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Superheroes On TV

Batman was not the first superhero I saw on TV. That honor belongs to the Man of Steel, the Metropolis Marvel, Kal-El, the one ‘n’ only Superman. Everyone knew Superman, and in the early ’60s, everyone had watched Superman on TV in reruns of The Adventures Of Superman, the venerable ’50s series starring George Reeves. Concurrent to this, all of the kids in my neighborhood also watched chapters of the old Flash Gordon movie serials, as well as Astro Boy cartoons, both of which were shown every afternoon on The Baron And His Buddies, the popular kids’ show hosted by Syracuse’s own local vampire, Baron Daemon. If you also include the Mighty Mouse and Popeye cartoons we all watched, like, everywhere, then it’s safe to say that all the kids in North Syracuse had plenty of exposure to televised superheroics well before the debut of the Batman TV series in January of 1966.

Nonetheless, it was the success of Batman that paved the way for more superheroes on TV. Prior to Batman, nearly all of the super adventures we saw were old–second-hand entertainment, already enjoyed previously by our elder siblings, or even an earlier generation. Superman was from the ’50s; Popeye from the ’30s through the ’50s; Flash Gordon from the ’30s. Astro Boy was roughly contemporary, but a syndicated import, not, y’know, fresh Amurrican entertainment. At the beginning of 1966, Batman was really the only superhero starring in brand-new televised exploits; he would have plenty of company by the end of that year.

(This new superhero fad had its first effect on advertising. I recall seeing superhero motifs in TV commercials for Bactine and Lucky Stripes chewing gum, and I loved ’em. The images of Stripeman and a flying, bat-caped Bactine container were as much a part of my TV experience in ’66 as The Monkees were.)

Almost all of the new superhero shows would be animated. In September, the new Saturday morning cartoon schedule on CBS included The New Adventures Of SupermanSpace GhostFrankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, and even The Lone Ranger, starring another character we all knew (like Superman), but who couldn’t be called a superhero because he was, y’know, a cowboy. On weekday afternoons, we were treated to The Marvel Super Heroes, a series of serialized adventures starring a rotating roster of Captain AmericaThorIron ManSub-Mariner, and The Hulk. These were shown in Syracuse on a show called Jet Set, alongside a collection of whatever other cartoon goodies Channel 5 could get its hands on (including Sinbad Jr And His Magic Belt, in which our seafarin’ hero gained super strength via the wonder of his titular magic belt).

There were live action superheroes, too. Most notable of these was The Green Hornet with Van Williams and Bruce Lee, though there were also two comedy superhero shows, Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific. I was aware of Captain Nice, and even owned a Captain Nice comic book, but never managed to see an episode of the show. I did watch both The Green Hornet and Mr. Terrific, but not many people did; all three series were short-lived.

More animated superheroes followed: Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man on ABC, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS (the latter including additional heroics from The FlashGreen LanternHawkmanThe AtomTeen Titans, and The Justice League of America), and a variety of other super-doers created for the small screen: Mightor! Super 6! Mighty Heroes! Birdman! The Galaxy Trio! Super-President! Surely, evil must tremble before this assembled might of right!

The cancellation of the prime-time Batman in 1968 signaled the ebb of the public’s interest in superheroes. Although Batman quickly returned in a new cartoon series in the fall of ’68, the costumed hero fad had run its course.

With the plethora of superhero movies and TV shows available now, it’s odd to look back and realize that it did once seem like a fad that had ended. In the early ’70s, Superman and Wonder Woman made (perhaps incongruous) guest appearances on a Saturday morning cartoon series based on the kids from The Brady Bunch; an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie called “Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter” teamed the super sailor-man with other characters from the King Features stable, including Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician; and Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman and Robin united in a new cartoon series called Super Friends.

Me? I was 13 by the time Super Friends debuted in 1973, and it wasn’t at all what I was looking for in televised superhero entertainment. I wanted a gritty new Batman series–no, not “Batman,” “THE Batman!” I wanted something that would reflect the perceived (by me) maturity of the 1970s Batman comics stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams; in my mind, Medical Center star Chad Everett was born to play The Batman in a serious crime drama, with British actor Christopher Lee as the megalomaniacal Ra’s al GhulThat’s what I wanted, not kids’ stuff like Super Friends.


Alas, I never really liked any of the live action superhero TV fare of the ’70s. Well, at the time, I confess I did kinda like the atrocious Wonder Woman TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby, and the awful late night TV adaptation of the musical It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman. The original Captain Marvel had become one of my all-time favorite comics characters, but I couldn’t warm to his banal escapades in Shazam! Lynda Carter was a freakin’ knockout, but I found her Wonder Woman series to be too campy, and this young man had outgrown camp, see? IsisSpider-ManThe Incredible Hulk? None of these was ever quite what I had in mind.

It took decades before there would be a superhero TV series that would captivate me. I loved Smallville, the tale of the boy who would be Superman, from the moment of its debut in 2001. Nowadays, I have all the superhero TV entertainment I could ever want, from all those DC Comics shows on The CW to Marvel shows on Disney + and Netflix. From feast, to famine, to an endless bounty, all within my lifetime. Up, up, and away.

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Rock ‘N’ Roll On TV

Just as the 1966 debut of the Batman TV series wasn’t my introduction to superheroes on TV, neither was the debut of The Monkees later in ’66 my first televised rock ‘n’ roll experience. For that, we have to go back to at least February 9th, 1964; sure, I’d just turned four years old a little over three weeks before that, but trust me: that Sunday night, everyone saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Even before Smilin’ Ed introduced these four young men from Liverpool who called themselves The Beatles, I’m pretty sure I’d seen Chubby Checker twistin’ on TV when I was three, and I may (or may not) have seen The Four Seasons on some show, somewhere, singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

Still, The Beatles’ TV debut was seismic. Every televised rock ‘n’ roll moment I saw after that, from The Monkees through Elvis Costello & the Attractions on Saturday Night Live, and all points in all directions, is filtered in my mind through a memory of John, Paul, George, and Ringo singing “All My Loving” for an American TV audience that felt its hair growing longer and its soul growing freer before that first song was through.

In between February ’64 and September ’66, my specific memories of rock on TV are limited and hazy, at best. Aside from one-off fictional combos like The Mosquitoes on Gilligan’s Island or the actual band The Standells on The Munsters (both of which I’m sure I saw in prime time, but really only remember from reruns in the ’70s), there was The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series, and there was Dick Clark‘s rockin’ pop showcase Where The Action Is! on weekday afternoons. I know for a fact that I saw at least some episodes of Where The Action Is!, but while I remember watching it, I don’t remember what I saw and heard; I wouldn’t take note of the Where The Actions Is! house band–the fabulous Paul Revere & the Raiders–until rediscovering them in the ’70s. I must have seen American Bandstand, and Hullabaloo, and Shindig! in this time frame, but I can’t swear it’s so.

