PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Captain Marvel vs. The Monster Society of Racism

The PopCulteer
August 10, 2018

This week’s PopCulteer is an example of the concept of mixed feelings. I finally got the chance to read a series of comic book stories that I’ve wanted to experience for over four decades…and they have major moral and ethical issues.

I have made no secret of the fact that my all-time favorite super hero is Captain Marvel. I’m talking about the original Captain Marvel, the one known as “Shazam” by the uneducated masses. Created for Fawcett Comics in 1940 by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, Captain Marvel quickly surpassed Superman and Batman to become the best-selling superhero of the 1940s.

This did not go unnoticed by the folks at Detective Comics Inc. (then the name of what is now DC Entertainment), so they started filing lawsuits against Fawcett just a year or two after he debuted. In the early 1950s, with the entire comic book industry in decline, and Fawcett an established publishing house that only dabbled in comics, they decided to cut their losses and get out of the comics business, settling their lawsuit with DC and agreeing never to publish the character again without DC’s permission. With no book being published, the trademark on the name “Captain Marvel” expired, and it was eventually picked up by Marvel Comics.

That’s the Cliff Notes version, which sort of has to precede any discussion of Captain Marvel, and explain why the first superhero on film, who was a merchandising juggernaut and the most popular superhero in the world in the 1940s, had disappeared from view by the middle of the next decade, and now doesn’t even get to use his real name.

DC leased the rights to Captain Marvel from Fawcett in 1972, and purchased them outright sometime later from CBS (after CBS acquired Fawcett Publications). While they had a lot of success with TV and merchandising in the 1970s, DC struggled to find a way to do Captain Marvel comics in more modern times. There were a few times they got it right, like when the characters were handled by creators who understood them like Jerry Ordway, E. Nelson Bridwell, or Jeff Smith, but there were also some disastrous attempts at modernizing the Captain and his crew, and among the worst of those is the current incarnation, which sees Captain Marvel renamed as “Shazam,” and really screws up the entire mythos for us long-time fans.

It’s telling that, since DC made those major changes to Captain Marvel in 2011 and told an initial set of stories, the only two major appearances by the character have been out-of-canon reversions back to the classic character and name during DC’s Multiversity and Convergence events.

That’s all going to change with the release of the Shazam movie next year, which is based on the “New Coke” version of the character that Geoff Johns is responsible for. Johns will be writing a new mini-series to coincide with the movie, and DC is going to be looking for all sorts of good publishing tie-ins to cash in on the increased visibility of the character.

The first of those was going to be a deluxe hardback collection to be called Shazam vs. The Monster Society of Evil. This collection of stories has been a holy grail of mine for years. The very first long-form superhero story (well over two hundred pages), this tale was serialized in Captain Marvel Adventures over the course of two years, from 1943 to 1945. It’s not considered the best of Captain Marvel’s adventures, but it is historically important as the introduction of a major villain (Mr. Mind) and as the longest superhero story from the Golden Age of comics. Plus, even an average Captain Marvel story from the Golden age is head and shoulders above most superhero comics of the day.

However, there are major issues with these stories. Mainly the racist depictions of African-Americans and Japanese characters. It was thought that DC was going to address this like their sister company, Warner Brothers, did when they collected Tom and Jerry cartoons with racist content on DVD, by tackling the issue head-on. What apparently happened was, the book was put on the schedule and solicited, and then, when the racist content was pointed out to someone in charge, they panicked and cancelled the book because they did not want to engender any bad publicity right before the movie was due to be released.

Cancelling the book was the right business move. The fact that they even solicited it shows how little thought DC puts into how they handle the Marvel Family characters. It was like someobdy knew that they had a book ready to go to press, but had no idea what was in it.  For me this was yet another Lucy Van Pelt football moment. I’d already ordered and paid for the book (it’s been refunded) and this was not the first time I missed out on my chance to read this comic (it’s been online for free for years, but I hate to read comics online). DC comics had announced plans to reprint it at least twice before, reversing themselves before the book was printed.

