It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Captain Marvel (Fawcett Publications) was more popular in every way to his famous forerunner – Superman (National/DC), but that was the case. Partially because the young boys of the World War II era had to become men overnight; to become the man of the house while their brothers, uncles and fathers were away; just like Billy Batson had to do in order to fight crime and injustice.
Long before the merchandising boom of Star Wars in the late 1970’s, Captain Marvel coveted the nickels and dimes of young kids. They read Captain Marvel comic books, they went to see his movie serial (the first for any superhero) and they bought the stuff – lots and lots of stuff: figurines, wrist watches, beanbags, decoder rings, beanie hats, neck ties(!) and they signed up for the fan club in droves.
Author and graphic designer extraordinaire, Chip Kidd and photographer, Geoff Spear who first collaborated together on Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan (Pantheon Books, 2008), have teamed up again to document a forgotten era. Culled from the impressive collection of Harry Matetsky, one cannot help but wonder if Kidd and Spear did indeed capture everything that was ever made regarding the Golden Age Captain Marvel. Kidd adds his own commentary to the rich, full color photos that capture every detail whether it be the most cared for item or the lost and forgotten belongings from years of neglect. The aforementioned movie serial is also dissected along with its promotional stills, costumes and other pieces. There are also chapters to other Marvel Family members: Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. There is also a section on the hero Spy Smasher, who was considered to be the Batman of the Fawcett characters and counter to the Captain Marvel, Superman. Unfortunately, the two never met up, save for the covers.
It’s not just statues and cut-out Shazam flying helicopters that are in this book, some of the art contained has never been seen in years including some wonderful work by Mac Rayboy (Flash Gordon). There is also one full comic story collected here, the first feature from Captain Marvel Adventures #1 (1941) by none other then Jack Kirby and Joe Simon (Captain America, et al.). Several other single panels and cover art is strewn about adding to the lore.
Kidd does and excellent job describing everything that we are fortunate enough to see and spares us from the litigation between Captain Marvel/Fawcett and Superman/National (DC) of old. He is wise to treat us with intelligence and respect the fact that we are well aware of the history.
Shazam! The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal
Abrams ComicArts, 2010
246 pages, 12 x 9, $35.00 US
A copy of this book was supplied to me by Abrams ComicArts
If you would like to read the comic books of Captain Marvel, DC Comics has four Shazam! Archive volumes and even one for the Marvel Family featuring Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel. There is also the (not too hard to find, if you look for it) Shazam! From The 40’s to the 70’s HC (Harmony Books), which is worth every penny. I even typed up a new Table of Contents, because the book lacks a sufficient one of its own (available for download). More recently, DC published Showcase Presents: Shazam! which reprints the characters’ return to comics in 1973 and Shazam!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told TPB, a nice overview of Captain Marvel throughout the years.