Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wellman and the Captain


While reading various articles about and interviews with Manly Wade Wellman I kept coming across his time as a comic book writer. Wellman remembered writing quite a few adventures of Captain Marvel (the original Shazam version.) though he didn't recall issue numbers. A couple of the articles by other hands credited Wellman with writing the first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures. (Not to be confused with the first issue of WHIZ comics where Marvel first appeared.) However other sources, including the DC Archives reprint of that comic credit the writing to Joe Simon.
See, Captain Marvel Adventures #1 is something of an oddity. Caught off guard by the runaway success of the Captain Marvel character, the publishers at Fawcett Comics needed more Captain Marvel in print and fast. They turned to those dynamos of the comics world, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who reportedly did the issue in under two weeks. Pretty impressive for a 64 page comic. Of course anyone familiar with the legendary drawing speed of Jack Kirby wouldn't have any trouble believing it. However, Simon and Kirby were also writing and drawing Captain America at the same time, so it's even more impressive that they could turn out Captain Marvel Adventures that quickly.
But back to Wellman. Did he write the stories in Captain Marvel Adventures issue 1? I read the comic last night, watching for clues. The comic book contains four stories. in the first Captain Marvel fights a humanoid robot, in the second he goes out West to tangle with cattle rustlers, and in the third he travels to a distant planet to rescue humans from the dragon men who have enslaved them. Nothing here to overtly suggest Wellman's involvement. Though the stories are more text heavy than what I'd normally expect from Simon and Kirby, they aren't that different from the stuff the pair would later do for DC on Boy Commandos, Sandman, etc.
The fourth story, however, is not without its singular points of interest. In Captain Marvel Battles the Vampire there are quite a few indications that Wellman could have had a hand in the story. The first is the handling of the vampire itself. Though the creature has fangs, he doesn't actually drink blood, but rather absorbs the life force of his victims. This is something that the vampires who appear in Wellman's prose stories often do. The big weakness for vampires in this story is garlic. This is a pretty well known defense against vampires, but it's also one that Wellman was particularly fond of. In the story Chastel, the heroes consume a lot of garlic and carry small pouches of it on their persons. In the Captain Marvel story, Billy Batson goes on the air and advises his listeners to "Keep garlic around the house...at your doors and windows...beside your bed. If you go out at night, carry garlic in your pocket." This is just the advice you would have gotten from Judge Pursuivant or John Thunstone in one of Wellman's stories. The story is full of other odd vampire lore, the kind of things one wouldn't encounter reading or watching Dracula, but things a writer of horror would know. The final and most obvious clue is the author of the book on vampires that Billy checks out at the library. Look closely at the panel I provided and you'll see that The Vampire Legend was penned by H.P. Lovecraft! I don't know that Joe Simon wasn't a reader of Weird Tales, but I've never seen it mentioned anywhere. Manly Wade Wellman was certainly familiar with Lovecraft.
So anyway, I can't provide conclusive evidence, but it does seem likely that Wellman wrote Captain Marvel Battles the Vampire, if not the other stories in the first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures.

1 comment:

John Mayer said...

Well, you've convinced ME, Charles. Very clever and insightful scholarship.