Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Captain Marvel's Golden Age Publishing History

Captain Marvel made his first appearance in Fawcett's Whiz Comics #2 (actually Whiz Comics #1, listen to the 2nd Episode of the Superman & Captain Marvel Power Hour Podcast for details), and continued to be a mainstay in Whiz Comics for the duration of its publishing history. The series ran from February 1940 (first issue, Whiz #2* actually went on sale in December 1939) and ended with issue #155 in early 1953. In addition to featuring Captain Marvel every issue, the anthology series also starred other prominent Golden Age Fawcett action heroes like Golden Arrow, Spy Smasher, Ibis the Invincible, and Dan Dare. It wasn't long before Captain Marvel's popularity rose to Superman-like levels, warranting his own solo comic book as well, under the name Captain Marvel Adventures, which debuted in January 1941, just 13 months after the World's Mightiest Mortal broke onto the scene. Like all comics at the time, Captain Marvel Adventures was still an anthology title, meaning that most issues featured 3-4 tales starring the World's Mightiest Mortal. Captain Marvel Adventures ran a whopping 150 issues before ending in August 1953. During that time, the series even eclipsed Superman's sales numbers, becoming the highest circulated comic book magazine of the Golden Age!

Now as Captain Marvel's popularity grew, so did the demand for his supporting characters like Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. Both characters were featured in anthology books starring other characters like Wow Comics (Mary Marvel) and Master Comics (Captain Marvel Jr.) as well as their own solo series. But even that wasn't enough, a third ongoing comic book starring all 3 wielders of the Power of Shazam was launched in 1945 titled Marvel Family. This series ran 89 issues and followed the adventures of Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and the man they affectionately referred to as Uncle Dudley. This series like Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures, also ceased publication in 1953, when Fawcett had decided that the ongoing "Likeness Suit" with DC was no longer worth continuing from a financial standpoint.
In addition to the Whiz Comics, Captain Marvel Adventures, and Marvel Family ongoing series starring Billy Batson and his super-powered other self Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel also headlined a number of special anthology series comics and promotion comics.

There was the 8 issue series America's Greatest Comics, that ran 100 pages and featured Captain Marvel alongside other fascist smashing patriotic heroes like Bulletman (another one of my favorites), Minute Man, Spy Smasher, Captain Midnight, Golden Arrow, and Mr. Scarlet. This quarterly title debuted in the fourth quarter of 1941 and ran until the summer of 1943.

Those 100 pagers paled in size to the enormous 300+ page counts of the Gift Comics and X-MAS Comics. The series Gift Comics ran 4 issues, released irregularly from 1942 to late 1949, the first 3 issues boasted a whopping 324 page counts, with the 4th issue much smaller in size but still containing 144 pages. X-MAS Comics is just like it sounds, another huge anthology series, released fairly regularly around the Christmas season every year. Like Gift Comics, the initial issues of X-MAS Comics boasted over 300 pages of content. The series debuted in November 1941, and then saw issue #2 released in December of 1942. After that, the series took a 5 year hiatus before returning in 1947, and then having an annual released starting with issue #4 in November 1949, through issue #7 in November of 1952. I would suspect that the hiatus of the title after the second issue in 1942 was perhaps due to paper shortage during World War II. Obviously that would make it a little more difficult to pump out a 300+ page publication in high print runs.

The X-MAS Comics series weren't the only Christmas-themed comics to star the Big Red Cheese, in addition to the giant X-MAS Comics issues and the holiday themed stories from his Captain Marvel Adventures ongoing title like CMA #19 & #42, there was also the 196 page one-shot Holiday Comics #1 from 1942. Unfortunately very few of these giant anthology comics seemed to survive to present day, so the exact contents of each issue are not known. There are rumors that the exact contents, or order they appeared in, may have varied slightly from copy to copy, that's bound to happen when you're talking about a 300 page comic book decades before the idea of a trade paperback or hardcover collection was even dreamed about for comic material. Given the nature of a lot of holiday themed comics, even into the mid 1970's, it's reasonable to assume that in addition to comic stories, these collections also probably had games and activities inside for children. Other one-shots include 1940's Special Edition Comics #1 and the 1950 one-shot Captain Marvel and the Good Humor Man.

Between these three monthly titles and numerous specials published over a 14 year span, Billy Batson had upwards of 500 hundred adventures as the World's Mightiest Mortal. Think about that, HUNDREDS of stories. I'd have to go back and count, and perhaps some day I will, but I would estimate it's somewhere in the ballpark of 700 stories from his Whiz Comics debut in December 1939 to when Fawcett ceased publication of Captain Marvel with Marvel Family #89 in September of 1953. This would make Captain Marvel both the most prominently published and highest selling comic book character during the Golden Age!

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