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Shazam! The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal

Author/designer Chip Kidd and photographer Geoff Spear ogle oodles of highly collectible "Marvel Family" merchandise.

In his time – the 1940s and early 1950s – Captain Marvel was outselling Superman.

Captain Marvel's Magic Flute/From the collection of Harry Matetsky

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That’s the word young Billy Baston has to say to be transformed by a magic lightning bolt into the world’s mightiest mortal (and an grown-up too, I might add) Captain Marvel! As Captain Marvel, young Billy has the powers of –

Solomon – wisdom

Hercules – strength

Atlas – stamina

Zeus – power

Achilles – courage

Mercury – speed

Pretty neat, huh! What little kid wouldn’t be drawn to such a character? And like flies they were during the 1940s and early 1950s, outselling Superman by 14 million comic books a month. Besides the Captain, who appeared in three comics a month, there were comics with his sister Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and even a funny animal character Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny.

The huge popularity of Captain Marvel is celebrated in the book, Shazam! The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal (Harry N. Abrams, 246 pp.) by writer and designer Chip Kidd and photographer Geoff Spear. Together they show us oodles of "Marvel Family" merchandise and ephemera, mostly from the collection of Harry Matetsky.

And what a collection it is, from Captain Marvel club items to clothes, toys, games, puzzles, figurines, and paper dolls, just to name a few. Among those which stood out to me: the "personally" addressed letters to fans "signed" by the Captain himself (Fawcett Publications, who printed the Captain Marvel comics, had 30 full-time staffers to answer the Captain’s fan mail); and all the clothing – ties, shirts, dresses (from Mary Marvel). The funniest, however, was the replica of Captain Marvel’s cape, which has a disclaimer printed on it: "Play cape does not possess superhuman powers," probably to prevent any unnecessary roof jumping.


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