I keep saying that the DC Universe Classics line from Mattel has the potential to be the finest line of super-hero action figures ever created. There are still some quality issues that Mattel needs to work out, but with the arrival of Series 6, I'm starting to see some signs of improvement. I am still going to be very skeptical and nit-picky about this line, if only because of prior experience and because this line has too much potential to be messed up the way it has been here and there. But I'm starting to see some signs of improvement.
Another thing I'm seeing signs of, but the line has pretty much had this straight through, is interesting character selection. One of the highlights of Series 6 is assuredly the "Big Red Chesse" himself, Captain Marvel, marketed under the necessarily legal name of "SHAZAM!" (but at least they put it in quotes on the package anybody will know what this guy's name is really supposed to be).
Captain Marvel has an interesting history in the comics universe. You'll notice I didn't say the DC Universe. That's because he didn't start out in the DC Universe. And he's got a lengthy history, as well. He's one of those characters that goes all the way back to the late 1930's. Let's chronicle some of his history:
Captain Marvel is a fictional comic book superhero, originally published by Fawcett Comics. Created in 1939 by artist C.C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, the character first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940). Captain Marvel is the alter ego of Billy Batson, a youth who works as a radio news reporter and was chosen to be a champion of good by the wizard Shazam. Whenever Billy speaks the wizard's name, he is instantly struck by a magic lightning bolt that transforms him into an adult superhero empowered with the abilities of six mythical figures: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.
Hailed as "The World's Mightiest Mortal" in his adventures, Captain Marvel was nicknamed "The Big Red Cheese" by arch-villain Doctor Sivana, an epithet later adopted by Captain Marvel's fans. Based on sales, Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero of the 1940s, as his Captain Marvel Adventures comic book series sold more copies than Superman and other competing superhero books during the mid-1940s. Captain Marvel was also the first comic book superhero to be adapted to film, in a 1941 Republic Pictures serial titled "The Adventures of Captain Marvel".
Fawcett ceased publishing Shazam-related comics in 1953, due in part to a copyright infringement suit from DC Comics alleging that Captain Marvel was an illegal infringement of Superman. In 1972, DC licensed the Marvel Family characters and returned them to publication, acquiring all rights to the characters by 1991. DC has since integrated Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family into theirDC Universe.
When superhero comics became popular again in the mid-1960s in what is now called the Silver Age of comic, Fawcett was unable to revive Captain Marvel because in order to settle the lawsuit it had agreed never to publish the character again. Eventually, they licensed the characters to DC Comics in 1972, and DC began planning a revival. Because Marvel Comics had by this time established its own claim to the use of the name Captain Marvel as a comic book title and character, DC published their book under the name "Shazam!" Since then, that title has become so linked to Captain Marvel that many people have taken to identifying the character as "Shazam" instead of his actual name.
The Shazam! comic series began with issue #1, dated February 1973. It contained both new stories and reprints from the 1940s and 1950s. The first story attempted to explain the Marvel Family's absence by stating that they, Dr. Sivana, Sivana's children, and most of the supporting cast had been accidentally trapped insuspended animation for twenty years until finally breaking free.
With DC's Multiverse concept in effect during this time, it was stated that the revived Marvel Family and related characters lived within the DC Universe on the parallel world of "Earth-S".
The first post-Crisis appearance of Captain Marvel was in the 1986 Legends miniseries. In 1987, Captain Marvel appeared as a member of the Justice Leaguein Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis' relaunch of that title. That same year (spinning-off from Legends), he was also given his own miniseries titled Shazam: The New Beginning. With this four-issue miniseries, writers Roy and Dann Thomas and artist Tom Mandrake attempted to re-launch the Captain Marvel mythos and bring the wizard Shazam, Dr. Sivana, Uncle Dudley and Black Adam into the modern DC Universe with an updated origin story.DC finally purchased the rights to all of the Fawcett Comics characters in 1991. In 1994, due to the the unpopular revision of the character from 1987's Shazam: The New Beginning miniseries, Captain Marvel was retconned again and given a revised origin in The Power of Shazam!, a painted graphic novel written and illustrated by Jerry Ordway. This story became Captain Marvel's official DC Universe origin story (with his appearances in Legends and Justice League still counting as part of this continuity).
Ordway's story more closely followed Captain Marvel's Fawcett origins, with only slight additions and changes. The graphic novel was a critically acclaimed success, leading to a Power of Shazam! ongoing series which ran from 1995 to 1999. That series reintroduced the Marvel Family, and many of their allies and enemies, into the modern-day DC Universe.
