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CSBG Archive

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!!

Let’s begin!

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.

STATUS: True

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.

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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!!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And it would not be until 1978 that we saw the oversized Collector’s Edition devoted just to Superman and Captain Marvel squaring off.

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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.

STATUS: True

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!!

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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.

STATUS: False

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.

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He then appeared in a 1984 story arc in All-Star Squadron.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!.

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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!

75 Comments

I’ve never really been interested in the character, not until Jeff Smith started working on him.

I wonder if Byrne’s take would have been good.

Seperate continuity = good.

Whimsical = good.

Captain Marvel not WANTING to ever be Billy = Hrmph. Questionable.

Street Gang = What a horrible idea.

Also. Minor Nitpick. there were TWO DC comics appearances in ’80. # 34 had the Shazam Family, including the Captain…. and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny!

I wonder if Byrne’s take would have been good.

Seperate continuity = good.

Whimsical = good.

Captain Marvel not WANTING to ever be Billy = Hrmph. Questionable.

Street Gang = What a horrible idea.

Also. Minor Nitpick. there were TWO DC comics
Presents appearances in ’80. # 34 had the Shazam Family, including the Captain…. and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny!

It’s a shame they didn’t go with Thomas’ original idea. It could have given DC the A-List African-American character they’re really missing.

I kind of doubt that… That initial relaunch didn’t catch on, white or black, the public just wasn’t into it at the time. Black Captain Marvel would’ve been relegated to the back issue bin and then written off as a mistake… with his change of race probably being the (wrong-headed) reason editorial would’ve made for the property’s failure.

Something’s not right here. There’s no way that Newton/Ordway picture predates the ’73 Shazam! series. For starters, Don Newton didn’t turn pro until ’74 and even then he spent his first couple of years working exclusively for Charlton because neither Marvel or DC at that point were willing to hire an artist who lived 2500 miles from New York. The drawing doesn’t look like his early style either. Moreover Jerry Ordway and I are the same age which means he would’ve inked that pic when he was 14. Finally why would Roy Thomas, who was Marvel EIC at the time, team with two fan artists on a proposal for a series none of them would be able to work on?Somebody needs to look into this a bit closer.

Oh, and the reason the Thomas/Mandrake Shazam: The New Begging didn’t catch on? It stunk.

Something’s not right here. There’s no way that Newton/Ordway picture predates the ‘73 Shazam! series. For starters, Don Newton didn’t turn pro until ‘74

Indeed. Also, Roy Thomas could hardly be in a position to be pitching approaches with DC when he was a Marvel editor at the time.

My understanding was that the black Billy Batson / Captain Thunder thing was that it was a pitch made in the early 1980s, not the early ’70s . Indeed, I remember Amazing Heroes talking about it being one of Roy Thomas’ upcoming projects.

Are you sure you got your information right, here Brian? could you quote the artilce in question? Because I think you’re wrong.

Roy Thomas sure did like the name “Captain Thunder”!!!

Remember the “Captain Thunder and Blue Bolt” series he did with Hero Comics in 1987? Roy & Dann are bringing the characters back at Heroic Publishing: http://www.heroicpub.com/thunder/default.php?sid=060103Q301

“Captain Marvel not WANTING to ever be Billy = Hrmph. Questionable.”

Well, from the quote and the comparison, it doesn’t sound like that was Byrne’s desired “status quo state.” (I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m fairly sure the kid is no longer Jennifer Garner at the end and the moral is that’s a Good Thing, right?)

But for Billy, or Mary, or any other kid to have the *idea* “Maybe I should just be a grownup with amazing powers *all* the time. Being a kid’s lame!” That sounds like a very natural *impulse* for any kid.

The thread shows how devilishly tricky it is to integrate these characters into DC, either simply as a publishing line or into the DC Universe proper. Ordway’s series did about as good a job as possible, I think… and it still doesn’t *quite* work.

Also- while the SHAZAM! book was cancelled in 1978, the series continued in the WORLD’S FINEST dollar comic until 1982, by Thomas & Newton I think. Maybe it was Gerry Conway.

Jeff Albertson

April 20, 2007 at 8:11 am

I’m afraid they’re right and you have the timing wrong.

AS I recall it, Thomas’s suggestion for an African American Captain was after DC’s initial attempt had run out of steam. Also, the numbering of CBG in 1982 would have been much much higher than 16.

As for Byrne’s idea, well, add it to the many misguided takes on characters he claims to enjoy, but misses the point of. It’s especially annoying to this OMAC fan that he partially redrew a page or two of his Shazam attempt, and used it for his OMAC mini-series which was another 180 degree turn away from the creator’s intentions. He totally missed the point of Kirby’s intent to have it be “The world that’s coming”, making it into a time travel/alternate universe story.

