Friday, December 4, 2009

Famous First Fridays: Shazam! #1

In the early 70s, nostalgia was big business. Summer of 42, American Graffiti, and similar films helped stoke that particular fire, and comicbooks were far from immune. Though sales didn't live up to expectations, fandom was abuzz when comicbook versions of pulp heroes The Shadow and Doc Savage hit the stands. Very few nostalgic revivals got fandom buzzing like DC's announcement that they would revive the original Captain Marvel--and said revival would be drawn by the good Captain's co-creator, Charles Clarence (better known as C.C.) Beck. Editor Julie Schwartz, who had been so successful in reviving DC's own Golden Age heroes for the Silver Age was behind the new mag, which would be called Shazam! so as not to infringe on Marvel Comics (or their version of Captain Marvel who was at that time enjoying the spotlight in his own revived mag). DC's hottest editor, Denny O'Neil would write Shazam!, completing a creative team that represented the best of the 1940s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Young Groove had seen the above ad in Worlds Finest #215 (October 1972) and, you guessed it, flipped. See, Dear Ol' Dad had spoken many times of his favorite childhood superhero, yep, you guessed it again, Captain Marvel. DOD's reminiscences of Cap, the Marvel Family, the Savina's, Mr. Tawky Tawny, and the rest captivated Young Groove, and the thoughts of getting to see the Big Red Cheese in all-new action not only excited me, but kinda turned DOD on, as well. I didn't know how lucky I was on Christmas Eve 1972 to find an open drugstore with a copy of Shazam #1 on the spinner rack. I had no idea that speculators were hoarding copies by the dozen. I just knew that Shazam #1 was in my sweaty little palms. Now, to Young Groove, that first ish more than lived up to expectations. Schwartz and O'Neil managed to re-tell the origin of the Big Red Cheese and (most importantly) come up with a clever explanation for the Marvel Family's decades-long absence. Beck's art was just as clean and fun as DOD remembered, too! Just for giggles, how'd ya like a little taste of that fateful first issue? Here's Schwartz, O'Neil, and Beck with "The World's Wickedest Plan!"

Pretty neat, huh? Sadly, Beck didn't stay long, nor did O'Neil. Other writers and artists (notably Elliot S! Maggin and former Golden Age Captain Marvel artist Kurt Schaffenberger) were soon writing and drawing the adventures of the Marvel Family, none ever really capturing the magic (no pun intended) of the original Golden Age series, but still turning out some fun comics. A CBS live-action Saturday morning TV show kept the comic alive for a few more years despite less than stellar sales. The "Shazam! Family" made some pretty interesting appearances in mags like Justice League of America and Superman vs. Shazam, but those stories seemed more responsible for driving home the "old fashioned" aspects of Captain Marvel, not to mention they made the Big Red Cheese and friends seem less like part of the DC Universe since they lived not on Earth-1 or even Earth-2, but "Earth-S". By 1978, artists like Alan Weiss and Don Newton were tapped to give the art a more "realistic" look but all of that happened just as the DC Implosion hit, sending the whole Marvel Family packing to the back pages of (ironically enough) World's Finest Comics (issues 253-282), where the strip would linger for the rest of the Groovy Age.


  1. You omit one critically important name from the history of the Marvel Family at DC, that of E. Nelson Bridwell. Nelson was the only writer at DC who really understood the tone of the original books, and worked very hard to pay appropriate tribute to them. Of course he was also responsible for choosing all those reprint stories that gave many of us in the Groovy Age our first taste of what real CM comics were like! When Nelson was finally given a relatively free hand and a sympathetic collaborator in Don Newton, they produced some strong work together and did justice to their inspiration. But in the later World's Finest issues (and the remaining four stories that were burned off in the digest-sized Adventure Comics) it was clear their energy had been worn down…though not their love for the project.

  2. Hi Groovyone!
    It's a shame it didn't work. but it was a era gone by I guess. Kids of my generation, the late 60's-70's. We mainly grew up with the more gritter but yet still fun Marvel Comics. I still loved Captain Marvel/Shazam ALOT. I just too it for what is was, more of a humor book.

    In my opinion, I truly think DC blew it again. They should have just kept publishing Capt.Marvel in 53. After Fawcett settled with National. They were & still are sitting on a gold mine. I think in 1970/71 when Kirby came over to DC. They should have had him bring back Billy/CM. Revamping him for the 70's. Making Darkseid his new mortal enemy.

    The New Gods his allies & bring back CM's original villains all updated. Making it a cross between Superman/Newsboy Legion & Thor. By focusing more on the mythological/gods more. Even having Billy maybe a member of the Newsboy Legion. Giving the Legion their own title again, with the cloned Guardian & having Billy pop up in there as well.Beside's all that thanks for posting this. You have a Marvelious website! Sorry I couldn't resist! SHAZAM! Hugo

  3. DC had already made the decision to use Superman (via the Jimmy Olsen book) to launch Kirby's 4th World. The editorial board at the time must've felt using Capt. Marvel at that time wasn't appropriate, and they were right.

    I remember buying Shazam! #1 when it first came out and buying a few more after, then reacquiring those issues in the secondary market in later years when rebuilding my collection. The Bridwell/Newton team did create some marvelous stories (can't resist the pun), but let's not forget that the stage was set when Alan Weiss drew the last 2-3 issues of the Shazam! series circa 1977-8, shortly after the TV series was cancelled by CBS. Weiss' more realistic Cap was the template for Newton's similar works.

    Keep up the good work, Groove.

  4. There is a connection between Jack Kirby's Fourth World books and the SHAZAM! comic, but it went down a little differently.

    When Kirby came to DC, Carmine Infantino was interested in having him do something with Superman. The Jimmy Olsen comic didn't have a regular full-time writer and artist at the moment, so Kirby could take it over without displacing anyone else, and he gave Superman a big guest shot in Forever People #1 as a test run. Kirby was already working on these books when he suggested that DC should hire C.C. Beck to do a revival of Captain Marvel. Since Carmine was also a fan of the original CM, he jumped at the idea, and so history was made.

  5. Hi RAB
    I knew that, I just wish DC would have had Kirby just do it. I was told Kirby was friends with CC Beck. Who was either hurting finically & or just wanted to do CM once again. Kirby supposely didn't like doing other people's characters either.

    No disrespect toward CC Beck. But by 1973 that era of funny books was dying off. I'm just saying how AWESOME it would have been. "IF" DC had indeed had Lirby do CM. It would have been another block buster! Like his work at Marvel was with Stan Lee. Also if they would not had Vince Colletta ink it. But Mike Royer from day one or Joe Sinnott! If only I had a time machine! And could tell Jack what to go with & skip. Not that he'd listen to me any way. SHAZAM! Mike

  6. RAB, you're right, I should have mentioned ENB. I did use a page from one of his and Newton's Shazam! pages, but still, he should have been mentioned in the article. I'll make it up in a future post, and that's no jive!

  7. I gotta ask - to the folks with the visual eyes out there - is that Superman on the cover by Beck? I know the sig says Beck, so he could very well have drawn it to fit DC's model, but it looks a whole awful lot like another artist from that era, though I can't place who. I'm tempted to say Nick Cardy or Murphy Anderson.

  8. I agree, I'm sure Superman was drawn by Nick Cardy myself.

  9. Cardy did Superman's bod, Murpy Anderson touched up the face. You're both right!

  10. I believe the 70's Shazam series is great.



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