Most recently, the Marvel family has been part of yet another overhaul in the "Trials of Shazam" mini-series, in which the Billy Batson character of Captain Marvel has taken over for the ancient Wizard, and is now calling himself simply "Marvel", and is required to remain at the Rock of Eternity, only able to leave for up to 24 hours at a time, and Freddy Freeman, formerly Captain Marvel Jr., is working his way up to becoming the new Captain Marvel. Frankly, the less said about this Judd Winick-scripted disaster, the better.
As to Captain Marvel's powers and abilities, along with being transformed into a powerhouse of an adult with super-strength and the ability to fly, each of the letters of the word "SHAZAM" represent an individual from ancient history or myth from which Cap derives some special abilities:
S for the wisdom of Solomon: As Captain Marvel, Billy has instant access to a vast amount of scholarly knowledge, including most known languages, sciences, and forms of magic. The wisdom of Solomon also provides him with counsel and advice in times of need. In early Captain Marvel stories, Solomon's power also gave Marvel the ability to hypnotize people. (Note that Solomon is the only figure in the list not taken from Greco-Roman mythology.)
H for the strength of Hercules: Hercules' power grants Captain Marvel immense superhuman strength, making him one of DC Comics most physically powerful characters; he is able to easily bend steel, punch through walls, and lift massive objects, including whole continents like South America.
A for the stamina of Atlas: Using Atlas' endurance, Captain Marvel can withstand and survive most types of extreme physical assaults. Additionally, he does not need to eat, sleep, or breathe and can survive unaided in space when in Captain Marvel form.
Z for the power of Zeus: Zeus' power, besides fueling the magic thunderbolt that transforms Captain Marvel, also enhances Marvel's other physical and mental abilities, grants magic resistance against all magic spells and attacks. Marvel can use the lightning bolt as a weapon by dodging it and allowing it to strike an opponent or target. The magical lightning has many uses, including creating apparatus, restoring damage done to Marvel, or acting as fuel for magical spells.
A for the courage of Achilles: This aspect gives Captain Marvel the courage of Achilles. In the Trials of Shazam series this was changed to the Greek hero's near invulnerability. It aids Captain Marvel's mental fortitude against most mental attacks.
M for the speed of Mercury: By channeling Mercury'sspeed, Captain Marvel can move at superhuman speeds. This also enables him to fly and to reach the Rock of Eternity by his own power.
Captain Marvel's best known appearance outside the comics was doubtless the live-action Saturday morning series produced by Filmation in the 1970's. For the time, it was a cool show. Interestingly, Cap only put in one appearance in the reasonably recent and well-populated Justice League Unlimited animated series, where he ultimately walked away from the group, that was at the time having its own problems with the agency known as Cadmus. Cap felt that the League had become too compromising in its ethics and ideals in some respects. At least he turned up, but I'm sure many fans would've liked to have seen more of him.
Mattel has done a really nice job with the figure. One of the things I found especially interesting was the number of distinctive parts. The DC Universe Classics line, quite understandably, uses a number of common body parts for its male super-hero figures. Arms, legs, torsos, are often common between quite a few figures, and recolored properly. Some people decry this, but honestly, I appreciate the consistency, as long as the figure is assembled properly and as long as the use of those common parts doesn't detract from the overall look of the figure.
Of course, Mattel has problem just as capable of creating distinctive parts that still fit well within the proportions of the common pieces. Aquaman's scaled shirt, for example, or various characters' belts, gloves, boots, etc.
Even so, I was very impressed with the number of distinctive, unique pieces on Captain Marvel, since arguably they probably could have gotten away with fewer.
Notably is the shirt. Captain Marvel has alternately been portrayed as wearing a tight-fitting shirt like any other super-hero, and sometimes wearing a sort of tunic-shirt that is slightly loose-fitting here and there, and is buttoned across the front. The latter has become more common in recent years, and that's the version that Mattel went with. Of course, this required the production of new parts, including a torso front that reflected the button and flap, shoulder pieces that looked a little more loose-fitting (and slightly flared), and lower arms that also looked more loose-fitting, but also allowed for the presence of the metallic-gold ridged wristbands that Captain Marvel wears.
Cap also has a distinctive belt, made to look like a wrapped piece of cloth around his waist. The upper legs are the same as most of the DC Universe Classics figures, but the lower legs are new pieces, designed to look like Captain Marvel's boots, complete with the flaps and the stitching down the center! There's some attention to detail that one doesn't see all that often.
