Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Sunday Evening Video: The Real Captain Marvel Returns

This week we are once again bringing you the original Adventures of Captain Marvel movie serial from 1942. I posted this here a couple of years ago, but that video has been yanked from YouTube, so this week we’re going to present a new and improved print that also edits out all the redundant openings and closings from each serial, and gets the running time down to under three hours.  With the much-hyped “Shazam” movie coming out next year, which is based on the awful “New 52” bastardized version of Captain Marvel that Geoff Johns foisted on us, I thought it might be good to show how cool this superhero could be when he’s not played as a comedic super-powered version of the movie Big.

I have made no secret of the fact that my all-time favorite superhero is Captain Marvel. Though known primarily as “Shazam” by less-cultured folks, Captain Marvel debuted from Fawcett Comics in 1940 and was pretty much the top-selling superhero in comics until 1953, when his publisher decided to cut their losses after years of a nagging copyright infringement suit filed by National Periodical Publications, now known as DC Comics, the publishers of Superman.

The suit had little merit, but questionable rulings in appeals courts, coupled with a massive decline in comic book sales industry-wide, convinced Fawcett Publications to give up. Fawcett decided to quit the comic book business and paid off DC, agreeing never to publish Captain Marvel again without DC’s permission.

Mired in another comic book sales slump in 1972, DC made an agreement to lease (and later purchase outright) Captain Marvel so they could publish him themselves. Unfortunately, during the time Captain Marvel was out of the public eye, Marvel Comics trademarked the name for their own character (they didn’t want anyone else publishing a book with “Marvel” in the title after Myron Fass had released his own legendarily-awful character with that name) so DC had to go with “Shazam” as the title of their book (actually the full title was “With One Magic Word, Shazam”).

Captain-Marvel-DC-Comics-Billy-Batson-aThe character went on to star in his own live-action Saturday morning program and during the 1970s was one of DC’s four most-merchandisable heroes. Kids in the 1940s and the 1970s fell in love with Billy Batson, who could turn into the super-powered Captain Marvel just by saying “Shazam.” DC had mixed results with the character in terms of sales, though, and the original Captain Marvel has been rebooted, with great versions and not-so-great versions many times over the years.

Adventures_of_captain_marvelBut tonight we go back to the original incarnation of the hero at the height of his popularity for the entire 12-chapter serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. from 1941. This is widely considered to be the greatest superhero movie serial from the golden age of Hollywood, and while it’s not entirely faithful to the comic book, it’s a great adaptation and a lot of fun.

So set aside just under three hours and enjoy the show, or order the DVD, which has just been released, so you can watch one chapter at a time. Either way, this is the REAL Captain Marvel, not a lady using the name, or a big dumb guy calling himself “Shazam.”

The current comic book version is pretty bad, demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of what made the character work so well on the part of Johns. The upcoming movie looks like a fun parody of the original concept, with the goofy twist of Captain Marvel being just a kid in an adult body (in the original comics he has the wisdom of Solomon, which sort of blows that crappy idea out of the water).

It’s a double-edged sword for fans of the original Captain Marvel:  If the movie fails, then DC will never try to make another movie with him, and will probably abandon the idea of publishing any comics beyond what Geoff Johns wants to do.  If the movie is a success, then generations of kids will grow up with this lousy parody of the original concept, and won’t know just how good the original comics were.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Wheeler

    The modern costume’s not bad, but I could do without the hood. And the childish personality. It’s one thing for Cap (I refuse to call him “Shazam”) to reflect some of Billy Batson’s enthusiasm. It’s another matter entirely for him to act like an overgrown kid all the time. There has to be a middle ground here. I really hope the movie DOESN’T fail, or I’m afraid this iconic character is going to be swept under the rug for good. I have no problem with the Marvel character per se, but this guy is the original Captain Marvel, and I wish DC and Marvel could come to some sort of accord over it. Or, as you suggested on Facebook, just call him “The Captain”. Calling him “Shazam” just doesn’t work.

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