Marvel Posts

From Marvel to Marbles to Mar-Vell to Ms.: The Crazy History of Captain Marvel

Captian Marvel

captain marvel

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

The early audience reviews for the new Captain Marvel film were not very good. In fact, they pretty much trashed the movie. The problem was, those reviews came out before the film was even released. It was a case of trolling fueled by… who even knows anymore? Something to do with the character suddenly being a woman, right? We live in weird times.

Once the movie finally hit theaters, critics and fans agreed it actually was pretty darn good and lots of fun. The retro ‘90s theme was a hit with audiences (just wait til Wonder Woman’s 1984 era movie comes out!), and Brie Larson nails the performance. So in the end, she triumphed.

captain marvelBut, come to think of it, when did Captain Marvel become a woman? Wasn’t she a guy in a live action TV show back in the ‘70s? He drove around the country in a Winnebago with a kid and guy who looked like a cross between Pat Morita and Stan Lee, right? Turns out this superhero has a way more convoluted backstory than you may have remembered.

captain marvelOf course it makes sense that Captain Marvel would have been created in 1967 by Stan Lee of…. wait for it… MARVEL Comics. Except, the character was actually named “Captain Mar-Vell” because the “Captain Marvel” name was already taken by another comic book publisher. A publisher that had been defunct for a decade and a half. Oh, and Captain Marvel was a man back then, so your memory is correct. Partly anyway.

See, there was an earlier character named “Captain Marvel” who appeared in various titles from Fawcett Comics from 1940 to 1953. That early date puts him right on par with the first superheroes, such as Batman, Superman, and Captain America, who debuted in the late 1930s and early ’40s. And that was the start of his problems.

captain marvel

Nothing at all similar between these two comics, right?

Fawcett unfortunately went out of business in 1953 after a copyright infringement suit involving the character. Not from Marvel, but from National Comics. Apparently they felt this caped, flying strongman was a little too similar to their character Superman. Wait, what? Yep, DC Comics was actually known as National Comics back then and sued over a character named after another comic book company that actually had yet to be named similarly to that character, but who subsequently named their new character after themselves. Did I mention this stuff is convoluted?

captain marvel hoppyBefore the lawsuit was settled, Fawcett really hunkered down on the character, creating Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, Uncle Marvel, Grandpa Marvel, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. (One of those characters I just made up. If you guessed Grandpa Marvel, you are correct. Yep, Hoppy actually existed. And I thought we were living in weird times today…)

Meanwhile, in 1953, issue #4 of MAD ran the story of Superduperman, featuring a nod to his lawsuit against Captain Marbles. MAD would of course eventually become part of the DC empire. (I am not making any of this up so far, aside from Grandpa Marvel. Seriously.)

captain marvelSpeaking of DC, they eventually acquired the rights to Fawcett’s Captain Marvel character and decided he had a lot of potential to expand the brand. Of course, with that name, he would be likely expanding the brand of their biggest competitor, so they gave him a new backstory and a catchy new title (but not a new name). The first issue of Shazam! was released by DC in 1973, complete with the subtitle, “The Original Captain Marvel.” So, naturally, there was another lawsuit. The producers of Gomer Pyle USMC sued over the “Shazam” catchphrase (okay, I made that up too, but honestly, at this point, it sounded believable, right?). No, of course it was Marvel Comics who sued DC over the name and the character. So the tagline was changed to “The World’s Mightiest Mortal.” And by the time it hit TV, people just kind of assumed that “Shazam” was the character’s name.