So The Monkees show was also seismic. The cultural impact of the show remains underrated, but The Monkees probably did more to bring long hair and the burgeoning youth movement into the American middle-class mainstream, into acceptance, than any other single source. Yeah, even more than The Beatles themselves. Throughout 1967 and into the time of the TV show’s cancellation in ’68, The Beatles were getting weird by middle American standards; they did drugs, LSD, and were no longer the cuddly moptops we’d seen running from screaming fans in A Hard Day’s Night (a 1964 movie which was televised on election night in 1968). But The Monkees? Couldn’t call ’em clean-cut exactly, but they weren’t perceived as a threat to the status quo: smilin’ and laughin’, too busy singing to put anybody down. Even with their long hair and their beads and peace signs, The Monkees seemed…normalThe Monkees was the most quietly, successfully subversive TV show on the air in 1967. And it got away with it.

The above is a mere tangent to today’s discussion. While Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter were subtly moving the needle to the left, they were also an engaging rockin’ pop group, playing their great songs on TV, every week. You wanna talk about rock ‘n’ roll on TV? You’d better have a lot to say about The Monkees.

The only other rock-on-TV moment I can specifically recall from this ’66-’68 span is seeing The Jefferson Airplane sing “Somebody To Love” on American Bandstand.  When The Monkees faded to black in ’68, I didn’t really see much more rock ‘n’ roll on the telly for a while thereafter. I guess you could count the animated exploits of The Archies, whose agreeable bubblegum music was way better than anyone should have expected from a Saturday morning cartoon soundtrack, but Riverdale’s Phenomenal Pop Combo wasn’t quite the same as a flesh-and-blood combo, even an initially manufactured combo like The Monkees.

Things changed a bit in the ’70s. I was actively listening to AM Top 40 radio, and starting to see bands on TV. The bands had never gone away from the TV screen, of course; they were still making appearances on variety shows and talk shows, but I just didn’t see ’em. But I did see the TV special James Paul McCartney in 1973, I saw Wings‘ video for “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on The Flip Wilson Show, Smokey Robinson on The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour, and the new late-night rock ‘n’ roll showcases Midnight SpecialABC In Concert, and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Those three shows gave me opportunities to see artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to The Isley Brothers to The Bee Gees, and even ’60s acts like Herman’s Hermits.

Opportunities continued to broaden when I was in high school: The Bay City Rollers and The Patti Smith Group on The Mike Douglas ShowAlice Cooper on both The Smothers Brothers and The Snoop SistersThe Rubinoos and Fanny on American Bandstand. A British import called Supersonic offered me my first televised glimpse of my # 1 Pop Dream Suzi Quatro, as well as appearances by The HolliesThe Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, and that loathsome lizard Gary Glitter. NBC’s Saturday Night offered a Simon & Garfunkel reunion, and a one-off duo of Paul Simon and George Harrison, and–best of all!–THE KINKS!! Even more TV rock stars would appear during my college years: The RutlesTodd RundgrenDevoThe Sex PistolsBowieMichael NesmithKISSTom Petty & the HeartbreakersCheap TrickThe RecordsIggy PopThe Clash, yadda und yadda. In the early ’80s, my access to TV was limited, but there was Rick James and Fear on SNL, and The Ramones on, of all things, Sha Na Na. There was a video for Joey Wilson‘s sublime, elusive “If You Don’t Want My Love” on some long-forgotten video hits show. And then there was MTV, a rant for another day (if ever).

As home video became a thing, I acquired a lot of old rock ‘n’ roll favorites, to peruse again at my leisure. I have all of The Beatles’ appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. I have a Blu-ray set collecting the entire series of The Monkees. I have officially-licensed Hullabaloo DVDs, a bootleg DVD set of the complete Shindig!, and an assortment of other televised rock ‘n’ roll goodies, both legit and less so, from The Raspberries to The Dave Clark Five. And it’s all on YouTube anyway, for anyone to click and view at a moment’s notice.

While I miss the feeling of rock ‘n’ roll on TV as a unique and special event, I can’t deny that I dig the convenience of being able to see a Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich or (especially!) Suzi Quatro clip online whenever I wish. Expedience trumps nostalgia. But that desire was built on a bedrock of memories, fond recollections of sprawling before the tube to witness The Beatles sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and all that came after that. Thanks, Mr. Sullivan. Set your antenna. Turn it up. Watch the music, and let it rock.

Carl Cafarelli

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The T-Shirts Of My Life

Don’t tell me that love hurts
I read the book, I saw the movie
Got the T-shirt
“T Shirt” by J. Imray (recorded by The Crickets)

Me in a Monkees T-shirt, my wife Brenda in normal adult clothes

I don’t wear plain Ts, of course; I favor some kind of design, usually a graphic from pop culture, whether it’s a rock group or a comic book character, whatever. I remember wearing a Batman T-shirt when I was six (circa the 1966 Batman TV series). I have no other recollection of what T-shirts (if any) I wore as a kid. (Though I should at least mention my Baron Daemon sweatshirt, proudly emblazoned with the black-and-white image of Syracuse’s favorite TV vampire, and stating, I’m a real cool ghoul.)

Even into high school, I don’t really remember what T-shirts I may have owned. The only one that specifically comes to mind is the Budweiser shirt I had when I was 15. I didn’t drink Budweiswer then, and I don’t drink it now, though the reason why has evolved; in 1975, I didn’t drink Budweiser because I didn’t drink beer, whereas nowadays I don’t drink Budweiser because I don’t regard it as a real beer. Gimme a Belgian, man.

Really, college was when I started getting more into identity-proclaiming T-shirts. I’m sure I wore a bunch of ’em freshman year, 1977-78, though I only remember my dorm T-shirt, my free local disco Club 2 On 2 T-shirt (which was definitely not identity-proclaiming, but it was free), and a White Rock T I won from Utica’s WOUR-FM. The White Rock shirt–which was connected to a ski movie scored by Rick Wakeman from Yes, not some stupid neo-Nazi thing–caused friction with my girlfriend’s roommate Rosanne; Ro also had a White Rock T-shirt, but hers went missing, and it was an uncommon enough item that I can’t blame her for being suspicious when she saw me wearing mine (especially given, as she put it, that I was hanging around her room so much). 

