Story Title: “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.”
Published: December 1941
Writer: Ed Herron
Artists: C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy
After National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics) saw incredible success with their flagship superheroes, Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications desired to get in on the fad with their own colourful superheroes. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, each with the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, Ralph Daigh made the executive decision to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. This magical superhero originally went by “Captain Thunder” and debuted in a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics, however trademark issues saw Pete Costanza rechristening him as “Captain Marvelous”, which soon became Captain Marvel, and the character was a big success for the publisher. It wouldn’t be long before the initial concept of a team of magically-empowered heroes soon came to pass with the creation of the the Lieutenant Marvels; soon, though, Captain Marvel was sharing his powers with a colourful extended family, including his bungling uncle and a talking tiger, of all things, butit all began with a young boy named Freddy Freeman. It was editor Ed Herron who wanted Captain Marvel to have a teenage sidekick, and Freddy was purposefully written to shout his idol’s name every time he transformed to remind kids to buy Fawcett’s comics. Unlike Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. remained a teenager even when transformed and is rendered a cripple in his mortal form, making him slightly more reliant on his superpowers. Captain Marvel Jr. has forged a pretty decent legacy for himself, serving on teams such as the Outsiders and the Teen Titans. He even once graduated (albeit all-too-briefly) into the role of Captain Marvel, was one of many inspirations for Elvis Presley, made a handful of appearances in DC’s animated ventures, and was portrayed by Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody in the critical and financial success that was Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019)
The big story of “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” is the reign of terror being perpetrated by Master Comics’ Albrecht Krieger/Captain Nazi, a supercriminal whose powers are apparently comparable to those of Bill Batson/Captain Marvel and who has been “cutting a path of sabotage and destruction” ever since he “[smashed] his way in” from Master Comics. Plucky boy reporter Billy is in the middle of informing the audience (both inter- and metatextual) of Captain Marvel’s previous entanglements with the superpowered Nazi when his broadcast is interrupted by Sterling Morris, the head of Whiz radio station, who dashes in in a panic because Captain Nazi is at their sending station! In the time between Captain Marvel’s debut appearance and this story, it appears that Morris has been clued in on Billy’s dual identity as Billy transforms into Captain Marvel with his magic word (“Shazam!”) right in front of his boss. That’s not the only think that’s changed, though, as Captain Marvel can now fly at supersonic speeds, which means he’s able to dash over to the sending station in a flash and, once there, he finds that Captain Nazi is delivering an ominous threat over the airwaves to every superpowered do-gooder out there.
In a bid to disrupt Captain Nazi’s hate-mongering message, Billy’s fearless co-worker, Whitey Murphy, climbs up the broadcast tower, only to, of course, immediately be victimised by the garishly-clad and unnecessarily theatrical villain. As Captain Marvel flies up to rescue Whitey, Captain Nazi hurls his hostage right at the Big Red Cheese like a projectile, but luckily the white-haired newshound is only stunned (even though, realistically, he should’ve been mushed to paste as it’s not like Captain Marvel actually caught him…) Despite Whitey’s conviction and Captain Marvel’s resolve to make his rival pay, Captain Navi is long gone by the time our hero gets his ass back up there and, after a brief search, decides to simply wait for the villain to show himself again. After a couple of days without any sight or sound of the “One-Man-Blitz”, Billy can only speculate about when or where Captain Nazi will strike next, which just so happens to be at the activation ceremony of a new hydroelectric dam, an event that Billy (oddly dressed in blue for one panel…) just happens to be covering. Captain Nazi sabotages the turbines, causing them to rage out of control, and Captain Marvel finally manages to confront the maniac, who shows no fear and is unimpressed with his rival’s threats because he knows that Captain Marvel won’t waste time fighting him when hundreds of lives and millions of dollars are at stake. With the speed of Mercury, Captain Marvel bursts into dam and uses the mighty strength of Zeus to grind the out of control turbines to a halt; he even apologises for the damage he caused in the process, though the Major is more than grateful for the lives the Big Red Cheese saved. Although Captain Nazi managed to escape again, he strikes once more during a test flight for a new secret fighter plane and, wouldn’t you know it, Billy’s on scene again when Captain Nazi starts throttling the pilot and putting the plane in a death dive!
