Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mary Marvel, The World's Most Pugilistic Girl!

Mary Marvel graces the cover of WOW COMICS #18.

Who is the greatest superheroine of all time, you might ask?  Wonder Woman, perhaps?  No, she's too silly, riding around in an invisible plane, when she's quite capable of flying without such a contraption.  Besides, what purpose does it serve to have an invisible plane when she can be seen, seated in her invisible chair?

Supergirl?  No, she's a bit foolish, too.  She switches to her civilian identity as Linda Lee by taking the trouble to stuff her long, golden tresses under a brunette wig.  Why wouldn't she just take a cue from her cousin and put on a pair of glasses?

Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl?  Nay.  Her only power is to give artists a break.  All they have to do is not draw her!

Who then?  Who is the greatest superheroine of all time?  The answer: Mary Marvel -- the World's Mightiest Girl -- that's who!

Mary Marvel always got the job done, even if it meant punching faces first and asking questions later.  She never ran from a fight no matter how powerful and dangerous the enemy might be.  No case was too big or too small -- she always answered any plea for help.  And even as Mary Batson, she bravely entered the hideouts of gangsters, the strongholds of supervillains, the frightful lairs of hideous demons, determined to vanquish the evil-doers, or die trying.

Mary Marvel, a spin-off of the popular Captain Marvel character published by Fawcett Comics, first appeared in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18 (December 1942), exactly one year after another Captain Marvel spin-off, Captain Marvel, Jr., made his debut in WHIZ COMICS #25 (December 1941).

The first issue of WHIZ COMICS (February 1940), which introduced Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel debuted in the first issue of WHIZ COMICS (February 1940), the creation of writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck.  (No number was present on the covers of the first two issues, only in the idicia, which indicated No. 2 for the first issue, No. 3 for the second issue, etc.  The discrepancy in numbering was corrected with issue #5.)

In 1939, Fawcett decided to join the rising tide of comic books, a canny decision.  As circulation director Roscoe Fawcett recalled: "I was responsible, I feel, for Captain Marvel.  I got us into the comic book business.  I said, 'Give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10 or 12-year-old boy rather than a man.'  I put Al Allard in charge of coordinating the project with some assistance from editorial director Ralph Daigh."
Mary Marvel pin; 13/16"; litho, 1946

The project was eventually left to writer Bill Parker and artist C. C. Beck, who came up with Captain Marvel.  In his origin story, Billy Batson, a homeless waif selling newspapers, is approached by a mysterious figure who conducts him through a secret subway tunnel, then through a cavern, past statues depicting the seven deadly enemies of man, where he's brought before the hoary old wizard, Shazam, sitting upon his throne.  Shazam explains to Billy that he'd been watching him for years -- on what appears to be a 60-inch flat screen colour TV!  Billy's parents had died, the orphan left in the care of his uncle, who cruelly expelled him from his home upon receipt of the boy's inheritance.

Original Jack Binder art for WOW COMICS #41 (February 1948).

As for Shazam, the Egyptian wizard had been battling evil for 3,000 years, his time was up, and it was now Billy's duty to be earth's great protector.  All he need do was utter the wizard's name, and be transformed into a protector of earth and champion of justice, with the powers of six gods.  The name "Shazam" stood for

Solomon (wisdom);
Hercules (strength);
Atlas (stamina);
Zeus (power);
Achilles (courage);
Mercury (speed).

Billy does as he is bid, and says the magic word: lightning crashes down, and he is transformed into Captain Marvel, a hero the size of a linebacker, sporting a red leotard with a lightning bolt emblazoned across the chest, a small white cape held on by a thick rope, and yellow boots.  To return to his mortal form, he need only speak the name again.  Satisfied that Billy is the boy for the job, Shazam dies, but Billy can call on him in times of emergency by lighting a brazier located next to the empty throne.

Mary Mavel felt patch, 3" x 4", 1946

Captain Marvel was aimed at young readers.  The plots were unsophisticated, making it unlikely that any child would have to struggle to follow the story; and the brilliant artwork was so simple that one would still be able to follow the story even if there were no captions or dialogue. 

The Big Red Cheese (as his arch-nemesis Dr. Sivana called him) was an instant success and kids couldn't get enough of him.  In addition to the lead feature in WHIZ, he soon commanded his own title, CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES, and also appeared in the short-lived AMERICA'S GREATEST COMICS.  1941 also saw the release of Republic Pictures' 12-part serial, Adventures of Captain Marvel, starring Tom Tyler in the title role.

In fact, Fawcett's premier superhero was outselling Superman himself, prompting a 1941 lawsuit by DC for copyright infringement.  The lawsuit, which dragged on for years, was initially dismissed on a technicality.

writer Otto Binder

That same year, an extremely prolific writer named Otto Binder was hired to ease the workload at Fawcett's comic book division, though his first Captain Marvel story, Return of the Scorpion, was actually a Big Little Book.  Binder became the company's top writer, scripting the bulk of Captain Marvel's adventures, as well as stories for dozens of other characters in the Fawcett stable.

Captain Marvel's success inspired a spin-off, Captain Marvel, Jr., who debuted in WHIZ #25 (December 1941), was then featured in MASTER COMICS, and eventually earned his own title, CAPTAIN MARVEL JR.  He was the creation of writer Ed Herron and artist Mac Raboy, who rendered the character in a more realistic style.