A French publisher released a high-end limited-edition slipcased hardcover of this book back in 1989 (seen right). At the time I was working in radio, making radio money, and the high price tag of $125 meant I could never afford it. That edition now sells for six hundred bucks or more.

I understood the business decision, and the moral decision not to reprint the racist elements of the story, but it still stung to miss out on being able to read it myself.

Then I found out that, since the original chapters of the story are in the public domain, there are publishers who had made it available on Amazon via print-on-demand. It wasn’t cheap– I paid more for the paperback than I would have for the new hardcover edition, but I could finally get to see the story for myself.

I ordered the version offered by GwandanaLand, who specialize in reprinting public domain comics, because it was complete (other versions on Amazon are missing chapters), and spent a weekend immersing myself in this story that I’ve been wanting to read since I found out it existed over forty years ago.

I have to admit, I had more fun reading this than I have since I first discovered the joys of Golden Age Captain Marvel comics forty-five years ago. I also have to admit that the racist elements are extremely troubling. I don’t want this to seem like i’m endorsing or apologizing for them, but they do make up only a small part of this story, and this long story really takes off once you get past them.

Most troubling is the character, Steamboat. I’m not going to post an image of Steamboat here. It is a typical, racist, cartoon stereotype of a Stepin Fetchit like character who was around as a comic relief sidekick for a while in Captain Marvel stories. In 1945 a group called Youth Builders presented Fawcett Comics editor Will Lieberson with a petition signed by 11,000 school kids asking that the character be removed because he was so racially offensive. To his credit, Lieberson agreed, and the character was not seen in Fawcett comics again.

The problem is that there were dozens of stories featuring Steamboat, and they were mostly drawn by C.C. Beck, one of the most talented cartoonists of the era. It is disturbing to see such talent applied to such racist stereotypes, and it’s understandable why DC comics has gone out of their way to avoid reprinting those, or trying to profit off of them in any way.

Steamboat only appears in two chapters of the 25-part Monster Society of Evil storyline, but he is key to the plot and the unveiling of the true nature of Mr. Mind, so simply elminating those chapters would punch huge holes in the story.

Also, Steamboat is not the only racist element in these comics. In two very early chapters Captain Marvel encounters African cannibals, who are drawn in the same, thick-lipped racist cartooning style. Then, when the story moves to Asia (remember this is set during WWII, so war propaganda is in full force), the Japanese are depicted as slant-eyed, buck-toothed, fanged monsters with pop-bottle glasses. Interestingly enough, the Chinese, who were our allies at the time, are drawn in a dignified, non-racist manner, as seen to the left, showing that Beck was capable of rising above the stereotypes when he wanted to.

The cannibals are in chapters two and three. Steamboat is in chapter six, and one panel of chapter seven, and the Japanese characters are in chapter nine. Every panel that includes the racist caricatures is cringe-worthy, and impossible to defend.

You can say that it was of its time, and that is true, but that’s stuff that has been left in the past for a reason. When something wrong is being done, the first thing you have to do is to stop doing it. That’s why I’m not posting any images of the offending characters along with this piece. They should only be seen when set in a proper historical context, and posting them here would just circulate them further.

The racism does present a real problem because the rest of this story is so much fun. It’s an attempt to recreate the experience of a weekly movie serial, with each chapter ending in a cliffhanger, and enough action and intrigue to keep you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next installment.

We get to see Captain Marvel at his best, battling larger-than-life challenges, like a reanimated Wooly Mammoth (seen right). He also battles Dr. Sivana, Ibac, Captain Nazi and Hitler, among other members of his rogues gallery.  It would easy to dismiss the entire series if it were sub-par work with no value, but this is really well-crafted, but seriously-flawed work.

I’m glad that I finally got to read this in full because it not only scratched that itch that I’ve had to read this since I first found out about it, but also because it demonstrated to me why it probably should not be presented as-is to a mass audience as simple entertainment. The racist elements are too toxic, especially in today’s environment.

