By 1942, Fawcett had really begun to realize the money machine they had on their hands with the Captain Marvel franchise. And so, only a year after they had branched out with Captain Marvel Junior, the Marvel Family saw the introduction of a new member, in the form of Mary Marvel, first appearing in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 1942), in “Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel!” by writer Otto Binder and artist Marc Swayze.
As our story begins, Billy Batson is hosting a radio quiz show for kids, with one of the contestants being upper-class girl Mary Bromfield (alongside Freddy Freeman, who one would assume is there representing poor children. In fact, he actually says that. Harsh.)
During the quiz, Billy notices a locket Mary is wearing around her neck, broken in half. Before he can ask about it, he receives an urgent message from a dying woman. Flying to the scene, Billy learns that the woman was a nurse, who had cared for Billy as an infant, when his parents had died. To Billy’s shock, the dying woman reveals that Billy has a twin sister, whom the nurse had switched at birth with the dead child of a rich couple, to insure that the girl could have a better life. Before she can tell Billy the family name, she gives Billy the other half of a broken locket (Coincidence?), then passes away in mid-sentence.
Surprisingly, Billy doesn’t put it all together, even after Mary wins the quiz show and is chauffeured back uptown. Finally, he realizes Mary has the other half of the locket and must be his sister, so he and Freddy decide to go ask her about, arriving at her home just as she’s being kidnapped, looking to ask a hundred-grand ransom to her rich parents.
The Captains Marvel bust up the place and knock out the kidnappers, and then talk to Mary and tell her about her long-lost twin brother, then reveal the truth of their double identities by saying their magic words.
I always liked the innocence here. Of course Billy immediately tells her about his secret. She’s his sister.
Mary naturally wonders what would happen if she said the word, and is immediately dismissed by Billy, who reasons that “the old wizard wouldn’t give his powers to a girl!” Ahh, the Forties…
The kidnappers come to and jump Billy and Freddy, subduing them before they can change back to their super-selves, and an alarmed Mary yells out that “Billy can’t say Shazam!” and, well, you can guess what happens…
Mary has transformed into the full-grown Mary Marvel (whom artist Swayze clearly based on then-popular movie star Judy Garland), and immediately discovers her powers as she charmingly whups the kidnappers’ asses.
After freeing the boys, Mary accompanies them to see the spirit of the old wizard, who explains that he knew one day Billy and Mary would be reunited, and also explains the origins of Mary’s powers, derived from an entirely different roster of goddesses:
S for the grace of Selena
H for the strength of Hippolyta
A for the skill of Ariadne
Z for the fleetness of Zephyrus
A for the beauty of Aurora
M for the wisdom of Minerva
Mary was the last piece of the puzzle that really solidified the Marvel Family as one of the biggest things in comics, appearing as the lead feature in Wow Comics, and then headlining her own Mary Marvel magazine, as well as regularly co-starring in The Marvel Family, until Fawcett ceased publication of their Captain Marvel franchise in 1953 following years of expensive litigation with National Comics, who had long claimed Captain Marvel to be an imitation of their Superman. Mostly forgotten today, Mary Marvel was at one point maybe the most well known female superhero after Wonder Woman, and who knows? With a Shazam movie only months away, maybe someday we’ll see Mary soar to her rightful place again…