Marvelous, meet miraculous
Superman, Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel, Marvelman. Marvelman, Captain Miracle. Marvelman, Marvelman reboot. Marvelman reboot, Miracleman. Paralleled by a completely different Captain Marvel too, oh wait, then another one, which is to say, four of those, plus Ms. Marvel, oh wait, three of those. What th’fuck?
Think of all those Victorian-Edwardian-WWI Brit dramas arriving near-constantly for more than a century, like The Forsythe Saga, any of the sources (Forster, James, et cetera) for Merchant Ivory films as well as the films themselves, Upstairs Downstairs, Gosford Park, Downton Abbey … Each one is wholly founded on a highly specific legal conundrum which, to the audience, is clearly a bizarre artifact limited to that particular period, but to the characters, is perceived as immutable natural law. Thus the various personal decisions and fates in the story are spun into what would otherwise be completely mad shapes.
This funnybook spandex-and-superpowers saga is exactly the same. It is wholly the product of specific details of U.S. publishing legalities and IP canoodling within them, and the result is … strange, and yet strangely enjoyable. Here’s the crazy diagram I did for it, but you don’t have to click, as I’ve broken out pieces for images here in the post.
I did no original research for this! It’s all available for you already, via Wikipedia, TV Tropes, and tons of articles like The Super Miracle of Captain Marvelman! and Comic book a day: Day 16 – Captain Marvel #1. This post is mostly my native urge to put information into visual timelines with added pictures.
It does provide a solid piece of the concepts I’ve been working out via Looking for a hero, Striking twice, some day, The true stalwart, Super, thanks for asking, and We got this. Who or what is Superman, when there is no “is?” A great deal of it lies in this historical tangle and tug-of-war and loophole game across not two, but eight comics companies and sequentially, at least a dozen owners.
Here’s what you see there. Superman gets published by DC, synthesizing all manner of pulp and Sunday funnies material into a striking new concept. Fawcett immediately creates a superhero character, who I suggest was not so much an expy as a competitive alternative: he has way more powers, can fly, and operates at a more cosmic and magical scale. Perhaps aided by all this glam, Captain Marvel outcompetes Superman throughout the 1940s, gaining a “family” of female and child versions and moving directly into film serial format, which if you think about it, is a pretty big deal right out of the gate like that.
Significantly, Superman steadily acquires many of his rival’s features, including flight, fun-for-kids emphasis over politics, the costumed-supers “family,” and the space/cosmic content. In fact, let me put this plainly:
- Superman preceded Captain Marvel, and the latter is documented as a “make me a character like that!” creation.
- Superman’s best-known, allegedly canonical features were looted from Captain Marvel over the next decade.
- Therefore, “who is the first” is only answerable in terms of both characters. They were first.
Once National Periodical Publications acquires DC, it amps up its IP game by cease-and-desisting Fawcett, claiming they swiped Superman. Fawcett wins its defense vs. the resulting suit … but Fawcett Publications is closing down Fawcett Comics anyway. Possibly this has something to do with the campaign vs. superhero comics that would soon produce The Seduction of the Innocent. Anyway, therefore Superman comes out ahead despite the failed lawsuit and as far as comics culture is concerned, “is” or “owns” the flying, somewhat wacky, family-of-powers, and other trappings that Captain Marvel had introduced.
Superman is pretty much the only superhero to blossom during the 1950s. The patriotic, all-American image he’d acquired during WWII serves him well vs. the Commies, with his original Depression-era punch-the-bosses identity scrubbed clean off. He also demonstrates that being on TV legitimizes you, even proofing you against the essential destruction of your parent medium. (Useful contrast: not even the similar WWII-vet, anti-communist Captain America saves Timely from that destruction. The key really does seem to be TV.)
You’d think that’d be the end of the Captain Marvel character. However, for some time since the 1940s, I’m not sure exactly when it started, his Fawcett adventures have been reprinted in the U.K. by L. Miller & Son. By 1953-54, as Fawcett Comics material is no longer forthcoming, LMS publishes an expy called Marvelman whose serial numbers are barely painted over. He gets a “family” too, Marvel Boy, et cetera. The creator was Mick Anglo; as the 50s and LMS came to a close, he claimed ownership of Marvelman and briefly published its reprints as Captain Miracle.
By 1960, though, Fawcett Comics is long gone, LMS is gone, and Mick Anglo Comics is gone, so these shenanigans were all over, leaving Superman alone at DC. Thus Captain Marvel Miracle Man would still be utterly obscure and inconsequential, except then …
First, which is too small to put into the diagram (until I get the chance to edit it, and also, thanks to Chris W for mentioning this in the comments), in 1966, the short-lived company M. F. Enterprises published a wholly novel Captain Marvel, created by Carl Burgos (no small person in these histories). He’s wonderfully weird – an android who splits apart – and battles a surprising number of fun villains during the short run. Hardly coincidentally, one of his important words is “Xam.” I don’t suppose you’ll miss the other character reference on this cover, either. As a perhaps forgotten point, during this period, the name is not being used by Fawcett and they have no comics publishing division – so using the name for a non-image-infringing design is not “stealing it.”