Got all that? Okay, back to Captain Marvel. The one from Marvel. The one named “Mar-Vell.” The one from the new movie. Yeah, her. Him. Let’s go back in time a bit… Captain Mar-Vell, a flying alien superhero from another planet (man, that sounds familiar), took off on his own in the late ’60s. Turns out he shared molecules with a kid named Rick Jones, and only one could exist in the world at a time, so they flip-flopped between the two identities. If that sounds familiar (it probably doesn’t but…) that was almost word for word the origin story of the original Fawcett character.

captain marvel

Ironically, while DC’s Shazam! was becoming popular with comic fans and TV viewers, readers didn’t really dig Marvel’s Marvel, so the character was killed off in the 1970s. And then revived several times since, as various male and female characters, most with the last name “Vell.” At one point he was resurrected long enough to die again in an explosion where his DNA was mixed with his cohort, USAF Officer Carol Danvers. So Danvers acquired super powers and of course became… Ms. Marvel. And then she eventually just took on the Captain Marvel name. At various times over the last couple of decades Ms./Captain Marvel has starred in her own standalone comics, made guest appearances in other stories, and has been part of the Avengers. So if you’ve been paying attention and weren’t confused by everything that happened before, all of this should make sense.

captain marvel

So yeah, now there’s a Captain Marvel movie, and the character is female, and it’s a pretty dang good movie, and you should see it despite what the trolls tried to tell you. And you’re going to love her cat Goose.

captain marvel

By the way, DC is releasing a Shazam! movie later this summer. It looks like a fun, goofy, good time at the cinema. No word on whether he’s called “Captain Marvel” anytime in the flick. Let’s hope not. That could get confusing.

Cartoonist, Writer, Collaborator: What I Learned From Stan Lee

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

The world of comics and pop culture in general lost a titan this week when Stan Lee, the biggest driving force behind Marvel Comics, died at the age of 95. His impact on comic book fans can’t be measured. Neither can his impact on comics creators.

Lee started with a company called Timely Comics in 1939, working mostly with largely forgotten kids fare. The publisher struck gold with their Captain America stories but didn’t do much to expand the concept. By the early 1960s, however, Timely rebranded as Marvel Comics and Lee was tapped to begin crafting a new world of allies for Cap, as well as competitors for DC’s superheroes who had been off and running (and flying and teleporting) for a couple of decades.

stan lee spideyHis first creation was The Fantastic Four, which was an immediate hit with readers. Within a few years, Hulk, Iron Man, and of course, his biggest success, Spider-Man were spinning tales of adventure of their own.

As a cartoonist myself, (insert shameless plug here), Stan Lee surprisingly wasn’t an early influence on me. See, my Grandmother worked for Western Publishing, whose Gold Key comic books included titles from Disney, Looney Tunes, DePatie-Freleng, and Walter Lantz. So that’s what I grew up on. They weren’t Marvel or DC comics, and aside from Super Goof, they didn’t include any superheroes. So I started drawing in the vein of those Gold Key titles. All by myself.

And there was Charles Schulz, whose “Peanuts” comic strip was in its creative heyday. Schulz famously said “If I were a better artist, I’d be a painter, and if I were a better writer, I’d write books — but I’m not, so I draw cartoons!” Made total sense to me. If I were ever going to make it in this business, I would probably have to go it alone. I gravitated towards becoming a newspaper comic strip artist, writing and drawing short, snappy jokes, often in the framework of a longer tale. But still a solo venture.

As I got a bit older and MAD magazine seemed less inappropriate (is MAD ever really appropriate at any age?), the idea of separate writers and artists began to appeal to me. But could someone really be a “cartoonist” if they only did one part of that equation? Did it matter if the end result was enjoyable to the reader?

stan lee marvel coversSo in a similar vein, I finally started to appreciate Stan Lee a bit later, in college, as I began collaborating with other creative types on class projects. Lee was primarily the writer of the ideas but was still considered still a “cartoonist” in the fullest sense. Would Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko have ever drawn those dynamic action panels of The Thing if Lee didn’t feed them the idea, the character, the inspiration? Would those ideas sear such vivid memories without their action-packed art?

stan lee hulk thingSuddenly, for me, the Charles Schulz approach had some competition as a way to do comics. If a solo cartoonist could crank out 7 pages a week, a writer and artist could crank out 14 together. Same amount of work for each, just divvied up differently. And a lot less lonely.