As college progressed, I started to get a few Ts more specifically reflective of my pop tastes. Christopher Reeve as SupermanKISSThe Sex PistolsThe Ramones. I recall a visit to a Syracuse University shop called Tops To Please, which at the time had an amazing selection of rock, punk, and new wave shirts, including a shirt emblazoned with the logo of my local heroes The Flashcubes. Alas, I was but a poor college student, and my budget didn’t allow me to purchase anything there. I never even got a Flashcubes T-shirt, at least not at the time. After the ‘Cubes broke up, and their T-shirts were no longer available, I went to a custom shirt place in Brockport, armed with a plain black T and my official membership button from when I joined The Flashcubes International Fan Club. I went to the shop’s counter, and told the clerk, “Make this shirt look like this button.” Yes, I’m guilty of commissioning the world’s first bootleg Flashcubes T-shirt. When the group reunited decades later and offered new shirts for sale, I made sure to buy one in penance for past sins.

For my 21st birthday in 1981, my girlfriend bought me a Monkees T-shirt. I loved that thing, and I wore it whenever I could. I wore it to a club show by a great British Invasion-influenced group called The Insiders. As the show went on, one of The Insiders told the crowd, “I hear there’s a guy here tonight in a Monkees T-shirt. Well, this is the song he came to hear,” and The Insiders played “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” I think they did “Last Train To Clarksville,” too.  Hey, hey…!

I remember once staring at a Yardbirds T-shirt for sale at Record Theatre in Rochester, wanting it, but reluctantly moving on because the store didn’t have one in my size. But the ’80s opened the floodgates for my fresh sea of Ts. Johnny Thunders! More Ramones! Batman! Um…Madonna. It was free. And, if memory serves, Ms. Ciccone wasn’t wearing a shirt herself in the image on the front, her strategically-placed arm securing the modicum of modesty necessary for one to wear the T-shirt in polite company.

’80s, ’90s, and into the 21st century. I had souvenir Ts from visits to Key West, Yosemite, Peel Pub in Montreal, and Malaga, several shirts depicting images of Batman and/or The Joker, shirts dressed with logos or likenesses of The Beach BoysThe Rolling StonesThe Wonders (from That Thing You Do!), The Cavern ClubGerber MusicThe BeatlesLannie FlowersThe Catholic GirlsCoca-ColaHarry PotterSyracuse University basketballSpider-Man…! Some I outgrew, some I replaced. I still wear ’em, from early, early spring to late, late fall.

My favorite T-shirt? The Kinks. People notice it pretty much every time I wear it, and I wear it often. Am I a dedicated follower of fashion? No, plainly not. I read the book, I saw the movie. Now just lemme have my T-shirts.

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Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

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COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Batman #180 (May 1966)

This inaugural entry of Comic Book Retroview was written some time in the ’80s as a spec submission to Comics Buyer’s Guide; it was intended to be the first in a series of reviews of back issue comics (an idea a CBG reader had suggested in the letter column), but editors Don and Maggie Thompson passed on the idea.  This is its first publication. All images copyright DC Comics Inc.

In 1966, Batman and Robin became household names.  The vehicle for this new-found fame was, of course, a twice-weekly televised showcase on the ABC network, a comedy/adventure program which would catapult the Caped Crusaders to national prominence and magazine sales in excess of one million copies that year.  Around the same time that the TV show was beginning to gain in popularity, Batman # 180 was published.

The issue’s cover set the mood.  Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson produced a cover that re-created the spirit of the blood and thunder pulps of yore:  pummeled by heavy rain, the hero struggles desperately with the gun-toting villain–the vision of death incarnate!–as his partner falls helplessly into an open grave.  It could have been a cover for Black Book Detective (starring the pulp hero The Black Bat) as well as for Batman.  The scene is completed by a tombstone marked, “R.I.P. Batman and Robin,” and by the ominous threat hissed by the villain:  “I’ll be the death of you yet, Batman and Robin!”

Inside, the story “Death Knocks Three Times” fulfilled the promise of the cover.  In twenty-four pages, uncredited author Robert Kanigher (with pencils by Bob Kane ghost Sheldon Moldoff, and inks by [I think] Joe Giella) spun a gripping, suspenseful yarn about a murderous thief called Death-Man, who was captured by the Dynamic Duo and brought to trial for the killing of an armed police guard.  Throughout his capture, trial, and subsequent death sentence, Death-Man remains confident and unconcerned:  “Do you really think you have the power to sentence me to death?  I–and I alone–possess the power over life and death!  I am beyond your feeble laws!  You can no more jail a shadow–or punish it–than m-m-m–“

And with that, Death-Man fell to the ground, and was pronounced dead on the spot.  This was on page seven.  Mere pages later, Death-Man would soon rise from the grave to rob again, boast again, and die again before Batman’s eyes.

Although a one-shot character, Death-Man was arguably the most memorable addition to Batman’s gallery of rogues since the 1940s.  Compared to the ineffectual clown that The Joker had become by this time, and to the costumed buffoons Batman would soon play with on the tube, the self-proclaimed master of death cut a striking figure.  Indeed, Death-Man’s arrogant taunts and mocking death(s) were enough to shake even the dread Batman to the point of nightmares.  In spite of an unconvincing explanation for Death-Man’s death-cheating–Eastern mysticism and self-discipline allowed him to enter a state of suspended animation–the villain’s cat-and-mouse games with Batman lent themselves to a fascinating storyline.  The climactic cemetery confrontation alluded to on the cover is wonderfully atmospheric, as Death-Man meets his final fate for real.

“Death Knocks Three Times” was the final flourish of the New Look Batman, begun in 1964 by editor Julius Schwartz to streamline and revitalize the character.  Soon after this issue was published, the camp silliness and “Holy Jet-stream!” expletives of the TV show began to show up in the comics as well, effectively destroying everything that Schwartz had worked for over the past two years.  However, the saga of Death-Man was more than just the last story of that period; it was also the finest, and worthy of standing alongside the later accomplishments of Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, et al.  Really, they just don’t write ’em like that anymore.

POSTSCRIPT:  Although the original version of Death-Man never again appeared in DC Comics continuity, the character was slightly revamped in the ’60s by  Japanese manga artist Jiro Kuwata, who called the villain “Lord Death Man;” Kuwata’s version is included in the 2008 book Batman:  The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga.  Subsequently, Lord Death-Man has appeared in DC Comics continuity, and has even been retrofitted into Batman ’66, the 21st-century comic-book version of the camp TV show.  Holy irony!

When I was 16, I wrote a script called “Nightmare Resurrection,” a sequel to “Death Knocks Three Times,” bringing Death-Man back from the dead one more time.  It was terrible.  I bow to Kanigher, Moldoff, Giella, and Schwartz.   