Sorry, Rant over for now. I enjoy the column, and appreciate learning about the Marvel Family web site.

Jeff Albertson

April 20, 2007 at 8:15 am

E. Nelson Bridwell did the World’s Finest and Adventure Digest stories with Don Newton. Very entertaining, gorgeous art, and extremely underappreciated.

A bit off-topic, but does anyone know if Elliot S! Maggin had roots in Southeastern Connecticut? I think the references to the Mohegan tribe and Uncas are a bit region-specific at that time (not so much now with the Mohegan Sun casino) even if he, I’m assuming, was working out of NYC at the time.

Yeah, the World’s Finest Shazam! series (which carried into Adventure Comics Digest when World’s Finest stopped being an oversized Dollar Comic) by Bridwell and Newton was awesome stuff.

Another almost-but-not-quites was a Shazam! ongoing coming out of The New Beginning mini-series. Thomas wrote several issues and they had Tod Smith and another artist draw it but it fell apart for various reasons. There’s some articles from Alter Ego about it which included pages from both artists pitches.

Something I’d like to learn more about is how DC licensed the Fawcett characters and when it changed from something they licensed to something they owned. I know DC had all sorts of trouble in the late ’80s/early ’90s with trying to get a ‘Greatest Shazam! stories ever told’ collection that they blamed on business agreements, (indeed, they made reference to it when explaining why they couldn’t use any golden age Captain Marvel stories in their Greatest Golden Age Stories collection which came out in ’90).

They also had licensing issues around using the other Fawcett characters like Spy Smasher and Ibis and Bulletman (Roy Thomas indirectly cites such reasons in All-Star Squadron)– Bob Rozakis mentioned in one of his Silver Bullet Comics columns that the JLA/JSA team-up that featured the Earth-S characters was technically unauthorized– DC thought they had the rights to the characters and Fawcett didn’t give that to them!

I believe Elliot S. Maggin is from that region– in fact I think he lives in New Hampshire now.

Oh, meant to mention in my last comment…my point about licensing was to the end to suggest that they may not have had permission at that point to use Captain Marvel in any other book but Shazam! initially as it sounds like it was a frightfully complex arrangement.

Not so much a legend as much as clearing up something – Tekno Comix once published a series called “Isaac Asimov’s I-Bots,” and stated in the book that it was an idea Asimov had for a comic book before he died. However, I can find no evidence that Asimov actually had the idea or that he even read comics (which wouldn’t be past him, but still…). Did he really come up with the idea or was it just a cheap marketing trick conjured up by those at Tekno?

Well, while I certainly can’t say all of these Captain Marvel ideas were good ones, I definitely like them all more than the “x-treme” tattooed soldier Captain Marvel DC is currently launching in the Trials miniseries. Thank God we have Jeff Smith out there writing a fun Captain Marvel book that actually works with the original concept instead of trying to change it.

Also, I love the completely random appearance by Superman on the cover of Shazam! #1.

Once again, you’ve brought back a lot of memories. As the first DC version of Shazam was being promoted in house ads, the legendary Norm of the still-missed Eye of Agamotto (Ann Arbor’s first comics shop) told me that this was a very big deal, and filled me in on the Fawcett lawsuit, etc. Prior to that, the only Captain Marvel magic I’d seen was the one page excerpted from his origin story in Jules Feiffer’s “The Great Comic Book Heroes.” So that first issue was read with great interest. C.C. Beck did those first issues, and they looked authentically old-school. The first issue revealed that Sivana and his nasty children trapped Billy and the rest of the cast (along with themselves) in “suspendium,” which is why no one had aged since the Fawcett days. (suspendium gets mentioned by one of the Sivanas in the pages of 52: someone remembers!)

I also remember the “Make Way for Captain Thunder” story in Superman, and couldn’t understand why they didn’t just use the real Cap.

The first actual crossover between Earth 1 and the, er, Shazamverse (was it Earth S?) featured Captain Marvel vs a dimension-hopping Lex Luthor.

After the original Crisis multiple Earth consolidation, I believed–and still believe–that the hole left in history by removing Superman from Golden Age continuity should have been filled by leaving Captain Marvel, with his own rich history, as a character who did exist in the Golden Age era of the new continuity. It would have made him less redundant to Superman in the DC universe.

Oh well.

I’m lovin’ the Monster Society of Evil mini, and don’t like the Trials of Shazam stuff at all.

Thanks for the memories!

#1 sure is an….”urban” legend!

yuck yuck!

wocka wocka!

