All Entries
Marching Bands
The Nutcracker Suite
Girl Scout Cookies
Apple Pie
Job Interviews
The Spacesuit Film
A Sense-of-Wonderful Century
Space Films Before 1950
What Is an Animated Movie?
2001: A Space Odyssey
St. Elsewhere
An Alien Abroad
The Sky Is Appalling
A Modem Utopia
Big Dumb Opticals
Surprising Sci-Fi Soul Brothers
A Day in a Working Life
William Gibson
William Gibson Bibliography
Arthur C. Clarke
Eaton Conference History
Inside the Eaton Collection
Eaton Links
Frank McConnell Book
Best of Eaton
George Slusser Conference
Science Fiction Quotations
Quoted Authors
Popular Topics
The Future
Unverified Quotations
Radio Interview
Greenwood Encyclopedia
Cosmic Engineers
The Mechanics of Wonder
Hugo Gernsback
Science Fiction, Children's Literature, and Popular Culture
Islands in the Sky
The Other Side of the Sky
The Endless Frontier
Arguing with Idiots
Superladies in Waiting: Part 1
Superladies in Waiting: Part 2
Superladies in Waiting: Part 3
Who Governs Science Fiction?
What SF Leaves Out of the Future (4 Parts)
Part 1: No News is Good News?
Part 2: The Day After Tomorrow
Part 3: All Work and No Play
Part 4: No Bark and No Bite
How to Make Big Money
Earth Abides
J.G. Ballard
Men into Space
Technocracy and Plutocracy
H.G. Wells
Chris Foss
Full Spectrum 4
Hugo Gernsback
The Norton Book of Science Fiction
Writings of Passage
Realm of the Enchanted Unicorn
Captain Marvel
Definitions of Science Fiction
Field of Dreams
The Incredible Hulk
Interactive Fantasy
Mario Brothers
Ali Mirdrekvandi
Ronald McDonald
Series Fiction
Wonder Woman
Radio Interview (Quotations)
Time Travel Inverview
Homo aspergerus Interview
Robots Interview
America's Second Marshall Plan
A Review of The Little Book of Coaching
My Life as a Court Jester
My Wedding Toast
Westfahl at Wikipedia
Westfahl in the SFE
Westfahl Entry
Westfahl Links
Captain Marvel
American COMIC BOOK SUPER-HERO, created by Bill Parker and C. C. Beck in 1940. His career begins when a mysterious stranger in a trenchcoat approaches a New York paperboy and tells the lad to follow him down into the subway. Today, a well-schooled youth would immediately run away from such an invitation, screaming in horror; but in the more innocent world of the 1940s American comic book, young Billy Batson was more than willing to accompany the stranger. He quickly meets an old EGYPTIAN WIZARD who, having tired of the endless fight against EVIL, has decided to kill himself though he will live on as a SPIRIT and to appoint Billy as his successor because he is "pure of heart." Henceforth, simply by saying the wizard's name "Shazam," Billy will be struck by a MAGIC LIGHTNING bolt and become a super-powered adult known as Captain Marvel, possessing, as the word anagramatically indicates, the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the courage of Achilles, the power of ZEUS, the stamina of Atlas, and the speed of MERCURY.

Of the three great comic book heroes who emerged in the 1940s, Jules Feiffer has argued in his introduction to The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965), CM most perfectly embodied the spirit of childish wish fulfillment. To become SUPERMAN, one needed an aristocratic Kryptonian heritage; to become BATMAN, one needed to devote many years to hard study and physical training. But to become CM, all one needed to do was say "Shazam." It is not surprising, perhaps, that after being introduced in the first issue of Whiz Comics, CM became popular far more quickly than Superman or Batman, and that he was at one point the most frequently-published comics hero in America, appearing in numerous comics and spawning a number of spinoff characters (including the young Captain Marvel, Jr.; heroine Mary Marvel; lovable fraud Uncle Marvel; the three Lieutenant Marvels; and Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny).

During his most successful years, CM had his share of sf adventures, prominently involving the MAD SCIENTIST Dr. Sivana and an alien worm named Mr. Mind; but, as was no doubt inevitable for a character whose magic powers were rooted in an uncertain mixture of Greek MYTHOLOGY, Roman mythology, and Biblical lore, his stories often veered into fantasy. CM had to defend the OLYMPIAN GODS from one menace, King Kull, and in what was perhaps his most famous adventure, CM battled against his sinister counterpart, Black Adam, an ancient Egyptian originally appointed Shazam's first super-powered successor before he turned to evil. A popular recurring character was a talking tiger ( => TALKING ANIMALS), and one crossover adventure involved the aforementioned Marvel Bunny. With the bright colors and simple line illustrations of artist Beck, and clever often humorous scripts from writers like Otto Binder, CM for a period epitomized the excitement and imaginative power of the new medium of the comic book. (James Steranko's The Steranko History of the Comics, Volume Two [1972] devotes considerable and laudatory attention to the character.)

Despite his tremendous popularity in the 1940s, CM did not survive in the 1950s. One reason, of course, was that DC Comics filed suit against his publishing company, Fawcett, claiming that the character was an imitation of Superman, and Fawcett finally agreed to voluntarily eliminate the character instead of pursuing a court case they might well have won. Most people speculate that Fawcett capitulated because of the general decline in the comic book industry at the time, but the company may also have sensed that a hero so purely based on a simple childhood dream could not be fruitfully sustained. The saga of Superman, lonely survivor of a destroyed super-scientific civilization, could be broadened and deepened into a majestic epic, and the story of Batman, orphaned as a boy when his parents were murdered before his eyes, could be darkened into a Gothic horror story; but little Billy Batson, shouting out his magic word, offered no possibilities for such development. Feiffer reports that as a child, he lost interest in CM after one adventure when the hero was transformed into a baby and thus was unable to say "Shazam"; in a larger sense, there surely was something inescapably infantile about such a character.

Nevertheless, CM's former nemesis, DC Comics, attempted to revive the character in 1972 with a new comic entitled Shazam! The World''s Mightiest Mortal (since Marvel Comics in the interim had claimed the name "Captain Marvel" for another character). But inevitably, the revival proved unsuccessful, since the childish Billy Batson, with his childish image and childish adventures, could hardly compete now with the grown-up heroes of DC and Marvel. Later, there were efforts to make the character's artwork and stories more mature, as in the graphic novel The Power of Shazam (1994), and he has sometimes teamed up with Superman and other DC heroes, including one grand epic involving the Justice League of America, the Justice Society of America, and other former Fawcett heroes, like Bulletman and the MAGICIAN Ibis the Invincible, battling against King Kull; but all these efforts to dignify the character were perhaps stymied by the basic, underlying absurdity of CM's origins and powers. One might say, then, that CM demonstrates both the elemental power and the fundamental limitations of pure unadulterated fantasy.

In comic books, CM appeared regularly in his own adventures and teamed up in The Marvel Family with youthful counterparts Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Marvel (who also had their own series). In later comics, there have been three other unrelated heroes named Captain Marvel, and some thinly disguised Captain Marvels under other names: see Ron Tiner's entry on "Captain Marvel" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction for details. In other media, CM was the subject of an undistinguished film serial (1942); in the 1970s, after the character was revived, there was a live-action Saturday morning television series called Shazam (1974-1977), which then inspired first on television, later in comics a new female counterpart to CM named Isis, featured in a separate series (1975-1978). CM has also been featured in a few television cartoons.

To contact us about encyclopedia matters, send an email to Gary Westfahl.
If you find any Web site errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to our Webmaster.
Copyright © 1999–2018 Gary Westfahl All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted & Designed By:
SF Site spot art