Brand Echh – Captain Marvel #1

Here’s a book that pissed off both Marvel and DC’s brass–both for different reasons. It’s also a really good example of the kinds of schlock that started to turn up on newsstands as novice publishers began trying to jump onto the pop art super hero craze that kicked off in the mid-1960s. There are no two ways about it, this is a bad comic book.

Publisher Myron Fass was responsible for putting out this new Captain Marvel, trading on the name of the well-remembered Big Red Cheese who had been put out of business in 1953 by a lawsuit from rival DC Comics. But this Captain Marvel had none of the charm or the whimsy of the original. He was just a cheap knock-off, trying to cash in on the more popular character’s name (to say nothing of the name of Marvel Comics, which were on the rise at this time.)

This new Captain Marvel was conceived by Carl Burgos, who is better remembered as the creator of the original Human Torch. At around this time, Burgos was attempting to recapture the copyright to the Torch, a situation that was vexing to Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, who moved to block any such thing from happening. Whether this played any role in Burgos’ work in contributing to this new Captain Marvel is unclear.

Captain Marvel had one of the lousiest super-powers in the history of comics. Recalling Billy Batson’s magic word, this Captain Marvel could detatch parts of his own body to fly off and act independently upon uttering the command SPLIT! When he cried XAM!, his missing pieces would reattach themselves. Like the Torch, Burgos’ Captain Marvel was an artificial man.

The actual work on this story was produced by Roger Elwood and Leon Franco, although it’s likely that Burgos did touch-ups and made adjustments throughout the issue.

Not content with appropriating the name Captain Marvel, Fass would go on to feature characters in this and later issues called Plastic Man, Dr. Fate, the Bat and others. A strongly-worded communication from DC’s lawyers got these characters renamed in future installments–Plastic Man became Elastic Man, for instance, and the Bat became The Ray. This issue was thus also responsible for motivating DC to dust off Plastic man and to feature him in the DIAL H FOR HERO strip running in HOUSE OF MYSTERY as a way or reiterating their ownership of the character, thus bringing him back from obscurity.

Reading this story is only marginally more exciting than perusing an instruction manual.

This Captain Marvel has a young friend named Billy Baxton. It’s almost surprising that Fass and Burgos didn’t go all the way and make him Batson. He looks positively evil in that final panel on this page.

Like the Tower books, Fass issued CAPTAIN MARVEL in an oversized 25 cent format, which didn’t do its sell-through any favors on the already-clogged newsstands. A couple different publishers made a go with this format at this time, none of them successfully.

There were six issues of this version of CAPTAIN MARVEL, the final two becoming CAPTAIN MARVEL PRESENTS THE TERRIBLE FIVE–possibly the most accurately-named comic book ever–in which a quintet of the Captain’s past foes joined forces in an attempt to wipe him out.

ADDITIONAL: Here’s a Wall Street Journal item from 1968 after Marvel had come out with its own Captain Marvel, causing Myron Fass to sue.

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