“my point about licensing was to the end to suggest that they may not have had permission at that point to use Captain Marvel in any other book but Shazam! initially as it sounds like it was a frightfully complex arrangement.”

I think they were fine with Billy, Mary and Freddy showing up in that JLA crossover, the problem was with the other Earth-S heroes like Bulletman and Mr. Scarlet & Pinky being used in the story. While they were published by Fawcett, they weren’t “Captain Marvel” characters and DC had to pay a seperate license for their use. (I think a Minute Man guest shot in the regular SHAZAM! title fell into the same problem.) Then again I think a Cap Jr. Christmas story was pulled from a Limited Collector’s Edition during that period so maybe Marvels outside of their own title was a no-no prior to 1977.

As far as the African American Cap in urban legend #1, I could see Thomas having the idea for a black Cap in the 70s. I’m pretty sure that art though was from when he had jumped to DC from Marvel in the early 80s. “Captain Thunder” was going to be the Earth-1 champion of Shazam (if I’m remembering this right) but the project stalled either with the death of Don Newton or prior to his death and he took over INFINITY INC instead, only completing one or two issues before he passed.

Byrne’s relaunch sounds like garbage – good thing he pulled a classic Byrne hissy fit and never went through with it.

John Byrne’s take on Shazam sounds pretty good – and, in fact, it sounds a lot like Jeff Smith’s…

I liked Jerry Orway’s take on Captain Marvel. I have almost the enitre run.

I’m not sure that a black Captain Marvel would have gone over very well. John Stewart was really the only stand-out black character. Black Lightning was cool, but, they both tended to be stuck on the C-list.

I like Alex Ross’ approach to Captain Marvel, too. His oversized Power of Hope and inclusion in the Justice League – pretty cool.

While I think Byrne’s remake wouldn’t have been so great circa 1989, it makes me think about what he could do with the character now. They could do far, far worse (for example: the current Trials of Shazam book).

I also loved Jerry Ordway’s work on these characters. What I found so refreshing was that he didn’t think himself above the material, and while he brought these characters more fully into the DCU proper, he didn’t really feel the need to “update” them too much to fit into the “sophistication” of a 1993 audience. MR Mind really was just a talking, evil worm, and so on.

I also LOVED the idea of Captain Marvel being the synthesis of Billy’s idea of a hero–one with his own father’s face. There’s something profound about that.

That’s maybe why i so dislike what’s going on right now with the Howard Porter drawn Shazam stuff. It sort of feels like the author is saying that the Marvel family NEEDED updating and revamping. Ironically what I think we’ll see in the coming years is just how dated and irrelevant THIS Trials of Shazam series becomes, similar to the Roy Thomas reboot.

There’s another timing problem with the column this week which hasn’t been pointed out, and is pretty obvious based on the comics covers used in it.

Thomas’s Shazam mini spun out of Legends and didn’t predate it. Check the blurb on the Shazam cover and the dates on the issues.

Those who said the timing of the Thomas/Newton black Captain Marvel was off in the article were absolutely right. I was a letterhack in those days, and remember the mention of the upcoming series well, as around the time ALL-STAR SQUADRON was introduced, as a way to recreate the Fawcett legend for a new generation. The original Captain Marvel and his family would be on Earth-S, as already established in an earlier Justice League/Society crossover, but Shazam would create an Earth-ONE version, (just as Hoppy the Marvel Bunny’s powers had to ultimately come from Shazam and he didn’t exist on Earth-S either), since the Rock of Eternity is at the center of time, space, infinity, and the multiverse. The African-American Billy Batson would have been the Earth-ONE Billy Batson. That could lead to interesting trans-earth crossovers, but leave the new “Captain Thunder” to also have parallel versions of the old Fawcett villains to arise on Earth-One, as well as new villains as well…without violating the Earth-S continuity than older fans remembered so fondly.

We could have had a “new” member of the Marvel Family, even a separate Marvel Family on Earth-One, without having to reboot/remove from continuity the old stories. Best of both worlds. Literally.

This was in the early eighties, not when SHAZAM was reintroduced a decade earlier, under Julie Schwartz in the early seventies. If Roy Thomas had the IDEA back then, it’s the first I’ve heard of it, and I really doubt that’s the case. Certainly the timing is wrong for Newton.

