The Blue Boy
The three Lieutenant Marvels reappeared several times as a sort of novelty act, but never got their own regular feature. However, the next spin-off character of the Captain Marvel franchise did, breaking new ground and charting new territory for super heroes in general and the Marvel family in particular.
From the end of his first year onward, Captain Marvel took on the Nazi threat. Though at first it was against a thinly-disguised enemy called “Gnazis,” soon the Captain was destroying tanks and ripping apart airplanes with swastikas all over them. On the effective eve of Pearl Harbor, Adolph Hitler himself appeared to introduce the world to “The one and only Captain Nazi!” (Master Comics #21, December 1941).
This hero of the Third Reich (and villain to the rest of the world) was created by Nazi science. He was super-strong, invulnerable, and with the help of a special “flying gas,” able to fly. He was sent to America to destroy such heroes as Captain Marvel, Bulletman, Spy Smasher, and Minute Man. After a slugfest with Marvel, Nazi wound up being fished out of the ocean by an old man and his grandson, teenager Freddy Freeman. He killed the old man and wounded the boy so badly that by the time Captain Marvel was able to get him to a hospital, the doctors were doubtful that he would live through the night, and if he did he would be a cripple for life.
Billy Batson took a desperate chance. He carried Freddy to the abandoned subway tunnel where he had met old Shazam who had bestowed on him the power to change into Captain Marvel.
Billy begged the ghost of the old wizard to help the dying boy. Shazam replied, in a somewhat awkward bit of prose, “…you, as Captain Marvel, can, if you will, pass on to this poor boy some of the mighty powers I once gave you. Speak my name!” The magic lightning flashed, thunder roared, Shazam vanished, and Captain Marvel stood before Freddy Freeman. The boy woke up and said “why it-it’s Captain Marvel!”
Once again there was a flash of magic lightning and Freddy Freeman was transformed into Captain Marvel Jr., the World’s Mightiest Boy!
Captain Marvel Jr. immediately took over the lead feature in Master Comics. Master Comics had been an experiment by Fawcett in comic book formats. One month after the release of the first Whiz Comics, Fawcett released Master Comics, an oversized book for 15 cents. They also released Nickel Comics, a smaller-sized book for 5 cents that came out every two weeks, and Slam Bang Comics, a standard-sized comic. None of these bold experiments performed as well as their creators had hoped. Master was too big for small kids, Nickel was unpopular with dealers, who had to handle twice as many for the same amount of profit, and almost all of the characters in all these comics proved unmemorable. However, the character of Bulletman in Nickel actually was popular enough to survive to 1949, a longer life than any other non-Marvel Family Fawcett character. Created by Bill Parker and drawn by John Smalle, he was a police scientist named Jim Barr who had invented a serum that gave him increased strength and intelligence. He subsequently invented a “gravity helmet” that gave him the ability to fly and also attracted bullets, rendering them harmless.
It is worth noting that Master Comics’ initial lead feature was Master Man (drawn by noted artist of pulp and legit magazines Harry Fiske), a campy super human hero whose power came from being given a massive dose of vitamins. The satirical flavor of the hero was established right away by the position of his right hand on the woman he was carrying on the cover of Master Comics #1 and the grin on his face. Detective Comics (the publishers of Superman) threatened a lawsuit right away, claiming the character was too close to Superman, and Fawcett stopped the feature after just a few issues.
After a few months of low sales, Fawcet cancelled Nickel and Slam-Bang, re-formatted Master into a normal sized comic, and took the best features of all three to fill it. Bulletman was the lead feature.
In the Bulletman stories, the hero fought urban crime, working with the chief of police and attracting the attention of the chief’s daughter, Susan Kent. By the 13th issue of Master Comics, she joined him in his battles as Bulletgirl, with her own gravity helmet. This was the first super-powered female companion hero in comics, predating DC’s Hawkgirl by 8 months. In 1943, a young companion joined the pair as Bulletboy; and, pre-dating Krypto the Superdog by over a decade, even a Bulletdog.
The success and quality of Bulletman earned him his own title from 1941-46 and allowed him to keep a place in Master Comics until 1949. He was replaced on the cover through the teen numbers of Master by Minute-Man, a star-spangled, spy battling, patriotic one man army. This lasted until Issue # 21, when Bulletman returned to the cover, joined by Captain Marvel and Captain Nazi, beginning the three-part epic that introduced Captain Nazi and Captain Marvel Jr.
Fawcett Editor Ed Herron conceived of the concept of a younger Marvel, having worked on such comics as Captain America (who had a kid sidekick, Bucky) and other comics with boy super heroes. The first stories were written by William Woolfolk, a writer who had sold some stories to slick magazines before working for a variety of comics. From the start this young Marvel was to be different from both Captain Marvel and other boy heroes. This one was neither a younger version of his adult counterpart, nor was he a sidekick.