Stan Lee was supposed to be the keynote guest at the 2013 Denver Comic-Con but had to withdraw at the last minute. Fans were disappointed, and for many, this felt kind of urgent. It seemed like he was getting up there in years and might not be able to make it to a future Con, due to the inevitability of declining health or worse. We all wondered if we would ever get the chance to meet him.

But he came to Denver in 2016, and all was right with the world of superhero fandom.

I was at that Con, but didn’t get to meet him. As a cartoonist with a table full of books to sell, I couldn’t afford to step away for a few hours to stand in line for a photo, an autograph, and a brief word. As a cartoonist who was inspired by Lee, I regret missing the opportunity.

stan lee dccThese days, it almost feels like actual comic books are a by-product of the Marvel Entertainment machine. And yet comic book stores are full of fans and readers hotly debating the latest developments in new artists or writers being assigned to a particular title and whether a certain pairing worked well. Stan Lee probably would enjoy being there, watching comics being discussed as such important fare.

“Marvelocity” Covers The Marvel-ous Career of Alex Ross

alex ross marvelocity

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

It’s been 15 years since the the publication of “Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross,” a hefty collection of his fine art approach to superhero storytelling. But in the last decade, it would seem that Marvel has overtaken DC, certainly in the cinematic world, so it’s a good time his work for Marvel to get the same treatment. “Marvelocity: The Marvel Comics Art of Alex Ross” is the latest pean to his high art. (In between, there have been several other collections of Ross’ work as well as a 2018 art exhibit of his art inspired by ideas from Stan Lee, the Marvel legend who died this week at the age of 95.)

alex ross marvelocityFirst of all, this book is huge and heavy. Even the dust jacket contributes to the heft; once you open it, the cover unfolds again and again into a long gatefold tapestry of alternate covers of super portraits. It’s like a pre-credit honor roll before you even get into the actual book. There’s even a large poster of an alternate cover concept with Spider-Man as the focus instead of Captain America.

Instead of black lines filled with garish colors, Alex Ross’ work is more of a realist painting. While the traditional comics style is full of wonder and fantasy, his more photographic approach actually makes the characters seem more human and possibly vulnerable and relatable. The heroic nature of his style might play more effectively with heroes instead of villains. In fact, the vast majority of the book is devoted to the good guys.

alex ross marvelocityComics critics have always struggled to classify Ross’ art style. To say he’s a cartoonist seems to sell him a bit short, as he’s almost a portrait artist who happens to work with incredibly dynamic subjects. On the other hand saying he’s NOT a cartoonist is kind of an insult to him (and everyone else in the industry as well.) Let’s just say Ross is a fine portrait artist working in a different medium. For several years, his illustrations have been used only on the covers, although the almost photographic quality ensures that the drawings inside will be consistently designed and composed. Beyond the covers, he’s always been heavily involved in the development of the look and the storylines of his comics.

alex ross marvelocityNowhere is his talent better illustrated (literally) than a spread which shows the iconic cover of “Captain America” issue 1, where Cap punches Hitler while Nazis futilely fire back. Next to the original is Ross’ recreation of this cover for “Captain America: Sam Wilson” number 7 in 2016. The overall composition is the same, right down to the vintage look of his costume and the inset of “Captain America’s Young Ally BUCKY.” Except the distorted artistic license of comic characters gives way to a more physically real arrangement. And instead of speed lines and crosshatching and bursts, the rendering looks more like a photo of that historic moment.

alex ross marvelocityThere are several other side by side comparisons that also serve as appreciation for how Jack Kirby and countless other artists had to work with older printing technology that made all those black lines and bright colors necessary. Ross was particularly busy with this sort of homage around Marvel’s 75th Anniversary.

alex ross marvelocityThere are a lot of sketches included, which really helps you appreciate Ross’ talent as a panel composer. The dynamic poses that Kirby pioneered come to life bit by bit, side by side. It’s not just pretty pictures, of course. Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear spells the story behind the art with the knowledge that only comics insiders like them can tell. Add in some outsider perspective with an introduction by J. J. Abrams, as well as reflections by other comics dignitaries, and there’s a pretty broad base of tribute and expertise.

alex ross marvelocityRoss has always been deeply involved in the overall creation and writing of his comics characters and stories. And his talent for composing a panel has been put to good use not only in comics, but also in storyboards for some of Marvel’s movies. Anyone with an appreciation of the Marvel universe in any form – comics, action figures, movies – should appreciate this book.

