Thursday, March 1, 2012

M. F. Enterprises, Part 2

As I said in my previous post, M. F. Enterprises had a lot going for it, but unfortunately it was a little late to the starting gate. Having a major golden age creator like Carl Burgos working for you was a major feather in your cap, and I think perhaps they let Burgos get away will a little too much. Considering how many of the characters in this Captain Marvel's universe were either uninspired or blatantly used the names of preexisting comic book characters, it doesn't appear the stories were given a proper editorial going-over before they went to press.

The Number One offender was, of course, their star attraction, Captain Marvel. You learned a little (and probably more than you wanted to) about this pretender to the crown of the Big Red Cheese. Combine him with his young sidekick Billy Baxton, and it's probably a good thing Fawcett Publications comic division had gone belly-up about a decade earlier. This was legal fodder that would make lawyers drool.

Most folks know Plastic Man. Even if they don't, it's the first name that pops into your head when you think of stretchy characters. Okay sure, maybe children of the seventies think of Stretch Armstrong first, but that's not the point here. Jack Cole's comic masterpiece was still a very fond memory in the heads of kids and comic book creators back in 1965. There's no way anyone could've thought that was an original name any more than they could've forgotten someone had already used Captain Marvel. It seems though that someone must've said something somewhere along the line, as M. E. Enterprises' Plastic Man got a name change to Elastic Man by the time of his second appearance in Captain Marvel Meets the Terrible 5 #1. This particular Venusian menace just stretches, and has none of the witty repartee of the original hero. 

The cover of Terrible 5 #1 also proclaims the names of two other characters that had previous histories: Dr. Fate and Dr. Doom. National Periodical Publications (soon to be known as DC Comics) had the rights to the name "Doctor Fate", having published the adventures of a sorcerer super-hero by that name in the pages of More Fun Comics and All-Star Comics through much of the forties. The character has gone threw many incarnations in later decades and still holds an important place in the DC Universe. M. F. E.'s Dr. Fate was an old guy who used a lot of gadgets. 

Doctor Doom was perhaps an even more egregious name theft, as Marvel Comics was using the character as one of their iconic villains at the same time. Marvel's Doctor Doom was the revenge-filled, armored master of the land of Latveria, and sworn enemy of the Fantastic Four. M. F. E.'s Dr. Doom was an international criminal who led the devious organization known as B.I.R.D. Yeah, I know. So much for panache. Doom himself looked very similar in appearance to DC Comics' second-team villain Ira Quimby, the scientist-criminal known as I.Q., who was noted for elaborate schemes that he forgot to double-check and would end up being captured because of a dropped decimal point. Luckily, in the actual story, he was called Mister Doom, so no axe was lowered for that particular bit of plagaristic perfidy.

The Terrible 5 weren't an actual team, as only a couple of the villains actually met up to face Captain Marvel. Elastic Man got teamed with the unimaginatively-named Tinyman. Much like Quality Comics' Doll Man, DC's the Atom and Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp, Tinyman could shrink to small size. Later on, in the next few issues of Captain Marvel, the villain turned to the side of good, joined a circus and then got a law degree and became a District Attorney, working with Cappy M to bring his former felonious mates to justice.

The final villain of the original Five was Atom-Jaw. The character had a metal mandible, though it wasn't atomic-powered; he had just lost his original jaw in an atomic accident. This character was far too similar to the arch-enemy of Crimebuster, Iron-Jaw, seen in golden-age issues of Boy Comics.

The lack of originality didn't end there, as one of Captain Marvel's early enemies was the Bat, a caped hero who looked annoyingly akin to a certain Caped Crusader. The character was revamped into the Ray, with the same powers and intentions as the Bat for the final issue of Terrible 5, which was also the final M. F. Enterprises' super-hero comic book.

I think the blurb on the final issue (and final appearance of Captain Marvel) says it all: "The worst bad guys in comicdom!" The whole endeavor had a lot of promise, but even back in the sixties, comics would just sell themselves: They needed something to bring the readers back to them each month. Unfortunately, M. F. Enterprises didn't have that, and ended up on the wayside like many unimaginative publishers have in the past.

Next week: Truly the worst super-hero ever created in the history of four-color comics. Be here as I save you from having to deal with the monstrous evil known as ... Fruitman!

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