By Carl Cafarelli

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Lights! Camera! REACTION! My Life At The Movies

I’ve been trying to remember what could have been the first movies I ever saw. This was the early ’60s, long before there was any such thing as home video, so we’re talking about trips to the movie theater or drive-in. I suppose it’s possible I could have seen a movie on TV, but it’s not likely. My TV watching was exclusively devoted to cartoons, maybe some sitcoms, and kid’s shows like Shenanigans, our local institution Magic Toy Shop, and The Baron And His Buddies, the latter starring Mike Price as Syracuse’s own inimitable local TV vampire, Baron Daemon.

So , let’s say we’re looking around 1964, when I was four years old, or maybe even as early as three-year-old Carl in ’63. I remember occasional trips to The North Drive-In in nearby Cicero, piled into the car with family to see cartoons and a feature. There was a playground at the drive-in, right in front of the screen, for little ones like me to cavort ‘n’ frolic before the pictures started. I also remember wearing my pajamas in the car; the adults had a reasonable expectation that the kid would fall asleep long before the final credits rolled, so best be prepared to lift the li’l tyke outta the car and plop him in bed at evening’s end.

Although I remember all of the above, and I specifically remember seeing a Pixie And Dixie And Mr. Jinks cartoon at the drive-in, the earliest drive-in feature film I can specifically remember is The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. But I am certain that was not my first movie.

I think I have the answer narrowed down to four likely choices, though there could have been another forgotten trip to the cinema that predates all of them. But I know I saw the 1963 Disney animated film The Sword In The Stone, and I know I saw Don Knotts in the 1964 live action/animation hybrid The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Simple chronology suggests The Sword In The Stone would have been first, but it’s also possible I saw that film on second run, so who knows?

And it’s for damned sure I saw the 1964 blockbuster Mary Poppins at the movies, maybe at the drive-in (predating A Hard Day’s Night). Everyone saw Mary Poppins in 1964!

The fourth, vaguely-remembered flick in this group has been difficult to identify. I recall being in a movie theater–possibly in downtown Syracuse–when I was quite young; I remember a talking snake; and I remember a woman on screen, laughing. That’s it. My only other recollection is of us leaving the theater as this woman laughed; I would guess that the scene on screen rattled precious little me, leading to a decision that it was time for us to go. Bye bye, snake. By bye, laughing lady.

A little internet sleuthing leads me to believe this film was probably 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, a 1964 fantasy film directed by George Pal and starring Tony Randall. I’ve never seen the film in its entirety–nor at all since we presumably made our hasty retreat from the movie house in 1964–but while the description and YouTube clips of the movie don’t precisely match my hazy memory, they’re close enough for me to call it. The intrepid Tony Randall played the title role, and a talking snake, and a laughing, creepy Medusa, among other parts. Eerie ookiness achieved–7 Faces Of Dr. Lao was one of the first movies I ever saw.

(One other movie worth mentioning in this context is Cinderfella, a 1960 Jerry Lewis flick. I was born in 1960, so I’ll go out on a limb here and conclude that I probably don’t remember seeing Cinderfella on its first run. But maybe a second [or third] run, at the drive-in? That would make sense. Let’s call it a kookie quintet of feature films, all mixed together in a photo-finish tie for the coveted title of Carl’s First Movie.)

I’m not a movie buff. I’ve always liked movies, but I don’t go to see an awful lot of them, nor do I catch up with many films on home video or on demand. I’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve never The Godfather. I’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, other than seeing part of The Birds once on TV. I don’t say any of this for shock value, nor to be smug or iconoclastic or dismissive of the art of film. I’m not proud of the movies I’ve missed, but I’m also not specifically motivated to correct these omissions in my film-seein’ resume.

This sporadic series of Lights! Camera! REACTION! will look at some of the films I have seen, examine my history as a filmgoer, and just generally chat about my life at the movies. Grab some popcorn, and shhhh! The lights are dimming. I’m ready for my close-up.
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Personal Questions

Boppin’ Like The Hip Folks Do by Carl Cafarelli

As we all know, our online accounts require us to establish security questions, personal inquiries presumed to be sufficiently arcane that only we know our own secret answers. Each of the following security questions is accompanied by an answer that is technically true for me, at least on some level. They’re not the answers I’d use for any account, mind you, but they are real answers.

FIRST SURGERY

Birth. Really my Mom’s surgery, sure, but I was there. (True story: Mom fell and broke her leg while she was pregnant with your beloved future blogger. Which probably explains a lot.)

MAKE OF FIRST CAR

FIRST KISS

December 16th, 1976 at the Onondaga County War Memorial, with Uriah Heep opening. I wouldn’t get my first KISS record until the following June, when my sister gave me the Rock And Roll Over LP as a high school graduation gift.

WHERE YOU MET YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER

Oh, I just met lovely wife Brenda at a Mexican restaurant in North Syracuse for dinner after work on Tuesday night.

FIRST AIRPLANE TRIP

Started in one airport, ended in a different airport.

FAVORITE BOOK

Ron Glass. He was also the only actor to play the character of Book on the TV series Firefly and the subsequent movie Serenity.

FAVORITE TV SHOW

Radiovision by default; it’s the only TV show I ever did, co-hosted with my future This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio partner Dana Bonn. You can read the story here, and even see the damned thing here. We also appeared as guests on local ABC affiliate talk show Bridge Street, I participated in some public access cable talk shows in high school, and I used to be interviewed at work every summer by TV reporters doing stories about people suddenly rushing to buy air conditioners when it’s hot–imagine that! But Radiovision remains my only TV show.

FAVORITE RECORD

The late John Wicks. Great talent, and a hell of a nice guy.

John Wicks, CC, Paul Collins, Dana Bonn, This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio 6/11/09

FAVORITE MOVIE

“Movie” is an odd phrase to use in reference to fans of the fab ’60s British group The Move, but we’ll go with it. And it’s a four-way tie for my favorite Movie, as Gary FrenayPaul ArmstrongArty Lenin, and Tommy Allen–collectively, The Flashcubes–recorded Sportin’ Wood, a tribute album to The Move’s main man Roy Wood. Hello Suzie!

FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM

That answer’s evolved, but when I was a kid, we’d have to change the spelling a bit for the correct answer: I loved Teem soda. And I drank it at MacArthur Stadium while ignoring baseball games, so y’know, sports.

Later on, my favorite football team would be Huxley.

DREAM VACATION

FAVORITE MUSICIAN

Nah, with a few exceptions, I was never much for Musician. I was more of a Phonograph Record MagazineBomp!Trouser PressGoldmine, and CREEM guy. Among others!

NAME OF YOUR BEST FRIEND IN SCHOOL

In grade school? Batman. In middle school? WOLF-AM.

NAME OF FIRST PET

Sharon Bailey, May 1972. Took surreptitious glances at the smoke shop in White-Modell department store. Was smitten. Weird that no one ever asks “Name of first Playmate?”

