Back Issues: Marvel Family Comics #1

Story Title: “The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!”
December 1945
Writer: Otto Binder
Artists: C.C. Beck

The Background:
Following the incredible success of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman over in National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics), Fawcett Publications desired their own colourful superheroes to get in on the new craze. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, each sporting the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, Ralph Daigh made the executive decision to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. Originally dubbed “Captain Thunder” and debuting in a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics, trademark issues led to artist Pete Costanza suggesting the alternative name of “Captain Marvelous”, soon shortened to Captain Marvel, and the character was a big success for the publisher. Captain Marvel soon became a franchise all unto himself thanks to sharing his powers with a colourful extended family and, about six years after his debut, he and his Marvel Family met their dark opposite in the form of Teth-Adam/Black Adam, who had the same magical as the Big Red Cheese but was corrupted by greed and power. In his original form, Black Adam only appeared once in Fawcett’s original run but saw a new lease of life after the publisher was absorbed into DC Comics; under the direction of the likes of Jerry Ordway, Geoff Johns, and Peter J. Tomasi, Black Adam became a complex and aggressive anti-hero, one who was at times as reprehensible as the villains he opposed, and who was capable of great love and loyalty but also nigh-unstoppable wrath. Ranked as one of the most interesting anti-heroes in comicdom, Black Adam has also featured in many of DC’s animated ventures and, after nearly twenty years of Development Hell, finally set to make his live-action debut in 2022 with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the role.

The Review:
By the time of this story, Captain Marvel had already shared his awesome powers (which grant him the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury whenever he shouts the magic word “Shazam!”) with his crippled friend, Freddie Freeman, his long-lost sister, Mary Bromfield to create a superhero family with them as the similarly powered and attired Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel alongside former con artist Dudley H. Dudley as the non-powered Uncle Marvel. As the story progresses, we’re treated to a recap of how this is possible but it’s basically thanks to the blessing of the Wizard, himself also called Shazam, who resides in a magical realm known as the Rock of Eternity. Billy’s first encounter with the Wizard literally amounted to him being summoned there, being bestowed with God-like powers, and then being directed by the Wizard’s spirit to put those powers to good use as Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. After saving Freddie’s life, Billy brought him to the Wizard and he was similarly empowered, while Mary was just able to transform simply because she shared Billy’s bloodline and the trio accepted Uncle Marvel as an honorary member/mascot because he means well despite his lack of superpowers. Quite how the Wizard is able to carve Captain Marvel’s continued adventures despite being a ghost is beyond me, but the mysterious old mystic also carries the burden of failure from his first champion, whom he called Mighty Adam before he turned to evil, was rechristened Black Adam, and banished to “the farthest star” for his crimes.

Black Adam returns for revenge after being exiled for thousands of years.

Before that can come back to bite Captain Marvel in the ass, though, our story switches over to the Big Red Cheese’s youthful alter ego, star child newscaster Billy Batson, who’s sent to the “astronomical observatory” to investigate reports of an unidentified object that’s hurtling its way towards Earth. While viewing the object (which is apparently traveling at the speed of light, which seems like something you wouldn’t be able to tell with a telescope such as this), Billy is forced to transform into Captain Marvel to save the astronomers life when his damaged telescope threatens to crush him. Freddie then returns the favour by saving Billy from being run over by a couple when they’re distracted by something flying overheard, which turns out to be the sinister Black Adam. Garbed in a black version of Captain Marvel’s costume (sans the cape) and sporting a widow’s peak and a permanent scowl, Black Adam has returned to Earth after five-thousand years of space travel hell-bent on conquering the planet. He wastes no time in causing an affray, blocking traffic, swiping aside cops, proving impervious to gunfire, and even breaking a cop’s back over his knee before Captain Marvel Jr. intercepts him. though momentarily amazed by the flying boy’s appearance, both Black Adam and Captain Marvel Jr. are stunned to find their powers are equally matched; when Captain Marvel joins the fray, his punch does stagger Black Adam but that’s about it as the three are equally matched in terms of power. Shocked to find that he’s no longer the most powerful man on Earth, Black Adam chooses to lose himself in the passing crowd so he can rethink his strategy and, after witnessing the two Marvels transform back and head to the Wizard for council, follows the two to get the revenge he has craved for centuries.

