RETRO REVIEW: Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940)

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Or – “Sure, He’s Shazam Now, But Back In Nineteen-Forty?

There has been some consternation amongst DC fans that the new 52 revival of the character formerly known as Captain Marvel has been redubbed ‘Shazam’ by the publisher, ostensibly because the character is better known by that name to the general public.  Given the Golden Age origins of the character, though, it may be that it’s not just the NAME that needed the update.  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review awaits!

WHIZ COMICS #2
Writer: Bill Parker
Penciler: C.C. Beck/Pete Costanza/Greg Duncan/Bob Kingett
Inker: C.C. Beck/Pete Costanza/Greg Duncan/Bob Kingett
Colorist: Bill Parker
Letterer: 
Editor: Bill Parker
Publisher: Fawcett Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $100,000

Previously, in Whiz Comics:  The interesting thing about Whiz Comics #2 is that it’s actually Whiz Comics #1.  There was a make-ready issue (an “ashcan” copy used to secure copyright) of #1 that appeared under TWO titles, Thrill Comics and Flash Comics, featuring the adventures of one Captain…  Thunder?  Of course, by the time they got to print in the post-Superman comic book boom, all THREE of those names were in use by other companies, and thus was born Captain Marvel, and the legendary Whiz Comics.  Of course, the numbering snafu was less of an issue than you might think, as Fawcett followed this issue with #3, then ANOTHER #3, which (intentionally or not) fixed the number issue for them, as #4 was actually #4, and the numbering was correct for the rest of the series run, until it’s cancellation in 1953.  (Also, my copy of this book isn’t a super-valuable original, but instead a Famous First Edition reprint from ’75…)  So, how did Captain Marvel come to be?

Because of Billy Batson’s reckless and foolhardy nature, of course!  When this story was retold in the 90′s by Jerry Ordway, there was a pointed moment wherein they revealed that young Billy followed the stranger because he seemed familiar, and turned out to be the spirit of Billy’s dead father.  Of course, none of that folderal held in the Golden Age, where nobody had any real sense, and strangers held the secrets of super-powers around every corner.  Of course, Billy’s journey also prefaces that of one Harry Potter, to wit…

Billy and the mysterious man in black have no problem finding Platform 9 3/4 (or the Shazam equivalent thereof) and travel into the depths of the world, finally disembarking at the Rock of Eternity.  Passing through the hall of the Seven Deadly Sins, Billy finally stands before an elderly man in a robe, who introduces himself as the wizard Shazam!

It’s interesting to see this early artwork by C.C. Beck, who hadn’t yet gotten all the kinks out of what would become the iconic Captain Marvel art style.  The use of color is interesting, especially as several of the panels have no background save for the color fills.  The Wizard explains that orphan Billy has a more important destiny, a deeper purpose in his life…

Billy is teleported away just as the giant granite block falls and crushes the Wizard, and Billy returns to the life of a homeless newsboy, until he hears of a phantom mad scientist threatening the city.  He tries to convince Mr. Morris, the manager of radio station W.H.I.Z. of the scientist’s plot to force radio stations off the air, but Morris doesn’t believe him.  Billy leaps into action to set things right…

Yep, this is ALSO the first appearance of Captain Marvel’s nemesis, Doctor Sivana, as well.  (It’s worth noting that Sivana pretty much looks exactly like Sivana would always look, even in his very first appearance.)  Of course, Thaddeus Bodog’s beautifully crafted evil scheme is no match for the swift and blinding violence that can be unleashed with the one-two punch that is the strength of Hercules and the power of Atlas…

With Sivana’s machine wrecked, Billy calls Mr. Morris in to verify that Billy single-handedly saved radio, and also to call the old man’s bluff…

First time out, and Billy nearly spills the beans on his secret identity already?  That’s got to be some sort of record.  But, you have to give Mr. Morris credit, as he is true to his word, even when his word seemed to be nothing but a flippant remark to a strange kid who showed up in his office one day.  It’s also worth nothing that Whiz #2 is not just the first appearance of The Big Red Cheese, though, as it’s a Golden Age comic, which is shorthand for a thick anthology issue, chock-full of unbridled creativity/weirdness.  It’s the first appearance of Egyptian mystic Ibis The Invincible…

…the first appearance of pretty-much-unheard-of western hero The Golden Arrow…

…the first appearance of the two-fisted awesomeness that is the original Spy-Smasher…

…the debut of the newsroom antics of Scoop Smith…

…the mystery files of ace detective Dan Dare (not to be confused with British comics ace space pilot)…

…and freakish seaman Lance O’Casey, with his awesome pet monkey.  (Lance actually made an appearance in ‘Power of Shazam’ in the 90s, though I don’t remember whether or not his monkey was with him or not.)

After re-reading this issue, I kind of regret that there aren’t more big old anthology titles anymore, filled with half a dozen different characters in various adventures and talking monkeys and the like.  Either way, this comic stands as very much historically significant as the debut of the most popular superhero of his time (some might say the most popular of all time, at least in terms of units sold) and holds up relatively well, given it’s vintage and pedigree.  Yeah, there are some inexplicable moments throughout (such as Mr. Morris hiring a 12-year-old homeless boy as his newest announcer) and Captain Marvel isn’t yet his awesome squinty-eyed self, but overall there’s a lot of entertainment packed into this issue.  Whiz Comics #2 reminds me of what’s fun about the Golden Age of comics, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Even if you absolutely hate the idea of calling him Shazam, you can always drag out these old comics and pretend that the New 52 never happened…

Rating: ★★★½☆

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