Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #99
This is the ninety-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous ninety-eight. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
This week’s installment is a special themed week – ALL CAPTAIN MARVEL URBAN LEGENDS!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Dealing with the integration of Captain Marvel into the DCUniverse caused the creation of a new superhero in the pages of Superman.
As I discussed in the second installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, after a lengthy lawsuit with DC Comics and with sales dwindling, Fawcett Comics decided to simply cease publication of their comic book superheroes, putting such notable heroes as Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. into mothballs.
This is where they remained for many years, until the late 60s, when rumors began circulating that DC was interested in dusting the old Fawcett Comic characters out of the mothballs and publishing them again.
Earlier in the 60s, Marvel began trademarking various titles that had the word Marvel in it, but it was not until they heard that DC was interested in bringing Captain Marvel back, that they rushed out their own title, called Captain Marvel, to establish their trademark (this was all detailed in a previous Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed installment here).
Still, DC continued to consider publishing the Fawcett characters, and by the early 1970s, DC pretty much had determined that they WOULD give licensing Fawcett’s superheroes a shot (DC was in a pretty strong bargaining position – as who ELSE would try to license Captain Marvel from Fawcett and risk a DC lawsuit?), but they were unsure as to HOW to do the comics.
Ultimately, DC decided to just bring the character back the same way he appeared 19 years earlier, as Captain Marvel. They just decided to title the new book Shazam!, after the magic word Billy Batson says to become Captain Marvel.
The new title debuted in early 1973.
Even though Superman appeared on the cover of Shazam! #1, he did not appear in the comic itself. The Shazam! series was set in its own separate universe (and I just don’t mean in the sense that there was Earth-1, Earth-2, etc., I mean there was no reference to the multiverse in Shazam! comics). They were basically designed as a continuation of the Fawcett line of comics.
Well, in 1974, DC figured it was about time to try to think about integrating Captain Marvel into the DC Universe proper, and what better way to do so than with an appearance in the title of their foremost superhero – the same hero who graced the cover of Shazam #1 – Superman!
More precisely, Superman #276, out in the Summer of 1974.
Elliot S! Maggin wrote the issue, and Curt Swan drew it, but DC decided it was too early to have them meet.
Thanks to commenter Vic Perfecto, we have this quote cfrom Elliot! Maggin (courtesy of the Krypton Companion):
We were trying to do the traditional Fawcet-style Captain Marvel in the Shazam! book in those days. The style of artwork was different from Superman’s. The degree of suspension of disbelief in the two story threads-Shazam! as opposed to Superman-were different. I never really believed that Superman and Captain Marvel belonged in the same story and neither did Julie. The Captain Thunder story was a piece of speculation as to what Captain Marvel might be like if he lived in the “real world.” I think Metropolis in the ’70s was what we thought of as the real world at the time.
So instead of using Captain Marvel, what did the folks making Superman #276 do?
Well, you do what all good jazz musicians do – you improvise!!!
So Superman #276 brought us Superman vs. Captain Thunder!!!
This was a reference to the Golden Age origin of Captain Marvel, as the character was ORIGINALLY named Captain Thunder, but Fawcett discovered before publication that another hero was going by that name, leading to the name change.
Thanks to Rick Meyer’s neat Comic Book Profiles site, we have some nice scans from the issue, which introduces us to Captain Thunder and his young counterpart, Willie Fawcett.
Willie rubs his mystical Indian belt buckle and shouts “Thunder” to bring down a magical starburst to turn him into Captain Thunder. Captain Thunder was given his belt of power from Merokee, last of the great medicine men of the Mohegan tribe.
As you can see, everything is basically just slightly changed – from the slight name changes to the slight costume changes, it is basically an entire issue of Captain Marvel, just with the names changed to protect the innocent.
Captain Marvel and Superman would not meet “for real” for over two years after Superman #276, in late 1976, in the pages of Justice League of America #137.
And it would not be until 1978 that we saw the oversized Collector’s Edition devoted just to Superman and Captain Marvel squaring off.
Still, you have to hand it to Maggin for coming up with a pretty clever substitution for all the Shazam backgrounds.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: DC almost had a black Captain Marvel.
After Shazam! ended, newly arrived at DC writer/editor, Roy Thomas had a number of proposals for a revamp of the character in the very early 80s.
Along with artist Don Newton, Thomas came up with one proposal that suggested that, since they could not call Captain Marvel Captain Marvel, they rename him Captain Thunder (just like Maggin’s issue of Superman). Thomas presumably felt that it only made sense to return to the original name, if Captain Marvel was unavailable.
