Superman Week, day four – Magic and Captain Marvel
We’ve hit day four of Superman Week. Day three looked at Superman’s foes, but today will focus down and look at magic and Captain Marvel specifically. As always I am joined by by Ibrahim Moustafa (Artist of High Crimes) with Jordan Gibson coloring.
Alongside kryptonite, magic is Superman’s biggest weakness. And just like kryptonite, there is more to that than what it says on the surface.
Let’s look at another superhero, though, while we discuss magic. Captain Marvel (or as DC would have us call him now – Shazam) was Superman’s only rival for sales back in the 40s and through changes and challenges both are still around today though only Superman has his own comic book.
Captain Marvel is secretly Billy Batson, and when he says his magic word (Shazam) he turns into an adult with superpowers that basically are the exact same as Superman’s, except Captain Marvel’s are magic based.
Where Superman is a adult, Captain Marvel is literally a child in an adult’s body. Captain Marvel is powered by magic and Superman is powerless against it. And suddenly it starts to make sense.
Magic as a metaphor for the irrationality of youth is a powerful concept and one that holds up alongside our Superman/Captain Marvel dichotomy. Captain Marvel, still being young Billy Batson, can utilize magic to empower him, through the innocence and belief of youth.
Whereas Superman, having grown older, is powerless against such irrationality, needing to escape into the rational boundaries of science. Of course this is science that we let get away with giving him super powers and shrinking planets, but you know what I mean. Still, Superman’s stories have tended to often go to the science fiction realms – which makes sense given that he starts as an alien brought here by a spaceship from another planet.
It sets boundaries for the stories. Oh, you can do magic stories as well as anything else, in Superman, but they will always clash a bit with his science fiction background. It’s why Mister Mxyzptlk is an interesting foil (and why he didn’t appear yesterday – because here he is now) – as a person who seems to use magic, and yet also lives in a different, higher dimension, you get science and magic wrapped into one in a way that works for Superman. The dimension angle and hard rules (In the original stories Mxyzptlk has to leave when he is tricked into saying his name backwards) counteract the magic in a way that means you can get away with the magic and not feel it is out of place for a Superman story.
Whereas Mxyzptlk doesn’t work as a Captain Marvel foe because he’s too much in line with what Captain Marvel deals with. He doesn’t stand out and becomes just an annoying little dude who floats and wears a derby. The magic makes him stand out for Superman, as does his childish personality. On the other side of the coin though, he would seem flat. Magic is tricky, and needs to be done as a function of character, we can see from here.
Anyway, all of this this isn’t to say that magic vanishes from the adult because of some deficiency, but rather that the wide-eyed innocence of youth lets us see the world in a different way. It’s what makes Captain Marvel so compelling and, in a nice turn, creates a great foil for Superman.