In a nutshell, a boy named Freddy Freeman is injured and dying.  Billy brings him to Shazam.  Alas, the wizard has no mastery over life and death, but Billy can save the lad by granting him some of his own powers.  Thus, Freddy Freeman becomes Captain Marvel Jr., resplendent in blue tights and red cape, and by uttering the name of his hero, Captain Marvel, he too changes into a superhero, though he remains a boy.  Unfortunately, Freddy, in his mortal form, is left with a crippled leg, and he's forced to hobble around with the aid of a crutch.

Newsstand promo, 1942

At this point it only made sense to introduce a female version of Captain Marvel.  Artist Marc Swayze recalled that he was asked by Ed Herron to come up with sketches for a new addition to the Marvel Family, Mary Marvel, "a little gal about the age of Billy Batson."  In fact, she was to be Billy's twin sister.  Swayze "whipped up some sketches" of a young girl in a red dress, the same lightning bolt emblem adorning her chest, short sleeves, a yellow belt girdling her waist, a miniskirt, yellow boots, and little white cape.  He anticipated requests for revisions, but "the drawings were accepted without a single change or even any suggestions!"

CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18 (December 1942), introducing Mary Marvel.

Mary made her dynamic debut in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18 (December 1942).  In her origin story, which opens with a fantastic double-page spread, a girl named Mary Bromfield, wearing half of a broken locket depending from a chain around her neck, is a guest on the Mental Marvel Quiz Kids radio program, hosted by Billy Batson, who works at station WHIZ, owned by Sterling Morris.  The other two contestants are Percy Pill and Freddy Freeman.  (Billy Batson alone knows that Freddy is also Captain Marvel Jr.)

During a commercial break, Billy receives an urgent message from someone named Sarah Primm.  He changes to Captain Marvel and flies to the address given, where Sarah Primm, lying in her death bed, makes a startling confession to Billy, and it is revealed that he has a twin sister!

Early illustration by Swayze; the full figure was used in Mary's first appearance, in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18, though her belt buckle would be removed and her boots slightly altered.

Sarah Primm had been nurse to the twins when their parents died, and she took them into her home, intending to place them in an orphanage.  But Miss Primm was also nurse to the infant daughter of a rich lady named Mrs. Bromfield, and when the baby died in her care, she panicked, and substituted Billy's sister.  "You'll have a home, Mary Batson," she declared, "even if Billy must go to an orphanage!  No one will ever know!"

Billy, desperate to know more, is given a chain with half of a broken locket attached to it.  "You'll know her by this broken locket.  She wears the other half."  But Miss Primm dies before she can reveal the name of the lady who unwittingly raised Billy's sister.

Stunned by the revelation that he has a twin sister, it takes Billy a while to realise that the bright, young girl he'd met earlier at the radio station carried the other half of the locket given to him by Sarah Primm.  Billy and Freddy change to their other identities, and fly after Mary Bromfield, only to witness her being kidnapped for ransom.  They easily defeat the kidnappers and rescue Mary, and it is Captain Marvel himself who shows her the locket and explains that Billy Batson is her twin brother, and that he, in fact, is Billy.  This comes as wonderful news to Mary.

Detail from a beautiful double-page splash, from CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18 (December 1942).

Captain Marvel and Junior return to their mortal forms to show Mary how they make their fantastic changes.  Being that she's Billy's twin sister, Mary wonders if she inherited the same power.  Billy dismisses the notion outright: Shazam "wouldn't give his powers to a girl!!"

In the meantime, the hoodlums have recovered and quickly seize the trio, tying and gagging the boys.  But Mary unintentionally speaks the name of Shazam, and is instantly transformed by a lightning bolt and the clap of thunder into Mary Marvel, the World's Mightiest Girl!

Above and below: a few scenes after Mary Batson's transformation into Mary Marvel, from CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18 (December 1942).

In appearance, Mary Marvel is still the same young lass, except for the costume, which she takes time to inspect, in her girlish manner, not even noticing when a big lug busts a heavy wooden chair over the back of her head.  When a hail of bullets starts bouncing off her, Mary retaliates, enjoying herself as she levels her opponents in a matter of seconds.

Billy seems almost jealous, and introduces Mary to Shazam in his subway sanctum, to find out why the old wizard is dispensing powers to girls.  Shazam needn't have been so formally introduced to Mary, for he knows all!  He explains that Mary's powers are derived from those of six goddesses:

Selena (grace);
Hippolyta (strength);
Ariadne (skill);
Zephyrus (fleetness);
Aurora (beauty);
Minerva (wisdom).

"Beauty" is arguably a great power, though not very useful to someone charged with protecting the earth from evil.  Still, one might very well ask in what way is "beauty" bestowed on Mary Batson if she looks the exact same except for the costume?  At the end of the story, it is Captain Marvel himself who christens her "Mary Marvel".

CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #19 (January 1943), cover art by Marc Swayze.

"Well, folks, how do you like Mary Marvel???" Billy asks in a promotional panel at the end of the story.  "I'll tell you a secret -- watch for Mary Marvel in Wow Comics No.9, on sale Dec. 9th!"  A caption at the bottom promised that Mary would also be back for another adventure in the very next issue of CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES, on sale December 11th.

Anyone who bought WOW COMICS #9 fresh off the stands would have been better off not reading it for two days, since CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #19, in which Captain Marvel trains Mary, was a direct sequel to the previous issue's origin story.  In her WOW debut, a Christmas issue, Mary meets some other Fawcett heroes, Mr. Scarlet and his young sidekick, Pinky.