Down the street, this other comics imprint had just appeared within a minor publishing company whose comics haven’t been consequential since WWII; you might have seen it peep into existence in 1961 at the tail-end of the first diagram. The new shenanigans occur as this li’l upstart imprint – considering its name is “Marvel” – and possibly in response to the Burgos character – swiftly launches its own use of the name (this is where I repeat, nothing is being stolen here, legally speaking). Roy Thomas, characteristically, incorporates many features from the Fawcett guy, as well as assigning the character’s actual name to be “Mar-Vell.” Mercifully he receives a more hip costume almost immediately.
Second, corporate doings are afoot. DC is launched into the big time when NPP and other properties like Warner Bros are acquired by Kinney National, and the latter changes its name to Warner Communications. Can you say “conglomerate?” I knew you could. On a smaller scale, Goodman Publications, including its little Marvel office, is snapped up by Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation, soon renamed Cadence Industries. Much larger legal muscles now flex:
- DC licenses Captain Marvel from Fawcett Publications
- Cadence cease-and-desists DC from using the name “Captain Marvel,” citing its existing character
That’s why the title at DC and its corresponding kids’ cartoon and live-action TV shows are called Shazam!, and the character’s name Captain Marvel isn’t used as a trademarked title – although they pushed it in captions as hard as they could. This was the first of several shots by Feinberg’s Marvel across DC’s bows; soon it would break free of a restrictive distribution contract too.
DC has to work a bit to keep their newly-acquired character distinct from their own showpiece, considering how much the latter had absorbed from the former. The solution was to focus tightly on the kids’ market, lightening and cute-ing him up while giving Superman a more grown-up, team-leader, serious demeanor.
The 70s were a weird time, especially at Marvel, including in this case two things: Jim Starlin seizes Mar-Vell for a truly crazy, awesome constellation of stories, basically free from editor oversight, as I’ve written about in Paint my van and Cosmic villainy; and Cadence keeps the pressure on DC to prevent it recapitulating its Captain Marvel’s traditional “family” concept, or indeed, from getting more use out of the name “Marvel” at all. Hence not too much later, a sort-of Captain Marvel “family” gets going in distinctive 70s language: Ms. Marvel, whom I’ve written about already in Carol Danvers spits on your grave. They don’t get to the point of a Marvel Dad, Marvel Mom, Marvel Boy, Marvel Dog team thing as seen for the older characters in the 1940s and 1950s, but both Captains and Ms’s will continue to pop up at Marvel to keep that IP going.
Think horizontally for a sec: you have a dignified decent-guy Superman at DC reinforced mostly in Superfriends and soon in the Superman film, although the comics are really all over the place at this point (DC editorship undergoes a sea-change about now); there’s a goofy Captain Marvel in the Shazam! comics series and cartoon, including his resurrected family characters; there’s a trippy bad-ass Captain Marvel at Marvel, one exposed nipple short of outright psychedelic comix especially once Warlock gets rolling; and there’s a bread-and-butter, Spider-Man story style Ms. Marvel over there too. I won’t even get into the potshots taken by each company via other expys, like Hyperion for Superman and so forth.
But still, all is reasonably amicable as far as the U.S. companies go, probably “I won’t sue if you won’t.” Then those Brits get feisty again.
Let’s take a look at DC during the mid- and late 80s, as the licensed Captain Marvel is brought into their fast-developing “universe.” They have to specify him even further away from Superman, who’s undergoing his own re-imaginings via John Byrne and others, not to mention a thorough shellacking in The Dark Knight Returns.
The solution is to stay with the initial “lightening up” strategy from the 1970s, making him a comedic character. They junk the original concept that the normal-person identity, Billy Batson, and the super grown-up Captain Marvel are different people (which Marvelman, Mar-Vell, and Miracleman all maintain), such that the latter has Billy’s mind, which is written as notably dingbat-y and naive even for a kid.
Here you see the myth of the Golden Age, which I cranked about a bit in Striking twice, some day:the notion that superheroes of the 1930s and 40s were necessarily innocent, idealistic, cheerful, and outright dumb. It’s both revisionist and false. The “innocence” palaver relies on cherry-picking (1) the patriotism troweled onto the characters during WWII, (2) the necessarily dumbed-down content for superheroes in the post-Wertham mid-50s, and especially (3) the 1960s Batman TV show, itself born from, and as I see it, spoofing #2. Neither of these were original to superheroes, rather to the contrary, since so many of the 40s characters were derived directly from the dark-and-bloody pulps. I think this spin on Captain Marvel, once at DC, plays a big role in both the myth’s creation and in keeping it alive. (See When were superheroes grim and gritty? for some good thoughts, but I am willing to apply the author’s points considerably further back.)
