Saturday, November 24, 2012

Comic Books in Real Life: The King and the Captain

Anyone who has talked to me (or heard me talk) for nearly any length of time has probably figured out that I’m obsessed with comic books. I will leap on an opportunity to relate anything I can to a comic book character, story, or idea. Well I've decided to try and do the opposite and explore ways in which comic books have affected the real world in ways even those of you who are not comic book fans like me can appreciate. I’m going to start with someone that I think it’s pretty safe to assume that everyone knows about: Elvis Presley.
You gotta love that smile

For the few of you that are unaware, Elvis is often regarded as the “King of Rock and Roll” and was the largest cultural icon of a decade and easily one of the biggest cultural icons of all time. His music and his style influenced a generation. Elvis shaped American pop culture with his then (and now) outlandish style of dress and (only then) provocative music and dancing. But I’m not here to expound upon you Elvis’s influence on our culture, I’m here to talk about comic books. Let’s move on to a character that is a little lesser known but by no means unpopular: Captain Marvel
Basically, he's magical Superman
Now, you may think you’ve never heard of Captain Marvel, and you very well might be right, but if you’ve ever heard or used the word “Shazam!” then you know a little more than you think. In fact, you may see that picture and think to yourself, “Oh, I know him! That’s Shazam!” and, until recently anyway, you would have been technically incorrect. You see, as the result of a complicated legal battle with Marvel (I won’t get into the details, I’m saving Marvel lawsuits for another time), DC was unable to, for somewhat obvious reasons, put the character’s name (Captain MARVEL) on the cover of the comic and instead opted to use “SHAZAM!” as the title of the series, since that was the name of the wizard that granted young Billy Bastion (Captain Marvel’s alter ego) his power and also conveniently the word that Billy would shout to turn into Captain Marvel and vice-versa.

Here you can see they've begun to downplay his full title
This led to some confusion, since logic would dictate the man on the cover of that comic goes by Shazam, and for years Captain Marvel was commonly referred to as Shazam virtually interchangeably. DC finally gave in and officially renamed the character himself Shazam somewhat recently. Now I have ventured dangerously far into deep comic book waters, I promise we will steer out of them shortly. If you are somewhat familiar with Elvis’s fashion tendencies, you might see where this is going, but I've got one more fictional person to introduce you to and then we can get back to real life. Now most heroes at one point or another have had a sidekick or some variation on the sidekick theme, and Captain Marvel was no exception. Just as Batman had Robin, Captain Marvel had Captain Marvel Jr. (perhaps Superman and Superboy are a better comparison as far as naming creativity goes, but I digress).
Interestingly, they seemed to be able to put "Captain Marvel Jr." on covers with reckless abandon
Even if you knew who Captain Marvel was, it’s unlikely you’ll know who this kid is unless you are a serious fan of the Marvel Family. I didn’t even know who he was until somewhat recently. As far as Shazam powers go, Captain Marvel Jr., Freddy Friedman, got the short end of the stick. After Captain Marvel saves Freddy from Captain Nazi (I know, comics writers have always struggled with creative naming) he grants him power of his own. But unlike other Marvels (and yes there were more, Mary Marvel, Uncle Marvel, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, etc.) Freddy derived his power from Captain Marvel himself and not the wizard Shazam and therefore invoked HIS transformation, one which did not have the added benefit of making him an adult like all the others, by saying “Captain Marvel”. This had the hilarious consequence of Captain Marvel Jr. being unable to say his own name without transforming and revealing his identity. At this point you may or may not be wondering how I am going to tie this back to Elvis Presley. For those of you who don’t know, it should become immediately apparent when you see that Elvis frequently liked to dress up like this:
Note the cape, the collar, and the wingspan
Of course one might suspect that the Marvels, Captain Marvel Jr. in particular, were designed to capture the spirit of the era, and were made to look like Elvis. But I’m here to tell you that the King of Rock and Roll himself based his own appearance and style off of Captain Marvel Jr., who deputed in 1942 when Elvis was only seven years old. And I’m not making this up; Elvis’s love of Captain Marvel Jr. was well-documented, with his extensive comic book collection on display at Graceland, his former-home-turned-museum. 
The spitting image! 
The cape and hair were not the only things that Elvis borrowed from Captain Marvel Jr., but also his emblem. Elvis’s TCB (Taking Care of Business) logo features a lightning bolt strikingly similar to the one that the Marvels wear on their chest.
Not to be confused with The Flash

The extent to which this character inspired him was truly great. Captain Marvel Jr. was the sidekick with wonky powers who influenced a generation of haircuts, through Elvis, at the very least.
One of them even has a guitar!
As a nod to the inspiration provided to Elvis by Captain Marvel Jr., the character has been made to look even more distinctly like the King. On top of that, his character is frequently shown to be a huge fan of Rock and Roll and Elvis himself. But it should always be known that it was the comic that inspired the man and not the other way around.

Please let me know in the comments what you thought of this post! I've got some great ideas for what to keep writing about and would love to continue if there’s enough interest!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy comic books too, Anthony! This was an intersting piece about a side of Elvis I didn't know. Thank you, and good job!