Thursday, January 16, 2020

100-Page FAKES! presents: SHAZAM! # 36

100-Page FAKES! imagines mid-1970s DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars that never were...but should have been!

Captain Marvel by the great Jim Aparo
The good folks at DC Comics had difficulty getting the right handle on the original Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel (published in the '40s and early '50s by Fawcett Comics) had been the most popular comic-book superhero of the Golden Age, outselling even Superman. Readers were fascinated by the adventures of young Billy Batson, whose magic word SHAZAM! transformed him into the World's Mightiest Mortal. DC sued Fawcett, claiming Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman, and Cap and the rest of The Marvel Family eventually surrendered and withdrew from newsstands, presumably forever.



But time wounds all heels. In the early '70s, DC licensed (and eventually purchased) its former rival from Fawcett, and commenced new Captain Marvel adventures in Shazam! # 1 (February 1973). Another rival came into play: in the '60s, Marvel Comics had scooped up the trademark on the name "Captain Marvel," effectively preventing DC from ever marketing the original Captain Marvel under his own name. That is a subject best left for another day's rant.

If Captain Marvel had not exited the public's view in 1953-54, and had instead remained in continuous publication like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, perhaps the character's tone would have evolved over time. Instead, the 1970s writers of Shazam! struggled and fell short of the goal of recapturing the charm of the Golden Age of Comics. There was never any attempt to give Captain Marvel a contemporary feel--and maybe there shouldn't have been--but for whatever reason, the Shazam! comic book never quite developed. Cap's original artist and co-creator C. C. Beck quit the Shazam! book in frustration with editorial clashes over what he thought were increasingly silly stories. Even with the added exposure of a live-action Saturday morning Shazam! TV series 1974-77, the comic book series couldn't sustain sufficient popularity. It went all-reprint for a while, and eventually returned to new stories before being cancelled with its 35th issue in 1978.





The final two issues of Shazam! attempted a course correction. As a kid, writer E. Nelson Bridwell had been a huge Cap fan, and his attempts to re-create the Fawcett-era adventures really weren't far off the mark; they just didn't work in the '70s, even with art by Kurt Schaffenberger, who had drawn many a Cap tale in the '40s and '50s. Shazam! # 34 tried a more contemporary art approach, courtesy of Alan Weiss and Joe Rubinstein. The switch seemed jarringly abrupt at the time. Shazam! # 35 brought in penciler Don Newton, inked by Schaffenberger, and that seemed a more natural combination of '70s comics and classic Cap. But it was too late to save Shazam!, and the title was cancelled.



Material for the unpublished Shazam! # 36 made its way into a back-up slot in the giant-sized Dollar Comics book World's Finest Comics # 253 (October-November 1978), replacing Wonder Woman (whose feature moved over to the also Dollar-sized Adventure Comics). DC's Dollar Comics included only new material, and WFC # 253 also starred the Superman-Batman team (penciled by Schaffenberger, by the way), Green Arrow and Black Canary, and The Creeper

 

Shazam! remained a back-up feature in World's Finest Comics through its final dollar issue (# 282, August 1982), skipping only # 271, which contained a book-length Superman and Batman story. Switching from big to small format, two final Shazam! stories intended for World's Finest Comics appeared instead in the digest-sized Adventure Comics # 491 and 492 in 1982. After that, the original Captain Marvel again disappeared for a little while. He would return.

All of The Marvel Family's appearances in World's Finest Comics were written by E. Nelson Bridwell. Legendary comics artist Gil Kane filled in for the final Shazam! back-up in WFC # 282; Don Newton penciled all of the others, with various inkers including Schaffenberger, Dan Adkins, Dave Hunt, Frank Chiaramonte, and others. It is a classic run of Captain Marvel stories long overdue for reprint and rediscovery.

These all-new DC Dollar Comics of the '70s and '80s could be a mixed bag, but ultimately they were a kick. They were well past the era of 100-Page Super Spectaculars, and past the era of DC filling books with reprints, but we're still going to create a faux 100-pager of what would have been Shazam! # 36.

And we're going to do it by slappin' together the one Shazam! Super Spec I wanted but never got in the '70s: a 100-pager including not only the members of The Marvel Family, but also some of their old fellow Fawcett Comics heroes, Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher, and Bulletman and Bulletgirl. Holy Moley!

The Marvel Family in "The Captain And The King!," originally intended for Shazam! # 36 (unpublished), printed in World's Finest Comics # 253 (October-November 1978)
Captain Marvel Junior (untitled), Master Comics # 73 (October 1946)
Ibis the Invincible in "Land Of Death!," Whiz Comics # 96 (April 1948)
"Spy Smasher Leads The Freedom Fight!," America's Greatest Comics # 3 (May-August 1942)
"Mary Marvel And The Curse Of The Keys," Wow Comics # 58 (September 1947)
Bulletman and Bulletgirl (untitled), Master Comics # 16 (July 1941)
"Captain Marvel and the Three Lieutenant Marvels Unite To Fight With The United Nations," Whiz Comics # 34 (September 1942)

The whole Rock of Eternity here is copyright DC Comics Inc., and shown here in sample pages; my paid patrons see the whole book. SHAZAM! Get set for adventure with the original Captain Marvel and friends.

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