There are ways around this. DC could commission a new creative team to adapt the story, eliminating the politically incorrect elements along the way. The trouble with that approach is that it’s hard to top the work that Otto Binder and C.C. Beck did on the original stories, and DC would probably update the character to the current, awful, version.

I think a better way to present this to a modern audience would be to find an artist who can imitate Beck (there are several out there) and hire a writer/editor to fix the stereotypical dialogue, and simply re-write and re-draw the offensive panels. Steamboat could be drawn in a realistic and non-offensive manner, and he could speak like a normal adult, instead of a cartoon. Likewise, the Japanese scientists and the cannibals could be redrawn and the dialogue tweaked to tone down the then-acceptable anti-Japanese hatred other cultural ignorance. This has been standard practice in Tin Tin albums in Europe, which have been consistently altered to adhere to more evolved cultural standards over the years.

One thing to note about Steamboat is that, while the character is a completely offensive racial stereotype in the Stepin Fetchit mold, he was never treated in an oppressive or abusive manner by Billy Batson. Billy saw him as a friend, and no reference to color was made (that I am aware of–remember the stories with Steamboat are rarely reprinted). It was one baby step forward in conception to have Billy have a black friend that he treated as an equal, and about a hundred steps back in execution.

Re-drawing him and fixing his dialogue would allow Billy’s African-American friend to retain his brief, but important role in the story without offending so many people. Publishing it unaltered in today’s climate, where the alt-right looks for any excuse to justify and celebrate white supremecy, would be irresponsible. The offending elements have to be altered in order for this to be acceptable as entertainment.

That’s the only way I can see DC Comics ever reprinting Captain Marvel vs. The Monster Society of Evil. They wouldn’t be doing this to preserve an important historical event. They’d be doing this to make money off of a big Hollywood movie tie-in. It is a great story that sees Mr. Mind, originally just a disembodied voice, gathering together all of Captain Marvel’s greatest enemies, to wreak havoc on the Earth. After he’s revealed to be an actual worm, the story kicks into high gear. The action takes place all over the globe in into outer space, and there are elements of pathos and comedy mixed in to create a wondefully-balanced story (with some absolutely reprehensible segments).

I’m glad this entire serial is available, but I can’t recommend it to anyone who is offended by outright racism. I will recommend other collections by Gwandanaland, available from Amazon, which collect thousands of great Golden Age comics, including a ton of Captain Marvel and Marvel Family stories, along with great stuff from Quality Comics and other cream of the crop publishers.

And that is this week’s PopCulteer. Remember to check back for our regular features.

The PopCult Toybox

The much-ballyhooed revival of MEGO action figures was supposed to hit Target stores nationwide on July 29, but thus far (as I write this) it has not yet arrived in all Target locations (including Charleston). However, some of them did show up on Target’s online store (and eventually all of them did), so I ordered a few, just in case they somehow managed to bypass our local area (or wind up intercepted by local scalpers).

Today we’re going to look at Action Jackson (right), a reissue of the very first MEGO 8″ Action Figure. This is a callback to the original figure, and it’s cool to have it included in “Marty Abrams Presents MEGO,” which is officially the new company’s name. Marty being the man who ran MEGO during its heyday.

Before we jump into the review, we have to be brutally honest about the vintage MEGO figures. The main appeal of them was that they were inexpensive and included a lot of cool superhero figures that had never been made into toys before. It was the DC and Marvel superheroes that put them on the map, and along with their excellent Star Trek and Planet of the Apes series, that is what built their legacy.

But they were never “perfect” toys. The first generation of bodies broke easily, which is why they refined the design over the years. Tailoring for such a small scale figure intended for mass production presented a series of challenges with choosing fabrics that were durable enough to work on toys while accurately reflecting the costumes of the characters they represented.

A lot of MEGO figures cut corners when it came to accuracy. My favorite MEGO figure from my childhood, Captain (don’t call him “Shazam”) Marvel didn’t have the right boots or cape, and his headsculpt didn’t look anything like the comic book character. In fact, I believe they just re-used the headsculpt they’d produced for a Peter Parker/Spider-man secret identity set. Either way, it didn’t look much like Peter Parker, either.