The gang's all here, some of them miraculously appearing twice, on this cover for WHIZ COMICS #59 (October 1944).  How the Marvels got Sivana to kindly join them in this already impossible photo remains a mystery.

In his cantankerous old age, C. C. Beck had nothing good to say about Mary Marvel.  "...Mary Marvel was created to attract girl readers. In my opinion, Mary Marvel was a weak, synthetic character also created on the order of the publisher. She never came to life in the way that Billy Batson and Captain Marvel did but always seemed wooden and artificial."

CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #18 sported a wonderful painted cover by Beck, showing Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Jr. standing in a spotlight before a curtain, Mary greeting the reader with a wave.

Mary's origin story was written by Otto Binder, and drawn by Marc Swayze.  Swayze supplied the beautiful Christmas cover for the next issue, showing Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Santa Claus flying above snow-covered houses.  Swayze once again drew the story, and also Mary's first two covers and stories for WOW COMICS, but was asked to concentrate on Captain Marvel, Fawcett's bread-and-butter.

With WOW COMICS #9 (January 1943), Mary Marvel takes over the lead feature.  Cover by Swayze.

WOW COMICS #10 (February 1943).  Another gorgeous cover by Swayze.

"Through the powers vested in her by the Shazam goddesses, Mary Marvel is quickly able to learn any language..."  She speaks Spanish in PIF-PAF # 382 (December 24, 1946), a cheaply-printed, black and white Argentine comic devoted to superheroes.

Instead, the art chores were given to Otto Binder's older brother, Jack.  To keep up with demand and a growing line of comics, Fawcett had been farming out work to Jack Binder, who owned a busy comic book studio, having gained experience managing Harry "A" Chesler's studio for three years.  Binder's studio had initially operated out of his own little apartment, but the exponentially growing staff left little room for his family, so he found a large house in New Jersey where the gang occupied a carriage house out back, but eventually returned to New York City where most of the clients were located.  Artist Gil Kane recalled that Binder "had a loft on Fifth Avenue and it just looked like an internment camp. There must have been 50 or 60 guys up there, all at drawing tables."

Mary Marvel artist, Jack Binder

At first, Jack Binder had little, if anything, to do with the actual artwork.  When the studio had been in full force, it was an assembly line, and the chores varied: the writer would type out a story, an artist would pencil in the main characters, another artist the secondary characters, a few more would furnish the backgrounds; then someone would ink the main figures, another the secondary figures, others the backgrounds, with everyone paid a specific rate for his contribution.  It was piece work, and the more you produced, the more money you made.

But as the war dragged on Binder's staff was depleted by Uncle Sam, eventually leaving his shop with little more than a skeleton crew.  Jack had no choice but to roll up his sleeves and draw Mary Marvel himself, at least to some degree.

According to an article on C. C. Beck in the August 1973 issue of the excellent MONSTER TIMES newspaper, there "was a policy at the time that the artists could not sign their names to their work, based on the theory that it would take away from the realism and fantasy of the stories.  They wanted their young readers to actually believe there was a Captain Marvel!"

Though Jack Binder never signed his name, a small typeset credit, "DRAWN BY JACK BINDER", appeared at the bottom of the first page of Mary Marvel's stories, beginning with WOW COMICS #19 (November 1943).  This wasn't so much a signature as it was an advertisement, letting potential clients know what quality of artwork and lettering Binder and his studio -- or, what was left of it -- were capable of doing.

As a team, Otto and Jack Binder would produce most of Mary Marvel's stories for WOW COMICS and in her own magazine, MARY MARVEL (where she usually had four adventures in each issue), as well as many of her solo adventures later on in THE MARVEL FAMILY comic.

Book burning scene from THE MARVEL FAMILY #86 (August 1953).  Seen is LORDS OF CREATION (1949) by Eando Binder, in an unabashed plug.  "E" and "O" Binder is a pseudonym for Earl and Otto Binder.

With CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #19 (January 1943), Mary Bromfield was now going by the name "Mary Batson", to honour her real parents, and Mary took to calling her foster mother "Mrs. Bromfield", though she starts calling her "Mother" again before long.  In any case, their love for each other wasn't diminished by the shocking revelation that Mary wasn't Mrs. Bromfield's daughter, after all.  Initially, though, Mary was afraid that her foster mother might not want her anymore.

Mary is never seen discussing the matter with Mrs. Bromfield, but in WOW COMICS #9 (January 1943) she does confide in the butler, Peeves: "Since I've found out I'm Billy Batson's sister...well, I almost feel I don't really belong here anymore!"  "This is still your home, Miss Mary!" says Peeves; "Mrs. Bromfield would never let you go!"

A different butler, "Jives", begins appearing without fanfare in #11, and Mary confides in him, too.  (Apparently, the name "Jeeves" had appeared in the original lettering, but was altered to say "Jives" when it became evident that the new artist had drawn a completely different looking character.)  "Here I am, living in all this swank, even though Mrs. Bromfield -- er -- mother -- knows I'm really plain Mary Batson, an orphan, and not really her daughter!"