Nancy McNeil, July 1969

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Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

Get MORE Carl! Check out the fourth and latest issue of the mighty Big Stir magazine at bigstirrecords.com/magazine
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Captain Marvel Adventures?

CAPTAIN MARVEL!

With one magic word–SHAZAM!–young Billy Batson is transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal: CAPTAIN MARVEL!

The original Captain Marvel is my second-favorite superhero, surpassed in my fannish pantheon only by Batman (because, well…Batman!). I’m referring to the Big Red Cheese, the top-selling comic-book superhero of the 1940s, not any of Marvel Comics‘ later usurpers of the name. You may know him as Shazam; he’s Captain Marvel to me. 


I’ve written previously of how I became a Captain Marvel fan, but there’s a specific element of that I want to re-visit. Before DC Comics licensed (and much later purchased) Cap from Fawcett Comics in the early ’70s, and even before my first real exposure to the character via Super 8 home movies of the 1941 Adventures Of Captain Marvel serial, I had a picture in my mind of who and what I thought Captain Marvel should be. 

Captain Marvel, beaten by Superman and prone on the floor behind Lois Lane. As if.

That mental picture was not based on any actual Captain Marvel adventure. A letter of comment printed in a Lois Lane comic book made reference to DC putting Captain Marvel out of business in the ’50s. From that wisp of an inspiration, my imagination conjured an expectation of a straight-ahead Eisenhower-era superhero, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Yeah, like Superman, sure, but like a very specific version of Superman: the TV Superman. The late George Reeves.

On The Adventures Of Superman, Reeves portrayed the Man of Steel as a tough, no-nonsense hero, particularly during the show’s first two seasons. I didn’t necessarily envision some actor like Reeves playing Captain Marvel in a movie, but I did picture a similar approach to straightforward Captain Marvel comic-book adventures, perhaps with a bit more ’50s science-fiction angle (kinda like Superman And The Mole Men, Reeves’ superhero debut). 

Understand: this was around 1971 or so. Captain Marvel’s comic book appearances were not readily accessible to anyone but collectors, so I had no familiarity whatsoever with the humor and whimsy of much of that material. Nor did Tom Tyler‘s portrayal of Cap in The Adventures Of Captain Marvel offer any clue to the essential lightheartedness of the Big Red Cheese; from those silent Super 8s to an epic evening spent watching the entire original serial (with sound!) at a 1972 Syracuse Cinephile Society event, my first actual glimpse of this World’s Mightiest Mortal offered no clue that Captain Marvel’s adventures were anything frothier than a Doc Savage pulp novel.

When DC revived Captain Marvel in 1972 for a new comic book series called Shazam!, I was introduced to the lighter approach that helped the good Captain outsell Superman during World War II. I was all in at the time; the appeal of the new stories grew thin, but I remained in awe of the vintage reprints.

But I’ve rarely gotten the latter-day Captain Marvel I really wanted. I wasn’t expecting (and did not wish for) a quasi-realistic interpretation of a hero with clenched teeth and the weight of the world on his frilly-caped shoulders; I just didn’t want the stories to be silly.

Right before the Shazam! title was cancelled in 1978, its final two issues started to veer away from attempts to copy the elusive charm of Cap’s late ’40s/early ’50s exploits. I wasn’t blown away with that pair of issues at the time, but enjoyed the series more as it switched to a backup strip in the giant-sized World’s Finest Comics title. Writer E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Don Newton presented a somewhat more serious Captain Marvel that maintained a sense of wonder but reclaimed a feeling of excitement that had previously been missing from Cap’s adventures in the ’70s.

In 1994, writer and artist Jerry Ordway produced a hardcover graphic novel called The Power Of Shazam! that managed to hit all the right marks. My only quibble was that it repeated the mistake of having the adult Captain Marvel retain the mind of the child Billy Batson; that misguided approach was introduced by Roy Thomas in a 1987 mini-series called Shazam: The New Beginning, a book as drab and empty as a superhero comic book could be. I’m sad to say that all subsequent incarnations of Captain Marvel have repeated this approach of Billy the kid’s mind in Captain Marvel’s adult body, like Big with super powers. (Ordway’s subsequent Power Of Shazam! ongoing series suffered from some ups and downs, but was overall far more interesting to me than any extended Shazam series that has followed it.)

Captain Marvel was also used well in the pages of JSAJustice, and particularly in the oversize one-shot Shazam!: The Power Of Hope in 2000, written by Paul Dini and gorgeously illustrated by Alex Ross. In 2015, we got two perfect takes on Captain Marvel, as writer Grant Morrison got it exactly right in the one-shot The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures, and so did Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner in the two-issue Convergence: Shazam!

I have no affection whatsoever for any current version of the original Captain Marvel. The 2019 Shazam! film was based on writer Geoff Johns‘ revamp of the character, introduced in 2012 as “The Curse Of Shazam!,” a backup series in Justice League. This ham-handed reboot is even more frustrating when you consider that Johns demonstrated a much better grasp of Cap when he was writing JSA

But know the real Captain Marvel. He’s out there somewhere, even if DC isn’t likely to ever call him by his real name again. But he’s out there, starring in exciting new adventures of the world’s mightiest mortal. I hope we’ll get to read those adventures some day.

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My Serial Thrillers

When I was an adolescent and young teen in the early ’70s, the past became a source of fascination for me. Movies, old radio, and especially comic books captured my attention. My favorite movie stars were Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers. In addition to the great rockin’ pop music I absorbed on AM radio, I also tuned in to the public station’s Radio Rides Again! to hear affirmation that The Shadow knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men. And comics…! Reprints of superhero adventures from the ’30s and ’40s were becoming increasingly accessible—DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino was especially keen on using reprints—and other resources even went back as far as 1929 for the debut of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, reprised in a hardcover collection that I received as a gift. The ’70s were a golden age of appreciating the pop culture Golden Age of before, during, and just after World War II.

My discovery of movie serials was part of that. Sort of. Eventually. I kinda fell into digging the chapter plays of the ’30s and ’40s. Prior to the ’70s, I had seen chapters of the 1930s Flash Gordon serials on the afternoon kiddie TV show hosted by Syracuse’s local TV vampire Baron Daemon. I was dimly aware of the silent-movie cliffhanger style of The Perils Of Pauline, though strictly as a tangent; the style manifested in the faux melodramatic Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! of the campy Batman TV series when I was six, and inspired the late ’60s Saturday morning cartoon series The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop.

Somewhere around 1971 to ’73, I found a Super 8 movie projector in our attic. These artifacts were among the earlier examples of home video, short and silent little flicks to enjoy in one’s own private Bijou. We had, I think, a single Super 8 in our stash, an absurdly short edit of Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein

I was riveted.