Much of the nostalgic charm of vintage MEGO figures was the high cheesiness factor. Tarzan’s flesh-colored bodysuit was one example. Over the years, as collectors grew up and acquired skills, customizers poured into the hobby and showed just how detailed and elaborate they could make figures in the MEGO scale. This really raised the bar on what the new MEGO had to do.

You can see some of the amazing Star Trek work of local customizer, Tony DiTrapino, at the left.

But back in the 1970s these were toys for kids that had to be produced cheaply in order to get them into stores to compete against higher-priced products. So with the vintage MEGO figures, a lot of the clothes look clunky, the face sculpts range from pretty good to pretty bad, and figures with rooted hair (most of the female figures) get tangled and messy-looking as soon as they’re removed from the package.

There’s also the matter of licenses. Back then it was fairly easy for MEGO to corner the market on superheroes, with deals in place with DC and Marvel. However, as the line progressed, MEGO took a bit of a “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” attitude, and created figures based on The Waltons, Happy Days, CHiPs, Wizard of Oz, and others as well as a whole host of non-licensed “World’s Greatest” figures based on cowboys, knights, pirates and monsters.

The big challenge facing MEGO today is the fact that Marvel and DC, which were MEGO’s bread-and-butter during their original run, are tied up with other toy companies (with the exception of the DC figures that MEGO is producing in the unusual 14″ size). Faced with that, and with a wish list from Target, MEGO has had to rely largely on “Television Favorites” for the first wave of new product. With Dr. MEGO, Paul Clarke, helming a talented team of sculptors and seamstresses (who are credited on the package, which is a wonderful development), the quality is vastly improved from the vintage days.

The question is, “how are the figures?”

I cracked open Action Jackson for a quick look. I will address the packaging later, but I will point out that it was easy to open with a hobby knife. If you don’t care about keeping the backing card, you can just rip into it. If you do keep those things, be prepared to cut the gold foil sticker off the blister bubble, if you want to store it flat.

The figure is tight and well-made. He’s more solid than any vintage MEGO figures I’ve encountered. The headsculpt is a perfect recreation of the vintage Action Jackson, which looks suspiciously like a young Marty Abrams. The shoes are removable (one gripe I had about the vintage Star Trek figures was that they’d molded the boots onto the feet in a cost-cutting move).

The body itself is a slightly-improved recreation of a later-generation MEGO body, and poses very well. The joints are tight. The hands are molded in a position that makes it a little tricky to get them to hold the gun that comes with the set, but once it’s in position, it’ll stay there.

The jumpsuit is well-stitched, with velcro closures rather than the snaps that the vintage figures had. The belt looks good on the figure, and the “AJ” emblem is a good reproduction, but is a bit smaller than the original, which both looks better, and makes it easy to distinguish from the original.

Which is not to suggest that people will try to pass these off as vintage figures. I’ve bought vintage 45-year-old Action Jackson figures still in the package just recently for what I paid for this guy.

Action Jackson was originally released as a lower-priced alternative to the 12″ GI Joe, and despite having a robust advertising campaign, he didn’t catch on. It was because MEGO was stuck with a warehouse full of Action Jackson bodies that the deals were struck with DC and Marvel to use them for the first wave of “World’s Greatest Superhereos” figures.

So it’s cool that they went back to their origins for this figure. It’ll be interesting to see if he manages to sell out of his initial production run of 10,000 figures. Vintage figures and uniform sets are still floating around at ridiculously-low prices. These could wind up as peg-warmers, or they might be heavily-sought-after by customizers and folks looking to refurbish other vintage MEGOs. The body is compatible with vintage MEGO heads (correction: it’s not entirely compatible. See the comments).

