Young Freddy Freeman was crippled in a chance encounter with super-villain Captain Nazi. His idol, super-hero Captain Marvel gave Freddy part of his power. Whenever Freddy said the name of his hero, he became Captain Marvel, Jr., the World's Mightiest Teenager.
It's fascinating the read the "Shazam! Family Archives" so soon after reading the "Robin Archives", as well as the "Shazam! Archives". In one sense, Captain Marvel, Jr. was the first teenage sidekick to receive his own series, although, since Captain Marvel was himself really a kid, that's a debatable presumption. Even so, Cap, Jr.'s stories were unusual given the nature of the character. Junior was a kid, but his adventures were not the lighthearted affair Robin's were. Indeed, they were quite serious, almost bleak, especially compared with Captain Marvel's. Junior did battle with the vicious Captain Nazi in the U.S. and in Europe. He also ran up against Mr. Macabre, a sinister criminal with green skin. Even with his powers, Freddy was hardly a happy go-lucky kid. He lived in a cave on the outskirts of town, and made his living hawking papers. He was permanently lame in his civilian identity.
And yet, Junior's solo adventures are still quite delightful, as he slaps around Axis spies and gangsters. He had the same problem many of contemporaries had: he was powerful hero with some less-than-powerful enemies. But watching Junior smack around Captain Nazi and Mr. Macabre is quite satisfying, and the plots that these villains hatched were very clever.
Of course, the real attraction of this volume it the fine pencils of Mac Raboy. Raboy was one of those rare artists of the golden age who strove more for realism and eschewed the cartoony tendency of his contemporaries. Each panel contrasted the dark tone of the stories and the prevailing hope symbolized in its star. Under Raboy, Junior was a beacon of power and justice and the villains were skulking, sinister menaces. The great flaw of Raboy was his perfectionism. It's easy to see repeated pieces of art (poses and facial expressions in particular) from issue to issue just to make his deadlines. Still, that's a small price to pay for such fine work. Raboy did the art for "Master Comics" nos. 23-32. He didn't do the art for "Captain Marvel, Jr." #1; the change is noticeable.
DC has wisely decided combine the adventures of both Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Marvel in one archive series. The origin of Mary Marvel is presented here in "Captain Marvel Adventures" no. 18, as Billy Batson (a.k.a. Captain Marvel) discovers he has a long-lost sister. When Cap and Junior get into trouble, Mary utters the famous word "Shazam", and becomes the first female sidekick/spin-off of a popular super-hero. The origin story, written by Otto Binder, is a more conventional Captain Marvel story in tone and in execution. Thus, it's somewhat jarring to read it after roughly 200 pages of the darker Junior stories. Nonetheless, it's a fun story, and Mary Marvel has become somewhat overlooked in the pantheon of female super-heroes.
I'm glad DC has begun exploring other aspects of the Fawcett properties they own. I look forward to more volumes in this series. I also hope that DC gives some thought to collecting other Fawcett characters, like Bulletman and Spy Smasher.