It seems as though everyone wants to get in on the 3-3/4" world these days. G.I. Joe and Star Wars have been there for years. But now we're seeing it from a lot of others -- Indiana Jones, WWE, and now, the DC Universe.
This is not to put down the DC Universe Classics 6" scale figures. Those remain extremely impressive, and I look forward to collecting them as new assortments become available. But the new 3-3/4" line can, and does, have a more extensive cast, for one thing.
When Mattel announced its DC UNIVERSE INFINITE HEROES collection, they also announced with it a considerable line-up of realistic-looking super- heroes and super-villains. Unlike the Justice League Unlimited line, which I also enjoy, the Infinite Heroes line was designed to present the characters in a more realistic, or at least comic-realistic, format.
One of the first ones that I picked up was -- SHAZAM! -- CAPTAIN MARVEL, the world's mightiest mortal!
This character has been around for a very long time. Let's see about his background:
Captain Marvel is a fictional comic book superhero, originally published by Fawcett Comics and later by DC Comics. Created in 1939 by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, the character first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940). In the premise, 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. Several friends and family members, most notably Marvel Family cohorts Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr., can share Billy's power and become "Marvels" themselves.
Hailed as "The World's Mightiest Mortal" in his adventures, Captain Marvel was nicknamed "The Big Red Cheese" by archvillain 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.
Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel-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 their DC Universe, and have attempted to revive the property several times. However, Captain Marvel has not regained the same level of his original appeal with new generations, although a 1970s Shazam! live-action television series featuring the character was popular.
Because Marvel Comics trademarked their Captain Marvel comic book during the interim between the original Captain Marvel's Fawcett years and DC years, DC Comics is unable to promote and market their Captain Marvel/ Marvel Family properties under that name. Since 1972, DC has instead used the trademark Shazam! as the title of their comic books and thus the name under which they market and promote the character. Consequently, Captain Marvel himself is sometimes erroneously referred to as Shazam.
When the character was created, Fawcett's circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett recalled telling the staff, "give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10 or 12-year-old boy rather than a man."
As a result, Captain Marvel was given a twelve-year-old boy named Billy Batson as an alter ego. In the origin story printed in Whiz Comics #2, Billy, a homeless newsboy, is lead by a mysterious stranger to a secret subway tunnel. An odd subway car with no visible driver takes them to the lair of the wizard Shazam, who grants Billy the power to become the adult superhero Captain Marvel. In order to transform into Captain Marvel, Billy must speak the wizard's name, an acronym for the six various legendary figures who had agreed to grant aspects of themselves to a willing subject: 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. Speaking the word produces a bolt of magic lightning which transforms Billy into Captain Marvel; speaking the word again reverses the transformation with another bolt of lightning.
Captain Marvel wore a bright red costume, inspired by both military uniforms and ancient Egyptian and Persian costumes as depicted in popular operas, with gold trim and a lightning bolt insignia on the chest. The body suit originally included a buttoned lapel, but was changed to a one-piece skintight suit within a year at the insistence of the editors (the current DC costume of the character has the lapel restored to it). The costume also included a white-collared cape trimmed with gold flower symbols, usually asymmetrically thrown over the left shoulder and held around his neck by a gold cord. The cape came from the ceremonial cape worn by the British nobility, photographs of which appeared in newspapers in the 1930s.
Through much of the Golden age of comic books, Captain Marvel proved to be the most popular superhero character of the medium with his comics outselling all others, including those featuring Superman. In fact, Captain Marvel Adventures sold fourteen million copies in 1944, and was at one point being published weekly with a circulation of 1.3 million copies an issue (proclaimed on the cover of issue #19 as being the "Largest Circulation of Any Comic Magazine")
Detective Comics (later known as DC Comics) sued Fawcett Comics for copyright infringement in 1941, alleging that Captain Marvel was based on their character Superman. Eventually, after several re-trials, Fawcett decided to settle with National out of court. The National lawsuit was not the only problem Fawcett faced in regards to Captain Marvel. While Captain Marvel Adventures had been the top-selling comic series during World War II, it suffered declining sales every year after 1945 and by 1949 it was selling only half its wartime rate. Fawcett ultimately agreed to never again publish a comic book featuring any of the Captain Marvel-related characters, and to pay National $400,000 in damages. Fawcett shut down its comics division in the autumn of 1953 and laid off its comic-creating staff.