For some reason, perhaps scheduling problems—who knows—the idea never was fleshed out into an actual comic. It’s a shame. Captain Thunder’s African-American heritage would have created a minority hero who could give Superman a run for his money, but be so different visually from Superman that most people wouldn’t confuse the two, unlike the original Captain Marvel. With the name Captain THUNDER, DC would have been free to use the name on the cover, without Marvel able to say a thing—and part of the demise of SHAZAM is due to the fact that Shazam is a good magic word, but a lousy title for a comic—it’s like caling a Superman comic, “Up, Up and Awaaay” or a Human Torch comic “Flame On!”

One final amusing note: Roy Thomas later, for a separate publisher, published a few stories– and copyrighted both the names —of a totally NEW “Captain Thunder” and the name of another old hero, Blue Bolt, so now DC can’t use the name “Captain THUNDER” as the title of a book any more, either.

It’s a complex story, though, Brian. I don’t blame you for getting confused on the timing.

Jeff Smith’s Captain Marvel is terrible.
J-Uh-dd Winick’s Captain Marvel is terrible.

Why, can they not bring back Ordway’s Captain Marvel?
Power Of Shazam was the best CM Comic in a very long time and nothing since has come even close.
Y’hear that Jeff and J-Uh-dd?!

This a pretty interesting history. It could have done without “A New Beginning” and could it would be nice to know that “Trials of Shazam” was not part of the history of Captain Marvel however it is what it is. The best information that come out of this is that it’s good to know that John Byrne’s planned reboot was almost as bad as the current one being done by Judd Winick.

Ironically what I think we’ll see in the coming years is just how dated and irrelevant THIS Trials of Shazam series becomes, similar to the Roy Thomas reboot.

I’m quite convinced that–especially if the Shazam! animated cartoon and (though I’m not wild about John August’s dismissal of the classic run of the character) movie come out–that the Trials of Shazam period will be looked upon as an oddity much like the time when Doctor Strange was remade to look like Kid Eternity or Daredevil fought mystical menaces

The best information that come out of this is that it’s good to know that John Byrne’s planned reboot was almost as bad as the current one being done by Judd Winick.

Actually, I don’t think that’s very fair. Byrne seemed keen on keeping whimsy of the characters which I think already makes it a zillion years better than Trials of Shazam!.

The edgy-but-for-kids-of-today-nonetheless approach actually isn’t so different than what Jeff Smith is currently with Billy Batson actually. Both of them use the homelessness of Billy Batson in the original Parker/Beck Whiz Comics 1 story as their starting point. The youth gang with Adam Black isn’t so far off from Billy getting the tar kicked out of him (albeit off panel) for the money he got from Talky in Monster Society of Evil #1.

The truth is, just about every version of Captain Marvel since 1953 has been a departure of some sort from the original concept (even when the character was revived at DC in ’73 and CC Beck was drawing it didn’t really capture what made the original character more popular than Superman– writers like Denny O’Neil and Elliot Maggin, brilliant though they were at other stuff, weren’t suited to the character). For me it’s always been a question of ‘how far of a departure’. I don’t think the Byrne version actually would have been that far out as I think so much of getting the character right is in understanding the tone of the character– and he was spot on that the character should have been done for kids in a universe all their own.

The New Beginning occurred after Legends came out, even though it was tied to Legends. But I’ll add “spinning out” rather than “after,” if that sounds better! :)

But thanks, various folks, for the correction regarding the Black Captain Marvel. Darn you, Marvel Family!! ;)

In Alter-Ego 9, July 2001, Roy Thomas tells the full story of his attempts to pitch a Shazam! series to DC with no less than eight different artists beginning with Newton in 1983, which was to introduce Captain Thunder, whose alter-ego was in a wheelchair.

Thanks Brian, though I would add the nuance to it that Al mentioned– that it wasn’t so much a revamp as it would focus on what would be the Earth-One version of World’s Mightiest Mortal. The Earth-S characters would still be around.

I’d really like to know the actual timing of this project, because Roy Thomas actually had an Earth-One Billy Batson (who didn’t have the power of Shazam) in his Superman/Captain Marvel team-up in DC Comics Presents 49…though this Billy was white! Could this have been the springboard for it, or was he recycling an abandoned idea? Hmmm… (the first I heard of the black Captain Marvel/Captain Thunder was around ’83 after this was published so maybe a springboard? Anyone know Roy Thomas?).

Another reason it may have been abandoned was that Crisis was in the cards by that point and while Thomas’ revamp would have kept the Marvel family on Earth S, the multiverse was about to be phased out of DC books.

In Alter-Ego 9, July 2001, Roy Thomas tells the full story of his attempts to pitch a Shazam! series to DC with no less than eight different artists beginning with Newton in 1983, which was to introduce Captain Thunder, whose alter-ego was in a wheelchair.