The packaging for the new 8″ MEGO single figures is pretty nifty. The card fronts have diagonal stripes, which makes for an eye-catching display when these are on the pegs in the stores (I’ve seen photos). The bubble on this blister pack has a distinctive shape, which allows the figures to be stacked face-to-face in the package without any slippage. The bubble is also where the gold sticker with the limited edition number is (each figure is numbered from one to ten-thousand). This card features the original Action Jackson logo, artwork from the vintage package and word bubbles coming from the character. The latter being a cute touch.

The card back (seen left) shows a photo of a vintage figure, along with some hype copy, a MEGO trivia question, an explanation of what MEGO was and who Marty Abrams is, along with a small photo of Mr. Abrams, and coolest of all, credits for Dr. MEGO as “Consultant,” along with Sean Samson, Cynthia Woodie and Andy Covalt as “Sculptors” and Nicole Wilson as “Seamstress.”

This is the first time I can recall seeing sculptor and seamstress credits on a mass-market toy, and it’s a welcome and long-overdue development.

As a reproduction of a classic toy, you have to give Action Jackson an A-plus. He looks like the original, is more sturdy and posable, but the improvements do not detract from the nostalgia. He is the only figure in this line that is not a well-known licensed character (although they did have to license the name from David Lee, who had picked up the trademark for his Cast-A-Way toy line a while back).

As for the MEGO line as a whole, there is a very good chance that these could catch on with casual collectors and take over where Funko left off with their Pops line, which has been losing steam recently at retail. With the ablility to do more recognizable representations of the characters they depict, MEGO has a real chance to take off.

One of my gripes about Funko Pops is that, much of the time, I don’t know what the hell they’re supposed to be. A guy in a suit with that weird generic big head/blank pupil look could be Agent Mulder, Don Draper, Agent Dale Cooper, Saul Goodman or any of dozens of other characters. MEGO has a much greater capability of capturing a reconizable likeness, which should appeal to fans who have burned out on Pops.

It’s great to have MEGO back, and exciting to see where they go from here.

This week we are once again bringing you the original Adventures of Captain Marvel movie serial from 1942. I posted this here a couple of years ago, but that video has been yanked from YouTube, so this week we’re going to present a new and improved print that also edits out all the redundant openings and closings from each serial, and gets the running time down to under three hours.  With the much-hyped “Shazam” movie coming out next year, which is based on the awful “New 52” bastardized version of Captain Marvel that Geoff Johns foisted on us, I thought it might be good to show how cool this superhero could be when he’s not played as a comedic super-powered version of the movie Big.

I have made no secret of the fact that my all-time favorite superhero is Captain Marvel. Though known primarily as “Shazam” by less-cultured folks, Captain Marvel debuted from Fawcett Comics in 1940 and was pretty much the top-selling superhero in comics until 1953, when his publisher decided to cut their losses after years of a nagging copyright infringement suit filed by National Periodical Publications, now known as DC Comics, the publishers of Superman.

The suit had little merit, but questionable rulings in appeals courts, coupled with a massive decline in comic book sales industry-wide, convinced Fawcett Publications to give up. Fawcett decided to quit the comic book business and paid off DC, agreeing never to publish Captain Marvel again without DC’s permission.

Mired in another comic book sales slump in 1972, DC made an agreement to lease (and later purchase outright) Captain Marvel so they could publish him themselves. Unfortunately, during the time Captain Marvel was out of the public eye, Marvel Comics trademarked the name for their own character (they didn’t want anyone else publishing a book with “Marvel” in the title after Myron Fass had released his own legendarily-awful character with that name) so DC had to go with “Shazam” as the title of their book (actually the full title was “With One Magic Word, Shazam”).

Captain-Marvel-DC-Comics-Billy-Batson-aThe character went on to star in his own live-action Saturday morning program and during the 1970s was one of DC’s four most-merchandisable heroes. Kids in the 1940s and the 1970s fell in love with Billy Batson, who could turn into the super-powered Captain Marvel just by saying “Shazam.” DC had mixed results with the character in terms of sales, though, and the original Captain Marvel has been rebooted, with great versions and not-so-great versions many times over the years.

