Tentacle Tuesday: With One Magic Word…

« A slithering tentacle now seizes Billy, and a shuddery voice pours into his ears! »

Previously, we’ve talked about Captain Marvel (the original, the best, the… dare I say, unique!) in a post about his co-creator C.C. Beck. Today, I’ll concentrate on the World’s Mightiest Mortal’s exploits with all manner of tentacled monsters.

All C.C. Beck quotes in this post come from An Interview with C.C. Beck conducted in the late 1980s (shortly before Beck’s death in 1989) by the talented Tom Heintjes of Hogan’s Alley.

« When I looked at the first Captain Marvel story, I knew at once that here was a story worth illustrating. It had a beginning, a carefully constructed development of plot and characters leading to a climax and an ending, and nothing else. There was no pointless flying around and showing off, no padding, no “Look, Ma, I’m a superhero!” Out of 72 panels, Captain Marvel appeared in 18, or one-fourth. »

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« March, ye scalliwag, or I’ll curdle yer giblets! » Follow Captain Marvel’s fine example – don’t forget to hug a tree, folks! Although it will be better if you can find one without spines and prehensile appendages. This  is Whiz Comics no. 5 (May 1940), cover by C. C. Beck. Captain Marvel may “crash through”, but the cover story, « Beautia for President », contains no tentacles whatsoever… just a hypnotically beautiful woman, that some may settle for (not me). You may note that the cover has « number 4 » written on it, but 5 was the number reported to the Copyright Office, so go figure.
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Whiz Comics no. 60 (November 1944), cover by C. C. Beck. Paper tentacles? I think they count! The main story is adorably goofy, in the best Otto Binder tradition… but unfortunately comicbookplus.com has only a seriously blurry scan of this issue (read it here, but it may cause headaches).
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Whiz Comics no. 146 (June 1952), cover by Pete Costanza. Speaking of the latter and quoting (again) from C.C. Beck, « Pete Costanza was the first artist hired to assist me when Fawcett’s comic department started to expand in the latter part of 1940. We later went into partnership, and Pete was in charge of our studio in Englewood, New Jersey, while I operated out of our New York City office. Pete was an established illustrator at an early age, and I learned as much from him about story illustration as he learned from me about cartooning. »

The green, proudly toupée-d fellow appears in the opening panel of Terror Stalks the World’s Fair, but as it turns out, he has nothing to do with the rest of the story, really.

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Terror Stalks the World’s Fair is scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger.
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« A sinister mystery hangs over the city! Each night, screams are heard… human screams that gurgle away into deathly silence! » Whiz Comics no. 155 (June 1953), the final issue of Whiz Comics, cover by C.C. Beck.

The cover story features an actual kraken with evil, myopic eyes! I rejoiced.

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Page from Captain Marvel Battles the Legend Horror, scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger.

In an interesting plot twist, it is revealed that gigantic vampire bats and the Kraken (who has the gift of speech, sounding like somebody’s rather eccentric uncle) have struck up a partnership.

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Poor Kraken must get cold, consuming all those frozen bodies…

While we’re at it, Captain Marvel Battles the Legend Horror is a perfect demonstration of a point C.C. Beck made well:

« Billy Batson was the real hero of all the Captain Marvel stories, from the first issue until the last.  Without Bill Batson, Captain Marvel would have been merely another overdrawn, one-dimensional figure in a ridiculous costume, running around beating up crooks and performing meaningless feats of strength like all the other heroic figures of the time who were, with almost no exceptions, cheap imitations of Superman. In fact, I have always felt that flying figures in picture form are silly and unbelievable, and I would much sooner have never drawn them, but the publisher insisted on them. Most of the time Captain Marvel’s ability to fly had little or nothing to do with the plots of the stories in which he appeared. Billy Batson started every story and ended every story. In between, Captain Marvel appeared when he was needed, disappeared when he was not needed. The stories were about Billy Batson, not about the cavortings of a ridiculous superhero for whom the writers had to concoct new and more impossible demonstrations of his powers for each issue. »

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A terrible end for any creature, even a malevolent one.

And our last encounter with tentacles for today…

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Captain Marvel Adventures no. 65 (September 1946), cover by C. C. Beck.

The Invasion From Outer Space, plotted by Otto Binder and drawn by C. C. Beck, offers us lots of cute little alien guys:

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As usual, they wanna take over the world, but they’re cute, anyway. There’s that toupée again, this time (alien) flesh-coloured! That’s a mighty suggestive tentacle wiggle, Zelog-Zunn Sir.

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Have more time to kill? Visit The World’s Mightiest Mortal, a blog dedicated to the ol’ big red cheese.

~ ds

Happy Birthday, Charles Clarence Beck!

« It’s difficult to know just what to make of C.C. Beck. He’s crusty and curmudgeonly in the Cleveland Armory mold. He’s virulently opinionated, yet insists that he doesn’t take himself seriously. His aesthetics are inflexible if not reactionary, and not entirely consistent at that. He also happens to be one of the most endearing and original cartoonists ever to breathe life into a super-hero.“*

Charles Clarence Beck was born on June 8th, 1920 and left this world in 1989. The world is a stodgier place without him!