Well that answers my question, thanks! I knew he had talked about it at some point in Alter Ego, but I didn’t know what issue. That’s quite handy– I’ll see if I can pick up that issue someime!

Captain Thunder isn’t the ONLY “faux” Captain Marvel, of course…has everyone forgotten Marvelman/Miracleman?

“Captain Thunder isn’t the ONLY “faux” Captain Marvel, of course…has everyone forgotten Marvelman/Miracleman?”

Not to mention Marvel Comics various “faux” Captain Marvels…

Trust me- a 5, almost 6, year run in the 70’s is a SUCCESSFUL book, not a failure. Shazam had the benefit of the very popular Saturday Morning live-action show keeping it around. Every kid my age in the mid 70’s knew Captain Marvel, but it was from the Shazam TV show.

and I agree with the earlier commenter — the CBG by 1982 would be far, far from #16 – it was a weekly publication!

and I remember buying the Captain Thunder two-parter off the stand — it was a good story, but it was confusing why they had to use a stand-in when they were publishing Captain Marvel already. Of course, this was close to the time when they had Superman fight the Popeye-like Captain Strong, too, IIRC.

And Shazam, The New Beginning stunk. Power of Shazam was very well done. DC could do worse than to get that series collected into trades by the time the cartoon or movie gets on the screen.

Man, DC Comics multiverse stuff is confusing. I try to think about where one universe ends and one begins and my head explodes.

The thing about the Dc multiverse is that it wasn’t confusing before they created a “Crisis” to merge all the earths. I sometimes wish they would retrofit Earth-1, Earth-2, etc as it allowed the characters to exist in both their classic period and in so-called modern times. I was leafing through a copy of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” and discovered that they have a “multiverse” that is even more complicated than DC’s with byzantine numbering.

For my own completionist sake, I’ve been trying to nail down what magazine and article has Roy talking about the aborted Shazam series that would follow “The New Beginning.” If anyone can help point me in the right direction, I’d be very grateful.

Take care
Don

Hey all, I enjoyed reading this, and all the posts following it. I am happy some of you liked my Power of Shazam series, as it was the most fun I ever had in comics. I wanted to get that book up to issue #50 at least, as a fanboy thing, because Spider-Man was the first comic I picked up as a kid, and loved it so much. But really, the book had a rough ride, and at the time it reached issue #5 or 6, Capitol Distribution went under and we were left with only Diamond, and a lot fewer stores. A lot of books took a major hit at that time. We held on, and got great reader response, including the Mister Mind decoder card, which generated so many requests that Carlin and his assistant worked hard printing them up in the office, as we never had any budget for promotion. But my own opinion on why Shazam has never succeeded for DC is that DC has no history with a successful Shazam. Captain Marvel was a success for Fawcett, not DC, so my feeling is that they have never seen it as having potential to reach a large readership. With something like the Flash, or Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern, they have a vested interest. DC didn’t buy the rights to Shazam until the late 1980’s or 1990, and had to pay a fee to Fawcett for every appearance prior to that, which limited Cap’s inclusion in DC storylines. They didn’t secure the other Fawcett heroes until I requested them in PoS. My point is, Shazam is an adopted son, while the other DC characters are the favorite sons and daughters.
On another point, I inked the black Captain Marvel in the early 80’s, when I was still working regularly with Roy. It is possible that Roy paide Newton and myself out of pocket to do it, as it was for a pitch.
Yet another point is that was never to be the inker of John Byrne’s Shazam series, and my recollection was that John bailed mostly because Perez was using Cap as an element in War of the Gods crossover, in his already established DC origin, which screwed up John’s new origin. He was justified in walking, as DC gave him free hand to reinvent, and then said oops, this other thing is already in the pipeline.
I was asked by Jonathan Peterson to take it on, and I agreed to do it if it could be a stand alone graphic novel, andI was allowed to do the whole thing except for lettering.(I did letter the title page though.) I also worked on it around my Superman schedule, and it went very slowly. That’s why it took so long to come out.
The follow-up series was set to launch in the wake of Zero Hour, with an issue#0, but Mike Weiringo, our original penciller suddenly bailed on the pencils, which forced Mike Carlin, the editor and I to start our search for an artist again. Had we launched with the combination of Weiringo, hot off the Flash, and with the #o stunt promotion bonus, we would have started stronger and maybe lasted longer. But that’s my conjecture. Who really knows? We all like to think our own approach is the right one, but really the fans decide by buying a given book. Best, Jerry O

My recollection is that it originally appeared in THE COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE around 1982 and then was reprinted in CBG again later on. I’ll have to track that down.

