Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 2: Mary Marvel
It’s Mary! My second favorite girl in all of literature! Wait. Is that okay to say? Now I feel a little bit bad. A true gentleman should never tell a girl, “You’re my second favorite!” I’m a cad. An absolute bounder. I owe Mary many apologies, chocolates and flowers. So be it. I’m more than willing spend an enormous amount of time with her, making up for my callous statement.
I should start out, here, by stating that the Mary Marvel I treasure really hasn’t seen the light of day in (ouch) six decades. Not since the lawsuit where DC rather spuriously took over the entire Marvel Family from Fawcett comics. It’s the Fawcett comics that I love, where both Mary Marvel and her stories have an air of innocence. There have been attempts to recreate that charm over the years, and there’s certainly been some success… such as in the 70’s revival, and a couple of the more recent cartoon-style versions. Mostly, though, the attempts have been to make Mary more “relevant,” which apparently means “sex that bitch up!” Not in favor of that. I’m a big fan of sex and sexiness and pretty girls who have pretty boobies, but for god’s sake people… do ALL the girls have to be that way?
Mainstream comics, to me, are very much failing because of a narrowing of the field. Marvel and DC are both putting out a thin spectrum of comics, and they both have narrowing of characters as well. What I mean by this is that interesting characters are established because of their differences, but as soon as they’re popular they’re nudged back into the smallest boxes possible. Wolverine was a lot more of an interesting character, for instance, before all characters became Wolverine. And Deadpool was a breath of fresh air until he essentially became Wolverine with a couple more wisecracks. And all female characters have a tendency, over time, to graduate to the field of, “tough girl with an air of innocence and also you’d like to get her pants off.” It would be an interesting experiment to establish five female characters between the ages of twelve and sixty, with a broad range of body types and personalities, and see how long it takes mainstream comics to transform them all into the 22-25 year old age group, with short skirts and colorful panties.
Time, you see, moves differently in comics. It takes a fourteen year old girl two years to reach twenty years of age, while a twenty year old girl takes fifty years to reach twenty-one.
In comic book time, these girls will be in chainmail bikinis by the time that picture is taken.
Here's one of the main things I like about Mary Marvel... how forward a character she was for the time. Very much in the Nancy Drew vein, she was independent. Here she is speaking her magic word for the very first time, the very first instance of her transformation into Mary Marvel. And it's all about feeling strong, and powerful. It must have been a wonderful message to the girls of that era.
After all... HERE was the message that girls of that era were mostly getting. Look at the chemistry set for boys. It's all dark and dramatic and powerful and the boy is dynamically mixing chemicals all on his own and, "Oh my god, you bastards, I AM BUILDING THE FUCK OUT OF ROCKET SHIPS because I am a BOY and I WILL RULE THE STARS!" Meanwhile, there's the chemistry set for girls. Passive colors. And... it's a lab technician set, meaning, "Hey, it's not the REAL work, but if you apply yourself then it's somewhat possible you could play some small part in doing some of the lesser work that a man can't be bothered with." And... even with that message, the girl still needs help from an older girl, as opposed to the independent boy on his FUCK YEAH ROCKETS Chemistry Set. For girls growing up in THIS world, what a boon it must have been to read the adventures of Mary Marvel, who was beautiful, and charming, and could kick the biggest ass on the planet.
Hell... if anything, the chemistry set for girls should have been MORE advanced, because as this Colleen Coover comic points out, girls are smarter and mature faster than dumb ol' boys, anyway. While I'm on the subject, why are all the geniuses in comics MEN? Are there any brainy women out there? I hope so, because you know what I find sexy in a woman? Lithe girls with small boobs, big eyes, and glasses. But do you know what I ALSO find sexy in women? Brains. I love girls who are smarter than me, because then I get to learn things, too! Anyway... off track, here... but let's have the next genius in comics be a lady-type-girl, okay?
While we're on the subject of Colleen Coover and geniuses, here's a Mary Marvel watercolor by my genius wife, Colleen Coover. She illustrated this as a present to me, because my life is made of laughter and gold and puppies who poop rainbows.
The old wizard explains how Mary can have the same powers as Billy and Freddy. Turns out, she borrows the powers of a different group of deity-types. The "S" was originally going to be Sappho instead of Selena, but editor Rod Reed (somewhat to his regret) put the nix on that, deciding it had too many lesbian undertones. Not sure it would have made much difference at all in the Fawcett comics, where her sexuality wasn't ever an issue.
Yeah! You TELL her, Billy! Stupid girl.
