DC Cancels Historical Reprint for Content Concerns
In last month’s Previews catalog, DC early-solicited a reprint edition. Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil Deluxe Edition was to be a $50 hardcover collection of stories from Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46, originally published beginning in 1943. This 24-chapter serial, written by Otto Binder and illustrated by C.C. Beck, introduced the evil worm Mr. Mind and was one of the earliest epic superhero stories, running over two years. (Interestingly, there was a movie serial in 1941, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, which probably influenced the serialized story format.) The book was due out next February, with final orders due Monday.
However, DC has just notified retailers that the hardcover collection “is cancelled due to concerns over its contents. This title will not be resolicited.” The book was planned to include “new essays by Fawcett Comics expert P.C. Hamerlinck and film producer and comics historian Michael Uslan,” but I suspect any sort of contextualizing of the time wouldn’t be enough to counteract the exaggerated stereotypes of Japanese and black people.
It’s difficult to know how to handle such racist past artifacts. Disney has chopped them out, where they could, because they want to sell to all audiences. Warner, in their Looney Tunes archival cartoon collections, has run disclaimers about the racism being a product of the time, but those products are aimed more at an adult collector audience.
However, DC has a Shazam movie coming out in April, just a couple of months after this would be on the shelves. I have a 1989 oversized hardcover reprint, so I could check for myself. (The comics are also available online, if you want to see them.) Each chapter was about 12 pages, and by the end of the second, Billy Watson is captured by cannibals, tied up and gagged in a giant black pot as the monkey-looking dark-skinned characters with bones in their hair lick their lips and fuel the fire.
Chapter 3 is full of language about “Jap spies” and “you two-faced yellow sneak” and how Asians crawl like snakes. I gave up after that, because the story isn’t actually that great. Each chapter ends with Billy prevented from saying his magic word (most ridiculous: suddenly frozen into block of ice!), only for him to do so in the next chapter and turn into Captain Marvel.
I suspect the people saying how great a Captain Marvel story this was hadn’t read it recently, and when decision-makers saw what they were planning to put on the shelves right before their big movie, they rightly said “no way.” My biggest regret is not getting to see the new cover by Michael Cho, because he does really great retro-flavored artwork.