Adventures_of_captain_marvelBut tonight we go back to the original incarnation of the hero at the height of his popularity for the entire 12-chapter serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. from 1941. This is widely considered to be the greatest superhero movie serial from the golden age of Hollywood, and while it’s not entirely faithful to the comic book, it’s a great adaptation and a lot of fun.

So set aside just under three hours and enjoy the show, or order the DVD, which has just been released, so you can watch one chapter at a time. Either way, this is the REAL Captain Marvel, not a lady using the name, or a big dumb guy calling himself “Shazam.”

The current comic book version is pretty bad, demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of what made the character work so well on the part of Johns. The upcoming movie looks like a fun parody of the original concept, with the goofy twist of Captain Marvel being just a kid in an adult body (in the original comics he has the wisdom of Solomon, which sort of blows that crappy idea out of the water).

It’s a double-edged sword for fans of the original Captain Marvel:  If the movie fails, then DC will never try to make another movie with him, and will probably abandon the idea of publishing any comics beyond what Geoff Johns wants to do.  If the movie is a success, then generations of kids will grow up with this lousy parody of the original concept, and won’t know just how good the original comics were.

Action Figure Updates: New Old-School Toys!

The PopCult Toybox

We have some quick news items from the world of action figures.

First, the expected big reveal of the MEGO revival that was supposed to happen at the Long Island Comic Con last weekend did not take place. It’s not bad news. Basically their retail partner, who has an exclusive on the line until next year, wanted to be the ones who break the news. This will happen early in July.

What we did learn is that there are to be 70 figures (of various sizes) in the line, and they’ll be sold exclusively, at first, through a single retailer. I have a guess as to who that is, but it’s just a guess, so it’ll remain unwritten here. I’ll let you know if I’m right or wrong when they do spill the beans.

The exciting thing is that the retail partner will have the first wave of figures for sale in August, and MEGO will be selling them in San Diego. This is really happening, folks. Keep reading PopCult for the latest updates.

Also really happening is a new line of Captain Action uniform sets, as reported by Dan Johnson at 13th Dimension. Follow THIS LINK to the full article, and then get real happy because, in addition to the way-cool and fifty-years-overdue Spacesuit for Captain Action (shown at the head of this post), Captain Action Enterprises is promising a whole line of outfits based on superheroes who were never part of the CA line before (and even a suit for Dr. Evil). All the new uniform sets will feature gorgeous painted art by the legendary Joe Jusko.

Finally we have figures that I actually have my hands on already. The New Heroes of The West is a new line of custom figures based on the classic Marx Action Figures like Johnny West.

The creation of Scott Stewart, James Wozniak and Dave Johnson, this line will make use of new reproduction bodies as well as some original Marx bodies, and will focus on the vital historical periods of the old west including; the Texas Trail Drive Adventure, the Black Hills Adventure, the Colorado Gold Rush Adventure and the Western Territory Adventure. Each series will have several figures, animals and other fantastic accessory sets.

The figures will include historical figures, banditos, badmen, drovers, Indians, cowboys and a host of other historically accurate men and women.

Being introduced first are Trail Boss Johnny and LTC Custer each with unique custom accessories and the other accessories you’ve come to know and love but in new color combinations. Also two new dogs are available; Kotah and Mavrick. I bought mine in Wheeling a few days ago, and I’ll post a detailed review in a couple of weeks, but…spoiler alert…I love these guys.

These sets are issued in very limited numbers and will come with new boxes and individual equipment manuals. Custom heads, accessories and sets will be interwoven into these sets to give them truly unique characteristics. They expect to release a batch of new figures every three months. Follow The New Heroes of The West on Facebook to keep up with the latest news.

It’s looking like the Summer of 2018 might just turn out to be a bit of a golden age for classic toy revivals.

The PopCult Toybox

Longtime readers of PopCult know that I am a collector of toys, primarily action figures and predominantly action figures that are twelve inches tall (roughly), like the original GI Joe, Marx’s Johnny West and Captain Action. For years I’ve been predicting a mass-market resurgence of this scale (1/6) of action figure, even with evidence of the decline of action figures as a toy for kids over-all.

