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Wednesday
Mar202019

The Best Captain Marvel Comics & Media

One of my all time favorite characters is the Billy Batson-Captain Marvel.  With his movie being release soon(it might be out by the time this comes out)I wanted to honor the characters legacy in some way.

In 2016 I did a Superman retrospective and gave a personal list of his best stories in the last 25 years.  So now for the Billy Batson/Captain Marvel I wanted to do the same thing.  The only difference here is I won’t just focus on comic books but from other media as well.  The reason is simple.  People don’t read comic books anymore (sob) but consume other media about them.

 

One last thing before I begin.  Keep in mind this is only my personal list.  If you have a difference of opinion then please comment below but keep it classy and civil.

So now lets begin!

 

1.  Whiz Comics #2 - Might as well start with his very first appearance. (Hmm maybe I should do a review of it.  It’s only 15 pages long(if you include the cover) it couldn’t take that long right?).  The story get’s straight to the point.  It’s the basis of every redo of his origin from the 1940’s on.  That said while the original origin is interesting it’s not what I consider very engaging.  If I had a choice I would re-read the 1995 Power of Shazam or the 2012 origin for fun than WHIZ #2. The original origin is a bit too dry and basic for me to want to go back to it over and over again.

 

2.  Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil (2007) - Let’s say you have kids and after seeing the movie in early April they want more of the good captain.  Well, this is the perfect series for them.  Written and drawn by “BONE” creator Jeff Smith.

 

This is another origin story about Billy Batson but once again it’s tweaked.  One difference here is when Billy turns into Captain Marvel it’s not a boys mind in the body of an adult.  The Captain is his own person with his own personality.  Shortly into the story Billy, the captain and Shazam not only find out that Billy has a little sister that he needs to find. They also find out about the titular Monster Society of Evil which is led by the devious “Mr Mind” who is usually a super intelligent caterpillar he’s a snake in this story though!  But it’s okay because Billy get’s help from a magical talking tiger named “TAWKY TAWNY”!

 

God I love comics! 

 

I can’t really explain well how I feel about this mini-series.  It’s heartwarming, exciting, creative, great writing.  It’s just so much fun!

 

My only problem with the story is that there never was a sequel to this.  Yes there was a 21 issue series that came out a year later(“Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM!”(2008) but it wasn’t by Jeff Smith and didn’t have the energy or fun that this did(also it may not be in continuity with the series).  Considering the current state of the character I wish that this version of the character would come back.

 

3.  *Young Justice S1 EP 19 “Misplaced” (2012)  This appears to be a very loose adaptation of the comic JLA: WORLD WITHOUT GROWN-UPS mini-series(1998)(this lead to the YOUNG JUSTICE SERIES).  Klarion the Witch Boy (along with villains The Wizard, Felix Faust, Wotan & Blackbriar Thorn)does a spell that creates an alternate earth.  One has only kids(under 18 years of age)and the other only adults.  While Billy and the Captain are supporting players in this episode I still think he plays a huge role in that he can blink into both worlds and was also able to get one of the crystals.

 

What I really liked about this episode(Captain Marvel wise) was it should how resourceful Billy was.  The good Captain was a supporting player previously in the series so it was good to see him take a more active role in the series.  Even if it was only for one episode.  I could be wrong but the the voice of Billy here seems to be the same for the “Superman/Shazam! Return of Black Adam” short movie.  

 

4.  *The Shazam and Isis Hour - One year after the triumphant return of the good captain in comic books in SHAZAM! (1973) a live action series was created for him and ran on CBS from 1974 - 1976.  It followed a teenage(? yeah right!)Billy traveling with a man named “Mentor” across country helping people along the way.  My first experience of the show was in the early 80’s in syndication(from the 1980’s - 1990’s if a show had even just one season it would be shown for years in syndication) 

 

5.  Shazam 1981 cartoon - I remember as a kid thinking this is pretty random.  Also where’s that old guy (mentor)from before?  My vague memories of the show are people in uncomfortable positions and Captain Marvel standing around.  I decided to take a look at the first episode and…wow…WOW!   We get an uncle Dudley who sounds like a cross between W. C. Fields and Snagglepuss.  Black Adam turing Captain Marvel Jr.(Freddie Freeman) into a dog and a Captain Marvel that sounds like the the 1960’s Spider-Man.  Meaning he sounded like a 45 year old accounting exec!

 

I really need to re-watch this series(hopefully it’s available on the DC streaming service).  Maybe I’ll review it one day.  The show wasn’t successful running on NBC from Sep 12, 1981 - Sep 11, 1982 and had only 12 episodes.  It was part of “The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!”

