ALL IN THE FAMILY
Captain Marvel, the red-clad hero affectionately known as The Big Red Cheese, was Fawcett Publication's answer to Superman. Although the character owes his existence to the Man of Steel, Captain Marvel actually became more popular than Superman, achieving the singular distinction of being published bi-weekly during the Golden Age of comic books. First introduced in the pages of Whiz Comics #1 (in February of 1940), Captain Marvel soon graduated to his own title. Not wanting to get in over their heads, Fawcett first tried out Captain Marvel in Special Edition Comics #1 before premiering Captain Marvel Adventures in March of 1941. Captain Marvel was so popular that Fawcett decided to branch out and eventually ended up with a whole family of characters with similar powers and origins.
By Ed Sanchez
In keeping with the introduction of Captain Marvel in the anthology title Whiz Comics, Fawcett next tried their hand with the premiere of Captain Marvel, Jr. in another of their anthology titles. In January of 1942, Captain Marvel, Jr. premiered in his first adventure in Master Comics #22 after being introduced in the pages of Whiz Comics #25. Junior took over the lead in the title and was featured in many stories and covers by acclaimed comics illustrator Mac Raboy, whose cover art stands to this day as some of the finest ever done for super-hero comics. After his success in Master Comics, Captain Marvel, Jr. graduated to his own title in November of 1942.
Mary Marvel enjoyed the same success after being introduced in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 in December of 1942. Co-created by the artist Marc Swayze, the lovely Mary took over Fawcett's Wow Comics (another anthology) in January of 1943 with issue #9. December of 1945 saw the debut of Mary's own title, which lasted for 28 issues.
Fawcett next decided that since the Marvel Family had been so successful in their own titles, a title featuring all of the characters would be incredibly successful. To that end, in December of 1945 they premiered The Marvel Family, which featured the previously mentioned members of the family, but also adding Uncle Marvel to the mix.
Over the years, Fawcett introduced many new characters to the family. There was Freckles Marvel, Baby Marvel, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, "Aunty" Marvel (really Captain Marvel villain Dr. Sivana in disguise), The Three Lieutenants Marvel, and Tawny the Talking Tiger.
In a move well ahead of its time, Fawcett premiered a 25 installment story line in the pages of Captain Marvel Adventures #22, "The Monster Society of Evil". The very idea of having multiple part stories based on continuity was an innovation in a time when stand-alone stories were the norm.
Unfortunately, all the innovation and popularity could not sustain the World's Mightiest Mortal under the pressure of perhaps the greatest evil any hero could ever face: the American Legal System. Since Captain Marvel's creation, DC comics had been pursuing Fawcett for copyright infringement on Superman. Although Fawcett won victories in the lower courts for years, DC never let up. In 1953, Fawcett gave up the fight and canceled their entire comics line, thus bringing an end to the adventures of Captain Marvel and his Family, a hiatus that lasted 20 years (until, surprise, surprise, DC brought the character back).
Here are a few points of interest worth mentioning. First, Captain Marvel was never called SHAZAM. That's the name of the Egyptian wizard who gave Billy Batson the ability to transform into Captain Marvel. The name is so closely associated with the character because it's more distinctive, and because Marvel Comics had its own character named Captain Marvel by the time DC Comics decided to bring the character back.
The nick name, The Big Red Cheese, was coined by Captain Marvel's most frequent villain, Dr. Sivana, in one of their earlier confrontations. The name has since been adopted by Captain Marvel's fans as a term of affection.
SHAZAM is an acronym for the deities that grant the wizard the power to give out a portion of their abilities to the Marvel Family, but those deities vary from character to character. Captain Marvel's being: Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage) and Mercury (speed). Mary Marvel had a decidedly more feminine group: Selena (grace), Hippolyta (strength), Ariadne (skill), Zephyrus (speed), Aurora (beauty), and Minerva (wisdom). Black Adam on the other hand, the only evil Marvel, was graced by Egyptian deities (he was initially named Teth-Adam): Shu (stamina), Heru (swiftness), Amon (strength), Zehuti (wisdom), Aton (power), and Mehen (courage). Finally, the wizard SHAZAM had yet another set, this time as an acronym of Marvel (introduced in the more recent 1995 series): Marzosh (stamina), Arel (speed), Ribalvei (power), Voldar (strength), Elbiam (courage), and Lumiun (wisdom). Phew, that's a whole lot of gods!
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