Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Adventures of M. F. Enterprises Part 1

M. F. Enterprises was a strange little publishing house. It was run artist Myron Floss, whose main claim to fame was also running the company that produced the legendary black-and-white horror comic magazine Eerie. That was a somewhat pioneering publication, and a far cry from the output of M. F. Enterprises. M. F. Enterprises actually did have a lot going for it, but for one problem: It came into being about a decade too late, or about three years too early.

The publishing house, to my knowledge, put out a total of four different comic series (for a grand total of 11 known issues). Henry Brewster was a standard teen book of the Archie genre. There was a series called Great West, apparently an anthology title, but I don't think anyone's actually found a copy of the book, so whether or not it actually came out is up in the air. The final two books featured the star of the M. F. Enterprises' comic galaxy: Captain Marvel. But alas, not the Captain Marvel you're thinking of.

I said the company had a lot going for it, and I meant it. Among the creators working there, Carl Hubbell had done a lot of work on Blue Ribbon Comics,  Airboy and Boy Comics in the forties and early fifties. The true feather in the firm's hat was Carl Burgos. Burgos, as most old-time comic fans know, created one of the very first super-heroes, the original Human Torch. He also worked on a plethora of Marvel/Timely, Harvey and Centaur Publications comics in the golden age and the opening years of the silver age of comics. He also created M. F. Enterprises' star, Captain Marvel.

Most folks know there are two Captain Marvels. The original Captain Marvel is remembered now as Shazam! from the TV show of the same name. Young Billy Batson had the ability to change into the World's Mightest Mortal whenever he said the name of an old wizard. For many years, Captain Marvel's Fawcett Publications' comics were the best-selling comics on the planet. After a trademark infringement lawsuit ended his reign, the character (and all of Fawcett's stable of characters) were bought up by the victor, National Periodical Publications (now DC Comics) and has been republished, rebooted and re=envisioned several times since. But in the time between the end of Fawcett and the rise of Shazam!, another Captain sprung out of the woodwork.

The second Captain Marvel is Captain Mar-Vell, a renegade alien Kree warrior who decided to keep the Earth of the Marvel Comics universe safe from his own race. This Captain first appeared in an issue of Marvel Super-Heroes and, much like the original hero, has gone through many series and incarnations. Marvel Comics did do one classy thing and had the actual character die from cancer (in a truly poignant graphic novel) and then remain dead. There have been several characters in the Marvel stable to use the "Captain Marvel" name since then (for trademarking purposes, of course).

Carl Burgo's Captain Marvel was a conglomeration of both the Captain Marvels (even though Mar-Vell hadn't been created yet), Burgo's own Human Torch, and apparently a bottle or two of absinthe somewhere along the line. This Captain Marvel was an android from an unnamed planet. He was created to repel many invaders at once, but the first time he took to the air, his planet was engulfed in a catastrophic war and destroyed. He wandered the stars for a short while until coming upon Earth, where he became quickly earned a professorship at a college (using the name Roger Winkle) and spent his time grading papers and going on adventures to protect the Earth, often aided by his young student sidekick and trying to graciously spurn the amorous advances of a colleague.

Well, right there you have major elements from the origins of the Human Torch and Superman. Add into the mixture that Captain Marvel used a special word to activate (and deactivate) his powers and that his young sidekick was named Billy Baxton, and you've almost got the original Big Red Cheese. The absinthe comes in when you get to Captain Marvel's powers. He can fly, has laser-beam vision, and can split his body up.  Whenever he says the world "Split", Captain Marvel and separate all his body parts (or just one or two) at their joints. The average joe super-villain could be minding his business robbing your average jewelry store and sudden be caught in a fusillade of arms and legs. If Cappy M says the word "Xam", his body parts come back and reunite.

While derivative, this little concept might've had some wings if it had come along during the "camp" craze of 1966-1968, but as it stood, with all the talent behind it, Captain Marvel was a Golden Age hero in a Silver Age. Burgos had a lot of creativity in the stories, but they still had the joie de vivre of your standard Golden Age story, in an industry that was beginning to feel the first pangs of growth as an art form.

And if using the name of a legendary super-hero wasn't enough, using the names of several for super-villains is even worse, as we'll see in Part 2.

So be here, Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!