Pretty quickly after that, I noticed Super 8 films for sale at both K-Mart and White-Modell. Prying myself away from stealing surreptitious peaks at Vampirella and Penthouse in White-Modell’s smoke shop, I was drawn to Super 8s featuring Batman and the original Captain Marvel. My parents ultimately bought me two of each hero’s Super 8 adventures, plus a couple of shorter Chaplin reels. More Super-8s would follow, but the format faded away soon thereafter. I never saw any additional superhero Super 8s.

The little Batman and Captain Marvel reels were taken from the characters’ movie serial adventures, 1943’s Batman starring Lewis Wilson and 1941’s The Adventures Of Captain Marvel starring Tom Tyler. My Super 8s began to dovetail with my dawning awareness of superhero movie serials, courtesy of a chapter in All In Color For A Dime, a book collection of essays about comic books, and in On The Scene Presents Superheroes, a one-shot magazine about superhero movies, published in 1966 but still kickin’ around used bookstores in the early ’70s. 

In ’73 or so, I attended The Syracuse Cinephile Society‘s screening of the entire 12-chapter Adventures Of Captain Marvel serial–with sound and everything! The first chapter of Batman (its virulent wartime anti-Japanese racism intact) was included in a film compilation called Three Stooges Follies, which I saw twice in movie theaters (at Fayetteville Mall and at The Hollywood). The Hollywood also showed the first Flash Gordon serial from 1936 over the course of two separate Saturday matinees. Vacationing at my grandparents’ house in Southwest Missouri, I managed to stay up and watch two or three chapters of the 1944 Captain America serial, broadcast in their original once-a-week increments during the wee, wee weekend hours by a TV station in Pittsburg, Kansas. I also picked up a copy of To Be Continued, a hardcover history of the serials; I wish I had retained ownership of hat book, but it found a new home somewhere, victim of a purge to gather rent money circa 1980.

In February of 1976, I attended the Super DC Con sponsored by DC Comics in NYC. The film presentations at the con included some DC-affiliated serial footage, though my memory struggles to recreate the specifics. There was probably a Captain Marvel chapter, a chapter from 1949’s Batman And Robin, and I think an original coming-attractions trailer for The Vigilante. I do remember that there was a fragment of a chapter from 1948’s Superman; the two serials actor Kirk Alyn made as the Man of Steel were then presumed to be lost, though both were recovered in later years.

And that was probably it for my serial thrillers for a good while thereafter. Off to college in ’77, graduation in ’80, apartment living in Brockport and then Buffalo until the spring of ’87. I bought my first VCR in December of ’86. I got a VHS copy of Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe at some point, but never quite got around to watching it. When I moved back to Syracuse in ’87, Twilight Book And Game Emporium offered rentals of vintage serials. The Superman serials had been recovered by then, so I borrowed and watched Superman as well as The Green Hornet and the 1943 Batman. I bought budget VHS issues of both Batman and Batman And Robin, the former with some dubbed dialogue to tone down its overt racism. I eventually added Captain America and 1950’s Atom Man Versus Superman. As VHS was replaced by DVD, I got shiny serial discs of The Adventures Of Captain MarvelThe PhantomBatman, and Batman And Robin. I also watched Atom Man Versus Superman on TV when TCM serialized it over the course of fifteen Saturdays, and a feature-film edit of the great Spy Smasher serial on Netflix.

I have to admit that I have lost most of my young passion for movie serials. TCM has been running Terry And The Pirates on recent Saturdays, and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to watch it. Between YouTube and streaming options, I can access chapters of BlackhawkBuck RogersThe Spider’s WebDick TracyThe Green ArcherZorro’s Black WhipThe New Adventures Of TarzanThe Shadow, and many more. But the urge ain’t there anymore. I loved serials when I loved them. 


I’m still fond of ’em anyway. If I’m in the right mood, they all remain a mere click away. And with sound! The Golden Age of Comics, brought to life in sparkling (and occasionally scratchy) black and white. To be continued? Well…why not?

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Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch

This was originally posted at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on July 11, 2018. As Marvel’s fantastic WandaVision TV mini-series concludes its run on Disney + today, we reprise this look back at how columnist Carl Cafarelli first discovered Wanda (and her brother Pietro) when he was a kid in the ’60s.

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

You can’t keep a band together.
–Jazz legend Del Paxton

When you’re six years old, you may believe that some things can remain stable, unchanging. At least that’s what I thought when I was six, in 1966. The Beatles were The Beatles, four specific guys, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and they would always be The Beatles. The kids I knew on my block were the kids I knew on my block. Family was family: Mom, Dad, my brothers Art and Rob, my sister Nina, and an extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents. The death of my Aunt Connie, my Godmother, in 1965 was the first existential threat to my sense of comfortable consistency, but even though her passing shattered my little heart, and even though I now feared the possibility of more loved ones being taken away from me, I still had faith that things could remain in place, secure, unchallenged. Safe. When trouble appeared, Mom and Dad could chase it away. And on TV and in comic books, evil could be vanquished by superheroes. Like Batman and Robin, The Dynamic Duo–you could always count on those two. In the summer of ’66, I discovered an entire team of superheroes: The Mighty Avengers!

It was a back issue, a copy of The Avengers # 13 from 1965, but any book you ain’t read yet is a new book. It introduced me to my first superhero group, comprised of five characters I’d never seen before: Captain AmericaThorIron ManGiant-Man, and The Wasp. I was fascinated, and secure in the knowledge that this crusading quintet would always be there to thwart the machinations of nogoodniks like Count Nefaria.

And the next time I saw an issue of The Avengers, the old order had already, like,  changeth-ed. What the…?!

Captain America–then and now, my favorite Avenger–was still there. The Wasp was still there. Dumbass that I was, I didn’t realize that the big guy now called Goliath was good ol’ Giant-Man in a different costume. Thor and Iron Man were gone. In their place were three more unfamiliar heroes: the archer Hawkeye, and a pair of siblings, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch.

Oddly enough, I think I took this confusing challenge to the status quo in stride. At six, I still didn’t quite understand all the busy little business occurring in superhero comics, especially in the comparatively denser experience of Marvel Comics. I just kinda held on, and exulted in my best thing ever: More superheroes! I think this second exposure to The Avengers predated my first exposure to The Fantastic Four, so Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch were likely the first brother-and-sister heroes I ever saw (before The FF’s Sue and Johnny Storm, The Invisible Girl and The Human Torch). A superhero family? I mean, I sorta knew Superman‘s pretty cousin SupergirlSuperboy‘s supposed older brother Mon-El, and had read a touching imaginary story about Lex Luthor as Superman’s brother. But sibling superheroes seemed new, perhaps even reassuring. In tumultuous times, what could be more reassuring than family?