Before we get into this, let me vent a little: There are “experts” in the collecting world who insist on calling 12″ figures “dolls.” They usually have some arbitrary, self-serving definition, like “anything over eight inches tall is a doll” or “any figure with removable clothing is a doll, not an action figure.” These people are either willfully or woefully ignorant, and their opinions are not to be taken seriously.

The fact is, all action figures are dolls. They are “dolls for boys.” The term was invented to get away from the stigma of the word “doll” as a girl’s toy, so that toy companies could sell figural representations of the human form to parents as an appropriate plaything for their boys.

“Action Figure” was coined by Hasbro to make GI Joe more palatable to parents than simply “Barbie for boys” (Which, to be fair, it basically was). Any doll made for a boy is an action figure. Got it? Now, in our increasingly gender-neutral times, they are making action figures for girls. Those should be called “action figures.” As a simple sign of respect, you should call it whatever the person to whom it is important wants to call it. Now that we have the terminology settled, let’s talk about size.

Continue reading…

Sunday Evening Video: The REAL Captain Marvel

shazamI have made no secret of the fact that my all-time favorite superhero is Captain Marvel. Though known primarily as “Shazam” by less-cultured folks, Captain Marvel debuted from Fawcett Comics in 1940 and was pretty much the top-selling superhero in comics until 1953, when his publisher decided to cut their losses after years of a nagging copyright infringement suit filed by National Periodical Publications, now known as DC Comics, the publishers of Superman.

The suit had little merit, but questionable rulings in appeals courts, coupled with a massive decline in comic book sales, convinced Fawcett Publications to give up. Fawcett decided to quit the comic book business and paid off DC, agreeing never to publish Captain Marvel again without DC’s permission.

Mired in another comic book sales slump in 1972, DC made an agreement to lease (and later purchase outright) Captain Marvel so they could publish him themselves. Unfortunately, during the time Captain Marvel was out of the public eye, Marvel Comics trademarked the name for their own character (they didn’t want anyone else publishing a book with “Marvel” in the title after Myron Fass had released his own legendarily-awful character with that name) so DC had to go with “Shazam” as the title of their book (actually the full title was “With One Magic Word, Shazam”).

Captain-Marvel-DC-Comics-Billy-Batson-aThe character went on to star in his own live-action Saturday morning program and during the 1970s was one of DC’s four most-visible heroes. Kids in the 1940s and the 1970s fell in love with Billy Batson, who could turn into the super-powered Captain Marvel just by saying “Shazam.” DC had mixed results with the character in terms of sales, though, and the original Captain Marvel has been rebooted, with great versions and not-so-great versions many times over the years.

Adventures_of_captain_marvelBut tonight we go back to the original incarnation of the hero at the height of his popularity for the entire 12-chapter serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. from 1941. This is widely considered to be the greatest superhero movie serial from the golden age of Hollywood, and while it’s not entirely faithful to the comic book, it’s a great adaptation and a lot of fun.

So set aside three and a half hours and enjoy the show, or order the DVD, which has just been released, so you can watch one chapter at a time. Either way, this is the REAL Captain Marvel, not a lady using the name, or a big dumb guy calling himself “Shazam.”

Gift Guide: Santa Claus 8 Inch Retro Action Figure

santa

FTCSC_Holiday_CARDED_SantaClauseFor the past couple of years, Figures Toy Company has been releasing an unyielding torrent of really cool MEGO-style retro action figures.  They’ve released figures based on a lot of cool properties like Evel Kenivel, Gilligan’s Island, Conan, Dukes of Hazard, and KISS.  But their big property has been DC Comics.

Now they’re taking on the greatest superhero of them all, Santa Claus!  While it might be a little late to give this as a Christmas gift, it’s the perfect pre-Christmas item, an 8 inch tall articulated figure of Jolly St. Nick, ready for all your gift giving or crime fighting activities.

