Adventures of Captain Marvel - One of the Greatest of the Old Time Superhero Serials

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

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I am an unapologetic fan of the Captain Marvel character.  Unfortunately, he is better known by modern day fans as Shazam, but originally and throughout most of his history he was the original and the best Captain Marvel.  You can listen to a podcast audio review of the series by clicking here (this episode is free) - Adventures of Captain Marvel Podcast Special.

Back in the 1940s the major movie production companies hit pay dirt with serialized stories.  Mostly Westerns and War Stories, there were still several dealing with superheroes like Batman, Superman, Captain America, the Green Hornet, and Captain Marvel.

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The Adventures of Captain Marvel was a 1941 twelve-chapter black-and-white Republic Pictures serial which was produced by Hiram S. Brown, Jr. and directed by John English and William Witney.  The Adventures of Captain Marvel starred two amazingly well cast stars in Tom Tyler in the title role of Captain Marvel and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as his alter ego, Billy Batson.

The Adventures of Captain Marvel featured the Fawcett Comics superhero, placed within an original story which had numerous differences from the comic book character. Captain Marvel fights a masked criminal called the Scorpion, who tries to gain control of an ancient weapon- a large metallic scorpion with adjustable legs, tail, and removable lenses that must be aligned in order to activate its powerful ray.  The ray can do a variety of feats including causing explosions, disintegration, and the ability to transmute metal into gold.

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During an archaeological expedition to Siam's (modern day Thailand) Valley of the Tombs (the film used a lot of Egyptian themes but is set in Thailand) to find the lost secret of the Scorpion Kingdom. While examining the golden scorpion weapon, the device's lenses are aligned and an energy beam fires causing an explosion. Billy Batson, portrayed as a young adult in the serial instead of a child as he is in the comic books, obeyed the warning on the crypt's seal not to enter which causes him to be chosen by the ancient wizard Shazam to be granted the powers of Captain Marvel whenever he repeats the wizard's name- "Shazam!". 

The weapon's lenses are divided among the scientists of the Malcolm Archaeological Expedition so that it can only be used by agreement of the entire group, who then return to the U. S. after their discovery. A criminal mastermind, calling himself the Scorpion, steals the ancient device and sets about to steal the distributed lenses.

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The plot features numerous cliff-hangers and focuses on the secret identity of the Scorpion which is revealed in the final episode.  The scenes of Captain Marvel in flight were considered revolutionary at the time.  Both Tom Tyler and Frank Coghlan, Jr. were both very well cast in this serial even though both's characters are considerably different than in the comic book with Captain Marvel being more stoic and serious than in the comic books.

Overall, this is an excellent serialized story and is generally considered one of the best of the era.

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