I like to think of the writers pouring over tomes of the ancient gods, looking for ANY goddess that matched an attribute that came close. "Hygieia was the goddess of hygiene. Could we use that? And then she'd have super-clean skin and no zits ever. Will our readers like that?"
The very first appearance of Mary Marvel was in Captain Marvel Adventures # 18. This is one of Fawcett Comics' painted covers. I've got a copy of this laying around somewhere. I read it from time to time. It is, as you'd suspect, rather charming.
It wasn't long before Mary was starring in her own series. Each of the three members of the Marvel family (Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary) had their own flavor of comics. Captain Marvel was more likely to be in fun romps against world-shaking events. Captain Marvel Jr. was more apt to deal with the problems of the common man, and even pressing social issues. Mary's books, on the other hand, were stories of innocence and whimsy. It was an effective group. I wish today's superhero marketers would understand the need for more than one style of book on the market.
Starting with issue # 9, Mary was also the headline character for Wow Comics. This issue is one of my all time favorite covers. Just love the simple presentation, and Mary's body language of, "Fuck yeah it is so damn AWESOME to be Mary Marvel!"
"OUCH! Da weaker sex, dey calls it!" Mary's very first time in action, kicking the shit out of some thugs, all without even trying, and even while admiring her new costume. I love this page.
After Mary first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures # 18, the editors wanted readers to be able to follow their new character, so they spelled it right out at the end of the story, with Captain Marvel telling her to stick with him for a while (meaning, you're going to appear in the next issue) and then we'll get you a spot of your own... meaning, you'll be headlining in Wow Comics, an ad for which is down below. Way to break down that fourth wall for the sales pitch, gentlemen!
Here's Mary in the afore-mentioned Captain Marvel Adventures # 19. She's flying with Santa Claus! SANTA CLAUS! And I love how Marc Swayze was always able to draw Mary as an actual young girl, rather than a smaller adult.
Mary Marvel, the teenaged girl in a short skirt that I would want on MY side if I was going to war.
Mary Bromfield / Batson, Billy Baston, and Freddy Freeman all meet up together for the first time. Three kids with different lives who will combine to become the Marvel Family and subsequently star in piles of Fawcett comics I have around my apartment, because I freakin' love the charm of these old comics, the sense of whimsy, and the sheer nobility the characters represent.
Another of my favorite covers. And I find it charming that she's talking to the readers, and mentioning fun. Really wish there was a genre of fun comics in today's world. That's not to say that there are some books of the "fun" type here and there, but the Big 2 sure aren't supporting them the way I think should be done.
The last (and quite rare) issue of Mary Marvel, put out at a time when sales of superhero books were faltering, and cowboy books were strong. So... let's make Mary a cowgirl! Hell yeah! Mary Marvel rides high, wide and handsome. I don't even know what that means, but it's right there on the cover.
I love Mary saying, "I'm only a girl..." in that first panel. It's effective for me because Mary then goes on to prove... on this page and in all her comics... that saying "only" a girl is a laughable joke, since she's as powerful as Captain Marvel herself, and often uses her brains to solve the problems she encounters. And, one interesting thing I'm not sure you'll be able to tell, depending on the size of the image on whatever magic device you're reading this, but that last panel showcases how Fawcett treated each member of the Marvel Family differently. Freddy is drawn in a very realistic manner, because his were the more serious "social issue" stories. Billy, on the other hand, is drawn cartoony, because his stories had a lot more humor to them. Mary is a cross between the two.
I love this cosplay image, because it's like the nexus of two widely different types of comics. Lady Death with classic Mary Marvel. Innocence with Not-At-All-Innocent. I actually don't mind the Lady Death style of comics when they're done well; I just wish there was an option for genuine charm in superhero comics as well.
Another look at Mary, as this costume is so well done.
More Mary Marvel cosplay, this one of Dark Mary or whatever her name was. I forget. It's not really my favorite version of Mary, but I do kind of like the alternate costume, and this girl has really pretty eyes and I can't help it so shut up you guys, okay?
The sublime joy of being Mary Marvel, as illustrated here by artist Dean Trippe.
Mary Marvel punching hell out of a snake. Maybe there's symbolism here. Maybe not. The biggest threat the Marvel Family ever faced, after all, was a talking worm.
Above art by Ron Salas
I love how Mary is just standing there on this cover, with an expression of, "What in sweet hell is going on here?" One thing about the Marvel Family, they were always really unflappable. You could always picture them saying, "What kind of madness is going on around my ENTIRELY INVULNERABLE body?"