Captain Marvel's headsculpt is excellent. Cap isn't an easy character to design a headsculpt for. In his original incarnation, he had a pretty cartoonish appearance. He constantly squinted, had a big grin on his face, and thick eyebrows. More recent comic appearances have depended somewhat on the artist, but in order to fit in with the more realistic-looking DC Universe portrayed by most artists, Captain Marvel has had to take on a more realistic appearance. He generally is shown to have somewhat thick but not implausible eyebrows, and fairly wide eyes. His personality had tended to range from moderately niave to heroically optimistic, which as much as anything explains his frequent grin, which certainly appears on the figure.
Overall paint work is excellent, although I do sort of wish Mattel would not paint the heads of the figures in flesh tone, but rather mold them in that color. The eyes and eyebrows are fairly neatly painted, but there's a little bit of room for improvement in the precision department here as well. Still, it's definitely an improvement over some of what I've been seeing from this line in earlier assortments here and there.
Captain Marvel's classic insignia is a stylized lightning bolt on his shirt, and that is front and center and very nicely done in bright yellow. Interestingly, it also crosses the articulation point between chest and mid-torso, but it does so very effectively. This color is actually different from the 3-3/4" scale DC Infinite Heroes version of this character, whose figure had a metallic gold lightning bolt. While it could readily be argued artistically that this emblem could be either-or, from an action figure standpoint (and paint standpoint), I'd have to say that the yellow looks a lot better.
For whatever peculiar reason, the metallic gold paint that a lot of toy companies use these days seems to be rather dark and dull. I addressed this in my review of the gold version of the DC Universe Classics Captain Atom figure. The notable exception is the gold paint used on the trim on some of Bandai's Power Rangers figures. Maybe Mattel and Hasbro should give them a call and find out who their supplier is.
The only area where the paint comes up a little short on Captain Marvel is the yellow around the boots. To what degree this was a result of possibly having to paint yellow over red (although I'm not sure what color the legs and feet were originally molded) and to what degree it's just paint overkill I'm not certain. It's not too bad, though. I could've done without the orange "shadow detailing" however.
Articulation is excellent, as one would expect from this line. Captain Marvel is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, swivel above the knee, and ankles. One foot is a little loose in a side to side motion, something I've also encountered on the similarly constructed Masters of the Universe Classics line from Mattel. I have no idea what causes this, but at least it doesn't prevent the figure from standing properly and staying standing. Even so, I'd love to get a look at an assembly diagram sometime and see if there's any way to address this "wobble foot" matter.
Captain Marvel also has a cape, and I've always been a little surprised that he hasn't been teased about it more often. It's not a long, heroic cape. It's actually rather short, with a collar, a rope around the front, and what look like flowers along one side. It's not even in the same color range as the rest of the costume. Captain Marvel's costume is predominantly red with yellow and gold. The cape is white, with a gold border. It almost looks like an afterthought. Even so, it is essential to the look of the character, and the figure wouldn't look quite right without it.
The cape is attached in an interesting fashion. Unlike the DCUC figures who have a longer cape and use the standard body pieces, wherein the cape is actually attached into a slot in the upper back, Captain Marvel's cape is attached into a couple of small pegs on the unique front of the figure. It's also positioned to look like it's waving a bit to one side. I generally dislike this sort of pre-posing, and honestly, it's a bit of a hindrance to the movement of the left arm, but it doesn't look bad.
At the very least, it certainly works with the way Captain Marvel is posed in his package. He's standing straight forward, hands on his hips, in an almost excessively heroic stance. A flapping cape just adds to the look.
So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. The Captain Marvel figure isn't perfect. But he's certainly got fewer problems than have been experienced in the DC Universe Classics line. I hope it's a trend. And I hope that word spreads that maybe Mattel really is paying better attention to these, and collectors will have reason to have more confidence in them. It's a line that, if done properly, deserves to succeed and prosper for a very long time. And I hope all of that comes to pass.
And now that Captain Marvel has joined the ranks, I'd also like to think we might get a Black Adam out of the DC Universe Classics line at some point. We've already had him in the 3-3/4" scale DC Infinite Heroes, and while I have no complaints about that line, and I'm glad it's around because it can provide a more extensive cast (and admittedly a lower price), the DC Universe Classics just have the potential to be a lot more than their smaller cousins.
And Captain Marvel is a pretty good example of that potential. Let's hope for a lot more. In the meantime, the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS "SHAZAM!" CAPTAIN MARVEL figure definitely has my highest recommendation!