Also, I just wanted to point out that I colored that illustration of Captain Thunder from the Marvel Family Web, http://www.marvelfamily.com/whoswho/whoswho.aspx?castID=1846 , and I just took my best guess as to how it should look.

And thanks Jerry, for summing up the history of THE POWER OF SHAZAM! I didn’t know that POS was supposed to spin out of ZERO HOUR.

Best,
Walt Grogan

Thanks for the comment Jerry. I’ve been a fan since Infinity Inc. Also wanted to mention that Don Newton was one of my favorite artists. He was missed and it would have been interesting to see his take on Infinity Inc. besides the one issue.

Jery Ordway said:”My point is, Shazam is an adopted son, while the other DC characters are the favorite sons and daughters”. Sometime we forget that those other DC characters haven’t always been “DC” too. DC was originaly two comic companies that merged to creat one and some of the known characters where with one company and others were from the other. I don’t wich though. But it feels to me like DC was always an amalgam of characters from different owners and companies. They should have sealed the deal with Valiant and Crossgen too. ;)

Personaly I loved The Power of Shazam! HC. “Finally” I thought at the time. “Somebody is getting Captain Marvel right”. Updated while not betraying its innocence. Anybody could read it and enjoy from adults to teens to kids. But I think the following series was not of the same level. First the artwork was too cartoony-I wish Jerry would have drawn it. And the stories had become more silly, compared to the Power of Shazam! HC. The Malibu Ultraverse series “Prime” with Norm Breyfogle succeeded where Shazam! failed in re-creating the power of the concept of having a kid gaining the powers of a Superman for a modern super-hero audience. But like I said, the Shazam! HC was perfect. I liked the pulp-30s adventure serial feel it had. I could see Bogart or Karloff playing Black Adam and attacking the Batson.

I’m surprised by how unsuccessful/unpopular Shazam/Captain Marvel seems to have been in the 70s/80s, considering I remember him from the “Kid’s Super Power Hour with Shazam” cartoon series of the 1980s and had an action figure of him from the “Super Powers” series of DC characters from the mid-80s. I guess I just assumed he was a big name.

Hmm…

So should we change this?

“But it feels to me like DC was always an amalgam of characters from different owners and companies.”

Which is literally true, and (it seems to me) true from a “corporate culture” standpoint even when *not* literally true.

That’s one of the differences between DC and Marvel I don’t see mentioned much, but I think Marvel has always had a much more “unified” feel to it – all run from the top level by Stan Lee editorially.

Whereas DC has often had these little editorial fiefdoms that did their own thing, without much concern about what the other editors might be doing (e.g. the days of Weisinger and Schiff running Superman and Batman, and trying to limit those characters’ appearances in Schwartz’ Justice League book.)

Which paradoxically can make the DC Universe such a fun place to play around with, since you’ve got all these strange little pieces that don’t *automatically* fit together, but you find all these cool possibilities when you throw together elements like Fawcett’s Black Adam, Charlton’s Question, the just-plain-bizarre Metal Men, etc., in one big story.

Marvel’s got lots of fun toys too, of course, but they all come from the same sensibility (e.g., a lot of Marvel Silver Age war and western comics read just like Marvel superhero stories in different costumes.)

Sha-Boom? Hahahahah

Creepies? Hahahahah

Most of you have already posted corrections…

I read that Fawcett was getting a per panel fee for the Marvel Family characters and villians. I always figured that was why Bridwell made Kid Eternity an Earth-S character (Freddy’s brother,no less!): cheap crossover. That fee kept the Marvel Family from being charter members of the All-Star Squadron (from Roy Thomas’s Alter Ego). They would have immigrated to Earth-S like the Quality characters who immigrated to Earth-X later in that series.

There was also a DC Comics Presents Annual which featured Sivana gaining Shazam-like powers (complete with green outfit) taking on Captain Marvel, Superman and Superman of Earth-2.

Alex Ross believes that DC deliberately tanked Captain Marvel and company in the mid to late 80s to make the selling them to DC more profitable that the fees.

Jerry, thank you for insisting that DC buy the rights to the other Fawcett characters! You made it possible for Spy Smasher to appear on Justice League Unlimited!

I always figured that was why Bridwell made Kid Eternity an Earth-S character (Freddy’s brother,no less!): cheap crossover.

Well, that and the fact that Captain Marvel Jr. and Kid Eternity both had secret identities with the same last name and a similar gimmick of a magic word! Under similar circumstances I’d have picked up on the coincidence and given it a comics continuity approved reason in a heartbeat. And E. Nelson Bridwell was perhaps an even bigger comics geek than Roy Thomas was.

Another great installment. I look forward to reading this blog every week.