Where Mary and Mrs. Bromfield live is a matter of conjecture.  Sometimes Billy seems to be a hop, skip and a jump away, and sometimes Mary regrets that she sees so little of him, as if he lived in another city altogether.  The only clue to Mary's residence is in WOW COMICS #20 (December 1943), where the subscription address on a copy of Ghostly Stories reads, "Miss Mary Batson/Longacre House/Wowtown".

A pleasant girl, Mary never swears, uses only the mildest of expressions and euphemisms.  She often says Golly! or Goodness gracious!, as well as Doggone!, Heavens!, Great heavens!, Gosh!, Goody! and Swell!

The goddesses from whom Mary Marvel derives her powers; MARY MARVEL #4 (August 1946).

Though Mary Batson's age is never mentioned, one fact remains: if Billy is 12 and Mary is his twin sister, then Mary is also 12.  Her appearance, though, varied, depending on the limitations -- and inclinations -- of the artists who drew her.  At times her bust size was negligible, at other times more evident.  In the story "And Then There Were None", from THE MARVEL FAMILY #89 (January 1954; incidentally, the last issue), Freddy Freeman says, "For years the three of us were the closest of friends!", so the kids might very well have aged two or three years.

In the story "Thrilling Birthday Party" (MARY MARVEL #9, February 1947), Mary celebrates her birthday (a calendar in the background reads Jan."), but says she doesn't know her true birthday, all records from the orphanage being lost.  (This doesn't make sense, because Mary was never in an orphanage.)

Above and below, the covers for a 1940s Mary Marvel paper doll book.  As you can see, she's wearing items from her Mary Marvel clothing line (see below).  For whatever reason, the book was never published.  These cover proofs have a rather large image area of 10.5" x 14.75".

Throughout Mary Marvel's run at Fawcett, Mary Batson is seen almost exclusively in cute dresses with short, puffed sleeves, often with a bow in her hair, her feet always fashionably adorned with bobby socks and loafers, occasionally saddle shoes or mary janes, all indications of her youth.  She's seen wearing high heels only once, (MARY MARVEL #22, March 1948), in a story based on the Cinderella fable. 

Many young girls like to keep a diary, and in WOW COMICS #13 (May 1943), Mary Batson purchases a notebook and pencil, vowing to do a good deed every day and record it in her book.  Subsequently, the journal is used to introduced each of Mary Marvel's adventures, though she would start the day off with the intention of performing a deed less fantastic, usually by collecting money or clothing for charity, bringing food baskets to families in need, and helping out at hospitals and orphanages.

The good deeds book plays its most important role in WOW COMICS #18 (October 1943), which introduced a new addition to the Marvel Family, Uncle Marvel.

The story, "Mary Marvel Meets Her Uncle Marvel", begins with Mary Batson wondering if she had left her good deeds book in the park, and then lamenting the fact that she has only one blood relative, Billy, wishing she had more.  As she cries into her pillow, a complete stranger, looking a lot like W. C. Fields, strolls into her bedroom exclaiming, "You have, my dear -- you have!  Don't you remember your old Uncle Dudley, from California?"  Mary doesn't recall having an uncle, but is overjoyed, anyways.  Still, she decides to test his claim by asking him to say "Shazam!"  He repeats it after her, and both are transformed into superheroes.  Mary asks him to come flying with her, but he insists that they hold hands while doing so.

Later, Mary visits Uncle Dudley at his office on the 13th floor of the Greeley Building.  There she finds a sign on the door, "Shazam, Inc."  It seems Uncle Dudley felt that the Marvel Family should profit from their heroic efforts by charging a fee for their services.  Mary is all right with the idea, but only if the money is donated to the American war drive and charity.
Above and below: the Mary Marvel Club membership card.

In Uncle Marvel's case, "Shazam" stood for Superiority, Hugeness, All Powerful, Zealousness, All Right, and Mighty.

Given the acronym, it's not surprising that, as a Marvel, Uncle Dudley was a dud.  He had found Mary's good deeds book and discovered her secret identity.  He could only change into Uncle Marvel by saying the magic word along with Mary and in the blinding flash of lightning quickly discarding his clothes, revealing the home made costume already worn underneath.  Whenever he can't perform a much needed heroic deed, he blames it on his "shazambago", which acts up once in a while.

But he proves his valour by throwing himself in front of a truck to save a child.  Mary Marvel rescues them both in an instant, and decides she'll pretend that she believes he's really her uncle and that he has Marvel powers.  She refers to him as "that lovable old fraud."

Uncle Marvel was obviously inspired by W. C. Fields, and might have been particularly inspired by the utterly insane movie, NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK (1941), which had Fields in his last starring role, along with 15-year-old Gloria Jean as his niece.

Uncle Dudley/Marvel used some of the same terms of endearment used by Fields in his movies, and so referred to Mary as "my little plum", "my little lotus blossom", "my little cherry blossom", "my little rosebud", "my little lamb", "my lemon drop", "apple blossom", "pet", etc.

WOW COMICS #35 (April 1946), introducing Freckles Marvel.

WOW COMICS #35 (April 1945) introduced yet another Marvel: Freckles Marvel

Freckles Dudley is Uncle Dudley's niece, about the same age as Mary, hair always braided in pigtails, and, as her name suggests, her face is covered in freckles.  She runs around in a homemade replica of Mary Marvel's costume, and what she lacks in power she makes up for in spunk.  Mary becomes good friends with her new "cousin", and together they share a number of adventures, sometimes in Skunkville (later changed to Marveltown, pop. 2202), where Freckles lives.