Despite all his great power, Black Adam is easily tricked into a defeat.

The Wizard’s spirit is distraught to learn of Black Adam’s return and regretfully tells them the story of how, five-thousand years ago, he bestowed the power of the Gods upon Teth-Adam and charged him with fighting the evils of the world as Might Adam. However, the Wizard chose poorly; the power immediately corrupted Mighty Adam, easily allowing him to overpower the Pharaoh’s guards and then snap his neck to claim himself ruler of Egypt! Mighty Adam’s reign was ridiculously short-lived, however, as the Wizard immediately showed up, dubbed him Black Adam, and banished him from Earth. It took the Wizard five-thousand years to figure out that his mistake was empowering a man, rather than a pure-hearted child, and he also underestimated Black Adam’s ability to breathe and fly through space, meaning it now falls to the Marvels to undo the Wizard’s mistakes. Unfortunately for the boys, Black Adam strikes at that very moment, choosing to bound and gag them and then plan to kill them to stick it to the Wizard (again, kind of daft as he could’ve just killed them on the spot but then we wouldn’t have a story, I guess…). However, after learning of Billy and Freddie’s disappearance, Mary and Dudley decide to ask the Wizard for help and arrive just in time to help fight with Black Adam; although Uncle Marvel is no match for Black Adam, he does untie the boys while Mary tries to fight him but Black Adam remains unfazed even when all three of them attack him at once! In the end, though, it’s Uncle Marvel who saves the day; after the Wizard relates that the only way to stop Black Adam is to force him to say his magic word, Uncle Marvel’s buffoonery is enough to trick Black Adam into doing so! Captain Marvel then delivers a good wallop to Teth-Adam’s face and the Marvels look on as the would-be tyrant’s body withers and decays before their eyes, apparently ending Black Adam’s threat once and for all.

The Summary:
One of the big appealing factors of Captain Marvel’s comics from this time was the artwork; C.C. Beck employs a cartoony, almost “rubber hose” style aesthetic that really helps the art and characters to pop out almost as much as their brightly coloured costumes, though the backgrounds and level of detail are noticeably lacking. This isn’t unusual for comic books of this time, but it is quite noticeable here, especially in the Rock of Eternity, which is an especially bland and lifeless environment save for the ridiculous depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins and the crude explanation of Shazam’s powers carved into the wall. Interestingly, if you’ve never read a Captain Marvel story before, “The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!” is actually a good place to start as the story wastes quite a bit of time recapping Billy, Freddie, and Mary’s origins when it could have been showcasing the villain of the piece a little more.

As brutal as Black Adam is, he doesn’t really get to do much and is defeated very easily.

Black Adam is built up reasonably well; right from the beginning, it’s clear that the Wizard carries a great deal of shame and regret for having made a mistake in empowering Teth-Adam and his looming threat remains in the background amidst such hijinks as a collapsing telescope and inattentive driver. Once he arrives, he certainly makes a visual impression; I always like it when a villain or anti-hero wears a dark version of a hero’s costume and the black really works for Black Adam. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really do all that much; he just kind stands around, laughing and mocking any attempts to harm him and easily manhandling any mortals who stand in his way. He does, however, show a mean streak that was actually rather shocking, even considering how morally ambiguous comics could be back then; Black Adam snaps a guy’s spine and breaks a guy’s neck, which is pretty brutal considering he uses his bare hands, but sadly that’s about as far as his actions go. He’s banished by the Wizard as soon as he seizes the throne and there isn’t really a proper fight between him and the Marvels since none of them can really harm or even faze the other, meaning he has to be duped into depowering himself, which seems like something even the arrogant and haughty Black Adam just wouldn’t fall for. I guess it works as a comedic twist of fate to have the bungling Uncle Marvel stumble upon the solution, but I also feel like there could’ve been a better way to neutralise Black Adam’s threat.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Were you a fan of Black Adam’s debut story? What did you think to the way he was portrayed, and defeated? Do you agree that the story was unnecessarily padded? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Black Adam stories and moments? Are you excited for Black Adam’s live-action debut? Whatever your thoughts on Black Adam and Captain Marvel, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

2 thoughts on “Back Issues: Marvel Family Comics #1

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