"Bruno takes 2 points of damage. Not enough to kill him, but the spider's bite is poison. Bruno rolls his saving throw against poison, fails to make it, and dies a horrible death." -Dr. Eric Holmes, "The Blue Book" (D&D 1978)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

[Comic book] Captain Marvel and CC Beck

This is the second in an irregular series of posts about stuff, possibly a bit outside the rpg norm, that has sidled into my subconscious, crept into my conscious, cuddled up next to the kobolds and magic missiles and, one way or another, in some measure, in some manner, mostly mutated, crawled out into my gaming.  (Here’s the first post of the series, on the Hammer flick Seven Golden Vampires).

CC Beck is in my list of the top five all-time greatest comic creators, and his brainchild, Captain Marvel -- best-selling superhero of the 40s, created by Beck and writer Bill Parker -- is one of my favorites.  Many of Caps adventures were scripted by Otto Binder.  Occasionally dismissed as naught but a Superman knockoff, he’s more than that, including a healthy dose of fantasy.  Superman’s origin is science fiction, Batman’s is testament to human will, but Captain Marvel’s is pure magic and myth.

An ancient wizard:

Super-science, weird humanoid races:

Captured by the dragon-folk:

Beautia and Billy face the germ people:
(Beautia -- who grew up on Venus as the ruler of a race of giant frogs -- is Cap’s love interest and she also happens to be the daughter of Cap’s arch-nemesis Sivana.)

Strange palaces:

Creatures out of classical myth:

Legendary ruins, a mystical statue:

Of course there’s a lot of stuff in Cap – a throw-in-anything approach, humor and goofiness, madcap-ness, off-the-wall characters, great villains, sf, fighting the Nazis, Billy’s everyday life, the Lieutenants, the Marvel family, and I like it all – but magic and the fantasy elements are usually not too far away.

CC Beck is a remarkable storytelling artist for the medium.  Extremely clean.  Minimalist.  Cartoony.  Fast moving.  Classic simplicity.  Tremendous layouts and design. 

Cap’s weaknesses proved to be changing times and a vigorous lawsuit from National, claiming infringement of their Superman copyright.  Publisher Fawcett voluntarily ceased publication of Cap in 1954.

Among the first comic books I ever got, after some Disney Digests and Caspers, was DC Treasury Edition no. 4, which reprinted Whiz Comics no. 1 from 1940, including the origin of Captain Marvel.  I feel lucky that I got that Treasury early; it made an impression and started an interest and appreciation for Captain Marvel and for golden age material generally. 

DC is now in the process of re-imagining The Big Red Cheese.  “Shazam” currently appears as a back-up in the most recent incarnation of the Justice League.  Billy’s a total delinquent.  At first that put me off, but I can accept it, depending on where they go.  Too early to tell.  It could end up terrible, could be ok, maybe better than ok.  I’m reserving judgment, hoping for the best.


  1. I just want to see an affordable collection of the original 1940's "Monster Society of Evil"storyline.

  2. Thanks for writing this. I knew little of Captain Marvel other than vague memories of the "Shazam!" show in the 70s. I did a little reading about the history of the character. It seems the mid-40's issues once Otto Binder was writing are the considered the best. Which issue(s) are the dragon-folk panels from?