When superhero comics became popular again in the mid-1960s, Fawcett was unable to revive Captain Marvel because 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 Captain Marvel as a comic book title, 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 and most of the supporting cast had been accidentally trapped in suspended 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". Of course, one of the most anticipated encounters was between Captain Marvel and his longtime rival, Superman, but this was teased at, especially in one story in Justlice League of America, and delayed for some time before actually happening.
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths which resulted in one unified planet, 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 League in Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis' relaunch of that title. That same year, 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.
DC finally purchased the rights to all of the Fawcett Comics characters in 1991. In 1994, the unpopular revision of the character from the Shazam! The New Beginning 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 main change in the character was that Captain Marvel retained his youthful counterpart's personality, something that had not been the case in the 1940's. This has been used to explain Cap's generally sunnier-than-usual disposition, a sort of "Golden Age outlook" as much as anything.
Most recently, in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, Captain Marvel and friends have had their lives turned inside out once again in a 12-issue limited series called "The Trials of Shazam!" Frankly, from what I've seen of it, the less said, the better.
Unfortunately, the statement that the character never quite caught on as well as one might have hoped is sadly accurate. Theoretically, Cap could've been as major a player as DC's so-called "trinity" of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But he's just not quite at that level.
But at least we can enjoy a good action figure of him. I think Mattel is really on to something with this Infinite Heroes line. There's tons of potential here for making a truly astonishingly wide range of some of the most legendary comic book characters ever created in a very nicely done, well-sized, and affordable format.
And Captain Marvel is a very nice example of this new line. He stands almost exactly 4" in height. It's fairly evident that a lot of his body parts will be used for quite a few of the characters in this line, but I don't really have a problem with that. Mattel does the same thing with Justice League Unlimited and DC Universe Classics. And unlike some other lines, if you've got a bunch of tights-wearing heroes, why NOT try to re-use as many of the parts as possible? Molds are expensive, and if a good basic arm, leg, or torso can be reused simply by molding and/or painting it in a different color, so be it.
Captain Marvel's head is nicely done. Honestly, in some respects, Cap is one of the tougher heroes to turn out as far as facial likeness is concerned. His "Golden Age" visage was pretty cartoonish, and doesn't really work that well in the modern world. He has been given a more realistic countenance in modern times, but it's still advisable to strike a balance if at all possible. Generally, this has worked. Both Mego and the Kenner Super Powers line turned out Captain Marvel figures in the 1970's and 1980's, and both looked excellent. Arguably the Super Powers figure went for a somewhat more cartoonish look, but not to the point that the figure was incompatible with the rest of the line.
This Captain Marvel headsculpt, although certainly distinctly smaller than either the Mego or Super Powers versions, manages to look realistic, while being a bit of a nod to the classic Cap with fairly prominent eyebrows and black eyes, although the eyes have whites around them.
Cap's body is molded in red, and the lightning symbol on his chest is gold. Sometimes metallic gold paint can be tricky, as it can some out looking too dark compared to the comic book appearance of the character. But here is actually looks very good. Painted lines on the right chest are slight evidence of the "lapel".
Cap's boots have the "flap", and are painted yellow, not gold, which is sort of interesting, given that all of the other yellowish trim on the figure, including the belt and the trim on the cape, as well as the wrist bands, are gold.
About the only area that comes up a little short in the detail area as a result of the common body parts would be the wrist bands, which should be ridged, but I regard that as a relatively minor point, especially since Cap has been given a very distinctive belt. Common body parts aside, this figure line is going to be detailed and individualistic enough so it's not going to look like a whole bunch of body clones.