6 of the Most Bizarre Comic Books Ever Written

Many popular comic books are pretty odd, but you have to try really hard to make one of the most bizarre comic books ever.

Seriously, a boy develops superhuman speed and strength after being bitten by a spider? A journalist by day is actually Superman, a crime-fighting alien with the powers of flight, x-ray vision, and super strength? Let’s also not kid ourselves and say Batman isn’t a detective in a bat costume who once tried to solve the mystery of whether Paul McCartney is dead or not (okay, they didn’t use Paul’s name in the comic, but the inspiration is obvious).

The Avengers On Late Night With David LettermanFortunately, none of these exceedingly silly origin stories matter in the grand scheme of our favorite characters. As audiences get older and increase their reverence for these classic heroes, comic book writers develop these flamboyant characters in ways that connect with the struggles their readers face.

The Avengers On Late Night With David Letterman

Comic book writers sure do love their crazy crossovers, and we wish we could say that The Avengers making an appearance on Late Night With David Letterman is the silliest crossover ever written.

Being that Letterman’s career as a late-night TV host ended just last year, it now seems appropriate that he spent many of his final years sitting down with cast members of the modern Avengers movies.

The Life Of Pope John Paul II

Life of Pope John Paul IIAll right, The Life of Pope John Paul II may be a straight-forward biographical comic… but that’s why it’s so strange!

The fact that Marvel Comics – responsible for characters like Thor and Deadpool – found time to base a comic on a true story is bizarre when you think about it. Believe it or not, The Life of Pope John Paul II is not the only Marvel comic based on a religious figure: they also penned issues based on Mother Teresa and Saint Francis of Assisi.

Longshot Comics

Longshot ComicsNo, we’re not talking about Marvel’s lesser-known X-Man named Longshot. We’re talking about Shane Simmons’ Longshot Comics, a comic book series about… dots.

That’s right, under the loose justification that the audience is viewing the action from a distance (or, as you might say, a longshot), Longshot Comics features everything from war stories to tales of domestic households through the simplest form of what could be called art. Could anyone have made Longshot Comics? Probably, but Simmons’ work likely set the stage for modern “artless” works like Dinosaur Comics.

Superman Meets The Quik Bunny

Superman Meets Quik BunnyWith a hero as powerful as the man of steel, one would think he’d pick an extraordinarily powerful companion to brave the dangerous situations he often finds himself in. Or, you know, he could team up with the Quik Bunny, that works too.

Do Superman and the Quik Bunny have a chocolate milk drinking contest? Is the Quik Bunny given a tall glass of delicious Nesquik to help calm his nerves? Find out the shocking answers in this special issue of Superman! (Spoilers, the answers are yes and yes).

Archie Meets The Punisher

Archie Meets The PunisherThe Punisher is a hyper-violent vigilante who has no problem with torture and extortion to accomplish his goals. Archie is a teenager who can’t decide whether he likes Betty or Veronica. Obviously, these two characters belong together.

This has to be the most ridiculous crossover comic ever written. Right? Right? Not even close! Well,, that’s up for debate. In fact, we’ll bring you another list of truly strange comics soon!

Godzilla Vs. Charles Barkley

Godzilla vs BarkleySomewhere out there is a Venn diagram that shows the overlap between fans of basketball and giant monsters. Marketing executives saw it and concluded that Godzilla and Charles Barkley needed to be put in the same universe. That’s what we’re assuming, anyway, because… what is this!?

