Shazam! Family Archives: VOL 01 Hardcover – Sep 27 2006
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When Captain Marvel emerged as the most successful imitation of Superman in the early 1940s, it didn't take long for his publisher to expand the franchise. Whenever crippled newsboy Freddy Freeman speaks Captain Marvel's name--shazam!--he's Captain Marvel Jr. While the Captain Marvel stories pursued whimsy, his protege's unfurled in a grimmer world in which he confronted bloodthirsty Nazis and sinister ghouls. Whereas the captain was drawn cartoonishly to complement his underlying humor, junior was handled by Raboy, one of early comic books' most accomplished illustrators, whose graceful yet powerful figures and dramatic lighting set his work apart from the crude drawings that were standard for the era (he left comic books a few years after these stories appeared to succeed master illustrator Alex Raymond on the handsome Flash Gordon newspaper strip). This volume also includes the first appearance of yet another member of the Marvel family, distaff variant Mary Marvel. If junior's stories lack the innocent charm of senior's, they're nevertheless above-average examples of comics' golden age. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This edition features the early adventures of Captain Marvel Junior. The book reprints Junior's adventures from Master Comics #23 - 32, Captain Marvel Jr. #1, and also includes the first appearance of Mary Marvel from Captain Marvel Adventures #18. Most of the stories in the book feature art by Mac Raboy who is perhaps best known for his 20 year run as artist on the Flash Gordon Sunday newspaper strip, taking over for the great Alex Raymond. Raboy's art is quite a touch darker and grimmer than most superhero titles of the day, certainly far darker than Captain Marvel's artist C.C.Beck. Raboy also produced some of the most outstanding covers of the Golden Age while working on Master Comics, which are thankfully reprinted in the book.
Throughout out most of the ten issues reprinted in this debut volume, Captain Marvel Jr. finds himself battling two main foes, the German villain Captain Nazi, and Mr. Macabre, sort of an amalgam of The Shadow & the Joker. Captain Marvel Jr. is Freddy Freeman, a crippled boy who sells newspapers and lives in a rundown shack. We will see in the origin story from Captain Marvel Jr. #1 that he was orphaned when Captain Nazi killed his grandfather and left Freddy for dead until Captain Marvel pulled him from the sea. Freddy is saved when the wizard Shazam tells Marvel that he can give the boy a portion of his magic powers. Now when Freddy says the name "Captain Marvel" he becomes Captain Marvel Jr. Oddly, he still remains a young, teenaged boy whereas Billy Batson becomes an adult during his transformation.
Mr. Macabre is introduced in Master Comics #24 and is a rather creepy villain who is killing his former business partners after announcing they will die over the radio. The mystery of how he kills the men is rather ingenious for the time. The Captain Marvel Jr. stories are more subdued than those of Captain Marvel who had many slapstick villains. The one weakness these early stories suffer from is the repetition of Captain Nazi and Mr. Macabre as his foes, neither of which really provides much of a challenge.
Mary Marvel would complete the trio and her origin is told in Captain Marvel Adventures #1. We learn that Mary is actually Billy Batson's twin sister and they were separated as babies when their parents died with Mary going to live with a wealthy family.
I really enjoyed the stories in this volume more than I thought I would because my expectations were for the same style of stories of Captain Marvel. But the main selling point is the gorgeous art and covers of Mac Raboy.
Reviewed by Tim Janson
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.