Cap's cape is nicely made, with a high collar and decorative rope around the front, and the "floral" markings along the back. It's not especially "pre-posed", and is made from flexible plastic, and attached to the figure along the back. Fortunately, it's not so heavy that it unbalances the figure.
Captain Marvel isn't pre-posed, although the left leg does point just a little outwards compared to the right one. Not severely, though. The articulation is excellent. The figure is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, waist, legs, and knees.
Let me address the articulation factor for a moment. There have been some toy collectors that have criticized this line for not being more articulated. Why don't the legs move outward? Why aren't the wrists and ankles articulated? What about double-jointing the elbows and knees? Why not a mid-torso point? Why not arm and leg swivels? There are other figures in this size range that have these features, why not this one?
Okay, let's consider for a moment another action figure line that does have all of those points of articulation -- WWE Build 'n' Brawl. Now, I like this line. However, the figures are $2 - $3 more expensive than the DC Universe Infinite Heroes, and I have yet to pick one up that doesn't have at least one or more REALLY floppy points of articulation.
I have no problem with an extensively-articulated action figure. But you know, it's funny. Some years back, the clarion cry from the collecting world seemed to be "Detail, detail, detail!" A figure could be a lump of plastic with two points of articulation, but if it was well detailed it was a hit. Now it seems to be "Articulation, articulation, articulation!" Fine and well -- if the figures can be made well. And it seems to me that the more articulation you put into a figure, the more assembly steps that are involved, the more something can go wrong. Especially the smaller the figure is. And I've seen it happen too often.
There's also something to be said for appearance. Mid-torso articulation points, double-joints at elbows and knees, fine -- IF you can work them well into the design of the figure. And too often, this isn't the case. I've seen way too many action figures that looked like humanoid jigsaw puzzles and had the structural stability of marionettes to jump unreservedly into the "massive articulation" bandwagon. Not anymore.
The DC Universe Infinite Heroes line may not be the most articulated action figure line in creation -- but the figures have a VERY GOOD level of articulation, they are assembled well based on the ones I've seen and purchased, and they look good. And that's what I want in my action figures.
Okay, off the soapbox. Let's consider painted detail. On Cap, there really isn't much. The head is entirely painted, both flesh skin and black hair. This sometimes annoys me, since I feel the head would be better molded in the flesh color, as all it takes is one paint glitch to give a figure a horrible skin condition. But this Cap is okay. The hands are painted flesh, the wrist bands, belt, and chest symbol gold, and the boots yellow. But that's about it. The main color here is RED, which is, of course, the color the figure was molded in. But for what paint detailing there is on this figure, it's all done very well.
Packaging is -- cute, in a way. The backdrop on the card is a huge hand, which is reflected in the blister bubble, as well. The slogan for this line is "An army of heroes within your grasp!", and apparently the package designer took that literally. The "DC Universe Infinite Heroes" logo is across the top of the card, and at the base is the "Crisis" logo, along with the character's name (in this case "SHAZAM!"), and his series and figure number. I'm not sure how long that "Crisis" part will remain, or to what degree it belongs there. Certainly, any "Crisis" in the DC Universe tends to bring in a multitude of characters, as does this toy line, but there's nothing that specific here. Throw in a vague mention of the Monitors who first appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths and more recently Countdown, and it just seems a bit of a pointless stretch.
So, what's my final word here? The DC UNIVERSE INFINITE HEROES line has a lot -- A LOT -- of potential, and I hope it performs superbly well and lasts for a very long time. There's a big wide DC Universe for this line to play with, and I'd like to see it turn out as much of it as possible.
As for (SHAZAM!) CAPTAIN MARVEL here, this is a really superb figure of a character who -- frankly, deserves better treatment than he seems to have gotten in recent years. If you could take a supply of this figure back in time to the 1940's, you'd be mobbed by kids. Today, he doesn't even seem to rank as a first-tier character. And that's a shame. He deserves better. But, at least he has a very good action figure available now. The DC UNIVERSE INFINITE HEROES (SHAZAM!) CAPTAIN MARVEL definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!