Friday, 20 February 2009


A lot of reviewers look down on Shazam! DC's attempt to bring back the original Captain Marvel for the '70's, but I really like it. I enjoyed the few issues I managed to get at the time, and, having bought the Showcase edition a while back, enjoyed reading it as an adult just as much.

The Big Red Cheese's return was conceived by then publisher Carmine Infantino, who was absolutely convinced that he was onto a winner. He had Julie Schwartz editing, hot young scribes Denny O'Neill & Elliot S. Maggin writing, and original artist C.C.Beck illustrating, but for some reason, it never flew. Retailers bought thousands of copies of the first issue, swept up in DC's hype, only to watch those copies sit unloved on the shelves.

Beck ( surely comics' greatest grumpy old curmudgeon ) blamed O' Neill & Maggin's scripts, calling them the worst Captain Marvel stories he'd ever read, and claiming the writer's were making Cap & Billy Batson look like idiots. Schwartz leapt to their defence, calling Beck difficult & conceited, while O' Neill & Maggin both felt that Beck was tampering with their material, changing things purely out of ego.
'Course, I didn't know any of this at the time. The first issue I ever saw was no.3 ( distribution being as bad as it was in those days ), and I thought it was great, light-hearted fun.

This issue featured, amongst other stories, the tale "A Switch In Time", where through the machinations of fez-wearing, dastardly wizard Shagg Naste ( insert your own punchline ), Billy is transformed into an adult version of himself, while the good Captain becomes a teenage Big Red Cheese! What made this story so funny for me & my comic reading buddies was that the grown-up Billy was a spit of one of our gang: David ( I only buy Marvel ) Holman! That caused endless amounts of hilarity...

Shazam! of course, as well as the new strips, also featured reprints of the original '40's stuff, in those great 100 pager's DC did for a while, and when I actually managed to find a copy, I loved 'em. Especially the ones with Mr. Tawky Tawny! Fans always say that the '40's strips are the only true Captain Marvel's, and no one's ever really captured the magic since. But what they forget is that, for kid's like us, this was the first time we'd seen The Marvel Family, so this was 'our' Marvel Family, if you like. And there's also the fact, that as a kid, I wasn't interested in what was a new strip, and what was an old strip. I know Denny O' Neill has said that times had changed, and Shazam! was seen as too old fashioned, but I don't necessarily go along with that. It's like kid's now, watching forty year old Bugs Bunny cartoons: They don't care when it was made, so long as it makes 'em laugh.

I have to admit tho', that I was a bit lairy about investing in a copy of Showcase Presents Shazam! Would I find it too simplistic, too childish, too silly? Obviously, I forgot the one super-power that comic fans have that the rest of the world doesn't: We can appreciate things for what they are, and for what they were intended to be, without caring what anybody thinks.
It's a kids comic? Yeah, a beautifully drawn, skillfully written, effortlessly fun kids' comic. Even after the brilliant Beck left the strip, ( after he refused to draw the script for 'Invasion Of The Salad People' fact fans ) he was more than adequately replaced by Kurt Schaffenberger and the vastly underrated Bob Oskner. And O' Neill's & Maggin's scripts are light, wholesome, innocent and fun, fun, fun! Everything Captain Marvel should be.

And, of course, these days, the sheer, unadulterated seventiesness of it is a major bonus, from Sunny Sparkle, who's clearly been taking way too much acid, to sleazy con man Conway Mann (who looks like he's walked off the set of Mr. Benn ) to this panel:

Plus, It's fascinating that O'Neill was working on the ultra serious and worthy Green Lantern /Green Arrow while doing this, while Maggin was just a few years away from Superman: Last Son Of Krypton. The last few issues, where Billy & Ol' Uncle Marvel go off on a nationwide tour (inspired by the then TV show, to the point where Unc' is actually a completely different character ), are unremarkable, and the lightness of touch dissipates, but up until that point, this is a sweet reminder of when comics dared to try to attract kids. Those were the days, eh?

1 comment:

  1. I always liked DC's tongue-in-cheek approach to Shazam (and Plastic Man), but, by the 1970's, it seemed that most comic book fans wanted their super-heroes played straight. And adults would watch tongue-in-cheek action-adventure in other media (e.g., James Bond movies), but they did not read comics.