After two years of smashing success with their Captain Marvel character, Fawcett Comics decided the time was right to expand the franchise and give the Big Red Cheese a youthful sidekick, as was the popular trend at the time (what with your Robins and Buckys and Speedys and Sandys and such). However, the way Fawcett went about it was… a little different.
Things kicked off in a three-part crossover between two of Fawcett’s best-selling titles, Whiz Comics and Master Comics, taking place toward the end of 1941. This kind of inter-magazine crossover was fairly uncommon in the early forties, and this one saw the stars of the two magazines, Captain Marvel and Bulletman, teaming up to tackle the newly created Captain Nazi, who is, well… he’s exactly what he sounds like.
Created by Adolf Hitler and Nazi scientists, Captain Nazi is sent to the United States to destroy American superheroes, and he, Captain Marvel and Bulletman (who, one must admit, is also exactly what he sounds like) mix it up back and forth across three issues, with Captain Marvel at one point punching Captain Nazi so hard the impact threw him for miles, with Nazi landing hard, unconscious, in a lake.
Which brings us to the subject of today’s tale, teenager Freddy Freeman.
Freddy and his grandfather Jacob just happened to be fishing in that lake, and Good Samaritans that they were, they pulled the unconscious Captain Nazi from the water, saving his life. Their kindness is repaid in cruelty as soon as the Nazi comes to, killing Jacob and breaking Freddy’s back with an oar as he steals their boat in order to make his escape.
Captain Marvel arrives too late to save Jacob, but manages to get Freddy to a hospital, where he’s soon told that the boy is not expected to survive.
Refusing to let the boy die, Billy Batson takes him to the underground cavern where he first met the wizard Shazam, summoning his spirit and asking him to heal Freddy. Shazam says that he doesn’t have the power, but Captain Marvel does, if he’s willing to give up some of his own strength to do so. Billy agrees, and Shazam bids him to say his name once more.
At Billy’s cry of “Shazam!”, the wizard’s ghost vanishes, and Freddy Freeman miraculously wakes up as Billy is transformed into Captain Marvel once more. At the sight of the Big Red Cheese, Freddy exclaims, “It’s Captain Marvel!” and is himself struck by lightning, transforming him into Captain Marvel Junior.
It’s not all good news, though. Freddy would remain crippled in his human identity, requiring a crutch to walk. And with the death of his grandfather, teenage Freddy would be on his own, scraping out a living selling newspapers on the corner and living in a hovel. You’d think Billy could hook him u with an internship at WHIZ or something…
Captain Marvel Junior quickly took up residence in his own starring role over in Master Comics, where, despite his remaining a teenager even as a superhero, his own adventures tended toward the darker and more serious, dealing with more crime, murder and espionage than readers would see in the more whimsical Captain Marvel adventures. The moody tone was aided by the artwork from Junior’s co-creator Mac Raboy, whose lush and heavy inks gave the Captain Marvel Junior character and feature a distinctive look all its own.
Reader reception to the introduction of Junior was overwhelmingly positive, which meant that it wouldn’t be too long before yet another Marvel would be introduced, one aimed at the sector of the audience that might not have been reading Whiz Comics or Master Comics.
But we’ll talk about Mary Marvel next week.