One of Mary's more enjoyable recent incarnations. I liked how young she was in a way, because it removed the recent "sexpot" transformations she's had, but it also made her rather too simple for my tastes. Still... it was a near miss rather than a disaster, and had a LOT to enjoy.
Mary's second appearance in Wow Comics. Just sitting there on top of a mountain, enjoying the lightning, like ya do. And it's a look at a different age of comics. The lead story is "The Sinister Secret of Hotel Hideaway," rather than "Bloodfest of Lady Nipple Protrusion's Bullet Breakfast!"
Another of my favorite stories, because it's just so damn goofy. Mary Marvel being given a magic pearl by some goofy seahorse. I also like how Mary is just standing there despite being underwater. She's all like, "Yeah... underwater or in lava or in the air, ain't no thang."
One last cover image. Another of my favorites. Fire and lightning and smoke and multiple green girls in bikinis flying around. Is this my fantasy, or James T. Kirk's? Either way... it's a fittingly colorful cover for the most colorful teenage girl in comics.
THE “FAVORITE” LIST SO FAR…
#25: Scarlet Witch
#24: Chance Falconer
#21: Jean Grey
#20: Kitty Pryde
#19: Janet van Dyne
#18: Mary Jane Watson
#17: Hermione Granger
#15: Modesty Blaise
#14: Black Widow
#13: Sue Storm
#11: Millie (the Model) Collins
#10a: Blonde Phantom
#10b: Betty & Veronica
#10c: Lois Lane
#10: Wonder Woman
#9: Nancy Drew
#5: Emma Frost
#2: Mary Marvel
——- DOWN BELOW IS JUST A REHASH OF WHY I’M DOING THIS LIST ———
I’ve been thinking about women, lately. Women characters in comics. Women creators in comics. Female characters in literature. And pretty girls riding around on bicycles or walking along the sidewalk, etc, etc. Because of this, I’ve decided to make An Entirely Useless List. Why is it entirely useless? Because it’s my top 25 female characters from comics and literature, and such lists change at whim and at a breakneck pace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to quantify favorites… the term favorite is far too malleable. A list of my best friends from high school, for instance, would not include anyone with whom I’m currently in contact. Times change. Still… I’m making the list. Why? I suppose I just like thinking about women.
10 Responses to Favorite Female Characters in Literature # 2: Mary Marvel
For me, one of the biggest pluses of the DC reboot was that it shoved ‘Dark Mary Marvel’ down the memory hole. And I’m wondering how a Cowgirl Mary Marvel/Jonah Hex teamup would go. Awesome or terrible? I’m guessing terrible.
I’m guessing any Cowgirl Mary Marvel / Jonah Hex team-up would indeed be horrible. But… that doesn’t stop me from wanting it, now.
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An immensely strong, brave fighter without an ounce of cynicism or pessimism in their whole body. A female superhero who wears sensible shoes, a knee-length skirt, and a top that doesn’t even show off her shoulders. THIS is why I loved the characterization of Mary Marvel. She’s a terrific addition to any team book.
Scene: Justice League team lounge. Various members are around the room.
Character 1, street-type brawler with a tortured past – SULK SULK SULK
Character 2, Cosmic-type burdened with unlimited power and relentless responsibility – BROOD BROOD BROOD
Character 3, Mary Marvel – “This blog says it’s National Waffle Day! Who’s coming out to the diner with me?”
Hah! That script is pretty much perfect.
Thank you. A thousand times thank you. A better articulation of why Mary Marvel is so great (she’s my favourite superheroine), why Fawcett’s comics still kick ass even 70 years later, and what the hell is wrong with girls in comics today cannot be found anywhere else. Sublime.
By the way, after seeing Colleen’s drawing of Mary Marvel on the Comics Should Be Good blog a couple of years ago, it has been my continuing fantasy to have her draw an all ages / fun Marvel Family / Shazam! comic. Because that would be all kinds of awesome.
Colleen and I would LOVE to do an all-ages Marvel Family book! Sigh. Maybe someday.
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I’m so glad to see some Mary Marvel appreciation, no one ever seems to remember her compared to Wonder Woman etc. I am writing my MA dissertation on the empowerment of female super heroes and it’s great to have a character like Mary to talk about in a positive fashion. Thanks for a great read, Georgia
Thanks! Always wonderful to hear from a fellow Mary fan! Good luck on your dissertation. After completely my “top 25 Female Characters in Literature” posts, I feel like I wrote me a thesis!