While looking at the cover for DC Comics Presents #33, I noticed some religious references that were snuck in on the store signage:

“Jesus”
“Jewe” – Jews perhaps?
“He” – Hebrews ? or He as in reference to Jesus?

Graeme Burk: “Well, that and the fact that Captain Marvel Jr. and Kid Eternity both had secret identities with the same last name and a similar gimmick of a magic word! Under similar circumstances I’d have picked up on the coincidence and given it a comics continuity approved reason in a heartbeat. And E. Nelson Bridwell was perhaps an even bigger comics geek than Roy Thomas was.”

I never saw a Kid Eternity story that indicated he had a secret identity, and, as I recall, the vintage origin story reprinted in DC’s 70s SECRET ORIGINS series didn’t give his name prior to his death (maybe the first name Kit). I think the same surname began WHEN Bridwell made them brothers. But what really made the idea work was the very strong facial resemblance (even in the 40s stories) and the fact that “Eternity” was important to both of them.

Wow, i havent’t seen those covers in a long time. Thanks for bringing back memories of my childhood on my favorite character back then.

I never saw a Kid Eternity story that indicated he had a secret identity, and, as I recall, the vintage origin story reprinted in DC’s 70s SECRET ORIGINS series didn’t give his name prior to his death (maybe the first name Kit). I think the same surname began WHEN Bridwell made them brothers.

You are correct and I am wrong. I’m sure I recalled an interview or an article or something in Amazing Heroes where it was mentioned that Bridwell capitalized on the characters having the same last name, but looking around maybe I was thinking of something else (like Thomas making Phantom Lady and Starman cousins). I’m just too damn old to keep all these things straight!

Sorry about the delay on the other small tweaks the piece still needs. I was headed to the airport Friday, and I only had time to make the one major correction (and the Legends change). I’m back now, so I’ll smooth the piece out.

Thanks Jerry, for all the info! Very cool. One question, though – the pages that Back Issue had from that issue had you listed as the inker of the Byrne pages. Is that a mistake?

Okay, smoothed it out (especially changing the order – the earlier time error regarding the Black Captain Marvel made the three pieces not exactly flow together anymore). Anything folks would still like added/changed?

Anybody know if Captain Thunder appeared again?

I am about 99% certain that that issue was his sole appearance.

Roy Thomas later created (and trademarked) a character named Captain Thunder for his independent comic book work.

Captain Thunder made a brief one panel appearance in THE POWER OF SHAZAM #27 along with DC version of the Marvel Captain Mar-vell, a DC version of Marvel’s female Captain Marvel, the Thomas/Mandrake version of Captain Marvel, the DC version of the Split/Xam Captain Marvel and Hoppy the Marve Bunny.

Best,
Walt

You rule, Walt!

I owuld like to speak for someone who is really enjoying Trials of Shazam. Believe me there are quite a few of us out there. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out.

Hey guys. Long time lurker, first time poster. In answer to why Maggin created a Captain Marvel pastiche when DC owned the Big Red Cheese, he addressed that question in an interview from Two Morrows Krypton Companion (a must own for fans of the Silver Age Superman, by the by):

Maggin: 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 there y’go. Keep blogging like mad, sirs, I’ll certainly be reading!

Thanks a ton, Vic!

To Brian Cronin, If Back Issue credited me as the inker on the 2 Byrne pages from his aborted take on Shazam, it was in error. I think I was the one who scanned the pages for inclusion though, as Byrne gave me copies when we used to see each other all the time, back before I did WildStar for Image.As for Byrne, John may have his social problems, but I always liked his art and his Shazam would have been in tune with what they are doing now. Pretty gritty harsh stuff. I honestly tried to do the character as a 1960’s Marvel comic, as my way of updating it, but not trashing the groundwork that Fawcett had. I know even at that time, certain comic fans wanted us to ditch the wholesomeness, and go for grim and gritty, but that would be a slap in the face to the original creators, in my opinion. I had issues with Peter David when he “borrowed” Mary Marvel for a Supergirl crossover, and immediately wantet to have her sexually molested in his story. Then Giffen wanted her to lose her virginity in Formerly Known as the Justice League! Now it looks like they are finally getting their way in Countdown. I’m no prude, but if you want to “violate” the intent of a character, create a new damn character, will you? Just my opinion.

Superman and Captain Marvel switch powers?
Their power sets are practically the same!
Does Marvel get heat vision or what?

OK, so I’m late to the party here, but that Captain Thunder cover brought back memories – that issue of Superman was the very first superhero (non-Archie, non-Disney) comic I ever remember reading. That was 1974, and I wasn’t even 8 years old then. I had no idea who any of them were, but I thought that the Monster Society (homage) in that story was a really cool idea.