Now what was I saying about feisty Brits? It starts innocently enough. Over in the U.K., a B&W mag called Warrior hires a lavishly-maned and bearded comics fan to write new Marvelman stories in 1982. That character was fondly remembered there although known to exactly no one else, and this particular author happens also to be a die-hard 1960s Superman reader. His creative proclivities are similar to Roy Thomas’ from 15 or so years earlier and he sets to writing a re-imagined version who both celebrates and critiques the earlier material, as well as being embedded deeply in the politics of the day.
At this very moment, DC’s new management seeks cheap-ass labor in the U.K., and this same fellow, one Alan Moore by name, is among those lured over the shining sea in 1983 – in this case, given the throw-away title Swamp Thing, long past its Wein-Wrightson heyday, to keep him busy. Warrior’s Marvelman is left unfinished.
By 1985, Moore’s and Steve Bissette’s Swamp Thing is big-ass box-office, a whole of swarm of oddly-accented fellows from those islands is tearin’ up the DC joint, someone is bandying about the word “Vertigo,” and the company seems fair to be creating an actual Universe too, Marvel-style. DC management also starts thinking about mining its new hotties’ pre-transfer oeuvres, like V for Vendetta and … the owners of Eclipse Comics, thinking quickly, license the now-defunct Warrior’s Marvelman material to reprint before DC gets to it, and they even get Moore to continue it for them.
Down the street from DC, Marvel the entity is undergoing yet more ownership storms: Cadence’s owner, Sheldon Feinberg, is desperately attempting to unload it before the house-of-cards finances finally blow apart, and Jim Shooter’s editorship is deteriorating over multiple ownership and creative crises. After that it’s in the hands of New World Entertainment and the DeFalco editorship begins.
Its own Marvel-ness in characters has taken some twists and turns: Mar-Vell has actually died, as in for real, which never happens; Ms. Marvel has been raped and evicted from immediate use as I wrote about in Carol Danvers spits on your grave. And get this: in 1985, another character named Sharon Ventura then gets to be Ms. Marvel – and she gets raped too, and goes on to various re-inventions, including becoming the She-Thing. She also seems remarkably absent from the retrospectives and critiques of the Marvel-named women I’ve been finding. I’m not sure what’s to be said about that except %#**@!??, and when the dissertation jockeys get to the point of working it out, sign me up for a copy . [this section was edited 10-19-16 with thanks to James for alerting me to these events; I’ll revise the diagram soon -RE]
More or less simultaneously, beginning in 1986, a completely original Captain Marvel has appeared in the Avengers. This one is Monica Rambeau, perhaps the first straight-up, non-messed-up, powers-and-costume black American female superhero smack dab in ordinary continuity, ever. (Storm comes close to that title, but she was and is entirely within the X-bubble.) Authored by Roger Stern and surprisingly endowed with seriously powerful powers that do not conk out, – well, until Stern is off the book, they don’t – she deserves some focused-post attention reasonably soon. In corporate terms, of course, as with Sharon, she’s flatly and only an IP place-holder.
So, I’d mentioned Eclipse and reprinting Marvelman. Marvel the entity blinks. Wait, what? Peering muzzily across the continent to Guerneville, its management realizes that someone is using “Marvel” on U.S. soil. That neural connection still works! Whoop, whoop! Cease and desist! OK, says Eclipse, we’ll call him something else, and presumably Moore welcomes the chance to mix in the meta even more by invoking Mick Anglo’s re-naming of his character in a new portmanteau, Miracleman. So Eclipse publishes first the British reprints from Warrior with the new name lettered in, and then continues with original work from Moore using that name and no other.
Think horizontally again, right about 1986: Moore’s later-stage Swamp Thing, his new work on Miracleman, his Superman material including Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and the beginnings of Watchmen are all happening at the same time. It drives home that Moore’s history isn’t revisiting the same meta-concept hero-revision + godlike-guy over and over – I think, instead, it’s that while he’s quite viscerally working-out this topic for a relatively brief period, he happens to be writing more than one title. Same goes for his prolix captioning (another Thomas parallel), which might give the impression that he wrote like that for a long time, but as far as I can tell, it was only a couple of years.
To continue with the history, things quiet down a little. Marvel’s new owners, first New World Entertainment and then Compact Video (a shell inside Ron Perelman’s various companies), oversee, or rather don’t oversee, a period of editorial and creative meltdown. Characters named “Marvel” are apparently not developed much at this point there. Eclipse carries Miracleman into the 1990s with Neil Gaiman as writer until the title finishes in 1991, and the company – having suffered some bad luck for a while – closes in 1994.