This time, Captain Marvel is able to correct the plane’s descent, levelling it out and causing Captain Nazi to black out from the sudden force. Finally getting his hands on the One-Man-Blitz, Captain Marvel sends his unconscious foe flying with a powerful uppercut. Unfortunately, Captain Nazi lands in the nearby bay and is hauled out by a kindly old man who’s out fishing with his grandson, Frederick “Freddy” Freeman. The old man’s kindness is repaid with a superpowered bitch slap that sends him tumbling into the water, fatally it turns out; when Freddy tries to attack Captain Nazi in a fight of rage, he too is smacked aside like a gnat. Thankfully, Freddy’s unconscious body is found by Captain Marvel, who spirits him to a hospital, barging right through the wall when a doctor denies him entry! After an indeterminate amount of time waiting to hear about Freddy’s condition, Billy is horrified to learn that the lad’s back is broken and that he’s expected to either be a cripple for the rest of his life or to pass away during the night. Perhaps feeling responsible for Freddy’s gruesome fate (and rightfully so), Billy steals him away in the middle of the night (despite the fact that his manhandling of Freddy would probably exacerbate the boy’s condition…) and takes him, via the strange subway train, to the ancient cavern of the wizard Shazam. Conjuring the spirit of the ages-old sorcerer, Billy begs the wizard to intervene and help save Freddy’s life and, while he can’t undo what Captain Nazi has done, the old sage bids Billy to speak his magic word and, when Freddy sets his eyes on the Mightiest Man in the World and speaks his name, he’s transformed into a similarly-clad teenage superhero. Restored to full health and gifted with the same powers as Captain Marvel (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), Freddy is dubbed Captain Marvel, Jr and (between panels) made privy to Billy’s secret identity. Although Freddy’s human form is still stunted by a crippled leg, Captain Marvel charges his young ward with joining him in the battle against evil and offers to send him over to Master Comics to confront and defeat Captain Nazi once and for all.
“The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” was part of a crossover event that depicted the efforts of Captain Nazi to cause chaos and destruction all across Fawcett’s publications. As a result, the story really doesn’t delve too deeply into Captain Nazi’s name, origin, or even his powers; he’s apparently able to fly and is definitely depicted as having superhuman strength and resilience, but the limits of his abilities or how he came to be are not answered in this story. I feel that’s a moot point, though, as a supervillain carrying the name “Captain Nazi” really doesn’t need much clarifying. He’s the superpowered arm of the Third Reich, vehemently opposed to good and justice in all its forms and intent on proving the superiority of the Axis Powers using his superior strength. However, this does fall apart a little bit throughout this particular story; Captain Nazi takes control of the airwaves (something that seems to be a running theme in Captain Marvel’s comics….) to deliver empty threats and his plan to destroy the dam is easily thwarted. It might’ve been better if he’d destroyed the radio tower, killing some innocents, and then burst open the dam himself, rather than sending the turbines out of control; his attempt to down the test plane also lacked some agency to me, but there’s no doubt that he’s a violent and unhinged psychopath. Captain Nazi killed at least two people in this story, almost killed a third, and threatened countless lives at the dam, but then again he did also black out after a shift in gravity so…
Once again, the artwork is pretty stellar in this story. There’s a simplicity to C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy’s style that, again, falters with backgrounds (especially Shazam’s cave) but shines in characters and their Max Fleischer-esque facial expressions. Captain Nazi might not be blessed with the most intimidating outfit (a pitch-black Schutzstaffel uniform with blood-red accents would’ve been far better in my opinion) but Captain Marvel has improved a lot from his debut; now showcasing his mighty speed and strength, he’s a well-known and beloved superhero. The “wisdom of Solomon” appears to extend to him sounding more like an adult when transformed, referring to Freddy as a “youngster” and echoing the trustworthiness of Superman, though he’s still a bit impulsive and reckless. This is best reflected in him just punting Captain Nazi away without thought to the damage he could cause, which directly impacts poor Freddy. It’s bad enough that Freddy doesn’t actually get a name in this story, but he has to watch his grandfather be murdered before his eyes and is then left at death’s door or facing a life as an invalid. Thankfully, he’s renewed by Shazam’s magic, transforming into a blue facsimile of Captain Marvel and ready to get a measure of revenge against Captain Nazi. Captain Marvel, Jr has always been a bit of an oddity to me; it’s not explained why he remains a teenager when transformed (I’d assume it’s because he only has a portion of Shazam’s powers, or received them second-hand, but the story explicitly states that he has “all the powers [Captain Marvel] has”) and this kind of flies in the face of the wish fulfilment that’s central to Captain Marvel (say a magic word and a small child, the target audience, becomes an all-powerful, adult superman). I guess it speaks to a different kind of wish fulfilment, though; the youngers reading the comics want to emulate their heroes so it makes sense to have teenaged superheroes, and Freddy’s lame leg adds a level of representation that’s rare for comics from this era. Overall, this is an enjoyable enough story; it’s more like a series of madcap vignettes as Captain Marvel tries to defeat the sadistic Captain Nazi and the appearance of Captain Marvel, Jr comes far too late for it to properly have as much impact as it could but it’s very colourful and we get to see a Nazi scumbag get punched in the face!
What did you think to Captain Marvel, Jr’s debut story? Did you like the idea of boy/man superhero Captain Marvel having a teen sidekick? What did you think to Captain Nazi as a villain and the evil acts he perpetrated in this story, and the crossover? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Captain Marvel, Jr stories and moments? Whatever your thoughts Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.
3 thoughts on “Back Issues: Whiz Comics #25”