Despite the presence of more serious, more violent Nazi-smashing back up features like Commando Yank and Phantom Eagle, WOW COMICS was aimed at a girl audience.  The lead story in #28 has Mary Batson wearing a conspicuously detailed dress, and at the bottom of the page a caption reads, "Girls, have you noticed Mary's cute new dress?  You'll know more about this dress if you'll turn to the page that follows the end of this story."  That page is an ad for a Mary Marvel dress costing a mere $2.98 (plus "a few cents" shipping).  It was the first of an entire line of Mary Marvel clothing and accessories, which included other such pretty dresses, a sweater, a handbag with lightning bolt emblem, a beanie, a raincoat, dungarees, shirts, shorts, corduroy jacket-blouse and skirt, and a "handy" hat that also served as ear-muffs, scarf and belt.  For many issues to come, Mary is seen wearing the latest Mary Marvel dress.

From WOW COMICS #28 (August 1944), the first of many ads for Mary Marvel fashions.

Ad from MARY MARVEL #5 (September 1946)

Ad from WOW COMICS #35 (April 1945)

A Mary Marvel fan club was launched in WOW COMICS #39 (November-December 1939), again using the lead feature as an introduction.  At the beginning of the story Mary and her friends -- all of whom seem to be wearing Mary Marvel clothing -- are skipping rope, when they come upon the idea of starting their own club.  It's only after they get into trouble with gangsters and help Mary Marvel capture them that they decide the club should be devoted to the World's Mightiest Girl.  Most of the last page is an announcement for the club.  Oddly, in the comic book, the girls in the Mary Marvel Club -- which includes Mary Batson -- know that Mary Batson and Mary Marvel are one and the same, but agree to keep it a secret.

Club ad from WOW COMICS #47 (September 1946)

Club ad from WOW COMICS #50 (December 1946)

Club ad from WOW COMICS #54 (May 1947)

Club ad from WOW COMICS #57 (August 1947)

How it could even be a secret in the first place is something the reader just has to accept.  No one seems to recognize Mary Batson as Mary Marvel.  When danger is nigh, Mary Batson will say her magic word, lightning will flash, thunder will roar, and in an instant she will be transformed into the World's Mightiest Girl, and, even though she looks the exact same except that her dress is now red and she has a little cape, they'll invariable say, "Mary Marvel!  Thank heavens you're here!"  They rarely even wonder where Mary Batson disappeared to.

The Mary Marvel Club was "just for girls", and cost 10 cents (in coin or stamps).  Members received an official membership card, a Mary Marvel magic lapel pin (one side showed Mary Batson uttering "Shazam!", the other side Mary Marvel), and a regular club letter "with hints on fashions and other subjects of interest".  New ads for the club appeared in every issue.

The magic lapel pin that came with your Mary Marvel Club membership.  When you pull the string... flips over and Mary Batson becomes Mary Marvel!

But Mary Batson was a little less girly when she changed to Mary Marvel.  In fact, she could be downright brutal!  She never slapped anyone, just used her fists like battering rams, walloping guys with uppercuts that sent them flying right out of the panel, and delivering haymakers that sent them crashing through furniture or bowling over their fellow gangsters.  In one instance, she punches a thug so hard that five of his teeth come flying out of his mouth.  In fact, there's no telling how many times her fist smashed into someone's face.  Nary a story went by in which the impetuous girl didn't land a dozen or more punches, and her own magazine had four stories in each issue!  There's no doubt about it: when it came to criminals and villains, Mary was merciless.

A Christmas greeting from the World's Mightiest Girl, from WOW COMICS #9 (January 1943).

Mary punches out half of this creep's teeth; but don't feel sorry for him -- he's not above gunning down a little girl.  From WOW COMICS #33 (February 1945).

from MARY MARVEL #7 (November 1946)

also from MARY MARVEL #7

Mary gives this incorrigible criminal a beating...and then he's subjected to a lecture!  From THE MARVEL FAMILY #50 (August 1950).

This is why very few bad guys ever messed with Mary Marvel more than once.  From THE MARVEL FAMILY #74 (August 1952).

It was only fair, though.  The bad guys were far more ruthless, and they had no qualms about hurting or killing a young girl like Mary Batson.  They slugged her over the head with blackjacks and clubs, pistol-whipped her, shot at her with guns, came at her with knives, swords, meat cleavers, hatchets, axes, and scissors.  They tried to burn her, bomb her, crush her, run her over.  They threw her out of airplanes tied and gagged.

Gangsters populate many of Mary Marvel's adventures, especially in the earlier days.  There was Porky Snork, Doc Durgo (sometimes spelled "Dargo"), Caesar "Czar" Moxie, Slick Slugg, Crusher Jordan and Spike, Barnacle Bilge and Clamhead, Smooth Felt, Twister Jackson and Slug, Big Mike, Slick Nick, Kid Glove, Captain Kragger and crew, Slippery Slyke and Hugo, Blaster Burke, Barky Bowzer, Brains Fuller, Cutter Snark, Muggy, Gunner Gus, and others.

Almost every Mary Marvel story contained a scene in which she was bound and gagged.  Here's a typical example of how she always managed to get her gag off in the nick of time, so that she could say "Shazam!"  From MARY MARVEL #24 (May 1948).