I don’t recall which issue of The Avengers introduced me to Pietro and Wanda, the speedster Quicksilver and his pseudo-magical sister The Scarlet Witch; I suspect it was either The Avengers # 29 (June 1966) or the following month’s The Avengers # 30. But I felt an immediate attachment to them, and to Hawkeye, too. I accepted this new group as The Avengers. My Avengers. My next issue was probably The Avengers # 33 (October 1966), then # 42 (July 1967), and I tried to keep up with The Avengers as often as I could thereafter.

In the ’80s, writer and artist Mike Tiefenbacher said something to the effect that kids who are attracted to superheroes–and specifically to groups of superheroes–are drawn by the look of costumes as much as by any other factor. I agree. At six and seven years old, I thought Quicksilver’s bold white lightning bolt against a green body suit was mesmerizing, enhanced by his silver hair and its unique horn-like tufts. The Scarlet Witch was basically wearing a bathing suit with a cape, but my affection for her look wasn’t merely prurient, and it had more to do with her distinctive helmet, or whatever that was that framed her face. I didn’t know anything about Jack Kirby, and Dashing Don Heck was the artist on my earliest Avengers adventures anyway. It would be a few years before I learned that Wanda and Pietro had first appeared as conflicted minions of the evil Magneto in the pages of The X-Men, designed and rendered by King Kirby.

Anyway. Although I continued to follow The Avengers as best I could, I missed more issues than I read. Somewhere in there, Wanda and Pietro slipped away, Avengers no longer. I found them again as antagonists in The X-Men, and involved in an inter-title X-Men/Avengers crossover serial. New Avengers joined. One of them, a synthezoid called The Vision, won The Scarlet Witch’s heart, and they were married in the ’70s. Quicksilver’s costume coloring changed from green to a light blue. His mercurial temper and imperious nature resulted in Pietro not being an Avenger quite as often as Wanda was. I caught up on much of Wanda and Pietro’s back story in 1970, when my sister’s boyfriend gave me all of his old comic books, which included many early ’60s Marvels. By then, I no longer called my sister Nina; I had begun calling her by her real name, Denise, as she left home for college.

Things change. When I was a kid, The Avengers was my favorite comic book. I still buy new comic books, often including The Avengers, but the current run just doesn’t interest me, so I’m dropping it from my pull list this week. I’ve very much enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of The Avengers, and look forward to many more MCU movies. I’m still a version of that six-year-old kid, enthralled when I saw Captain America throw his mighty shield, enthralled even now with the notion of good triumphing over evil, order over chaos, stability over disarray.

On Monday morning, I was a pall bearer at my Aunt Mary’s funeral. It’s okay; she is in a much better place now than she had been in the recent past. In the limousine, some of the other pall bearers were men who only remembered me from when I was a kid, their friend Maryann’s weird and pesky little superhero-obsessed cousin. Aunt Mary was 94, the last of my Dad’s siblings. They’re all gone now, beginning with their little brother Arthur (killed in a car accident as a child), then my Aunt Connie in 1965, Uncle Danny in 1970, Aunt Helen, Uncle Tot, Aunt Rose, and then Dad in 2012. My mother is in a nursing home. She wanted to attend Aunt Mary’s funeral, but decided she just wasn’t up to the effort on Monday.

As the limo made its way from funeral home to church to cemetery and back, I heard these men talk about their memories of Aunt Mary. More than one of them said that they would have probably wound up in jail if Aunt Mary hadn’t provided them with a place to hang out, a place to be, instead of being out there somewhere getting into real trouble. She was a superhero, as powerful with her Italian cookies and macaroni and meatballs as The Scarlet Witch with her hexes, and Quicksilver with his speed. Avengers assemble. Lemme tell ya: even the baddest of bad guys would have been no match for Aunt Mary’s cookies.

The Beatles broke up. Robin went off to college, leaving his mentor to fight crime alone back in Gotham City, just as my sister Nina–Denise–matriculated her way out of North Syracuse. Some of the kids on the block moved away. Family and friends–so many have been claimed by time, circumstance, and mortality. I’ve welcomed newer members of those groups, too. “The Old Order Changeth.” That was the title of the story where Captain America returned from an adventure to discover he was the last of the old Avengers, charged with the task of whipping these new recruits Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and The Scarlet Witch into shape. Things change. The only constant is change.

Our faith in the value of what we knew, though…well, that doesn’t have to change. We remember. We believe. And we persevere, as our heroes taught us.

I may still have a tiny crush on The Scarlet Witch. She was just so damned cute in that helmet, or whatever the hell it was supposed to be.

Oh, it was a tiara! Of course!

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SHAZAM! My Secret Origin As A Captain Marvel Fan

With one magic word:  SHAZAM!

Although the super-hero boom in comics of the 1940s was undeniably started by the incredible popularity of Superman, and manifested in countless attempts to copy/capture/re-create/steal the Man of Steel’s successful model, Superman wasn’t necessarily the best-selling superdoer in the funny-book business.  For a time in the ’40s, Superman was outsold by his biggest rival, the original Captain Marvel.

For those who don’t know this original Captain Marvel, lemme give you the brief.  A young, orphaned newsboy named Billy Batson is granted secret, fantastic power by the ancient wizard Shazam; whenever our Billy speaks the wizard’s name, he is magically transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel. The wizard’s name is itself an anagram of the wonderful abilities Billy can access when he calls on the power of Shazam: The wisdom of Solomon! The strength of Hercules! The courage of Atlas! The power of Zeus! The skill of Achilles! The speed of Mercury! If you are a mad scientist like Dr. Sivana, or an evil tyrant (and literal worm) like Mr. Mind, or just another nogoodnik in The Monster Society Of Evil, get set to get your ass kicked by Captain Marvel!

I’ve been trying to remember when and how I first got hooked on Captain Marvel, who would ultimately become my all-time second favorite comic book hero (after The Batman). As a kid in the ’60s and early ’70s, I had heard of Captain Marvel, even though Cap was long gone by that point. The first Captain Marvel I ever saw was a Marvel Comics character who’d usurped the name from its rightful owner. Even as a stupid kid, I eventually figured out that Mar-Vell of the Kree couldn’t be the same Captain Marvel referenced on TV shows like The Good Guys and The Monkees.

(Digression: one of my many favorite moments on The Monkees was when Peter Tork had been kidnapped and tied to a chair. Left alone, still bound to the chair, our brave Peter shook ‘n’ shimmied his way in front of a mirror, squared his shoulders, and cried out with a defiant, “SHAZAM!” And the mirror shattered, prompting Peter to say, “Well, that’s seven years’ bad luck for Captain Marvel!”)

