RETRO REVIEW: Whiz Comics #25 (December 1941)

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Or – “One Of The Most Brutal Origin Stories Of The Golden Age…”

Fawcett Comics had a number of super-hero first-stringers who weren’t Captain Marvel, but none had the star power of the Big Red Cheese, to the point where the creators clearly wondered if it was possible to once again catch lightning in a bottle.  This time, however, the bottle was blue…  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

Whiz25CoverWHIZ COMICS #25
Writer: France Herron
Penciler: C. C. Beck/Mac Raboy/Harry Parkhurst/Juan Lopez/Alex Blum/Clem Weisbecker/Mark Schneider
Inker: C. C. Beck/Mac Raboy/Harry Parkhurst/Juan Lopez/Alex Blum/Clem Weisbecker/Mark Schneider
Colorist: France Herron
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: France Herron
Publisher: Fawcett Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $8000

Previously, in Whiz Comics:  Billy Batson was an orphan, a young newspaper boy who followed a stranger into a subway tunnel and received phenomenal cosmic powers from an ancient wizard.  He battled gangsters and mad scientists, but had never faced anything like the power of Captain Nazi!  In a previous issue, the Captains had gone head-to-head, but their battle was inconclusive, and the villainous Captain began cutting a swath of destruction across the country.  In a fit of situational irony, reporting on the destruction caused by the villain becomes a job for Captain Marvel’s alter ego, radio reporter Billy Batson!

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Before the Big Red Cheese can confront his evil counterpart, Captain Nazi flings engineer Whitey at the ground with murderous intent, forcing Marvel to save his friend and allow the nefarious Nazi to escape.  Continuing his reign of terror, the swastika-clad madman attacks the opening of an electric power station (which may or may not bear a striking resemblance to the Hoover Dam…

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Once again the Captains clash, and once again Captain Nazi has the upper hand, braying about how his sabotage will kill hundreds of thousands of people and flood the lower areas.  Captain Marvel again has to let the villain go free in order to save his victims, bringing the combing powers of Hercules, Atlas and Achilles to bear on the massive electric turbines!

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That is a pretty impressive super-feat, worthy of one of the greatest heroes of the Golden Age, but once again the hero has lost track of his quarry.  I’m also finding it interesting that Billy’s co-workers at WHIZ Radio seem to be in on the (pretty open) secret of Captain Marvel’s identity, what with him having transformed in plain sight twice in this issue!  As for the villain, he once again chooses to make a scene of his wickedness, attacking an air show with the intention of crashing a plane into a crowd of innocents…

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As satisfying as it must have been to finally get a fist upside his enemy’s head, Captain Marvel failed to anticipate the possibility of innocents intercepting Captain Nazi’s path, a miscalculation that proves tragic…

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In mere moments, Freddy Freeman’s life is changed irrevocably, and he is left to die in the ocean alongside the body of his grandfather, a terrifying prospect for anyone (especially if you can’t swim.)  Luckily, Captain Marvel arrives in time to get Freddy to a hospital.  Unfortunately, his injuries are quite severe, and the doctors don’t know if the boy will survive the night.  Rather than let young Master Freeman die alone, Billy hatches a desperate plan, sneaking Freddy out of the hospital and bringing him to a secret underground chamber in the subway…

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The wizard’s power being limited, Captain Marvel has to give up some of the might that he has been endowed with in order to save a young man who is essentially a stranger.  Will the hero do it?

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Of course he will.  He’s Captain Marvel!  This issue also creates the conceit (later made into some interesting comedy during the 1990s run of ‘Power of Shazam’ and ‘Teen Titans’) wherein Captain Marvel Junior is unable to say his own superhero name.  This being 1941, though, that doesn’t really pose a problem for the storytelling.  Most interestingly, though, is the way they end the story…

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that comic book self-promotion predates Stan Lee at Silver Age Marvel, as this issue leads directly into the next issue of Master Comics, where Freddy would set up shop until getting his own solo series in late ’42.  The rest of the issue is filled with the usual gang of Fawcett Comics backups, some of them the same ones seen in Captain Marvel’s own origin in Whiz #2 a couple years earlier, including western hero Golden Arrow…

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When it comes to Golden Age comics, I’m always entertained and fascinated by the text pieces and little info-tainment bits, such as this (frankly awesome) page explaining magic tracks, hosted by Fawcett’s mystic nabob, Ibis the Invincible!

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Once you get past the Marvel family, Fawcett has a relatively limited bench of noteworthy characters, one of which is master detective/gadgeteer Spy Smasher, the bane of espionage agents from Berlin to Tokyo.  This issue, coincidentally, features Smasher’s first appearance in the olive green and red uniform that most people identify him with.

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Once again, the creators at Fawcett are pretty canny in their promotional techniques, having identified that Spy-Smasher moved comics books, using the final page of the story to promote the debut issue of his solo series…

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As for the rest of the book (64 page anthologies are something I really miss, although they’d probably cost $7.99 at today’s comics page rate), we get the story of Doctor Voodoo, years before the Avenger of the same name…

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…as well as an actual story appearance by the aforementioned Ibis, using his immortality and ridiculously powerful magicks to battle an evil warlord-turned-mummy.

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If I were a betting man, I’d wager that the appearance of Captain Marvel Junior had a lot to do with the Spring 1940 debut of Robin, proving the kid sidekick model to be a successful one.  Although never a traditional sidekick in the Golden Age sense, Cap Jr nonetheless served in that role, especially in the combined Marvel Family adventures that would come after Mary Marvel’s first appearance in 1942.  All in all, this is a pretty successful comic book, with the on-panel murder of an old man seeming a bit heavy for 1941, but Whiz Comics #25 is a well-rounded package as well, balancing the debut of a new hero with a pretty big moment for their biggest hero, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  Now, then, who wants to see the first appearance of Hoppy The Marvel Bunny?

Rating: ★★★★☆

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