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My favourite of Otto Binder/C.C. Beck’s characters – Tawky Tawny, the well-mannered, reasonable, tweed-wearing tiger. Sweet Tawny first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #79 (December 1947), as a talking tiger who longed for a life as a normal, suit-wearing, polite member of society. He also really likes ice cream. This panel is from “Mr. Tawny’s Personality Peril”, a story by the Binder and Beck team, published in Captain Marvel Adventures #115 (December 1950).

Here are a few covers which showcase A) C.C. Beck’s stylish art B) the lovely goofiness of it all. To quote the man, « When Bill Parker and I went to work on Fawcett’s first comic book in late 1939, we both saw how poorly written and illustrated the superhero comic books were. We decided to give our reader a real comic book, drawn in comic-strip style and telling an imaginative story, based not on the hackneyed formulas of the pulp magazine, but going back to the old folk-tales and myths of classic times. » Well, to be honest, aside from the so-called Greek origins of Captain Marvel (“Shazam”, the catalyzing cry which allows ordinary Billy Batson to transform into his superhero alter-ego, stands for “Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury”), there’s little in these stories that evokes classic folk tales *or* mythology. I know the Ancient Greeks were into some kooky shit, but I don’t recall any myopic worms with a Napoleon complex nor talking tigers in suits. Ultimately, Captain Marvel comics are family fun. “Old-fashioned” values are the backbone of these stories: friendship, loyalty, kindness to those weaker (or stupider) than us. If that sounds boring, it isn’t. Beck had a cartoony style that make his stories fucking adorable, especially when coupled with the often surreal and delightfully wacky plots.

“Quote! Mr. Tawny is not a tiger – he’s a worm! Unquote!”

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At first glance, this cover is celebrating the beauty of autumn; upon a closer inspection, it turns out that it has much darker overtones – two faceless guys in the background, clearly following some nefarious plan to break up Tawny and Captain Marvel’s friendship (how dare they!) and a creepy boarded-up house. This is Captain Marvel Adventures #113 (October, 1950), cover by C. C. Beck. Read “His Feud With Mr. Tawny” (scripted by Otto Binder, illustrated by C.C. Beck), which is finally not at all gruesome, just heart-warming, here.

C.C. Beck co-created Captain Marvel with writer Bill Parker in 1939. The Big Red Cheese made his first stellar appearance in Whiz Comics #2 (cover date February 1940), published in late 1939. Captain Marvel was a huge hit, and so Fawcett put out a number of spin-off comic books – as for Beck, he opened his own comic studio in 1941 that provided most of the artwork in the Marvel Family line of books.

« Special! Baby dinosaurs! New! Different! Be the envy of your friends! »

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Captain Marvel Adventures #123, 1951. Did you know that dinosaurs apparently wag their tails like dogs to express their affection? No? Head over here.

« Wait! This isn’t oil! It’s dense, black and real sticky! »

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Don’t let go of that piglet, Captain Marvel! Pigs’ reputation for loving mud may be well deserved, but no self-respecting swine wants to be dropped into black, sticky goo. This is Captain Marvel Adventures #126 (November 1951), cover by C.C. Beck. The cautionary cover tale, Captain Marvel and the Creeping Horror, was written by Otto Binder and pencilled by C.C. Beck (with inks, tentatively, by Pete Costanza).

« Did you hear that, ma? We’re on another – uh – world! Ma, aren’t you scared? »
« Land sakes, pa, why get scared? At least my wash will dry nice and fast with two suns shining down! »

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Captain Marvel Adventures #135 (August 1952); cover by C.C. Beck.

IGN ranked Captain Marvel as the 50th greatest comic book hero of all time. You know how they qualified it? “Times have changed, and allegiances with them, but Captain Marvel will always be an enduring reminder of a simpler time.” If there’s one thing I hate, it’s people who assume that generations before theirs were naïve or that the world was a “simpler” place (take a peep in any good history book and see if that was the case). This kind of condescension poisons any compliment.

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C.C. Beck in 1982. He kinda looks like my physics teacher from high school!
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Doctor Sivana comes out with his whole family to taunt Billy! Says Beck, “The publisher also once wanted to drop Sivana, claiming the old rascal was becoming a more interesting character than Captain Marvel. The editors paid no attention to so silly an order and kept him alive and cackling.”

There’s a beautifully conducted interview with Beck by Tom Heintjes, published in Hogan’s Alley. I highly recommend it. Heart-breakingly, Heintjes explains in the introduction that “when Beck died of renal failure on November 23, 1989, my inability to complete a book celebrating Beck’s life and career—to my mind, one of the most commercially and aesthetically successful in the entire history of comic books—was a source of acute regret.

~ ds

*Gary Groth’s introduction to an interview with C.C. Beck published in Comics Journal #95 (February 1985) and conducted in 1983.