And, boy, was Mary Marvel tough!  In WOW COMICS #23, the vile Dr. Dwarf has one of his robots toss Mary into a furnace, which reaches the incredible temperature of 1,974,230,469,989 degrees Fahrenheit.  Even from earth, that small furnace would be hot enough to melt an ice cream cone on Pluto!  Mary survives, just barely, smashing her way to freedom.

But it wasn't all just fun and games!  On the cover of WOW COMICS #27 (July 1944), Mary is urging readers to buy war stamps.  She had other obligations, too, and in every issue on the contents page she urged her readers to join her in a paper drive.  In fact, in issue #27, an announcement by Fawcett on the contents page stated that "due to the paper shortage, we are cutting down on the number of copies of each magazine printed."

They also cut down on the number of pages, going from 64 to 52, then 36, and even 32!  And you still had to pay a dime.  The page count went up and down.

They also cut down on the frequency of issues.  The following year, towards the end of the war, WOW COMICS became a bi-monthly magazine, becomes a monthly again with issue #40 (January 1946), and after #41 (February 1946), which gained a new cover logo, the magazine's schedule fluctuates.  The cover logo changed yet again with #53 (April 1947), but after #58 (September 1947) it was all over.  Mary ended her run in WOW COMICS, though the magazine continued publishing without her until #70, when it became REAL WESTERN HERO.

Mary, with Freckles Dudley; MARY MARVEL #14 (July 1947).

But it wasn't all bad news: Mary Marvel was still featured in two other magazines.  She was at the peak of her popularity in the fall of 1945 when MARY MARVEL COMICS #1 (December 1945) hit the newsstands, and each issue of her new title contained four stories devoted exclusively to her own adventures.

It should be noted that at the end of the Mary Marvel story in WOW COMICS #11 (March 1943), an announcement read " out for the new, terrific MARY MARVEL MAGAZINE!  The 'Shazam Girl' now has her own comic magazine...on sale at your favorite newsstand February 17th!"  That magazine never made it to the stands.

An ad from CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #22 (March 1943) for a Mary Marvel comic of her own that never materialized -- not for another 21 months, anyways.

Concurrently with the first issue of MARY MARVEL COMICS, the first of what was to be 89 issues of THE MARVEL FAMILY hit the stands.  So, for a while at least, Mary Marvel was starring in three separate comic books, as were Captain Marvel (CAPTAIN  MARVEL ADVENTURES and WHIZ), and Junior (CAPTAIN MARVEL JR. and MASTER COMICS).

And then there was the merchandise.

Captain Marvel may have been outselling that Superman guy, but when it came to merchandise, the Big Red Cheese offered little competition, and Mary Marvel even less.  Still, there was Mary Marvel stationery, pins, iron-on patches, tattoo transfers, stamps, a lead figurine, note paper with envelopes, colouring books, toss bag, soap, a glow-in-the-dark picture; but by far the most popular items were the Mary Marvel wrist watch and the Mary Marvel statuette.

Mary Marvel stationery kit, contains 18 white envelopes and 18 sheets of paper, 7" x 8.5", 1946

Marvel Family statuettes box, 1946
statuettes box, side view

Mary Marvel 6-inch statuette, from the R. W. Kerr Co., 1946

die-cut fibreboard pin, 2.75" long, 1940s
Marvel Family flying toys, 1945

Mary Marvel flyer, 1945

sheet from the 2nd set of tattoo transfers, 1940s

Mary Marvel toss bag, 1940s

Above and below: Mary Marvel soap, 1947.  One bar is missing from the box, which proves the old proverb, "You can't have your cake and eat it."

Mary Marvel wrist watch, with price tag, 1948

Mary Marvel wrist watch; 1" diameter; luminous dial; chrome metal with vinyl-covered leather band (came in green, blue, red or brown), 1948

It could very well have been Mary Marvel's popularity that attracted her greatest enemy: Georgia Sivana!

Perhaps the greatest -- if silliest -- villain in comic book history was Dr. Sivana, "the world's maddest scientist", who also made his debut in the first issue of WHIZ COMICS, and became the archenemy of Captain Marvel.  His son, Sivana Jr., (who first appeared in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #52) became the archenemy of Captain Marvel Jr.  A month later, in MARY MARVEL COMICS #1, Georgia Sivana reared her ugly head.

Like her father and brother, Georgia Sivana was a scientific genius, with the same laugh ("Heh, heh, heh!").  Sivana's laugh sometimes gets a little weird ("Oh heh and heh, also hehhhh!").  And when the three of them work together, as they often did in THE MARVEL FAMILY, Sivana would titter "Heh, heh, heh!", followed by Sivana Jr. with "Heh, heh!" and Georgia with a simple "Heh!"  The Sivanas are amongst the few people that know the secret identities of the Marvels.

MARY MARVEL #1 (December 1945)

Mary meets Dr. Sivana for the first time in MARY MARVEL COMICS #1, and he makes her his floor-scrubbing slave after neutralizing her powers with a scientific apparatus of his own design.  She uses her wits to free herself and punches Sivana so hard he flies into the machine, smashing it to bits.  "Tell me, Sivana.  Could Captain Marvel or Captain Marvel Jr. do it any better than this?"  He begs on his hands and knees not to be struck again.

The lovely Georgia Sivana, from MARY MARVEL #23 (April 1948).

