Review > Captain Marvel (DC Universe Classics)

shazamalexrossposter_bigSince his first appearance in 1938, Superman has inspired countless similar characters (“knock-offs” would be the unkind term), from Captain Atom to Supreme to the Sentry. But the first and greatest Superman clone is undoubtedly Captain Marvel.

Created a year after Superman’s debut by artist C.C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, Captain Marvel was Fawcett Comics’ answer to the Man of Steel. Unlike Superman, though, Captain Marvel’s alter ego wasn’t a mild-mannered adult like Clark Kent, but a well-behaved twelve-year-old named Billy Batson who transformed into the superhero by saying the word “Shazam!”

Understandably, this adolescent power fantasy appealed to children (possibly even more than Superman), and for a time in the 1940s Captain Marvel comics outsold Superman’s. Eventually, though, Supes got his revenge when DC Comics purchased the rights to Captain Marvel and the rest of the “Marvel Family,” including Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. By then, Marvel Comics had created and trademarked their own character named Captain Marvel, so all DC Captain Marvel comics and merchandise has to be sold under the name “Shazam,” which has led some people to think that’s the hero’s name (in fact, it’s the name of the wizard who gave him his powers).

Since then, DC has spent quite a bit of time and effort trying to find a place for Captain Marvel within the DC Universe. However, the best efforts have either been standalone graphic novels, such as Jeff Smith’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil or Alex Ross’s Justice.

While I love the new Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon, I actually think a new Captain Marvel cartoon, geared toward the same age group, would be an ideal use of the character in the twenty-first century. After all, isn’t the concept behind the immensely popular Ben 10 pretty much the same thing–a young boy turns into an adult superhero?

Packaging: The usual. Here’s the bio:

Drawn to a secret cavern beneath the subway, orphan newsboy Billy Batson met the immortal wizard Shazam, who granted Billy superpowers to do battle with evil. By uttering Shazam’s name aloud, Billy was thus transformed into no only an adult, but the World’s Mightiest Mortal; empowered with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.

cm_2Sculpt: One of my favorite bits of comic book trivia is that C.C. Beck originally modeled Captain Marvel’s face on actor Fred MacMurray, best known to my generation as the dad from My Three Sons (well, those of us who grew up on Nick at Nite, anyway) and the star of The Absent-Minded Professor. Beck later used other actors as models for CM, but since Alex Ross started painting the Big Red Cheese on a regular basis, the “ripped young Fred MacMurray” look has been dominant (especially in this pic).

The Horsemen have definitely gone for the Ross look, with the sharp eyebrows, narrow eyes, short-cropped hair, and confident grin. It’s not perfect, though I’d argue the imperfections were more due to the molding process than the sculpting; but I do think this head looks more like Ross’s art than DC Direct’s attempt, which is a bit on the hefty side.

Lots of other classic Captain Marvel details are here, from the stitches on the front of his boots to the hieroglyphs on the left side of his cape. He also has a unique chest sculpt complete with the gold-buttoned lapel.

cm_1The belt is more of a sash, and is sometimes drawn with part of the belt hanging down from the side where it was tied (see the Ross piece at the top of this review). I rather like that look, but it’s not what the Horsemen went with here–possibly to save on tooling costs.

One aspect of the sculpt that has been noted by other reviewers as well is the odd angularity of the shoulders. They’re almost reminiscent of the shoulders in the MOTU2K line. I don’t find they detract much from my admiration of the figure, but they are odd. [Update: The Horsemen wrote on their site that the angular shoulders are meant to represent the shoulder pads CM is often depicted as having.]

Overall, though, I think the Horsemen have successfully captured the look of the Big Red Cheese, and this may be the definitive action figure of the character–at least for now.

cm_3Plastic & Paint: DC Universe Classics has often struggled with characters in red outfits; for whatever reason, figures molded in red seem to end up looking rather toy-ish. There’s a subtle, vaguely translucent quality to the red plastic that kills the illusion the character is wearing an outfit, rather than being made of plastic.

