These days, he’s considered Captain Marvel’s primary, most dangerous foe, but… that wasn’t always the case.  Are you ready for the first appearance of Black Adam?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of The Marvel Family #1 awaits!

THE MARVEL FAMILY #1

Writer: Otto Binder
Penciler: C,C. Beck
Inker: Pete Costanza
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Wendell Crowley
Publisher: Fawcett Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $36,000.00

Previously in The Marvel Family After wandering into a subway tunnel, orphan Billy Batson found himself in a hidden chamber, where an ancient wizard imbued him with phenomenal magic powers when he spoke a magic word.  As Captain Marvel, he fought all manner of evil, eventually choosing to save the life of young Freddy Freeman, Captain Marvel Jr., but sharing his abilities.  They were joined by Billy’s twin sister Mary, who was able to channel his powers thanks to their familial bond, and a host of other Marvels real and imagined becoming an extended Marvel Family.  This issue actually begins with the wizard Shazam recording those stories, chiseling them into the very Rock of Eternity itself.  He explains how Captain Marvel came to be, then the story cuts to young Billy getting his latest story assignment for WHIZ Radio…

Captain Marvel saves the astronomer (who, strangely, doesn’t notice the lightning bolt and disappearance of Billy Batson as the hero arrives) and is apprised of a strange object approaching Earth at the speed of light.  It’s actually rather ingenious how Binder wraps the flashback portions of the story into the larger tale, as Billy’s origin is recapped, then he heads off to find Freddy Freeman at his newsstand.  As Billy and his pal try to figure out what the interstellar object might be, Shazam relates how Freddy got his own powers, which is then illustrated by Freddy transforming to save Billy’s life.  That’s when the mysterious space object arrives… and announces itself?!

The interloper calls himself Black Adam, and even wears a jet-black version of the Big Red Cheese’s own suit.  But what are his intentions?

Murder, mostly, with a side of world domination and general chaos.  Black Adam survives Junior’s haymaker, returning one of his own, only to find that they’re almost perfectly evenly matched.  The original Marvel steps in, discovering that he is likewise unable to harm the hatchet-faced newcomer, leading Black Adam to slip away through a crowd, showing off his superior cunning.  Returning to the Rock of Eternity, Cap and Junior relate to Shazam what happened, and get another origin story in return.

Once empowered as Shazam’s champion, Black Adam snapped the neck of the reigning Pharoah and declared himself the new ruler, preparingt to mobilize Egyptian armies for world domination.  Shazam aparrently couldn’t revoke his powers and so chose to banish him to the deeped reaches of space instead.  He did not, however, count on Adam being so focused on revenge that he would spend FIVE THOUSAND YEARS flying home to get back at the wizard.  Billy and Freddy engage the villain and get kidnapped, leading his sister Mary to investigate their disappearance (and get her origins retold) with the assistance of Uncle Marvel (whom Shazam calls a “fraud”, in an oddly affectionate way.)  Uncle Marvel and Mary quickly find their kidnapped family members, leading Dudley to engage Black Adam in fisticuffs…

No, he doesn’t die.  These books are for kids!

He does, however, get slapped away, allowing him to remove the gags from the Marvel boys, leading to a four-way fracas where no one can get the magical upper hand.  But, remember that part about Adam being sneakier than the kids?  He’s not sneakier than a sneaky old snake-oil salesman like Dudley.

Dudley’s ruse is successful, and Adam transforms back into his human state, which quickly ages 5,000 years before their very eyes, leaving the Marvel Family once more the world’s mightiest mortals!  it’s a weirdly grim fate to be delivered by such a fun story and such light-hearted art, but it’s also a fitting end for such a big jerk.  The issue also features a story about the kids adopting an orphan baby and naming it Baby Marvel that is pure 40s joy, as well as a weirdly long story featuring Richard Richard, private detective, making for a big, satisfying hunk of comics for your dime.  The Marvel Family #1 is a remarkable achievement, an issue where everthing works, where the art of Beck and Costanza is always on the ball (even when they’re aping the regular artists of Junior and Mary’s solo books) and the terrible villain is dealt with in 15 pages or less, earning a dead-solid 5 out of 5 stars overall.  Modern fans of Black Adam might be surprised to know that this is his ONLY appearance in Fawcett Comics, as the character didn’t reappear for over THIRTY years, and even then made fewer than ten appearances until Captain Marvel was revamped by ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’, meaning that the Black Adam we known and loathe and hope to see Dwayne Johnson play on film is almost entirely a modern invention.


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THE MARVEL FAMILY #1

100%
100%
A Perfect

Comic Book

A lot of times, even the best Golden Age comics have glaring flaws of art, story or tone to avoid. Not this one...

  • Writing
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  • Art
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    10
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About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

2 Comments

  1. Cover Price: 10 cents
    Near Mint Value: $36,000

    *Checks collection*… Nope.

    Excellent review! I’ve recently been going through the histories of various comic book characters for a database I’m working on. One of my favorites was Black Adam and how his character has developed. Good stuff!

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