Unlike the original Captain, Junior’s appearance was exactly the same as his alter-ego, Freddy Feeman. His suit was blue with a red cape, rather than red with a white cape. Though he had all the same powers as Captain Marvel, his transformation was brought about by saying the name “Captain Marvel,” rather than “Shazam.” This put our new young hero into the unique position of not being able to say his name without losing his powers through transformation.
Freddy Freeman appeared to be slightly older than Billy Batson. He was certainly taller, and more of a “lone wolf” type of character. Whereas Billy was described by Fawcett’s 1942 writing guidelines as of indeterminate age (“don’t ever state his real age – that would spoil a reader’s conception of Billy as being his own age, or younger, or older, as he may prefer to believe”) but with the “reactions and characteristics of a boy of 14, Freddy was stated to be 14 years old. Billy was a popular radio personality, having lots of fans and being friendly with his boss and co-workers. Freddy was a crippled orphan, living in a shabby attic, wearing ragged clothes, and selling newspapers on the street (one wonders why Billy wouldn’t help his fellow Marvel out with a better-paying job or a new apartment or something, but apparently that did not bother the readers, or writers, much). While Billy and Captain Marvel would battle evil scientists and would-be world conquerors or have whimsy satirical stories about super-herodom, Freddy and Captain Marvel Jr. were cut out for more “tear-jerker” type stories, helping orphans, or stretching into fantasy, aiding brownies being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous carnival boss, for instance.
The look of Captain Marvel Junior stories was intended to be different as well. Instead of maintaining the simple C.C. Beck style, the Fawcett editors selected Emanuel “Mac” Raboy to draw his stories. Raboy had a very graceful linear style, with lots of shading, flowing lines, and a tendency to draw his heroes with delicate, almost pretty faces. The look was not far from Alex Raymond’s work on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip, and in fact, Mac Raboy did work on that strip for several years. At his best, his drawings looked like graceful, dreamlike illustrations of fairy tales. Unfortunately, he was also known for working very slowly, and sometimes his work was filled out by assistants with stats of certain panels or figure poses pasted here and there. Also the easy flow of storytelling sometimes suffered for the beauty of the individual pictures. But Raboy’s art made a strong impact, and Captain Marvel, Jr. was associated with that style. In guest appearances in other books, the character was sometimes drawn in an imitation of Raboy’s style, which looked a little funny next to a Beck-style Captain Marvel.
Jim Steranko, in his History of Comics, relates an interesting incident recalled by editor Rod Reed. He uses it to illustrate Raboy’s affinity for the underdog, and it also shows an example of how race relations were treated in the comics.
Mac Raboy drew a scene of a birthday party for Freddy Freeman that included a black child among the attendees. A Fawcett editor told him to remove it because the sight of a black boy at a white birthday party would offend people in the South. Raboy agreed to remove the background character but never did, and thus he appeared in the printed comic. The feared uproar never occurred, and the event was soon forgotten. So Raboy had drawn what may possibly be the first integrated scene in comic books.
Captain Marvel Jr. became and remained very popular. He was featured in Master Comics and got his own comic in November of 1942. Both titles lasted until the end of Fawcett Comics in 1953. It is said that young Elvis Presley was quite enamored of the look of Jr. and asked a barber to cut his hair like him. It is occasionally possible to see the prototype of the dark, pretty eyes of the King of Rock & Roll in Mac Raboy’s portraits of the World’s Mightiest Boy.
Otto Binder was brought onto the Captain Marvel Jr. project by editor Wendell Crowley. His job was to build a more specific framework into which the stories could be placed. Binder outdid himself. He set up a full neighborhood full of businesses and people with which Freddy Freeman would interact with on any given day. He even drew a map of the neighborhood. He gave Freddy a regular newsstand and a paper route, and every story began and ended with Freddy writing in his journal.
Mac Raboy moved on to other work in comics, ultimately landing his job on Flash Gordon. Other artists such as Bud Thompson and Kurt Schaffenberger took on the Captain Marvel Jr. assignment.
Go to the outline of Captain Marvel history
Chapter 1: The Captain and the Major
Chapter 2: The Big Blue Guy
Chapter 3: The Big Red Guy
Chapter 4: Early Captain Marvel
Chapter 5: Powers and Personality
Chapter 6: Going Hollywood
Chapter 7: Friends and foes: The Lietenant Marvels
Chapter 8: Friends and Foes: Captain Marvel Junior
Chapter 9: Friends and Foes: Mary Marvel
Chapter 10: Friends and Foes: Mr. Tawny
Chapter 11: Friends and Foes: Dr. Sivana
Chapter 12: Mr Mind
Chapter 13: Friends and Foes: Other Foes
Chapter 14: Enter the Binder
Chapter 15: Superman V. Captan Marvel
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