Captain Marvel is no exception to this, but fortunately, he has a matte texture to his body that softens the plastic effect. Unfortunately, the colors aren’t uniform, especially on the arms–look how bright the red of the bicep is next to the shoulder. This is the sort of problem that a very light, carefully-applied wash can even things out, but that doesn’t happen here (CM does have a light wash, it’s just unevenly applied). The same goes for the tips of his boots, which are molded in bright yellow.

The paint work on my figure’s face was decent except for the eyebrows, which were a bit thin. I touched mine up with a narrow Sharpie.

Some collectors have stated they wished CM’s belt and boots were colored gold like this gauntlets, but I don’t mind in this case, since this is how he’s usually depicted in comics, if not in Ross’s work.

cm_4Articulation: Captain Marvel has the standard DCUC articulation. Like most DCUC figures, he can look down just fine, but he has a hard time looking straight up for good flying poses. I found the left shoulder on my figure was a bit limited by the stiff cape, but honestly it doesn’t bother me much.

Accessories: Other than his piece of Kalibak, the Big Red Cheese is weaponless. Given that his evil counterpart Black Adam will be coming with his scarab necklace, some sort of pack-in with CM would have been nice–perhaps a tiny Mr. Mind figure?

Quality control: The right shoulder on my figure is a little loose, but otherwise I had no issues.

[raven 3]

I’d like to give Captain Marvel a higher score. His sculpt is superb, but the mediocre paint applications and molded plastic parts hurt him a bit. Still, he’s one of my favorite figures from this wave, and it’s great to have such a well-sculpted, well-articulated Captain Marvel at last.


Pic of the Day


(Super) Man down!


  1. Mark

    Great figure, but I had QC issues with mine. Some bad paint apps on chest and boots and left leg is a little buckled.

  2. Phoenix

    Not a big fan of Shazam(The 1st & original Captain Marvel!!) but this figure does look cool. If I were ever to buy a Shazam figure I'd have to buy an Alex Ross version from The Justice or Kingdom Come series. That might change though because I did like the look of the upcoming DCUC Black Adam!!

  3. A great figure, and the first proper Captain Marvel I've ever had. I grabbed him at the comic shop, and haven't seen him in Wal-Mart or anything. Superman either, for some reason.

  4. Poe

    @Dwaltrip: Interesting! That makes sense.

  5. dwaltrip

    About his "shoulder pads"… it is, straight from the "horses" mouth…..

  6. zach

    Nice review! I haven't gotten a chance to really play with this figure yet, although he's been on display since I got him. I have to say that I really liked the squared off shoulders right away. It really helps the Big Red Cheese stand out from the crowd in a very stylized way.

  7. outburst

    A must-have, right behind Hawkman. Thanks for the write-up.

  8. Dark Angel

    See, now I get to be the good cop!

    I love this figure. Which is odd, since I don't really give a fig about the character…never have. Mine must be one of the few that came off the assembly and paint lines with few major issues. The sculpt is pure win for me; even the Ross-inspired face looks good to me (and I am no fan of Alex Ross, believe me). As for the shoulders…well, check out the Ross painting again. It looks as if he was trying to show a seam in the costume at the shoulder, and I think that is what the toy is trying to do as well. Would be nice if anyone has access to some high-res Ross images to take a closer look at.

    While mine does show some slight difference between the reds, it doesn't stand out nearly so much as the flesh tone differences on my Hawkman. In fact, under normal lighting, no difference at all is reall detectable. The only really major issue I have with him paintwise is that his hair wasn't fully painted (easily fixable), and his yellow-cast boots have that dreaded "plastic" look…

    So, see, Poe? I do like this line. All I ask is that Mattel get their act together and begin making figures like Cap, Lobo, Etrigan, Grundy and Deathstroke the norm rather than the exceptions…

  9. Poe

    Walmart Supercenter in Plymouth.

  10. Poe, where did you find him? I haven't seen Wave 6 anywhere in Mass yet.

  11. Nicholai

    The red plastic is a problem I really wish there could be a resolution to. It'll be a shame if they ever do a Captain Marvel Jr. as Freddie will probably look better than Billy in the blue.

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