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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

NULL-MYTHS: CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 (1966)

From the sublime to the ridiculous-- what could provide a better contrast than comparing the 1966 Captain Marvel (briefly published by Myron Fass Enterprises) to the classic Fawcett character?




Of the many bad superheroes spotlighted on the Internet, '66 Cap Marvel may have received the most attention to date. As the cover shows, the titular hero's distinction is that his power seems so counter-intuitive for a superhero. Instead of being able to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous villains with the brio of Billy Batson's alter ego, '66 Cap can separate the sections of his body-- hands, arms, feet, legs, head, and torso-- so that they're able to go flying around on their own. It's not impossible to confer power upon particular body-parts when they're separated from their proper form-- one thinks of "killer hand" movies like 1946's BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, and "hideous head" flicks like THE THING THAT WOULDN'T DIE. But all parts are not equal, and the idea of a superhero's torso or legs-- or even his disembodied head-- zooming around the sky has proven endlessly risible. 

There are three stories in Cap's first issue, and they're all pretty dismal, though not totally without interest from a psychological standpoint. 

The first tale falls back on the old "hero can't remember who he is" in order to give the readers the lowdown on his true nature. An unnamed blonde man finds himself in a house in some American city, and can 't remember who he is. However, with only minimal effort, he recalls that he is an android named Captain Marvel, created on an unnamed planet torn apart by warfare. His creators, a group of unnamed humanoids, know that their world is doomed, so they want him to personify "the knowledge of our people" and to "use it to help others." 

As for the "splitting" power-- this is almost the only idea in the story that's given a degree of logic. The head scientist tells Marvel that the purpose of this power is "to prevent an attack by more than one person," after which they demonstrate how said power can be used:



I suppose the intent was that this power might seem appealing to a person who's ever had more than one opponent "gang up" on him. Yet I tend to think even the most naive young reader still would've preferred the idea behind the original Captain Marvel: that you could both assume a bigger, better version of your own body *and * gain a multitude of powers that allowed you to beat up any quantity of enemies.

After a few panels of training, Captain Marvel dons a pair of astro-boots that will allow him to traverse space, and flies away from the only home he's known, watching as it explodes behind him. 



His memory breaks off at this point, but for the last three pages, a young boy named Billy Baxton shows up to fill in the rest of the gaps about how the android happened across Earth, and how Billy helped the Captain acclimate and take on an Earth-identity.

The idea-- but not the actual execution-- of this Captain Marvel is credited to Carl Burgos, who's best known for the Golden Age Human Torch. Like most Burgos superheroes, the Torch was an android, and off the top of my head I'd say he was the only artificial hero of the Golden Age who enjoyed enough popularity to headline his own title. Fans will never know why the editors of the new title, having decided to co-opt the name "Captain Marvel" on the assumption that it had fallen into public domain, also decided to go with the idea of the new hero being an android. Maybe the editors weren't sure about their legal position and wanted something that wasn't too close to the original.

Ironically, aside from the hero's use of "magic words" to activate his powers-- he says "Split" to separate his body-parts, and "Xam" to bring them back together-- the '66 hero seems to swipe more from Superman. Not only does he rocket to Earth from a doomed planet, he's also the repository of his alien culture-- though technically, this idea didn't become popular in Superman comics until the late 1950s and early 1960s. '66 Cap also shared the Man of Steel's tendency to whistle up new powers whenever he needed them: laser-beam eyes, thermal waves, and so on.

The other two stories, both of which feature Marvel taking on alien invaders, aren't worth analysis, but the last one in the book is amusing in one respect. For eight pages, the tale is a cut-rate version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," as it starts with aliens coming to Earth to remonstrate with Earthlings for their warlike ways. Then for the last eight pages, the aliens are relegated to back-seat status, for the story suddenly becomes all about the weird character in their ship, who gets loose and causes trouble on Earth-- a character named... "Plastic-Man!"



According to some fannish speculations, MF Enterprises's attempt to pilfer the name of yet another Golden Age character may have alerted DC Comics to the fact that they actually owned the right to publish Plastic Man since purchasing an assortment of Quality Comics properties in the mid-1950s. As a result, DC Comics quickly rushed an ersatz verison of the classic Plastic Man into the "Dial H for Hero" feature, about three months after CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 had appeared on newstands, and then launched a series proper toward the end of 1966.

I rate the MF Captain Marvel a "psychological myth" because I think its creators had some notion that their peculiar idea of a "body-in-pieces" hero should actually have been empowering to young readers. Since it was not, that alone would qualify the android as an inconsummate null-myth.








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