That’s right, Santa himself is the latest character to be created in the 8 inch retro figure format. Santa comes dressed in a detailed cloth Santa suit, complete with hat and belt. The detail on this Santa allows him to fall right in line with all of your Figures Toy Company superhero and superstar retro figures. The figure comes inside of resealable plastic clamshell packaging.  Limited numbered edition of 500 pieces!

Not content with just bringing Santa Claus to life in action figure form, Figures Toy Company is offering Kris Kringle’s alter-ego in two very special combination two packs.

FTC_Santa2pk_OptionsFirst up, we have Christmas With the Superheroes.  You can choose a two figure set that teams Santa Claus with any DC Comics superhero that Figures Toy Company has produced.  For $60, you can team up Santa Claus with Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, or any superhero.  If you are so inclined, you can even get him in a package with a bad guy like the Joker or Doctor Sivana.  The logo and name for this set is taken from the beloved DC Comics tabloid-sized holiday collections from the 1970’s.  It’s a nice little nostalgic treat for collectors of a certain age.

FTC_KISS_2Pk_8inBC_KISSMASDemonIn what may seem a more unusual turn, FTC is also making Santa Claus available in a two pack with any of the four members of the band KISS.  With these KISSMAS sets, You can get Santa Claus packaged with The Demon, The Star Child, The Space Ace,  or The Catman.  These limited edition two packs will also set you back $60 each.

While intended as a collectible, it’s hard to deny that a Santa Claus action figure could be a fun toy for any kid.  Plus he works well as a decoration, or a nice irreverant touch if you put him in a Nativity scene. If you opt for the single Santa Claus figure, he’ll set you back $25 plus shipping.  You can order directly from Figures Toy Company.

GI Joe, the first action figure

It shouldn’t come as any shock to longtime readers of PopCult that I am a toy collector, concentrating mostly on action figures. I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of my hobby over the years. Part of the appeal is recapturing my childhood, only with an adult’s budget, and part of it is simply a life-long fondness for the toys and an appreciation of the work that goes into them.

However, I fear for the future of my hobby. I don’t think action figures will ever go away completely, but I can see warning signs that the action figure as we know it might be evolving from a toy for kids into a collectible for adults. This sort of thing happened to comic books, and I have a bad feeling that it might be happening again. This could just be part of the boom/bust cycle of childbirth playing havoc with the toy industry, but it shows signs of being a more permanent shift.

Continue reading…

Our video this week is a recording made last Friday at Taylor Books. Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen returned to action with a fun, confident set. Jonathan Slack and Laura Summerhill have been appearing on Radio Free Charleston since 2007, and it’s always a treat to catch up with them. In this video, shaky at times, you’ll hear the duo performing The Beatles’ song ,”Across The Universe,” and their original tune, “Getaway Lane.” Meanwhile, your loyal PopCult blogger is still hard at work assembling RFC 150.

Also, yesterday was Jonathan’s birthday, so happy birthday, and thanks for the music!

Cool Comics: Batman and Captain America

Digitally colored image from a tiny .gif of a drawing by George Perez

This week we are reaching smack dab into the mainstream to bring you Cool Comics featuring superheroes who have been around for a combined 145 years.  There are interesting new takes on both Batman and Captain America.  Both harken back to the 1960s, but in totally different ways. First, we’ll take a look at the Caped Crusader.

The All New Batman The Brave And The Bold

Burdened with the cumbersome title, “The All New Batman The Brave And The Bold,” we find one of the most entertaining Batman comic books on the stands.  Based on the excellent (and sadly out-of-production) Cartoon Network series, “Batman The Brave And The Bold,” this comic captures the spirit of fun that made the 1960s Batman TV show so memorable.

This is a fun, kid-friendly, Batman, teaming with his super friends to fight crime. You won’t find any deep psychodrama, violent murder or sexual overtones here. The cartoon is a return to the idea of fun superheroes, and the comic book is a perfect companion piece.

Continue reading…