The twist, though, was that Thomas thought that the character should be black! Yep, an African-American Billy Batson and Captain Marvel!!
In the Comics Buyer’s Guide, Thomas told the story, and (courtesy of the amazing Marvel Family website – the premiere website for Captain Marvel information!) here are some unpublished drawings of Billy and the good Captain from the proposal!!
Pretty darn cool, huh?
The Marvel Family website also had the little tidbit of information that the inker of the above Newton piece was none other than future Power of Shazam! writer/artist, Jerry Ordway!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: John Byrne was originally going to write/draw a Captain Marvel mini-series integrating Captain Marvel into the DC Universe.
The Shazam! revival lasted until 1978, when the book was cancelled.
DC still owned the license from Fawcett to use the characters, but they did not do much with them for the rest of the 70s and early 80s.
He appeared in a 1980 issue of DC Comics Presents and a 1981 issue, as well.
He then appeared in a 1984 story arc in All-Star Squadron.
As you might have noticed, all four of these issues were either written or co-written by Roy Thomas. He definitely had an affinity for the character (as previously noted, he was constantly trying to think of new twists on the character).
In any event, spinning out of the events of Legends, Roy Thomas got the chance to reboot Captain Marvel with Shazam! – The New Beginning.
However, for whatever reason, the Thomas reboot did not exactly catch on, so by the late 80s, editor Jonathan Peterson was looking to reboot the title AGAIN.
This time, he turned to John Byrne, who only recently had successfully relaunched Superman for DC Comics.
Thanks to Peter Sanderson’s excellent article on the unpublished series in Back Issue #12, we now know what Byrne had planned for his take on Shazam.
Byrne was planning on making the book designed for children, but for the children of 1989. As a result, the book would be a bit grittier, but more the background – not Billy and Mary Batson. They weren’t going around killing people or anything – but their background was a bit tougher.
Byrne was going to have Mary and Billy be caught up in a street gang led by a slightly older boy named Adam Black. It was Black who would initially encounter the wizard Shazam, and be granted the great powers of Shazam.
Of course, as Black Adam, he would use his powers for evil, leading Shazam to search out someone who could stop Adam – Billy Batson (and his sister, Mary).
Byrne was going to use the “kid’s mind in a grown-up body” approach (Mary Marvel would be the same relative age as Captain Marvel, rather than appearing younger) and he planned on playing around with that idea (in the Back Issue article, Byrne’s comparison was to the film 13 Going on 30, where Jennifer Garner is a 13 year old who wakes up in her 30 year old body), as to whether they would ever WANT to go back to being kids.
Beyond that, Byrne was going to do a whimsical adventure series designed for kids of the late 80s, so a slightly more sophisticated take on the good Captain, but not in a sense of “boy, those Golden Age comics were lame!” but just in a sense of “talking tigers wouldn’t go over well with the readership nowadays.”
However, the sticking point occurred when Byrne discovered that the series he designed to be in its own universe was going to have to tie into the DC Universe. Jerry Ordway recalls it being that George Perez was planning on using Captain Marvel as a big part of his 1991 mini-series, War of the Gods.
Sanderson quotes Byrne as saying:
The reason this [project] didn’t happen was that going in, I said I want this to be a separate universe. I want this to be not connected with the DC Universe in any way. And DC said, yep, fine, that’ll be great, that’ll be good. And then I had actually done the cover and the first two pages of the first issue and they said, “Oh, by the way, Cap has to be in the Justice League [Here, Byrne most likely just means that “Cap has to be in the DC Universe, as Cap’s Justice League days were past by this point].” And I said no, we agreed. And they said he has to be, it’s absolutely necessary. I said, well, bye then. It was another one of those cases where I made my unreasonable demands loud and clear, up front, they agreed to them, and then said, “Oh, no, we’re changing our minds.”
The editor, Johnathan Peterson then turned to Jerry Ordway, and asked him to take up the project, which Ordway did.
The resulting project, Power of Shazam!, did not come out for a number of years (according to Ordway, it was due to the fact that he was doing the project all by himself, even the lettering! All this while still working on Superman monthly, so it took a long time to finish), until 1994.
It was followed the next year by an ongoing series written by Ordway (with the great art team of Peter Krause on layouts and Mike Manley on finishes – talk about a talented twosome!), Power of Shazam!.
The series lasted 47 issues.
So while yes, John Byrne DID work on a Shazam! relaunch, it was never going to be part of the DCUniverse, unlike Jerry Ordway’s relaunch.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!