I notice that no one is mentioning Captain Marvel’s stint in JSA. I think it is the best recurring CM that DC has put out, second only to PoS.

I don’t know why, but I always enjoy seeing Captain Marvel in a DC one shot, Elseworlds, or guest appearance; but most of the time when he is a recurring cast member he comes across like a completely different character.

Theno

Concerning the statement that the use of non–Shazam Fawcett superheroes in the 1976 JLA/JSA crossover was an inadvertent usage of characters DC didn’t have licensed–why were Bulletman and Bulletgirl used just a couple of years later in the Shazam series in WORLD’S FINEST, years before the purchase has been indicated to have occurred?

Boy, did I miss the boat! I had posted something on a previous rumor about Captain Aarvel just two days before this one appeared and I am only just seeing it now!

Anyway, here is my big question. This is not the firs time you stated that Marvel Comics created their Captain Marvel because they were concerned that DC would revive the original in the late 1960’s Where did you get that info? According to Stan Lee in Les Daniels’ history of Marvel Comics and Roy Thomas in the introduction the the Marvel Masterworks edition of early Captain Marvel stories, it was a reaction to the MF Enterprises Captain Marvel. Carmine Infantino tells me that the idea to bring back Captain Marvel was his alone, and it happened in 1972. Have I missed something?

DC just needs to erase the TOS crap. Bring back the montly POS. After doing the Blackest Night tie in with POS#48. Bring Jerry Ordway back, with Jim Krueger, Alex Ross or Gail Simone as the writer. Possibly even having John Byrne drawing it . I wouldn’t have liked his writting / take on CM,etc. But I love the way he draws him, have Ordway do those beautifully painted covers once again. With him inking Byrne & or drawing certain issues also. POS had many flaws, the whiney Billy, the power sharing, the drunk Uncle Dudley & drinking Mr.Tawny. Keep Mr.Tawny as a up beat funny guardian of the kids. But also let him keep the ability to change to a human being at times. Give Mary Marvel her own mini-series. Make Freddy freeman CMJR once again. Or better yet Captain Thunder . Dc needs to work out a deal with Marvel to finally share certains names. Like Captain Marvel/Mar-vell, the Scarecrow, the Guardian,etc.

Wow. Are you people being serious? I found Jerry Ordway’s Shazam rather mediocre. Of course, it was much better than The Trials of Shazam, but that’s not saying a lot. The writing just average at best and I HATED many of the changes he did to the characters, like making Black Adam more of a Captain Marvel clone and doing away with his Teth Adam personality, turning him into a boring and cliche thug, and later, into Blaze’s mindless pawn; or making Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel (who was called Captain Marvel in this series… ugh) equals (political correctness and feminism can politely blow me. She’s supposed to be a sidekick like Captain Marvel Jr., NOT Billy’s equal) and having Shazam claim she’s a better Captain Marvel than Billy (considering that the character who beat the crap out of every other superhero in sales during the Golden Age was Billy’s Captain Marvel, NOT Mary Marvel, I have to say that she does NOT deserve to be called better than him).

Rant over.

Frankly, I liked the whimsical Captain Marvel of the 70’s Shazam! series. I’ve read some of the old Fawcett stories but not too many, so I’m not sure what exactly is missing from the 70’s series. I just don’t think making the Marvel Family realistic, dark, and gritty is the best way to go. However, I will admit that the Bridwell/Newton Shazam stories were great, in spite of my desire for whimsy.
I haven’t kept up with comics much since the mid-80’s, but what I did see of Shazam in later years hasn’t impressed me much.

I have fond memories of Captain Marvel in the 1970’s when I was an avid collector of comics, I saw Captain Marvel as being like Superman up to a point but with much more comic relief value if you’ll pardon the pun, it was fun within fun, I also had a childhood crush on Mary Marvel Lol, happy days :)

The twist, though, was that Thomas thought that the character should be black!

(…)

Pretty darn cool, huh?

No. Not cool all. I’m so damn sick of everything having to be changed just for the sake of political correctness. Or even worse, because of hypocritical double standards brought by political correctness. It’s perfectly fine to change white characters’ ethnicities, but heaven forbid someone dares to change a black guy into white or something like that. In fact, changing white characters into other races is not only fine, but also encouraged, as you have everyone singing praises about how progressive it is whenever someone does it, and whoever disagrees with it gets called racist by hypocrites who would be complaining their behinds off if it the character receiving the race lift wasn’t white. I’m so damn glad that DC didn’t go with the black Cap Marvel idea.

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