 

6.  *Kingdom Come - This is an else worlds story(a story taking place on an alternate earth timeline)that takes place years into the future after superheroes from Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman retired.  The reason was because of the rise of darker superheroes led by a new one called “Magog”.  After a catastrophic event in the midwest Superman gets the band back together to put an end to this dark age of heroes.  Not only that but they also have to combat a new group of villains.  Some of which are old timers(Catwoman, Riddler, Vandal savage and the new Ra’s Al Ghul who’s Talia and Bruce’s son) and some new kids on the block.  They call themselves the MLF.  No not the “Mutant Liberation Front” that’s MARVEL but “Mankind Liberation Front”.  How did Marvel not sue DC over this?

 

Kingdom Come is a great story from beginning to end.  I didn’t realize it at the time(but I do now)but it was a response to the 1990’s “Dark Age” of comic books.  So this is a Superman story right?  Where does Captain Marvel fit in then?  

 

He’s being controlled by someone.  Who?  That would be spoilers but let’s just say he’s used as insurance against Superman because: 

 

1. He’s as powerful as him(Superman).  

2. The whole Superman being weak to magic thing. 

 

Billy’s part in this story is bittersweet.  It’s good to see him here but it’s not as a hero and then there’s how his story finishes here which is bittersweet.

 

I will have to place this on the honorable list because while he plays a significant part in the story(the 2nd half of it really) it’s not about him.  This is primarily a Superman story.

 

7.  Shazam 1970’s live action series (1974 - 1977) - One year after his return to comic books the good captain received a live action tv series that ran from 1974 - 1977.  It followed a teenage Billy Batson(teenage? Really, REALLY?!) and his adult guardian named “Mentor” as they travel cross country and help people along the way.

 

8.  *Shazam! Power of Hope (2000) - From 1998 - 2003 DC Comics put out six tabloid size comic books co-written by Paul Dini and painted by Alex Ross(there was Superman: Peace on Earth, Batman: War on Crime, Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth,, Shazam: Power of Hope, Justice League: Secret Origins & Justice)

 

9.  *Shazam! 1973  - It’s the triumphant return of the character after being gone for 20 years.  This time being published by DC Comics.  What’s interesting about the series is that the look and tone was the same as it was in the 1940’s - 1950’s.  Goofy, campy aiming more for really young kids.  At least at the start of it’s run.  It kept it’s light tone until issue 34 & 35(#34 has Captain Nazi in it, I mean how light can you get!).  The last issues of the series.  Looking at the comics the 70’s the Shazam one was an anomaly.  In the 70’s comics were getting more mature and serious.  It aiming for a younger demo sounds good but by this point that comic reader was aging up not down.  

 

I can’t find any numbers but it seems this series didn’t do well.  It ran from 1973 - 1978 and was bi-monthly.  Even with the popularity of the live action show it doesn’t seem this helped the comics(that’s true even today ex. Captain America: Civil War made over 1 billion dollars but the Captain America comics struggle to sell 300,000 copies a year(in the 70’s it sold that in a month!)). 

 

10. Just Imagine Stan Lee with Gary Frank Creating Shazam! (2002) - Hey you want to see weird?  Well then just take a gander in the early 2000’s when DC Comics gave Stan Lee a chance to reimagine certain DC characters in his own universe.  So what did his take on the good captain entail?  Merlin, Morgana, a trip to Nepal, a cult with a woman apparently trying to do her best David Bowie impersonation! Assassins, and a big red beastie thing tagging along with a big boob woman.  I have no words for this.  The concept and execution of the story is bonkers.  Then again the entire Just Imagine line was crazy.

 

I think Stan missed the point on what makes Billy Batson/Captain Marvel a great character in this issue.  Also Billy Batson isn’t even Captain Marvel in the main story(I don’t even think he’s in the story at all).

 

11. *Shazam in the New 52 (2012 - ?) (1st appearing in the Justice League comic as a back up feature)(2013) - At the time I liked the story mostly because of the Gary Frank art.  Inclusion of the other orphans and having them take major roles is good but I didn’t like the fact that they became the extended Marvel Family.  I didn’t mind Billy’s attitude too much in the series because this did seem realistic for a 15 year old boy in the mid 2010’s.  My main issue with the series was that now Captain Marvel was no longer Captain Marvel but was now named Shazam.  As in after the wizard.  As in the word that Billy has to say to transform and back.  Good god, that is so stupid.  From that point on in all media he’s being called Shazam.

