The long-gone original Captain Marvel returned to comics in 1973 as DC put Superman’s former Fawcett competitor back into print. The World’s Mightiest Mortal had been in comics limbo for decades after DC sued Fawcett for supposedly ripping off the Man of Steel. His plight was made literal as the first issue of Shazam revealed that the Big Red Cheese had been trapped in the evil Dr Sivana’s Suspendium, along with Billy Batson’s family, friends and even a few enemies, since the 1950s.
Finally, they escaped, and the adventures of Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel continued. There were a few hiccups as they got to know the changed world…
… but soon it was as if they’d never been away. Co-creator CC Beck drew the earliest stories, written by Denny O’Neil and E Nelson Bridwell, and they were delightful – it was bright, bold, beautiful cartooning. He didn’t stick around long though (reportedly he wasn’t too happy with the new scripts) and soon DC stalwarts Kurt Schaffenberger and Bob Oksner were the main men, while Elliot S! Maggin turned in some charming scripts for the Marvel Family.
While the likes of Tawky Tawny, Uncle Dudley and Dexter Knox returned, we were also introduced to such new characters as Gregory Gosharootie, ‘the world’s dullest mortal’ and Sunny Sparkle, ‘the nicest guy in the world’.
To broaden the appeal of stories some might have assumed were too kiddie-ish, editor Julius Schwartz brought in Lex Luthor, whose reaction to Mr Tawny was genuinely hilarious.
When Shazam! hit Saturday morning TV, Billy took to the road, visiting US cities with Uncle Dudley filling the Mentor role and, along the way, meeting old Fawcett compatriots Minute Man and Kid Eternity, a literal Man of Steel and the then minor enemy today considered his arch foe, Black Adam, along with fellow rotters Ibac and Aunt Minerva. And always there was Dr Sivana.
A special treat for Saturday morning telly fans was the comic book debut of Isis – I suppose it counts as a backdoor pilot, as Cap barely appeared.
A change in direction saw pencillers Alan Weiss and Don Newton brought on to the series to make the visuals more ‘modern’ and while their more comics-realistic art was a jolt to the system, I recall being excited by the change. And with Bridwell continuing as writer, things remained true to the spirit of the Marvel Family. It was basically a shift in tone akin to the one readers had in the Golden Age when putting down a Captain Marvel book and picking up a Captain Marvel Jr series – same world, different flavour.
Sadly, the less whimsical approach wasn’t enough to save the Shazam! series, and the Marvel Family’s adventures moved over to the Dollar Comics World’s Finest anthology.
Happily, four decades on. DC Comics have collected all the new material that appeared in the 35-issue Shazam! series – several were 100pp Super-Spectaculars, but the reprints aren’t re-represented. Which is fair enough. What we do get, though, are the fantastic feature pages from those issues, such as A Tour of American Cities with Captain Marvel, The Shazam Gods and Heroes, Billy Batson’s Family Album and, best of all, Mary Marvel’s Fashion Parade.
And there’s a superb bonus – the 74pp Superman vs Shazam! story from the All-New Collectors’ Edition C-58. It’s glorious, bombastic stuff which isn’t hurt by the reduced reproduction size.
These two hardback volumes are, from start to finish, an utter joy. The dustjackets feature gorgeous new art from Michael Cho, underneath it’s Pop Art as classic images sit on a Benday dot background, the first volume has an introduction by Power of Shazam writer-artist Jerry Ordway, all the covers are included, there are creator biographies, ‘next issue’ blurbs are retained… kudos to editors Eric Searleman, Alex Galer, Erika Rothberg and Jeb Woodard, designers Steve Cook and Damian Ryland, production guru Suzannah Rowntree and anyone else who had a hand in these volumes; I’m lucky enough to own a lot of reprint editions, and these two are possibly the best all-round packages yet, books to treasure and pass on to your own Marvel Family.
If you’re a fan of Captain Marvel and his world, I have one magic word for you – buy!