Little rumbles come from DC, though – for example, it shifts from its licensed use of Fawcett’s characters and purchases them outright in 1991. Captain Marvel’s finally at DC to stay, most consistently in the title The Power of Shazam! It’s still a bumpy ride. The concept just won’t settle down and stay write-able. Writer after writer, some quite knowledgeable, retcon or re-write his origin and characterization, trying to frame it in some way always in comparison with Superman, or with the tricky presumptions about what Superman must be. Each one tries to blend “light and funny” with “dark and edgy.” The one thing that sticks – having been locked down during the 1980s in the readership perception – is the notion of “Billy’s mind in, but out of place in, the grown-up super-body.” Trying to make that work for non-comedic purposes tends to keep devaluing the character into pretty much a walking disaster, up to and including making him an outright psycho in Kingdom Come.
He remains a designated lab subject for “how will we write him this time,” eventually gaining solidity only in the animated versions. However, even there, if “Clash” (2005) is any indication, no one can still decide which of the two front-and-center, first-ever-superhero characters is supposed to be providing the moral compass for the other. (Incidentally, Moore’s busy with yet more Superman-ish stuff over in other venues, as I’ll be posting about soon.)
At Marvel, given that what follows takes place across the Perelman purchase, the bankruptcy, and the Perlmutter-Arad purchase, I’ll let you work out how much of it is spastic marketing vs. brilliant creativity. Under the new owner Marvel Enterprises, the character-name Captain Marvel fires up again and sees quite a bit of action: Monica Rambeau undergoes various re-imaginings as I’ll be writing about later, and a bunch of new “Vell” characters show up to trade the name around, in, finally, a genuine callback to the “family” concept for Mar-Vell. I’m not gonna go into plots and details, it’s a zoo, but it’s a Marvel Comics zoo, thus no particular mystery, and it doesn’t impact the former Fawcett character situation over at DC. Again, the two primary companies are apparently content to conduct their respective “Marvel”-named business independently.
But the middle of the diagram heats up! Todd McFarlane, about whom a footnote would say volumes at this point, purchases the Eclipse properties that are, as he claims, just sitting there. He begins to incorporate Miracleman material into his series under the Image Comics umbrella, Hellspawn and later Spawn. Gaiman objects, invoking the creator ownership clause under his work for Eclipse, and brings a lawsuit, during which McFarlane continues to use the IP, including that most McFarlane-y of items, an action figure. And a bankruptcy ploy. Oh, and another name re-arrangement for a purportedly yet curiously familiar new character, Man of Miracles. Cue a lot of industry and internet buzz; it’s exactly the sort of personality, legal, creator-cred, identity politics tangle that comics people like to fuss about.
Now for two outcomes in 2010 that no one expected.
- The Gaiman-McFarlane lawsuit concludes in favor of … Mick Anglo! No one ever owned it besides him, says the court, everyone else go the fuck home. Cue my amusement at two guys waving “creator ownership” rhetoric at each other only to be rug-pulled in favor of the actual creator and owner.
- Disney buys Marvel. Somewhere nameless, Shelly Feinberg smiles an evil smile and flips Warner Communications a big fat finger. The Mouse bestirs itself and looks around for useful IP.
You can see where this is going. Just as, at the left-hand side of the diagram, Warner Bros drew Captain Marvel into DC by stages, now Disney at the right-hand side does the same to Marvelman, at a different pace. Marvel buys the Anglo and Eclipse kit and kaboodle in 2010.
Unlike a lot of such acquisitions, however, I must admit the net gain this time: 2010 brings an immediate reprint of the 1950s Marvelman and Marvelman Family, which provides much-needed monetary help to Anglo in his final years; and 2013 brings a high-end, hardback collection of Moore’s and Gaiman’s work at Eclipse, called Miracleman as that was the Eclipse usage and presumably to avoid much confusion. (Moore refuses to let his name be used, so he’s billed as “The Original Author.”) Gaiman’s busting out his conclusion to the Eclipse series for upcoming release under this imprint, beginning with issues that were never released by Eclipse. Which taken as a whole is pretty cool, really, because if and when we see an all-new all-MARVEL Marvelman, regardless of continuity or lack thereof, at least his full heritage is available for appreciation.
Meanwhile there’s something else kind of cool happening too: the women of the Marvel name seem to have resurged. And setting aside a bevy of cranky points I could raise, they’re actually bad-ass. Monica Rambeau is rebooted this time witha discernible personality and an impressive longcoat; there’s Carol Danvers finally dubbed Captain Marvel in 2012, which seems only fair; and of course, the Ms. Marvel moniker is now held by perhaps the most faithfully-Marvel Marvel character in decades. Somewhere in my jaded interior, a certain interest in actually following a Marvel comic flickers.
So this is indeed a story of absurd IP shenanigans and ultimate corporate triumph, and in general, I’m no special fan of Warner Bros and Disney running the comics joint … but just this once, it’s a good day.
Links: Think you know it all now? Then I’ll just leave this here.