 

12. *The Power of SHAZAM! Graphic Novel (1994) and ongoing series (1995) - It was these to pieces of art that made me the fan of Captain Marvel I am today.  While he did appear before here(he was in the BWAHAHA Justice League of the late 80’s early 90’s)this was I believe his first ongoing series since the 1970’s.  This completely revamped his origin and was his definitive origin…until Geoff Johns retconned it in the NEW 52…sigh.  Anyway the art in the graphic novel had a very paintery pulpy feel.  Initially when I read the GN I thought that this took place in it’s own reality because the designs of the book has a 1930’s -40’s feel to it.  The GN plays out his commonly known origin but adds some tweaks to it.  We see the introduction of some future villains and a mysteriously shadowed individual is tasked by Shazam to guide Billy on his journey.  

 

The graphic novel is a great introduction for anyone interested in learning more about the the good captain.  The only negative possibly is that while I liked the art the current generation of comic reader may find it too dated(Jerry Ordway wrote and illustrated the entire graphic novel!).  Also looking back on it now it’s pretty obvious who the mysterious individual is.

 

The ongoing series that followed a year later is a continuation from the GN.  It’s still written by Jerry Ordway but this time he’s not doing the art for the series(Peter Krause, Mike Manley & Glen Whoitmore does the pencils, inks and colors).  Visually the pulp style is still present but minus the paint strokes.  Because of this the art looks simplified and more conventional.  The first issue does end with a bang with a fire, Billy using his powers irresponsibly, still needing to find his sister and Shazam punishing Billy.

 

This is a great series to read to get to know the character.  The original graphic novel is available in print and digital(at comixology.com).  Unfortunately none of the issues from the series are available in paperback but you can read them digitally at comixology.com as well.

 

A side note.  I find it interesting that on issue# 1 it has Captain Marvel on the cover.  Per the copyright with Marvel Comics they could’ve sued DC for that(or whoever owned the character at the time.  There’s some that say that DC didn’t own the Marvel Family of characters until 1997 -1998).  Oh well, it doesn’t matter anymore.  He’s only called Shazam these days.  Not by me though(that’s still a stupid name to call him).

 

13. *Justice League Unlimited “Clash” (2005) - this was probably a lot of peoples first experience of Captain Marvel and this episode nailed the character just right.  We first see him being heroic then see him inducted into the Justice League.  Everything goes down hill from there for billy and clark.  This episode reminds me of the phrase never meet your heroes.  Because they won’t be what you built them up to be.

 

14. *Batman/Superman Public Enemies (2009) - The good captain appears here but it’s mostly an extended cameo.  We do get to see his power and cleverness.  I also like the fact that he states that Superman is weak against magic here.  Why do so many readers and writers of the character seem to forget that?

 

15. *Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010) - Hey a DC animated film that’s not solely focused on either Superman or Batman!  Oh wait, Superman’s in it too, my bad.  Also this isn’t a full film.  It’s more like a short film at about 25 mins.  I wish I had known that when I first bought this years ago.  Still this is a good representation of the character.  Within the first 2 mins you get a handle on Billy’s character.  He’s upbeat and positive despite his current situation and will stand up for anyone in need.  

 

Still I have 2 nitpicks.  

 

1.  Superman/Clark Kent is in this episode(calling it a a movie would be silly)while he plays a part I think the story could stand on it’s own without him(for some reason nearly all DC animated films have either Superman or Batman in them.  It’s become a crutch by this point).  Instead of having there just have Talky Tawny have a larger role.  Or heck throw in Uncle Dudley for crying out loud.

 

2.  It’s not a actual movie.  As I noted earlier this is more of a short film.  It’s barely 20mins long.  It’s disappointing that the Good Captain didn’t receive a longer treatment.  He’s been around since the 1940’s!  He’s had by that point a movie serial series, live action tv series, a cartoon series and several comic book series as well.

 

Despite all of that for anyone that’s interested in the character this is a great primer for them.

 

16.  The Captain Marvel Movie Serials (1941) - The good captain was the first superhero to appear in the movies(if you don’t count Zorro or comic strip adaptations).  He had a 12 part series named the “Adventures of Captain Marvel” that ran thru 1941(March 28,1941) little over a year after he was first introduced in the comics(Whiz Comics #2 cover date Feb 1940 release Date Dec 1939).  Looking back it’s not that bad.  I can why people would enjoy it.  Seeing the captain fighting against oversized scorpions and the such.  It seems it was so well received that this helped the sales of the comic book.  As I noted earlier(I may have noted it in another part of the retrospective)Captain Marvel was so popular that he would outsell Superman.  

 

Side note I do find it funny that for the flying scenes instead of wiring up the actor they used a 7 foot long paper mache’ version of him instead.

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