Between this and the fan-made Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden role-playing game from the late 2000s, there must be something about the famous basketball player that makes people want to put him in the most ridiculous situations imaginable. This is the only way we can reconcile seeing an actual panel in which Godzilla dons basketball shoes and attempts a slam dunk.

Let us know your favorite strangest comics in the comments below!



Marvel Comics Pence Price Variants

A Guest Blog Post by Ian Pengilley
This article was originally written for Rareburg, who in 2016,  joined forces with hobbyDB to provide an excellent source of collectible knowhow for the community. 

There is little doubt that the issue of Marvel Comics Pence Price Variants is a contentious one when raised among comic book dealers. Many opinions abound as to the collectability or desirability of these copies, and hence, the retail value to be given to them on the open market, which becomes more relevant as trading barriers are broken down with increasing cross-Atlantic sales.

Weird Wonder Tales No. 17As the selling prices of geographically limited Marvel 30c and 35c variants continue to increase, there is little consensus in the hobby as a whole as to what kind of value difference the Pence covers make.

The hobby’s old pricing bible, The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, makes no mention of pricing variation that is typically seen in completed sales on Pence variants.

Asking prices of Pence variants with respect to Cents copies are reportedly as much as 70% disparate (Pence variants being offered at 30% of Cents issue price), depending on the condition and demand commonly encountered for the Cents copies of the same issue.

The Amazing Spider-Man The Chameleon StrikesOne thing to establish early on is that Marvel comics with ‘d’ (old British Pence) or ‘p’ as opposed to Cents pricing have been erroneously described as reprints or ‘UK editions’ which is suggestive of a separate print run with Pence pricing. They are not. Pence variant copies are the same book entirely as the Cents version, printed at the same time on the same press, with only a change in the cover price printing plate separating the two kinds of copies. It has even been suggested that since the Pence copies were printed to a specific number of copies for reasons of limited import quota, the Pence copies were printed first, and for that reason many of the Pence copies have better ink density than the equivalent Cents issues. Under that assumption, I have heard Marvel Cents copies cheekily described as reprints!

I decided to investigate the attitudes toward Pence Variants among comic dealers, and find out how this small variation in the cover detail can largely influence the pricing and desirability of these books.

The first comic book dealer I spoke to on the subject was Gary Ochiltree of Krypton Komics in North London. Gary is regarded as a ‘crusader’ of Pence issues who has approached several of the hobby’s leading members to clarify some of the misconceptions commonly voiced about these books.

I was very pleased to receive an incredibly detailed e-mail on the subject which clearly is close to his heart!

“The subject of pence price variants is one that I’ve been banging on about for several years now. The problem with these comics has always been one of perceptions and understanding of the true facts of what they are. Most people in the US and indeed many in the UK continue to labour under the false belief that they are somehow reprints of the US editions. As you no doubt know that is not the case. They are the same comics printed at the same time on the same presses, with the same paper and the same ink. The only difference is that at some point in the print run, the cent cover price is changed to Pence for the copies intended to be shipped to the UK. The cover month was also removed as it would make the items appear out of date when they arrived in UK shops. This was because the ships (at a time when shipping meant shipping) would take around a month to cross the ocean. This is the only difference. If you look inside any American comic with a UK cover price you will still find all the US cent pricing in the indicia.

X-Men Vol 1As a result, the pricing of Krypton’s books reflect the idea that they are the same comic. Gary’s most outstanding example is a boldly colored 9d copy of X-Men #1 in VF condition, which maintains the guide price for Cents issues in this grade.

The next suggestion is that due to the small print runs implying scarcity, there is no reason that Pence copies should not even sell for more than their Cents counterparts; Imagine if you will that there were in existence copies of Amazing Fantasy #15, Fantastic Four #1, Hulk #1 etc. that had a cover price of 9 cents rather than 10 or 12 cents; that they had been produced at the same time on the same presses, with the same paper and the same ink as the 12 cent editions, and that the only reason for the price change was because of the specific geographical area they were intended to be sold in. Let’s say it’s Texas.