Next comics: Sword of God, Friends, p. (October 18); One Plus One, Two, p. (October 20)
Next column: Super bad (October 23)
Posted on October 16, 2016, in Commerce and tagged Alan Moore, Billy Batson, Cadence Industries, Captain Marvel, Captain Miracle, Carl Burgos, Carol Danvers, DC Comics, Disney, Eclipse Comics, Image Comics, Kinney National, L. Miller & Son, M. F. Enterprises, Man of Miracles, Mar-Vell, Marvelman, Mick Anglo, Mick Anglo Comics, Miracleman, Monica Rambeau, Neil Gaiman, rape, Roy Thomas, Shazam, Sheldon Feinberg, Steve Bissette, Superman, Todd McFarlane, Warrior. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.
Ron, have you read any of the original 1940’s Captain Marvel comics? (Captain Marvel Adventures, Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, the Marvel Family, Whiz Comics)? I ask because, while yes, a lot of the Golden Age comics were straight-up noir-style pulp, Captain Marvel ain’t and never was. (Not that you’re claiming ALL Golden Age titles were grim; still, there’s a hell of a lot of whimsy in this particular corner of the Golden Age, the absolute best of which is Tawky Tawny.)
You can check out some of the stuff here, supposedly legally: http://comicbookplus.com/?cid=820
The material in the very early 40’s seems typical of an action/adventure story, but by ’43 you’ve got amazingly great stuff like Mister Mind and the Monster Society of Evil, and it generally gets goofier from there.
I am going to excerpt this directly from Wikipedia. I have read this summary so many times, and it gets better every time I read it.
=====From Wikipedia’s entry on Mister Mind=====
=====(warning: WWII era anti-Japanese racism=====
Mr. Mind arrived on Earth sometime around 1846 (it was mentioned in this story that he had been working on a weapon for 97 years). His brilliant intellect, telepathic powers, and ruthlessness allowed him to conquer much of space, establishing bases on many different worlds as well as varied locations on Earth. He recruited supervillains, armies, and entire alien species to aid him in his attempt to conquer the Earth, and first relayed his information from the Planetoid Punkus via radio, meaning he was not revealed as a worm until well into the serial. At its height, the Monster Society is said to have had the greatest villains of eighty-seven worlds within its ranks. He began his reign of terror on Earth in 1943, boasting that he and the Monster Society Of Evil would give Captain Marvel “nightmares from now on.” Easily the longest story of the Golden Age of Comics, his attempts to do so were featured in Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46 (March 1943 to May 1945).
He had many and varied plans: first of all to steal magical pearls with Captain Nazi’s help from a princess who wanted to help the United States; to lead the Allied army in Africa astray; to bomb Pearl Harbor a second time; to crush North America beneath a giant glacier using a giant gyroscope that made the Earth shift on its axis; to make Captain Marvel his mental slave using Billy Batson; to topple all the buildings in Captain Marvel’s home city with worms and termites unless given control; to trap the United States in eternal darkness by stopping the Earth’s rotation while leaving German Europe in daylight; to produce giant monsters in his lab; to move the Great Wall Of China with Japanese forces behind it to crush the Chinese Army using electrical forces; to immobilize the air fleet of Australia with a web-like substance; to set booby traps on a Pacific Island the US were invading; use the ten-mile-long gun “Great Big Bertha” to literally blow holes in America and Russia; to invade Scotland from an artificial floating island of ice; to cause a giant volcano to erupt in the middle of Britain; to literally blow the Earth in two; to make a movie about himself to intimidate the world; to destroy Earth’s armies with a Black Death Ray which could destroy metal, but it turned out it could only destroy metal; to publish a book about himself to try and convince everyone he should be their rightful leader and that Captain Marvel was untrustworthy called Mind Kampf (a parody of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf); to create a vicious, multi-headed Hydra and steal plans; to smash an asteroid into America (though Herkimer controlled this operation); and to wreck the world’s navies. At one point he lost his memory after striking his head, but after regaining it from another blow he took a course at his School for Evil to regain his evil nature, after which he graduated as a top student after capturing Billy Batson, though Billy escaped soon after. Many times his group came close to destroying Captain Marvel in his Billy Batson form, Ibac binding and gagging him and giving him to cannibals, Billy covered with a silk cocoon by Mister Mind, being left to freeze at the North Pole, Billy about to be shot by a crocodile-man while wearing a steel gag and tied to a chair, Billy gagged and bound to a camouflaged gun so if any British Ships shot at the island he would be blown apart etc.
But Captain Marvel stopped them all, dismantled all of his resources, and arrested, frightened away, or accidentally killed all of his henchmen. Reverse cliff-hangers were used, Mr Mind about to be crushed under a careless heel, about to be crushed in a paper roller etc. Finally, a desperate Mr. Mind attacked Captain Marvel’s alter ego, Billy Batson, with ether and left him unconscious. But he then realized that without his henchmen, he was practically helpless and unable to kill him. He tried frantically to push a live electrical wire onto Billy, pushing it inch by inch across the floor towards Billy, who woke up just in time. Mr. Mind fled into the infrastructure of radio station WHIZ, Billy’s place of work, but with a little help from an exterminator after surrounding the building with Police, Captain Marvel soon captured the world’s wickedest worm and the Earth could sleep soundly again.