In the second tale of the same issue, Mary meets Georgia Sivana.  Mary is triumphant in the end, of course, and sends Georgia to a girls' reformatory school.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter; Georgia always pretends to be reformed so she can be released -- and Mary Marvel always buys it!  But then Georgia's true intentions -- to rule the world as Princess of the Earth, along with her father and brother -- become apparent, and Mary sends her back to reform school, in what seems to be a never-ending cycle.

But Georgia is just as formidable a foe as her father -- and just as psychotic.  In THE MARVEL FAMILY #23, she gleefully shoots a newspaper publisher point-blank in the head, blowing out his brains for refusing to sign his paper over to the Sivana family.  She was just as ugly on the inside as she was on the outside.  Frankly, she looked liked a gargoyle.  Could she have been just a wee bit jealous of pretty Mary Marvel?

Classic Jack Binder cover, for MARY MARVEL #5 (September 1946).

The 3rd issue of MARY MARVEL dropped the word "comics" from the title and sported a new logo.  With four Mary Marvel stories in her new title, Freckles Dudley was able to appear more often, and she had no trouble getting into trouble.

There were crossovers: Bulletman's sidekick, Bulletgirl (from MASTER COMICS), who somehow knows Mary's secret identity, and Mr. Scarlet's sidekick, Pinky (from WOW COMICS).  Mary even battled Dr. Riddle and the Weeper, old enemies of Bulletman and Bulletgirl, though the Weeper she encountered was actually the son of the original Weeper.  Billy Batson had a cameo in issue #5.  Mary Batson/Marvel made a few crossovers of her own, appearing in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #37, 43, 65 and 69.

Wonderful Christmas cover for MARY MARVEL #8 (December 1946).

In CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #43 (February 1945), Mary Batson (wearing one of her $2.98 dresses) introduces Billy to Uncle Dudley after telling him his secret: "He's really a fraud, but he's so good-hearted and lovable that I've never exposed him!  I pretend to believe him!"  Billy agrees to keep his secret.  Later, Captain Marvel and Uncle Dudley embark on their first adventure together.

MARY MARVEL #24 (May 1948)

In MARY MARVEL #24 (May 1948), she meets a promising new villain, the Nightowl, who has a ray gun that nullifies light, in an intriguing two-part story, but this particular villain never darkened Mary Marvel's doorstep again -- possibly because at the end of the story she beat his face in so badly, he ended up in the hospital entirely covered in bandages!

A bird of a different feather shows up in MARY MARVEL #28 (September 1948): The Hen, a cackling, murderous old spinster who leads a gang of criminals, who tremble before her.  They knew the pecking order.  As with the Nightowl, the Hen resembles the animal for which she's named.  The two-part story ends with the Hen disappearing under the paddle wheel of a boat, presumably drowned.  She returned in "The Crime Bubbles" in THE MARVEL FAMILY #34 (April 1949), in which she approaches Georgia Sivana about teaming up to get rid of Mary Marvel.  "Any enemy of Mary Marvel is a friend of mine!" says Georgia.

Woefully, this was the last issue of MARY MARVEL.  Now she was left with only one magazine that carried her adventures, THE MARVEL FAMILY.

MARVEL FAMILY COMICS #1 (December 1945).

The lead story in each issue of THE MARVEL FAMILY featured Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. in an adventure as a team, with separate stories for each character filling out the rest of the book.  Later, the solo adventures were dropped, and the lead feature expanded to three chapters, though occasionally they would return to the original format.  The artwork on the lead feature was supplied by Pete Costanza and C. C. Beck in the earlier issues, and Kurt Schaffenberger in the later issues.  Jack Binder usually handled the Mary Marvel solo stories.

Mary Marvel dominates this cover for THE MARVEL FAMILY #21 (March 1948).

With three Marvels sharing an adventure, the dangers were tripled.  Now, instead of just one asteroid hurtling towards the earth, there would be three.  And every time the kids were clubbed from behind so that they could be tied up and gagged, the club had to strike all three at once.  And, of course, the Marvels had three Sivanas to deal with. 

If their solo adventures seemed a bit silly, the MARVEL FAMILY yarns were completely preposterous!  Physics, geology, biology -- every scientific principal went out the window.  But the stories, as always, are told in such a simple, clear manner, that occasionally Dr. Sivana will point to a chart on the wall and spell out his fantastic schemes.

THE MARVEL FAMILY #34 (April 1949)

THE MARVEL FAMILY #1 (December 1945) introduced Black Adam, a villain as mighty as Captain Marvel.  In ancient times, Shazam had bestowed his powers to one whom he thought would be worthy, a fellow Egyptian named Teth-Adam, that he might be a champion in the never-ending battle against evil.  "Mighty Adam", he was called, and his costume was identical to Captain Marvel's, except black.

As is often the case, with great power comes great megalomania, and Mighty Adam's first order of business was to snap the pharaoh's neck like a twig and start planning world domination.  Shazam rechristens him "Black Adam" for this outrage, and banishes him to the edge of the universe.  It takes Black Adam 5,000 years to return.

And good ol' Mary Marvel: without a word, the moment she first lays eyes on Black Adam, she punches him in the face!  Now that's how you get things done.

Mary, who's known Black Adam for only a few seconds, gets right to the point, as usual; from THE MARVEL FAMILY #1 (December 1945).

Black Adam is eventually defeated -- by Uncle Marvel, no less, who'd tricked him into saying "Shazam!" so that he'd return to his mortal form.  Being 5,000 years old, he withers away to dust.

