This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Captain Marvel Jr. Junior (real name: Freddy Freeman) first appeared in “Whiz Comics” #25 in December 1941, and was created by Ed Herron and Mac Raboy.
As Junior’s origin relates, Freddy Freeman was a kid who one day went on a fishing trip with his only living family member, his grandfather. At the time, Captain Marvel was nearby, fighting the vicious superpowered villain, Captain Nazi. A punch by Marvel landed Nazi into the water near the Freemans, who (thinking he was a drowning man) fished him out of the water. Nazi “repaid” the Freemans’ kindness by crippling Freddy and killing his grandfather. Captain Marvel rushed Freddy to a hospital, but seeing Freddy was dying, took him to the Rock of Eternity (the otherdimensional plane where the ancient wizard Shazam dwells). The wizard noted he couldn’t heal Freddy’s injuries, but instead that Captain Marvel could share some of his power with Freddy. Upon being aroused from his coma, Freddy uttered Captain Marvel’s name, which transformed him into the superpowered form of Captain Marvel, Jr. (Freddy stays a teenager in his Marvel form.) Captain Marvel informed Junior that although he’s now superpowered, his normal body had to heal the best to its ability, so he couldn’t stay powered up all the time. Freddy agrees, and returns to normal, but begins a superhero career as Captain Marvel Jr., both solo and alongside the rest of the “Marvel Family” (Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel). Along with recurring bouts against the hated Captain Nazi, Junior also fought Thaddeus Bodog Sivana Jr., the criminal genius red-headed son of Marvel Family foe Dr. Sivana and the “World’s Wickedest Boy.”
In older comics, Freddy lived in a boarding house, and ran a newsstand. He’d also be shown using a crutch while as Freddy, as his injuries from Captain Nazi had left him with a permanent limp. In the Golden Age comics, Junior had his own ongoing self-titled comic, published from 1942 to 1953; it was cancelled when Fawcett Comics finally stopped publishing the Marvel Family’s adventures altogether. In Junior’s own book, the art style (as drawn by Mac Raboy) was rendered in a more realistic fashion than in Captain Marvel’s own stories (as drawn by C.C. Beck). Captain Marvel Jr. stories also tended toward less whimsical subjects, focusing on adventure stories, social issues of the day, etc.
In 1953, Fawcett finally cancelled the Marvel Family’s books, and the characters stayed dormant until 1973, when DC Comics bought the rights to the characters. DC integrated the Marvels into the larger DC Universe, initially on “Earth-S,” the parallel Earth the Fawcett stories were deemed to have taken place. After “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the Marvels were rebooted into the single DC Earth, but it took until 1995 for Freddy to appear in a DC story again. In the late 90s, Junior appeared both in the “Power of Shazam” comic and in the Teen Titans series. Freddy also saw his superhero name change briefly to “CM3,” which (fortunately) didn’t last.
The 2000s and especially the 2010s have seen a lackluster treatment of the Marvel Family by DC, as DC’s entire line has taken a much grimmer tone. Related to this, DC also seems much more interested in Marvel Family foe Black Adam (as a “Superman-like anti-hero”) than the Marvels themselves. Granted, Superman and Captain Marvel coexisting in the same Earth feels to me like having the Boston Red Sox move to New York, which might also be why DC’s struggled with what to do with the Marvel Family in recent years. Either way, Freddy got to star in the late 2000s’ “Trials of Shazam” miniseries, which was poorly received. Freddy’s also appeared in the 2011 New 52 reboot, but given its treatment of Captain Marvel/Billy Batson, the less said about that, the better.
As Captain Marvel Jr., Freddy’s powers consist of a teenage-sized version of Captain Marvel’s, which include: 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. All of these ancient deities/rulers’ powers give the Marvels abilities similar to those of heroes like Superman (minus the vision powers). Unlike Billy and Mary (who become Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel by saying “Shazam”), Freddy becomes Captain Marvel Jr. by saying the words “Captain Marvel.” This makes Freddy the one superhero who can’t say his own name, since he’ll transform back to normal if he does.
Junior’s appeared in media, including the early 80s “Shazam!” animated series by Filmation, a few direct-to-video animated features (“Justice League: War” and “Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths”), and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” A few modern media, such as “Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam,” have shown Freddy with a wheelchair instead of a crutch, similar to fellow DC-owned character Oracle.
However, Junior’s biggest media impact of all might be on famous singer Elvis Presley, as Junior was Elvis’ favorite superhero as a youngster. Junior’s costume and haircut was believed to have influenced Elvis’ fashions and hairstyle. Modern stories will sometimes play with this, showing Freddy as a fan of Elvis’ music.