Mister Mind – A two-inch talking worm with telepathic powers and a genius intellect.
Adolf Hitler – He and all the resources of Nazi Germany have assisted the Monster Society of Evil. Adolf Hitler was the one who gave orders to create Captain Nazi.
Archibald – A satyr and graduate of the Monster School who helped Mr. Mind capture Billy Batson.
An army of termites and worms.
Artificial Bodies: Artificial bodies Mr. Mind could mentally inhabit and which were used to fool Captain Marvel as he searched for Mister Mind on his asteroid base consisting of:
* Goatman – A half-man, half-goat creature.
* A seemingly indestructible robot.
* A giant purple octopus with a grinning human face.
* A circus strongman with strength rivaling that of Captain Marvel himself.
Benito Mussolini – He and all the resources of Fascist Italy have assisted the Monster Society of Evil.
Bonzo – A hunchback human with large eyes and fangs.
Captain Nazi – A superstrong Nazi warrior who assisted in the first plot.
Crocodile-Men – A race of humanoid crocodiles from the planetoid Punkus.
* Herkimer – A Crocodile-Man who is Mr. Mind’s second-in-command and briefly took command of the Society when Mister Mind lost is memory, but later reformed. Possibly the second-to-last minion to leave Mr. Mind.
* Jorrk – The greatest scientist of the Crocodile-Men and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants alongside Dr. Smashi and Herr Phoul.
* Sylvester – A Crocodile-Man and one of Mr. Mind’s preferred gunners.
Dobbin – Mr. Mind’s seahorse steed.
Dome Attendants – Creatures that tend to Mr. Mind’s undersea base. It consists of a Pig Man, a Goblin, a Werewolf, an Ogre, and a midget submarine captain. The midget was the last of Mr. Mind’s minions to leave him.
Dr. Smashi – A short Japanese scientist and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants alongside Jorrk and Herr Phoul.
Dr. Hashi – A spiky-haired Japanese scientist.
Dr. Peeyu – A tall Japanese scientist.
Doctor Sivana – The “world’s wickedest scientist.”
Evil Eye – A green-skinned humanoid monster with the ability to hypnotize.
Herr Phoul – A bald Nazi scientist with a monocle and one of Mr. Mind’s three lieutenants alongside Jorkk and Dr. Smashi.
Hideki Tojo – He and all the resources of Imperial Japan have assisted the Monster Society of Evil.
Hydra – A serpentine monster with multiple heads that can regenerate. It was created by Mr. Mind.
IBAC – A criminal who sold his soul to Lucifer for super-strength and durability which he gets by saying Ibac.
Jeepers – The last of a race of bat monsters.
Marmaduke – A criminal with big ears and a fat face.
Monster Brigade – Undersea monsters under Mr. Mind’s command consisting of a sperm whale, a gigantic octopus, a hammerhead shark, and a huge sea-serpent.
Monster Professors – Teachers at Mr. Mind’s Monster School. It consists of a human, a Crocodile-Man, an unspecified fanged monster, and a humanoid with the head of a hippopotamus.
Monster Students – Pupils at the Monster School that consist of tough humans, Crocodile-Men, and a horned black demon.
Mr. Banjo – A criminal and leaker of Allied secrets via coded music from his banjo that were played on a popular radio show (only appears for one panel in the first chapter)
Nippo – A master of disguise, master swordsman, and spy for the Japanese.
Synthetic Animals – Fake animals created by Mr. Mind. They consisted of Oscar (a giant lobster), Oliver (a gigantic octopus with human hands), Ophelius (a huge ram), and Oliphant (a dragon).
Tough guys – Generic human enforcers of Mr. Mind’s wishes. The notable ones include a tommy-gun wielder, a cloaked swordsman, a beret-wearer, a stereotypical “Goomba,” and a Gatsby cap-wearer.
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I’m staying with your statement that I didn’t claim Captain Marvel wasn’t fun, whimsical, or funny. That’s true, I didn’t. I’m saying the myth of the Golden Age has it that (i) all the superheroes of that era were (ii) notably dim and cheerful. Nothing you’ve written, or that I can see anywhere, indicates that the 1940s Captain Marvel was as brainless and dipshit-happy as he was built and codified later, especially by the Giffen Justice League.
Hell, I’d be delighted if the 80s character were one-tenth as imaginative, whimsical, and energetic as the 1940s one. I didn’t cast doubt on the latter at all. I’m talking about his dopiness.
Someone needs to reprint the original Black Widow, for one thing.
I also think it’s strange that the people who bring up this argument about the Golden Age somehow exempt Batman, the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America from the “everybody was cheerful all the time” provision. In other words, anyone anybody’s actually read, well, not so cheerful. But, having not read the other stuff, it was probably cheerful.