Thanks to Melanie Mitchell for screenshot

My first exposure to Cap was second-hand, in the letters page for a Lois Lane Giant. The letter-writer complained of a scene in a previous Giant where Superman fended off a number of super-powered suitors vying for Lois’ fickle affection; one of the defeated suitors, lying dazed on the floor, was Captain Marvel. The fan took issue with this, saying something like, “I know you put Captain Marvel out of business in the ’50s, but there’s no need to gloat over it!” The editor, E. Nelson Bridwell, replied that it was meant in fun; Lois Lane artist Kurt Schaffenberger had previously been one of the main Captain Marvel artists, and had included Cap’s image as a joke. Bridwell further commented something to the effect that Captain Marvel had been one of his own favorites as a young comics fan, and that he’d never wish to be disrespectful toward the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

I dug out that previous Lois Lane Giant, and I found the page and panel in question. There he was. So that was Captain Marvel! And now, I wanted to know more.

Coincidentally–but relevantly–I found a Super-8 movie projector in the attic. On subsequent visits to K-Mart and White-Modell, I saw Super-8 movies for sale, including Super-8 movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Super-8 movies starring Batman…and Super-8 movies starring Captain Marvel! I acquired them all in short order.

Long before the home-entertainment Utopia delivered by Betamax, laser discs, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and on-line streaming, 8mm and Super-8 films were short, silent movies made for home consumption. My two Captain Marvel Super-8s were twelve-minute distillations of the first and the final chapters of the 1941 movie serial The Adventures Of Captain Marvel.

The chronology of my Captain Marvel fandom gets a little confusing; so much happened either all at once or in short order, and I have difficulty putting it all together 45 years later.  But figure we’re in a rough timeline of 1972 to ’73 or so.  I watched my Captain Marvel Super-8s over and over. I read a single page of the first Captain Marvel comic book story, reprinted in Jules Feiffer‘s book The Great Comic Book Heroes (which contained just that one page of Cap, for legal reasons we’ll touch on in a few paragraphs). I was getting well hooked on Captain Marvel, albeit with relatively little to go on.

But two events kicked my Shazam mania into overdrive. In this time frame, it became clear that my teeth were a mess, and that I would need braces. One evening, following an early (and physically uncomfortable) consultation with the orthodontist, my parents decided to treat me to an evening with the Syracuse Cinephile Society.  The Syracuse Cinephile Society was a monthly (I think) gathering of film buffs, who would convene upstairs at a downtown bar called The Firebarn to screen vintage films. This was not my first visit to the Syracuse Cinephile Society; my cousin Maryann had already taken me to The Firebarn to see Humphrey Bogart in Dead End, and she also took me to see Errol Flynn in The Adventures Of Robin Hood, though I don’t recall for sure whether that was before or after Mom and Dad took me to see….

Tom Tyler as CAPTAIN MARVEL!

…Well, they took me to The Firebarn to see the Syracuse Cinephile Society’s screening of the complete twelve-chapter movie serial, The Adventures Of Captain Marvel.  The whole thing! With sound, unlike my silent little Super-8s! Mind you, this was over three and a half hours of serial action, three and a half hours originally intended to be enjoyed over the course of three months in twenty-minute weekly installments, not in a single evening as your butt hurt from sitting and your teeth ached from orthodontic invasion.  But it didn’t matter. I was captivated. SHAZAM!

By this time, I probably knew a little bit about what had driven the World’s Mightiest Mortal off the newsstands decades ago.  The folks in charge of DC Comics were none too thrilled about the success of Captain Marvel, a character published by Fawcett Comics. DC sued, claiming that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman, and a violation of DC’s copyright on mighty caped guys who could fly.  Fawcett eventually capitulated, and agreed to retire Captain Marvel permanently. Captain Marvel and the rest of The Marvel Family (his sister Mary Marvel and their pal Captain Marvel, Junior) disappeared–seemingly forever–following their final appearance in The Marvel Family # 89, cover-dated January 1954.

One of my favorite comic books in the early ’70s was a reprint title called Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains, a DC book that usually featured stories from comics’ Golden Age, the ’40s. The fourth issue of Wanted was a particular favorite, with a lead story reprinting the original Green Lantern‘s first encounter with Solomon Grundy, and a back-up of Kid Eternity (another of my faves!) facing his evil opposite number, Master Man.  But, for all that, the one thing in this issue that just ’bout made my head explode was this one-page house ad:

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

Captain Marvel was coming back?! At DC??! Not even world peace or a Beatles reunion could have been more welcome news to me at the time.  Well, maybe a Beatles reunion. World peace is nice, too. But I could barely contain my glee at this announcement.  Captain Marvel was coming back!

The new comic book was called Shazam! During Captain Marvel’s nearly two-decade absence from newsstands, Marvel Comics had claimed the Captain Marvel name as a trademark, preventing DC from ever using that name as a comic book title. Curses! But I loved the new stories at the time, and I really loved the fact that DC was including a Golden Age Cap reprint in each issue. I figured this was the start of a new Golden Age!

But DC couldn’t quite get a handle on what to do with the World’s Mightiest Mortal. The scripts aimed to be charming, but usually settled for silly instead. Even with a new Saturday morning live-action Shazam! TV series, the character just never really caught on in a big way. Matters weren’t helped by the then-unknown fact that DC hadn’t actually purchased the rights to Captain Marvel; it was merely a licensing deal with Fawcett; that meant there was a limit to how much exposure Cap could get at DC, at least without DC having to pay additional fees that, frankly, wouldn’t have been worth it, given Captain Marvel’s lack of blockbuster sales appeal.

In the decades since, DC did eventually assume full ownership of Captain Marvel, and the character has appeared as a member of the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, and on animated TV shows including Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave And The Bold. There is a Shazam! feature film in development, with Dwayne Johnson signed to play one of Captain Marvel’s enemies, the mighty Black Adam. So the World’s Mightiest Mortal lives on.

Unfortunately, DC doesn’t call him Captain Marvel anymore; now, the character is just called Shazam. Marvel Comics owns the original name, and has its own Captain Marvel movie coming, with Brie Larson in the title role. It bugs me a little that the original Captain Marvel can’t use his own name, but that battle was lost a long time ago. I read Marvel’s Captain Marvel comic book regularly, and I’ll see Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie when it’s released. That’s the way it is, and I accept it.  I’ll even enjoy it, I betcha.

Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel

But, in my heart, I know who the real Captain Marvel is: a little kid with the biggest, best secret in the world; a kid who can move mountains, and fly around the world, and shrug off bullets and bad guys with a smile and a twinkle in his eye; a kid who can shed the troubles and limitations of frail humanity, and become a champion like no other; a kid who can become, at will, the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

It’s a pretty good deal. All it takes is one magic word.