YJ2: Mary Marvel Picture

Ah, the character whose total desecration, mis-characterization, and utter obliteration sent me down this path of trying to reclaim characters abused and misused by Dan Didio and his cronies in the first place, Mary Marvel herself.

Seriously, do NOT get me started. The story of how she and her brother were utterly RUINED in favor of amping up their friend Freddy "Captain Marvel Jr." Freeman into a non-character who has brought nothing new to the name and powers he stole except to get replaced by Prometheus and have his fucking mouth sewn shut in "Cry For Justice" is better covered by others elsewhere. I mean, for real...even people who have only the faintest familiarity with Captain Marvel and who have never even HEARD of Mary Marvel have read about what DC did to them and commented about the wasted opportunity and complete butchery inflicted on them.

OK, seriously, I have no REAL problem with the "Trials of Shazam" story concept in itself, it was just poorly written and would've been an awesome origin for a totally different character, mainly because it completely wrecks the entire IDEA behind Captain Marvel in the first place, and it even totally warps Freddy's character to boot. It COULD have been cool, and handled by someone who isn't AN INCOMPETENT HACK WHO HASN'T WRITTEN ANYTHING READABLE SINCE "BARRY WEEN, BOY GENIUS" could have been the revival of the Captain Marvel concept it was intended to be. It's just, in order to facilitate the plot, the real Captain Marvel and his sister had to be "fridged" in the stupidest, most out-of-character ways possible.

GAH...sorry, I promised myself that this wouldn't be another pissed-off excuse to rant. No, this is part of my attempts to bring the characters back, not by reboot or reimagining, but by returning the characters to what made them awesome and unique in the first place, by remembering that the core idea of the original Captain Marvel was "What if an ordinary if good-hearted child were suddenly given the power of the gods?" In Billy's case, my idea was to follow the example of "Trials," only with a return to the epic scope and mythological elements of the original concept plus adding a modern spin in the form of a multi-pantheon group of patron gods/legends, rather than sticking strictly to the mostly Roman deities of the original. Reviving Cap is easy, since all that was done to Billy was a surgical grafting of the Didio Idiot Ball to him; remove that and let Billy Batson actually ACT like Billy Batson and his story almost corrects itself.

Mary, however, is the trickier subject, partially because she was so THOROUGHLY shredded, repeatedly and maliciously, but also because she was so broken to begin with. She was the first "female counterpart" superheroine, coming a year after Wonder Woman and predating Supergirl and Batgirl by decades...and that's pretty much it. The closest anyone ever got to giving her an actual personality beyond "Billy's long-lost twin sister," really, was in the freakin' Giffen-DeMatteis "Superbuddies" revival of the JLI not even a decade ago, and that was just to use her as a joke "innocent yokel"-type character to bounce off of her WAY-more worldly teammates; in fact, Keith Giffen's original idea was to have her lose her virginity at some point in the story...which, in light of what every other writer did to her, seems almost tame. It was quashed because, in a rare bit of actual intelligence, DC editorial politely reminded Giffen that only her hero form is adult, her REAL age is in the low-to-middle teens...which seems to be part of the problem there, since writers seem to be unable to reconcile the "young mind in grown-up body" aspect with a female character as "well" as they could with a male one.

Still, the potential is there, especially in light of her origin; unlike Billy, for whom the power of Shazam was the first step into reclaiming his birthright and family and the turning around of his dark, oppressive world into something wonderful, Mary was already IN a wonderful place to begin with. Billy was a homeless orphan living on the streets, Mary was the adopted daughter of millionaires; in fact, she first BECAME Mary Marvel after Billy and Freddy were beaten trying to save her from kidnappers, and she said "Shazam" just to see what would happen (the modern version also throws in a talking stuffed animal prodding her into saying it since she didn't actually SEE them change). For Billy, the power of Shazam was a gift; for Freddy it was a second chance after his crippling...for Mary, the power was a burden she'd never been equipped to handle, which is the ONE SINGLE, SOLITARY THING THAT "COUNTDOWN" GOT RIGHT. Mary never stepped out of Billy's shadow while Freddy was CONSTANTLY trying to, which, I suppose, is probably why her being tempted and ultimately corrupted by it SEEMED like the right path to take the character down.

The problem? They immediately undid her character arc and had everyone in the DCU suddenly start hating her for no reason. SHE was treated as the usurper who "never earned the right" to be a hero, and so she was disproportionally punished repeatedly, even being used as a kind of Eve proxy by corrupting Billy and getting both of them "cast out" of the Marvel Family they were the first of. What should have been the story of a young heroine undergoing (and, yes, failing) her own personal trial of character and redeeming herself instead became some kind of bizarre incestuous "Garden of Eden" story.

The solution? Just like with Billy, it's not to erase and reboot or ignore what happened...Mary's story needs to be continued. Just like when Billy is restored to his proper mentality he'll automatically set right what went wrong, Mary, when her WHOLE story, origin and all, is taken into account, will start setting herself right as well. She is a girl who has lost everything, her dignity, her powers, her former life, her family, both old and new...seriously, the last time we saw the Bromfields, her adoptive parents, was just before their mansion was TRASHED by a giant robot back in the 90's "Power of Shazam" comic. Basically, the girl has fallen about as far as she can go.

So...what next? If we take her whole story into account, we see she still has the same strength of character and steel spine as her brother; her only problem was that it was never tempered by a lifetime of hardship like his was. She was still always a hard worker and an intelligent and resourceful girl with a very strong moral compass, but she's been so twisted around at the hands of Eclipso and Darkseid and Black Adam that even she doesn't know where that compass is pointing now...so, the story will have to be of her growing past this, coming to grips with what she'd done and what's been done to her and, finally, coming into her own power on her own terms. I'll save the details for the moment, since I've rambled on enough as-is, but it ultimately comes down to her either chosing to go on as a tarnished hero or to abandon everything and hide in her shame and guilt...and you can guess which story I'd much prefer to write.

This is just my first take on a "new" look for Mary, one that jettisons the sexualized aspects that have accumulated over the years. Neither the innocent powerhouse or the "cheerleader from Hell" looks, I decided to do the controversial recent Supergirl updating one better by ditching the skirt entirely in favor of shorts. I streamlined it further a'la the "Black Mary" look by also ditching the cape but I kept her slightly billowy top...it was a design element of her traditional looks that I always liked for some reason...and turned her belt back into a sash so, along with her hair, she still has the flowing elements that are essential to more iconic superhero looks. Also taken from the "Black Mary" costume are her gloves, although I mixed them with the tradional elements by having them be short, with her arms bare again, and gold-cuffed, a subconscious tribute to Wonder Woman perhaps. Lastly, I returned the gold semi-swashbuckler boots which, like the sash belt, reinforce the fantasy/magical elements of the character. Overall, I was looking to design a costume for some one who sees the powers as a responsibility and a burden, but is still unable to completely relinquish the pure joy of having them bings her...power, grace, and beauty as opposed to overly sexy or needlessly innocent.

As for the color, however...this is the hard choice, especially since the three traditional Marvel Family uniform colors have come to have their own connotations (red=leader, blue=lancer, white=innocent) which I suppose her story will ultimately determine, on top of not really wanting to copy other heroines' costumes (unlike the current Supergirl who TOTALLY ripped off Mary's look).

...side note, my scanner is once again going through its periodic Red Foxx-like "I'm DYING, hackcough" motions and is stretching everything I scan horizontally. I tried to fix it but, combined with the attempt at a more mature look, it almost looks like Mary's a 70's housewife here, which is why I stressed that this is my first attempt at the redesign. Back to the drawing board, then..?
Continue Reading: The Graces