But also I think it’s partially an era thing. 1939-41, pretty heavily pulp-inspired, with lots of variations in tone. Then there’s the war. The post-war period, particularly by the late 40’s to early 50’s, does seem to have lightened things up a fair amount, probably because the noir / horror / sex / grit of the late 30’s largely migrated into other genres, leaving the super hero stuff as lighter fare for the most part.
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I think there’s more substance to it than the term “era” implies. The post-war period saw an astonishing shift in American political culture, particularly its attention to media and pop entertainment. It can be seen in HUAC, the Hayes Commission, the comics-scare and Wertham’s book, the further crackdown on marijuana and all organizational youth culture (“gangs”), and the upgrade of DC’s Comics Code to the all-comics level as overseen by Archie Comics.
For context, this is the three or four-year period during which the modern structure of the Executive Branch was built, including the tripartite arrangement of the military hierarchy, the creation of the CIA via the National Security Act, and lots more.
In other words, when you say “the postwar period … does seem to have lightened things up considerably,” there is real infrastructure at work to enforce that effect. I know late 40s seems early for that, but all the initial impact of those efforts, some of which yielded visible organizational naming later, was well under way by 1949-50.
I do want to respond to some of the substance in your post, but for now I’m just saying, you can have your Doctor Doom; I got Mister Mind and he is simply better, that’s all.
This is the best all-in-one place explanation of “WTF Captains Marvel” I have seen.
I have had a half-formed infographic being worked up in my head explaining the relationships between all the various characters who have gone by either Captain Marvel or Ms. Marvel. This is super helpful. Wikipedia editors are quite focused on in-universe fictional stuff about these characters. Your insights on the business and authorship details offer a lot more context.
I do remember the online outrage mill over Gaiman v. McFarlane in the 2000s, which was the first inkling I had about the extraordinarily convoluted story behind this particular intellectual property.
More than once I’ve had a conversation with someone who is nostalgic about the “Captain Marvel” comics they used to read, and there’s always a moment of, wait, WHICH Captain Marvel are we talking about?
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Substance, on the way intellectual property deforms storytelling:
Supposedly, as related by Howe and also recounted on this blog, sometime in the late 1960’s or early 70’s, Stan Lee insisted that Marvel comics would only offer the “illusion of change.” Things got stuck in place: a character might be “dead” for a year or two, but would always come back. The Thing might stomp out of the Baxter Building, never to return, only to return half a dozen issues later. Villains might destroy Avengers Mansion, but it would get rebuilt. There was a status quo, enforced by editorial decree.
This is, of course, a horrible rule. You can do fun one-shot stories, or course, or even a brief arc that pretty much leaves everything in place afterward, but when it comes to long-term character growth or development, forget it. Best you can hope for is a new costume which *might* stick around.
(That said: during my fan years, Miller’s Daredevil, Simonson’s Thor (and FF), Byrne’s FF, Stern’s Avengers, and Claremont’s X-Men were all solid, fun reads for what they were. These guys knew how to work within those limits)
And obviously the thinking is, “We want to license the hell out of these characters, and if they change or grow or get altered in any way, it could harm their marketability.” So you’re deliberately abandoning the idea of serialized narrative in order to cash in via other media.
Another weird aspect of IP law as applied to comics is renewing trademarks, which under case law go stale after about two years of non-use. I’m 100% certain that, somewhere in Editorial, there’s a constantly updated list of “who’s been out of sight for a long time?” and then they just rotate that character, or someone using the same name, into the spotlight for an issue, and then they’re forgotten again.
It’s curious to think of exceptions to the “nothing ever changes” rule. Here, I’m thinking about big changes that stuck for more than 100 issues. I’m limiting myself to major characters, because sure, Quicksilver and Crystal got divorced, but no one has ever really cared about them.
* Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson
* Hank Pym got disgraced
* Bucky turns out to have survived World War II
* Scarlet Witch imagined her kids (ugh, Master Pandemonium and his baby-hands)
* Wonder Man didn’t die back in Avengers #9
* Magneto no longer bellows “SILENCE” at everyone and is sorta an anti-villain
* The Human Torch was in a relationship with Alicia for about 100 issues
* Cyclops got involved with Emma Frost, for which, thank God
* Luke Cage and Jessica Jones got together
I’m wondering if there’s anything else.
Howe’s treatment of the topic is tentative, and mine is even more so, because just as you say, it’s as if they do It and don’t do it in the worst possible respective ways. I’ll be examining it soon via the Conway and Wein Spider-Man.
Also: I heartily encourage a post about Monica “Captain Marvel II” Rambeau. I thought I was the only fan she had. Freaking awesome power set, interesting costume design, not enough black women in Marvel-world (Powerless Storm was worth, like, 6 all by herself but still), became chairperson of the Avengers, was one of the 8 pre-gen characters in the Marvel Super Heroes Basic RPG. PLUS politically correct / tokenism / diversity in giving that codename to a black woman.
