For this space last week, I devoted some time to Captain Marvel Jr. That got me to thinking I really should cover the other, largely forgotten member of the immediate Marvel Family, Mary. That in and of itself was not very fun at first when my standard Google Images search for pics of the character revealed there are an awful lot of suggestive drawings of Mary Marvel online right now, moreso than any other character I’ve done a search for thus far.
By the way, I probably won’t be covering the Lieutenant Marvels next week, so don’t ask, Jimmy.
Mary Marvel was, essentially, the female version of Captain Marvel, and fairly popular in her own right when she first appeared on the scene. Heck, the Marvel Family, as they were called, were so popular DC Comics (who didn’t own them at the time but do now) sued Fawcett Comics into basic oblivion for copyright infringement, claiming Captain Marvel was too close to Superman. They also went so far as to copy the Marvel Family themselves, suggesting the real infringement might have gone the other way. Heck, DC had writer Otto Binder, Mary’s creator, working for them when a mysterious “Supergirl” showed up for the first time in a story written by Binder. How coincidental.
Mary came first, by the way.
As it is, Mary was the sister of Billy Batson, and Billy shared his power with deserving (generally juvenile) mortals and his sister counted. By saying the magic word “Shazam,” Mary transformed into Mary Marvel, with all the same powers and abilities as her brother Captain Marvel as explained by the fact that “Shazam” was both the wizard’s name and an acronym.
Actually, another thing they had in common was that Mary was drawn to resemble a famous person of the time. Captain Marvel bore an intentional resemblance to Fred MacMurray. Mary was made to resemble both in appearance and onscreen personality one Judy Garland.
But the thing about the Marvels in general was they were essentially carefree, innocent characters who just did good deeds. They were childlike without being childish. That essential innocence is what won them over with fans for decades, so making them more “realistic” hasn’t really worked for a lot of readers. That doesn’t mean writers haven’t tried. And that’s where Mary was somewhat ruined as a character.
See, the Infinite Crisis happened and, as noted last week, the Spectre killed Shazam, Billy became the new wizard, Freddy became the new Captain Marvel, and Mary…well, they kind of forgot about her when they were handing out powers.
That kinda pissed Mary off.
Mary wanted back into the “having powers” game and went off to find some. Her first attempt was to get another forgotten individual that was a past champion of Shazam to share power with her. That was Black Adam, the character long known as the evil version of Captain Marvel before writer Geoff Johns thought he’d make a more interesting dark anti-hero. Black Adam had lost his powers for going way rogue, but managed to get them back in time and did share them with Mary. But Black Adam’s power was corrupted, so it made Mary corrupted too, changing her outfit to black and making her more inclined to rougher violence.
Mary did eventually expel that power, but then something else happened. Grant Morrison was writing a Final Crisis where the spirits of the evil New Gods were coming to Earth and inhabiting mortal bodies since, well, they’d all been killed before that Crisis got off the ground and they are gods and so forth. Mary was possessed by Darkseid’s chief torturer Desaad, who’s a creepy dude under normal circumstances and probably moreso when he changed her outfit yet again into a black version of her traditional look but with a lightning bolt-shaped boob window instead of, you know, not having a boob window. Darkseid and his forces were defeated and Mary went back to obscurity.
Since the New 52, Mary, like Cap Junior, has reappeared when again Captain Marvel (not Shazam) shared the power, but since DC is calling the original character “Shazam” now, I don’t know what that makes Mary.
Still, it is kind of a shame that the powers that be don’t see a place for such innocent characters anymore.