Perhaps due to the paper shortage, the 2nd issues of both MARY MARVEL and THE MARVEL FAMILY weren't published until six months later, bearing June 1946 cover dates.

Shazam plays a larger role in THE MARVEL FAMILY.  He -- or perhaps his spectre -- resides in a castle upon the Rock of Eternity, far away in space, where the lore of all ages, all the knowledge and wisdom of the universe, is stored in books and scrolls, and from there the old wizard hurls the lightning bolts that transform Billy, Mary and Freddy into the Marvels.  The Rock, which resembles a giant stalagmite, also binds the universe together -- destroy the Rock, and you destroy the universe.  The Marvels travel there when necessary, and need only whip around the Rock at a certain point to travel forwards or backwards in time.

The Rock of Eternity; THE MARVEL FAMILY #58 (April 1951).

Dr. Sivana, genius/homicidal maniac, is up to no good again on this cover for THE MARVEL FAMILY #46 (April 1950).  With his fantastic inventions, he could be the richest man in the world.  Instead he always gets a punch in the face and a jail cell at the end of every story he appears in.

Speaking of backwards in time, the 13-page "Mystery of the Living Statuettes", the lead feature in MARVEL FAMILY #51 (September 1950), was almost certainly a previously unpublished Mary Marvel story from either her own title or WOW COMICS, one in which Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. crossed over.

Fawcett had actually unleashed a third Marvel title, HOPPY THE MARVEL BUNNY #1 (December 1945), the same month that MARY MARVEL COMICS and THE MARVEL FAMILY debuted.  Hoppy, who made his debut as the lead feature in FUNNY ANIMALS #1 (December 1942) and lived in Animalville, teamed up with Mary Marvel for "The Asteroid Adventure" in THE MARVEL FAMILY #28 (October 1948).

King Kull, from THE MARVEL FAMILY #67 (January 1952).

Things got a little more serious in THE MARVEL FAMILY #67 (January 1952) when King Kull rose up once more from the bowels of the earth to destroy mankind.  30,000 years earlier he'd belonged to a different branch in the human tree of evolution, barbarians with great scientific knowledge.  But, despite their advanced weaponry, they were wiped out by cavemen, and Kull, the last of his kind, hid in a bunker far below the earth's surface, putting himself in a state of suspended animation, vowing to return when mankind was an advanced civilization -- so that his victory would be all the sweeter!

There was no doubt that King Kull was as evil as they came.  A shaggy black beard sprouted from his primitive face, a vicious grin revealed fangs next to his incisors, his brow topped with a horned helmet, on which perched a small skull.  A wide belt held a loincloth in place, and, though he was no match physically for any of the Marvels, his hirsute bulk could withstand a lot of punishment.  He would be defeated time and again, but in the end he always managed to escape to his underground lair.

King Kull made his first appearance in CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #125 (October 1951).  Writer Otto Binder, who had been a contributor to pulp magazines since 1930, was no doubt already familiar with Robert E. Howard's barbarian character named Kull, king of Valusia, who appeared in the magazine, WEIRD TALES.

Mary Batson wore her multi-coloured Mary Marvel gingham dress in the first issue of THE MARVEL FAMILY, and the fashion ads continued running for some time.

This vampire bat is about to mess up Mary's new hairdo.  THE MARVEL FAMILY #71 (May 1952) introduced a new costume for Mary Marvel, designed by Kurt Schaffenberger.  C.C. Beck restored the sleeves in the next issue.

It seems Shazam was something of a tailor himself.  Mary Marvel must have been surprised when she uttered the magic word and found herself wearing a new costume in THE MARVEL FAMILY #71 (May 1952).  Her new sleeveless dress had a shorter skirt and lower neckline, with yellow slippers instead of boots.  And, keeping up with the times, she also had shorter hair, though its more than likely that she went to a salon for her new do.  Shazam had to sew the sleeves back on for the next issue.

It's unknown what ever became of Mrs. Bromfield, Mary's stepmother.  She'd vanished long ago.  Billy Batson lived with Ma and Pa Potter, but so, inexplicably, did Mary Batson towards the end of the MARVEL FAMILY's run.  In the end, through some unfortunate circumstances, Ma and Pa Potter were unable to care for the twins, and they had to leave.  Fortunately, they were welcomed at the boarding house where Freddy Freeman lived, under the care of Mrs. Wagner.

From MARY MARVEL #16 (September 1947).

But it wasn't just their home that came crashing down around them, it was their entire existence.  For a number of reasons -- television and a comic book witch-hunt among them -- Fawcett's line of comics were in great decline, and there was a three-month gap between THE MARVEL FAMILY #88 (October 1953) and the last issue, #89 (January 1954).

The final nail in the coffin was when DC won an appeal in their lawsuit against Fawcett.  Rather than go to trial trying to preserve a line of comics that they were probably going to discontinue anyway, Fawcett settled out of court, paying $400,000 in damages and agreeing never to publish Captain Marvel again.  If only they'd been more like the World's Mightiest Girl.  She wouldn't have gone down without a fight.

And so ends the saga of Fawcett's Mary Marvel!


Anonymous said...

Go Mary Marvel

Adelino P. Silva said...

Lindo blog.
A reader

/\/ /\ \/ /\ said...

What a wonderful and amazing post!
Thank you so much for sharing!

Big thumbs up from Mexico,

NAVA @historietologo