Supposedly Roger Stern, who was writing the Avengers at the time (and had created her), was told by editor Mark Gruenwald that Monica needed to be an incompetent chairperson, so that Captain America could come back in Avengers #300 and reclaim the title. Stern apparently decided he would rather quit the title and de-power Monica rather than let her get humiliated in that way. Which led to Walt Simonson’s bizarre run, of which the less said perhaps the better.
Way ahead of ya. Not just a fan post either.
This post made me watch that Justice League Unlimited episode and read Kingdom Come. Thank you, more for the former than the latter.
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I keep going back and forth on Kingdom Come. I like it, then I read it again and I don’t, then I read it again and I do, and then …
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Oh, one incredibly trivial nit-pick: You forgot the second Ms. Marvel, Sharon Ventura, who was a professional wrestler, but she hated men because she was sexually assaulted and/or raped, but she liked the Thing because he wasn’t really a man, and then she got mutated by cosmic rays into a she-thing.
Steve Englehart, I don’t care how many nice things Ron says about you, your FF and West Coast Avengers runs were horrendous. (I did like your work on Silver Surfer, though.)
Whoa. Didn’t know about this at all!
My love for Englehart is 70s autobiography. No connection with the 80s stuff.
Edited the column! Not something I do frequently.
Belated recommendation, which I just read and should have read long ago:
In 1966, M.F. Enterprises produced a short-lived “Captain Marvel” series. It was the series failure that led to the creation of Mar-Vell, because Stan Lee obviously didn’t want the name getting away again. Created by Carl ‘The Original Human Torch” Burgos, what little I’ve seen of the series is bizarre, and the rest, well, here’s what Wikipedia says about the villains:
Captain Marvel fought villains including the elastic-limbed Plastic Man, whose name was that of a preexisting character from another company, and who was renamed Elasticman after his first appearance the bristly-mustached mad scientist Dr. Fate (not the DC Comics character), who was obsessed with learning the electronic secrets of the android; Prof. Doom of the subversive organization B.I.R.D. (Bureau of International Revolutionary Devices), whose on-campus mind control experiments endangered Prof. Winkle’s relationship with the university president’s attractive young daughter Linda Knowles (note also the Marvel Comics villain Dr. Doom); Tarzac, the bald, amphibious, self-style “King of the Sharks” who rode a giant seahorse; nuclear physicist turned metal-mouthed pirate Atom-Jaw, who could bite through solid steel; and the miniature Tinyman, who reformed to become the local district attorney.
The only foe Captain Marvel actually hated (because he was pre-programmed to by his makers) was the flame-throwing Destroyer, an android like himself, a literally fiery-eyed, skullcap-clad weapon of mass destruction created by the enemy Volcano People of the hero’s home planet who also escaped the death of their world and was now allied with Earth’s own hostile subterranean race.
The flying, hypnotic mastermind known as the Bat resembled Batman enough so that to prompt a response DC Comics attorneys. The character’s name was changed to the Ray, (not the Quality Comics character) with the addition of a lightning bolt emblem to his chest.
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I love these! If someone were to try to parody rip-off/homage phenomena in comics, reality would out-do them every time.
I presented my views on such things in One twist of the wrist, which now includes a deep desire for a solid collection of the comics you’re describing.
I’ll leave here my question from Discord: all this back and forth, and these changes, and this constant fighting over names (or rebranding) would suggest these were hot properties bringing in a lot of cash… which is something that, in my limited knowledge of comic book history, isn’t exactly true. Or is it?
Were the reasons for all this waltzing purely economical?
It’s economic for sure, but you have to put aside your notions of product X being developed for sale, then the purchasing of product X provides funds for the next round of making product X. Even though the volume of street-level comics sales in the mid-20th century were quite high – much higher than today – none of that is very important.
The important considerations are instead:
– maintaining IP for other media: toys, board games, candy, newspaper strips, radio, movies, TV, et cetera
– promotion through other media: not just advertising, but “presence” in newspaper and magazine articles, or later, appearances on TV in venues that normalize the imaging as important
– keeping the IP away from someone else
– having enough presence to get big & better IP to pay you for licensing; e.g., Marvel with Star Wars, G.I. Joe, etc
Even all of that is minor compared to distribution through means which can be leveraged into other kinds of money. For example, at the newsstands and spinner racks, recording comics as “not sold” looks good on your books as a loss but since the actual comics have disappeared, they are probably getting bootlegged somewhere. This was especially good for National Comics (“DC”) because they could maneuver every year between claiming losses for tax breaks and for telling creators their books “didn’t sell,” but the supply destinations were happy because they were still selling stuff under the table, or unloading them to some shady guy to sell some other way.
Techniques like this evolved into the “no buyback” policy in modern distribution, and then we get all the speculator nonsense in the 1990s – again, the comics production is leveraged into secondary sales (“collectors”) of some kind or become a cog in some complicated bullshit like venture capital or hedge funds.
Also, neither Marvel nor DC were ever “little old comics companies,” who did nothing else and “got big” by selling comics. All the history of each is embedded in more complex publishing, as described in Context! and Context Too!
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