This month's favorite comic characters run the gamut from superhero Captain Marvel to the nightmarish Alien.
One of my favorite characters of the Golden Age was the original Captain Marvel. He was a child named Billy Batson who was given magical powers by a wizard named Shazam. Every time Billy would speak the wizard's name, he would transform into an adult superhero named Captain Marvel. His powers contained the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. The fact that his secret identity was a little boy really appealed to kids in the 1940s. His books were some of the most popular titles of that era — and at one point out-sold even Superman. After a lawsuit between D.C. and Fawcett Comics in the early 1950s over Captain Marvel's similarities to Superman, all the Captain Marvel titles ceased publication and the character fell into obscurity. That is, until the 1970s when D.C. gained licensing rights to the character and published a new comic series called Shazam! Marvel had trademarked the name "Captain Marvel" in the years between so even though D.C. still called the character Captain Marvel they couldn't use it as the title of the book. Captain Marvel has never reached the popularity that he had in the Golden Age, but he is still around. He returned recently as the star of a back-up story that was printed in many issues of Justice League. He now has a modern makeover to his origin and a new name. The superhero formally known as Captain Marvel is now officially known as Shazam.
Josh Hanin, CGC Grader
"Tatterdemalion" is a word I learned from Joe Kubert. In the fall of '76 I picked up Ragman #1 off the newsstand. Growing up relatively poor made it easy to identify with the man behind the mask, Rory Regan. His station in life isn't a deterrent to his heartfelt altruism. Initially, I was intrigued with the costume's ability to camouflage in the city's refuse. But I found Rory's wrestling with his inheritance and responsibilities increasingly akin to my own. The Ragman saga ties Kabalistic magic to scraps of fabric that engulf the souls of the wicked. This longing for justice is inherent in the human condition. After checking the etymology of "tatterdemalion," it seemed the gist was that we all in some form or another are wearing rags.
John Savage, CGC Grader
The Spirit appeared for 12 years (1940–1952) as a supplement booklet in the Sunday newspaper. The noir style stories took place in Central City (much like New York City).
Eisner displays a mastery of graphic storytelling. Virtually every one of the 600+ Spirit tales are either seven or eight pages long (suiting my attention span perfectly), with no continued stories. With no super powers or gimmicks (for the most part), Eisner draws on human virtues to flesh out the Spirit’s character, as well as the supporting casts. In general, the Spirit is a shy, unassuming man with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. He is dedicated to helping those in need, righting wrongs, fighting crime and the occasional Nazi spy. The stories move you and make you feel for the characters, which was a true rarity in comics 60+ years ago. (I wouldn’t doubt that Stan Lee noticed and remembered this when creating the Marvel Universe a decade later.) The artwork is spectacular. Eisner mastered, if not invented the splash page. As the books were originally issued without a cover, the first page of every story had to both attract the potential reader and get the story going. Innovative layouts, angled perspectives and movie-like lighting techniques were Eisner’s strong points. Coupled with beautifully detailed brushwork finishes, the drawings are really a treat. Short, sweet, emotion-filled stories with incredible art. That’s Will Eisner’s Spirit.
Vince Olvia, CGC Grader
Your chest hurts. Could it be the Chinese food you had the night before? You wish you were so lucky. As the pain intensifies, you watch as a nightmarish organism violently makes its way out of your chest cavity. An organism that will grow into the perfect killing machine. A biomechanical exo skeleton. Acid for blood. A creature that, though first featured on the big screen, made its way into the pages of Dark Horse Comics in the late 80s — the Alien, or "Xenomorph," is my pick for favorite character. For those that know me, it's an obvious choice, I know — but for good reason. Its existence is for one purpose: survival of its hive. The creature itself has a nightmarish lifecycle, one too twisted for its own special on the Discovery Channel. A single Xenomorph is dangerous enough, but their hive mentality and their sheer numbers help make them unstoppable, like a raging swarm of army ants. The Alien has been featured in many cross-genre titles at Dark Horse and has even faced up against some of comics' most famous heroes. It may not be the smartest of creatures, but it's cunning and agile, and in large numbers can overpower anyone — even Superman, as shown in Superman / Aliens where the "Man of Steel" was no match against the infamous "Facehuggers." And when Warren Ellis wrote them into the Wildstorm's WildC.A.T.s / Aliens, the results were catastrophic, as three main team members of Stormwatch were killed off, forever altering the Wildstorm universe. The Alien would prove a worthy adversary to any character, even Galactus would get a serious case of "acid indigestion" after devouring their home planet.
Shawn Caffrey, Finalizer, Copper and Modern Age Specialist
Missed Part One of this series? Click here.
Watch for Part Three in November's enewsletter!
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