival of the Torch. Either way, his story opens abruptly, with a plainclothes Captain wandering around what may be his own house, wondering who he is and how he got there…
Much as Elvis Presley was reputedly to have modeled his sideburns and bodysuit after his heroic idol, Captain Marvel, Jr., I suspect that this later Cap was an inspiration to another celeb, game show host and real estate mogul Donald Trump. Roger’s confusion leads him to the library, where muscle memory causes him to instinctively use his super-powers to… fetch a book from a really high shelf.
As origins go, it’s no “parents gunned down in an alley, eternally vowing revenge,” I’ll tell ya that for free. Scholars in the audience should also notice the phonetic similarity of Captain Marvel’s “Xam” to an earlier Captain Marvel’s battle cry of “SHAZAM.” So, he looks like one Golden Age hero, and kifes the name and some of the accoutrements of a second, certainly there’s SOMETHING about the character that is unique, right?
Ahh, yes. “Rocketed from a dead planet, the last survivor of an alien race of geniuses.” Captain Marvel one-ups that Kal-El kid by flying through space under his own power, and watching the planet explode. So overcome with emotion is he that he soullessly intones, “Now, I’ll have to find a new home.” Because in the grand scheme of things, the death of an entire race is secondary to the question of where Roger Winkle will crash tonight. It’s also fun to point out that the mysterious power medallion contains a material only known as “X,” a material clearly labeled with a letter “M.” That’s a level of secrecy you usually only see from Maxwell Smart of C.O.N.T.R.O.L, faithful Spoilerites. So, given all this backstory and folderal in the space of about ten pages, Captain Marvel is almost set as a superhero, save for one missing element…
The kid sidekick. Enter Billy Baxton! Yes, Baxton. Young Billy (from the U.S.A!) adds an additional layer to this character, changing him from spiritual successor well past unauthorized revival into the territory of “Brand X ripoff designed to get as much cash as possible before the rubes in the audience figure out this isn’t what they thought.” So, given that he’s an atomic powered android alien refugee with a super-powered medallion and lovely polyester hair, what qualifies him to be a superhero? How about a little super-strength?
He has more power in his little finger than some heroes have in their whole body! This is good, actually, given that his little finger will often find itself in action independently. See, Captain Marvel’s strength isn’t his primary ability. His foremost power is the ability to split his body at any joint, sending his limbs akimbo on individual missions and not coincidentally looking like an “Incredible Crash Dummy” toy.
And he also fought Domos with big noses. You may also have noticed that he has LASER EYES capable of cutting a 30-foot trench in solid rock in mere seconds, a power that by itself made that Summers kid a hero. But Captain Marvel has other powers. How ’bout the power of flight, that do anything for ya? (That’s levitation, homes!) He also has amazingly acute senses!
That sequence also shows that Captain Marvel is immune to all manner of poisons, viruses and such, a benefit of his aritifical/alien nature. He also has the ability to transmute matter on a limited scale, as seen when he wants to transform from mild-manner reporter/college professor Roger Winkle into the amazing Captain Marvel!
Roger even finds that he can absorb and broadcast sonic energy waves, sufficient to power a time machine that just happens to be lying around…
Given this seriously amazing array of powers (he’s got the full power-set of Cyclops, Wolverine, Northstar and Dazzler, making him a one-man X-Men team) what power would YOU use most frequently?
What happens when you face an angry supervillain?
(Note also that said villain is named “Plastic Man,” continuing M.F. Publishing’s forays into intellectual copyright infringement.)
What happens when powerful atomic robots from the future attack en masse?
What is an angry Dick Tracy character wants to chew through your carotid artery?
Paramilitary terrorists attacking media outlets to control public opinion?
Mysterious vapors roaming the lands and dissolving everything they touch?
Collapsed building trapping innocents?
Evil mad scientist poisoning all fountain pens with a peculiar and deadly virus in the hopes of poisoning the mayor and being able to take over the means of production and benefit from corrupt industry?
Captain Marvel and Billy Baxton aren’t even the most egregious swipes in the MF Publishing universe, oddly enough. The aforementioned Plastic Man returns(renamed Elasticman in what clearly looks like a last-minute production change, as seen in the last panel here) with a pal named Tinyman, whose name isn’t familiar, but whose powerset is cribbed from one Ray “Atom” Palmer.
Another familiar namesake comes in the form of the character who is probably Cap’s nemesis (read: He appeared more than once), a criminal called The Bat! With his scalloped cape, cowl with pointed ears, and blue-and-grey color scheme, he reminds me of… someone… Someone legendary. Someone dark, whose legends of the night should never have been cancelled, or so I’m told.
His similarities to ol’ whatsisname over in Gotham City seem to have been noted by someone, as in his second appearance, The Bat has been renamed The Ray (another change that seems to be hastily done post-production, as seen in panel two.)
But wait, you ask. Isn’t The Ray ALSO a Golden-Age hero? Yes. Yes, he is. And why is the villainous Silver-Age Atom Shrinking Violet Ant-Man Tinyman fighting alongside Captain Marvel? Because he’s had a change of heart, and intends to give up his evil ways and go to LAW SCHOOL! Yes, he will learn to uphold the very standards of society that he so recently tried to destroy with his villainous deeds. And he will do so in an issue, after which he will become the new District Attorney!
MF Publishing: Your Home For Realistic Character Development Since 1966. Or, honestly, from 1966 to mid-1967, as the good Captain’s “adventures” comprise the lion’s share of MF’s comic book output, along with a ripoff of Archie and a cowboy book. Captain Marvel may have been a one-note cipher with endless super-powers instead of a personality and plots that would confuse mathemeticians and stoners alike, but like an alien robot Frank Sinatra, he did it HIS WAY! How do you deal with an out-of-control helicopter crashing towards your city, ready to explode and kill hundreds of innocent people?
Exactly the say thing that we as an audience did when his comic delivered a character that was not only a knockoff, seemingly devoid of creativity, but poorly written and damn-near incomprehensible with a super-power that’s more than just a little bit disgusting…
**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “Columns” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys and gals who are likewise awesome as heck. The adventures of Captain Marvel were published by MF Enterprises, but in this case, finding the books is often considered punishment. Go with a nice Billy Batson or Mar-Vell story instead, especially if they’re drawn by Gil Kane or Jerry Ordway.
Next up: The unplumbed depths of the Marvel Universe give rise to mysterious dark mystery men all the time, but who is the most mysterious of them all? He’s the best there is at what he does, a mutant badass whose a love machine with all the chicks, and he’s coming to Hero History… And this time, I MEAN IT!