Captain Marvel Jr.

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Captain Marvel Jr.

(pop culture)

With sales of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel comics increasing almost daily in the early 1940s, it is not surprising that Fawcett Comics wanted another superhero to pull in the fans. Captain Marvel Jr. grew out of one of the first title crossovers, as Captain Marvel and Bulletman battled the jackbooted Captain Nazi from the pages of Master Comics to Whiz Comics and back again. In the December 1941 edition of Whiz Comics (#25), Captain Nazi (effectively an evil mirror image of Captain Marvel) plummets into the sea near a small boat, and when its occupants attempt to rescue him he hurls them into the sea, killing one and injuring the other. Well, what else would you expect from someone called Captain Nazi? Seeing that the injured would-be-rescuer, a kid, is close to death, Captain Marvel takes him to the ever convenient wizard, Shazam, who transfers some of the elder Marvel’s superpowers to the lad, and—voila!—up pops Captain Marvel Jr.

As conceived by editor and writer Eddie Heron with artist Mac Raboy, Junior was an athletic, almost angelic-looking fourteen-year-old boy, clad in a blue version of Captain Marvel’s costume. Once restored to his civilian identity of Freddy Freeman (which happened whenever he spoke Captain Marvel’s name), he was a crippled newspaper boy, selling his wares on a windy street corner, propped up on his crutches. To compound the misery of comics’ own Tiny Tim, the poor lad was an orphan whose grandfather had been the old man killed by Captain Nazi, and his meager earnings were spent on a shabby room in a nearby guesthouse. As reader identification went, it was a remarkable piece of wish fulfillment to see the poor wretch metamorphose into the godlike junior hero. But astute readers might also wonder why Freeman did not simply remain in his superhero form, make vast amounts of cash saving the world, and retire to a life of luxury; the idea appears to have never crossed his mind.

One of the comic’s great selling points was undoubtedly Raboy’s elegant, exquisitely drawn artwork, which was far more realistic than that of the Captain Marvel strip. However, Raboy was such a perfectionist that he soon found it almost impossible to meet deadlines, and he hit upon the solution of pasting-in photostats of previous drawings. In fact, some pages were almost entirely made up of stats, with new backgrounds provided by one of his assistants. Raboy left Fawcett in 1944, but the feature carried on, drawn by Bud Thompson, Kurt Schaffenberger, and others, in both Master Comics and Junior’s own title.

Throughout the war years, Junior repeatedly tangled with Captain Nazi and amassed a gaggle of supervillains, including Dr. Eternity, the Pied Piper, and Captain Nippon. In the postwar period, one villain came to dominate the strip: the boy scientist-gone-bad Sivana Junior, son of — oh, you guessed it—Captain Marvel’s arch-foe Dr. Sivana! Sivana Junior’s evil plots included potions to make himself a giant, induce insatiable hunger, or provoke unstoppable jitterbugging. As the decade progressed, however, the feature came to be dominated by the fads of the day, such as crime comics, juvenile delinquency comics, funny animal comics, and even horror. One remarkable cover memorably showed Captain Marvel Jr. being strapped to an electric chair and shot through with electricity. That is not to say that the strip was all darkness and no light, however, since our hero was just as likely to be found speeding up the revolutions of the planet Mars as fighting werewolves or gangsters.

Captain Marvel Jr.’s comic was canceled in 1953, along with the rest of Fawcett’s superhero line, and he lay fallow until DC Comics’ revival in the 1970s, when he starred in a number of decent, if unspectacular, strips. In the 1990s Power of Shazam revival he played a somewhat more prominent role and also briefly joined the Teen Titans (decades after his birth, he was seemingly still a teenager). But despite this longevity, his true importance might actually lie somewhere altogether more surprising. Several sources have suggested that a certain Elvis Presley was a big fan of the character and modeled his look on Junior, right down to the curls and insouciant quiff that set a generation’s hearts aflutter. In Las Vegas as well, it seems that his cape was a tribute to the one Captain Marvel Jr. wore, so the look that launched a thousand imitators came from the comics—not bad for a newspaper boy on crutches.

Captain Marvel Jr. played a major role in the comics maxi-series The Trials of Shazam! (2006-2008), in which he became a new version of the adult Captain Marvel, but adopted the name of their wizard mentor Shazam. Captain Marvel Jr. appears alongside the original Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel in the 2011 episode of the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold titled “The Malicious Mr. Mind!” —DAR & PS