In the 1940s, the comic book character Captain Marvel was so popular that he even outsold Superman. In 1941, a spin-off character named “Captain Marvel Jr.” was created, and this teenage hero inspired another teenager destined for great things: Elvis Presley.
A fishing trip gone wrong
Created by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker in 1939, Captain Marvel first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 in February 1940. An average boy called Billy Batson encounters a wizard named Shazam. By saying the name “Shazam,” Billy can transform into the adult superhero called Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel proved so popular that it was decided a spin-off would be a good idea. Consequently, Whiz Comics #25 in December 1941 introduced a new character created by editor Ed Herron and artist Mac Raboy.
Young Freddy Freeman is out fishing with his grandfather when Captain Nazi attacks Captain Marvel. The Freemans’ boat is capsized and while Freddy’s grandfather dies instantly, Captain Marvel (now as Billy Batson) takes the unconscious young boy to the hospital.
The only superhero who can’t introduce himself
When it becomes clear that ordinary medicine can’t save Freddy, Billy takes him to see Shazam. The wizard advises that Captain Marvel can help the boy by sharing some of his powers.
Billy transforms just as Freddy awakens. The young boy says: “Why… it’s Captain Marvel,” and instantly transforms into his own superhero – although, crucially, he still remains a teenager.
Captain Marvel Jr. went on to star in his own comics which had a darker tone, despite the younger age of the hero. He would frequently battle Captain Nazi, the villain who caused his injuries.
Because Freddy must shout “Captain Marvel” to be able to transform, the downside is that he can never introduce himself. If he does so while in superhero mode, he instantly transforms back into Freddy.
However, the choice of name was a distinct marketing ploy: Freddy was a spin-off character, but Fawcett Comics didn’t want readers to forget about the original Captain Marvel. By having him constantly referenced, it was hoped that readers would go out and buy Captain Marvel comics as well.
The Elvis connection
Young Elvis Presley grew up in poverty. According to Elvis Australia, the young musician grew up in stark poverty. In September 1949, the family was granted permission to live in Lauderdale Courts in Memphis, Tennessee. This was a public housing apartment available only to those families whose income was not more than $3,000 per year.
Many children in poverty like to read books or comics as a form of escapism; Elvis was no different. He even said in an interview once: “When I was a child, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book.”
In the attic of Graceland, there is a box containing some of the comics he loved as a boy. And in a recreation of his childhood home at Lauderdale Courts, it is Captain Marvel Jr. #51 from 1947 that is set on the desk. So we can be sure he was a fan.
Although there are plenty who say Elvis modeled his hairstyle on that of Tony Curtis, there’s also a strong similarity between Elvis’s distinctive haircut and sideburns and those of Captain Marvel Jr.
Furthermore, people have pointed out how the half-cape outfit that Elvis favored bears a strong resemblance to the costume worn by the teenage superhero.
Finally, there’s Elvis’s TCB (Taking Care of Business) emblem – a lightning bolt, almost identical to Captain Marvel Jr.’s own logo.
Captain Marvel Jr. becomes an Elvis fan
Just as Captain Marvel Jr. made a strong impression on a young Elvis, so the comic book character has started to show influences of Elvis Presley over the years.
Fawcett Comics was forced to fold in 1953 after DC Comics won a lawsuit against them, arguing that Captain Marvel was just a rip-off of Superman. Ironically, DC Comics then bought the rights to the Fawcett Comics in 1972, and the Marvel family was updated for modern audiences.
When he was rebooted, Freddy revealed himself to be an Elvis fan as part of the Teen Titans series in the 2000s. As noted in a Screenrant article, Freddy has been known to quote Elvis, to wear “flame shirts,” to sport a lightning bolt necklace, and at one point wants to be called “King Shazam” in honor of his hero.
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In 1996, a miniseries called Kingdom Come was created by Mark Wald and Alex Ross. In an alternate future, Captain Marvel Jr. has become King Marvel, and the character’s resemblance to Elvis Presley is striking.