Saturday, October 23, 2004


While I was away, this remarkable portrait of Mary Marvel, the original Captain Marvel's little sister arrived. The artist, Michael McDaniel, is unknown to me, but I was immediately struck by his fine line work and subtle sense of detail. It's also a very different take on the character that I'm accustomed to seeing. Mary Marvel traditionally has been drawn as a cute, cherubic young girl in her early-to-mid-teens, much like the original incarnation of Supergirl. Mr. McDaniel's view of Mary is more mature, I think.

For those who didn't know, or have forgotten, Mary Bromfield (nee Batson) transforms into her heroic alter ego by shouting the magic word "Shazam!" — an anagram which reflects Mary's endowment with the grace of Selena (goddess of the moon), the strength of Hippolyta (queen of the Amazons, and mother of Wonder Woman), the skill of Ariadne (the crafty daughter of King Minos of Crete, who helped Theseus solve the riddle of the labyrinth), the speed of Zephyrus (the West Wind — a male character, but legendary figures whose names start with Z were apparently few and far between), the beauty of Aurora (goddess of the dawn), and the wisdom of Minerva (goddess of, well, wisdom).

Incidentally, the whole history of the Captain Marvel name presents an interesting lesson in trademark law. The original character by that name — the burly fellow in the white cape and the red union suit with the lightning bolt on the chest — was created by artist C.C. Beck and writer Bill Parker in 1940 for Fawcett Publications. DC Comics, publishers of Superman, slapped Fawcett with a lawsuit when the character first appeared, claiming he was nothing more than a rip-off of the Man of Steel. (Of course, Superman himself was in many respects a blatant swipe of Doc Savage, but we'll relate that story another time.) Fawcett managed to stave off DC's legal onslaught until the early 1950s, by which point the superhero phenomenon had pretty well played out. In settling the suit, Fawcett agreed to discontinue publishing Captain Marvel (they actually already had by this time) and his spin-off family, which included Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel.

In 1966, an outfit called MF Enterprises (keep the jokes to yourself) picked up on the fact that the "Captain Marvel" trademark was lying fallow. They came up with their own Captain Marvel, who bore no resemblance to the Big Red Cheese other than in name. The MF version possessed a dubious superpower that enabled him to separate his body into smaller pieces by shouting the magic word "Split!" (If you can appreciate how such a skill would be beneficial in crimefighting, you have a more vivid imagination than I.) This silly concept quickly went down to cancellation, and the publishing company faded from the comics scene.

Noticing that the Captain Marvel trademark was again in disuse, Stan Lee and his cohorts at Marvel Comics concocted a new Captain Marvel in 1967. This version, a green-and-white-clad space warrior (whose real name was, predictably enough, Mar-Vell), was better thought-out and more enthusiastically received by the comic-buying public than his immediate predecessor. The character later switched to a red-and-blue costume, in which he enjoyed a modicum of success under the ministrations of artist Jim Starlin. Interestingly, because Marvel now held the trademark to the name, when DC purchased the rights to the original Captain Marvel from the smoldering heap that had once been Fawcett, the Distinguished Competition had to call its new comic, and the Saturday morning kidvid series based on it, Shazam! (although the character in both the comic and the TV show was identified as Captain Marvel).

Marvel killed off its Captain Marvel in 1982, then promptly devised a new character by the same name (this one an African American policewoman named Monica Rambeau) to keep the trademark alive. (This latter character later changed her name to Photon.)

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

Re: Michael McDaniel.
Whew! That's Mary Marvel? Uh, maybe DC should hire him and switch him to do Birds of Prey or Wonder Wow. WOW!

11:33 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

She really is something, isn't she? When I first saw the scan, I was sure it must be the work of a known name artist. Maybe this sort of static portraiture is all this guy can do, but if he's any good at all at sequential art and active storytelling, some comics publisher should be on his doorstep with work, like, tomorrow. You're exactly right, Joel — I'd love to see his approach to Wonder Woman or Black Canary.

1:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home