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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 161: The Marvel Family #69

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade: the 1950s! Today’s page is from The Marvel Family #69, which was published by Fawcett and is cover dated March 1952. I borrowed this and several other comics over the next few weeks from Howard Harris, my comics retailer, who was nice enough to let me take them home and scan them. Enjoy!

Menace? Really?

According to the fine folk at the Grand Comics Database, Otto Binder wrote this and Kurt Schaffenberger drew this. The colorist and letterer are lost to time!!!!

The page is laid out in an interesting fashion. At the top, we have some boilerplate, which seems like a strange place to put it. I suppose W. H. Fawcett, Jr. was very keen on making sure readers knew that this comic contained “wholesome entertainment” and was “approved reading,” while also advertising the many Fawcett comics one could purchase. No story for you until you read the advertisements!!!

Then we get the “Captain Marvel” style lettering, telling us that the Marvel Family will be battling “the menace of old age.” Man, that seems like a really odd foe. The placement of the “The” inside the first panel helps anchor our eyes there so that we can get a recap of who the Marvel Family is – Mary and Billy say “Shazam” and Freddie Freeman says “Captain Marvel” and they turn into superheroes. Let’s hope no one ever takes that charming and completely innocent conceit and makes it all rapey!

Then we get the splash page, which sets up the story in as literal a fashion as possible. Our eye moves downward to the three heroes, placed in order of (presumably) superiority, with Freddie trailing Mary, who’s behind Billy. They tease us with the dialogue as they run toward the “Castle of Old Age.” Schaffenberger does a fine job with the castle – we see the sickly trees on the left side of the panel first, then the building, and as we look more closely, we see that the castle itself is a bit decrepit. After we read the words, we take in the entire structure. Vultures circle and perch on the left tower, which bends under the weight of the years. Vines and a vulture’s nest hang precariously from the battlements. As our eyes move right, we see another denuded tree, and right below it, more moss dripping over the parapets. The portcullis is halfway open, and Schaffenberger puts more dead plants on the iron grid. Below that, we see grass growing between the cracks in the tiled floor, while some planks of the drawbridge lie broken in the moat. Castle entrances always look like mouths, but Schaffenberger does a nice job making this entrance look aged – the half-raised portcullis gives the impression of an old person with teeth missing, while the floor and drawbridge look like a used-up tongue. Schaffenberger angles the entire castle toward the right side of the page, which, of course, is where our eyes are heading.

What’s the secret of the castle? Well, you’ll have to read the story for that, won’t you? This page, however, is a nicely-drawn, intriguing way to begin!

Next: Some icky stuff for any decade, but particularly so in the Fifties! Find more icky comics (but not too many!) in the archives!



June 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Why are they running, instead of flying through the gate or over the wall?

What’s the secret of the castle? Well, you’ll have to read the story for that, won’t you?

Given that this story as never been reprinted, and is a fairly pricey late Golden Age comic, there’s only one way most people would actually be able to do that.

Omar: Well, yeah. I was just being a jerk, actually. I didn’t even read it, I just skimmed it. The people in the castle are old but they’re sucking the youth out of everyone who comes across it, and they do it to the Marvel Family before our heroes turn the table on them. Fairly standard stuff, actually.

THE MARVEL FAMILY!!!! YEEEEEEEESSSSS!!!! Bout time, now you’re talking comicbooks!!!!

“Then we get the Captain Marvel style lettering, telling us that the Marvel Family will be battling ‘the menace of old age.’ Man, that seems like a really odd foe.”

Give it time, Greg. You’ll find out.

Also: highlight of the issue for me is a panel where Schaffenberger depicts an elderly Billy, Mary, and Freddie…and they genuinely look the way those characters would look grown old in real life, not in the more typical “old superhero” style where they have white hair but otherwise look fit. It’s a little touch of realism that makes the whole scenario more effective.

Pete Woodhouse

June 13, 2012 at 9:20 am

“The colorist and letterer are lost to time”.
The lettering in the first panel (“When Mary and Billy Batson….”) looks like Ben Oda’s work. I don’t know how old Mr Oda is/was, and maybe many comics of that era had that style, but it certainly looks reminiscent of his Batman stuff from the 70s/80s.

Pete: It certainly could have been Oda. He was born in 1915, and he was working in the 1950s, so it could be him!

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