Let’s assume that the print run for this geographical market was only 2-5% of the total copies printed. How much would they be worth today? You’d sell your house to get a 9 cent price variant of FF# 1 right? You bet you would, because it would be the rarest of the rare!

So why should a 10 cents copy (which is a fantasy) be worth a mint, whilst a 9d copy be seen a poor second cousin? The answer is purely about understanding of what Pence price variants really are. They are genuine original Silver Age variants. The price of the comic on the cover reflects part of the history of that particular comic book. If it’s cents then it went a US newsstand somewhere. If it’s Pence it went to Thorpe & porter in the UK. But it’s still the same comic!

In reality the Pence cover price is still seen as second best to Cents issues among a number, if not the majority, of collectors and dealers. I asked reputed seller and Overstreet Price Guide advisor Harley Yee of his pricing on Marvel Pence Variants.

“It depends mostly on which comic and the condition. For books in the region of Very Good condition there is very little difference in the selling price. When it comes to high grade and particularly key issues, the difference would usually be a 50-70% reduction in price”.

UK dealer Chris Pearson of Chris’s Comics went further; “I used to have a sign on my show stand offering a `sympathetic shredding service’ for Pence copies, but I had to take it down as it got some people’s backs up! The experience of low demand for Pence issues has forced him to review his stock and he does not offer any Pence copies except Silver and Bronze age X-Men books. They are sold at about half Overstreet guide value on his stand.

“It depends very much on the situation- I wrote in to Comics International suggesting a cartoon where a dealer buys Pence cover comics from a collector saying “Well, they’re not going to sell, so I’ll offer you a few cents on the dollar of guide value. In the next panel the same dealer is selling the books at a huge cost over guide value, calling them ‘Rare Export Variant Editions’.

In his view, some people will pay the same prices for Pence copies as for Cents, but in his favorite market areas of high-grade Golden Age, Silver Age and pre-code ECs, Pence priced books are a fly in the ointment.

Fantastic Four No. 2“Some people want to buy Cents copies because that’s what they were used to buying from the newsstands”, says collector and dealer Ken Harman. “Myself, I was used to buying Pence copies because that was what was available at the time. But I still collect Cents copies.” [He lays two copies of Fantastic Four #2 in front of me] “This one is Cents but the other is a Pence copy- the Pence one is in higher grade, and that makes more of a difference to the value than the pricing on the cover”.

The nostalgia goes some way to explaining the resistance of some collectors in paying similar sums for Pence copies as for Cents issues. There is the perception that there is something ‘ersatz’ about Pence copies that make them seem ‘less authentic’, particularly to American buyers and to those using comic books as an investment vehicle.

David Finn of Incognito Comics admits “We sell to a collector who only buys Pence copies” which is seconded by Silver Acre’s Darryl Jones; “People start to buy Pence copies when they’ve completed a nice run of books. They are a proper Variant, and in fact, the chances of getting them in high grade are much less when they’ve been sitting on a container ship for seven weeks. I have talked to Bob Overstreet about how Pence copies are described, as they used to call them ‘UK Editions’. We would like them to be called ‘Pence Price Variants’.

The last word on the subject of changing perceptions on Pence variants should go to Gary Ochiltree; “I noticed that CGC were using the term UK Edition on the census of their web site. After various email discussions between CGC myself and Dave of Incognito Comics we wound up having to compare two copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 (one cents & one Pence) in order to convince them that the description was misleading. It seems that they had seen very few Pence copies. Anyway, the UK Edition heading on the census was amended to Country/Variant. Again, not the exact phraseology I would choose, but much better than ‘UK Edition’. If the standard rules of supply and demand were to apply they should be worth way more than the common cent copies. As ever with these things the market will decide, but I think just changing the way we describe these things is a step in the right direction”.