The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
of the Marvel Family, Super Buddies
Mary Batson is better known as the superheroine "Mary Marvel." She is portrayed in the comics as devoutly religious. In published comics, Mary Marvel's precise religious denomination is not overtly identified, although she is depicted as a stereotypical "Molly Mormon"-type of character.
It may be noted that Captain Marvel (from which Mary Marvel was derived) was created in 1939 by legendary comic book artist C.C. Beck (the son of a Lutheran missionary) and writer Bill Parker.
From: Brian Humphreys, "Bits & Pieces Relating to Mary Marvel" webpage, copyright 2006, on "Mary Marvel" website (http://www.marymarvel.co.uk/00_miscellany.htm; viewed 19 June 2007):
Creating Mary Marvel
With the huge success of Captain Marvel, Fawcett Publications decided that creating additional characters would be a good commercial idea. So it is probable that the concept of a female counterpart, Mary Marvel, originated from one or more Fawcett executives.
Artist Marc Swayze was asked to do some quick sketches for the new characters, Mary Batson and Mary Marvel. At the time he was working on a Captain Marvel story, which he put to one side to make the sketches. He remembered, "There was only one character to create, inasmuch as she was to remain the same with only a costume change. I didn't work up a variety of poses and expressions as I was certain that my first drawings were going to come back, time and time again, for revisions before final approval 'upstairs'." But his drawings were accepted without modification and he was given the job of doing the art for the first two Mary Marvel stories, after which he went back to the Captain Marvel stories.
Rod Reed was a Captain Marvel story writer and a Fawcett comics editor from 1941 to 1943. Many years after the event, he recollected that following the first two editions Mary was assigned to the 'Jack Binder Shop'.
Otto Binder, brother of Jack, was a prolific writer of Captain Marvel and other stories. I've seen him referred to as Mary's creator. But he said that he had nothing to do with creating Mary Marvel, except that after he got hold of the character, he made it his personality and that her character had already been set before he got to her. Otto explained, "We wanted the Mary Marvel feature distinctive from the other two... less heroics and more human interest. Mary was my pride and joy, an idea which originated from upstairs. I suppose Jack and I had disagreements at times regarding Mary Marvel but none that I recall, so they couldn't have been too important." Interestingly, Otto is credited with being the creator of the Supergirl character in 1959.
There was a change in the portrayal of Mary around 1950. Will Lieberson, a Fawcett Comics Executive Editor from 1942 to1953 commented, "Perhaps Mary's mature change had something to do with her new editor. For a long time, Mary Marvel was edited by Mercy Shull who could easily have fitted into a 32A bra. She was replaced by Kay Woods who would barely have fitted into a 38C cup and consequently, Mary's shape began to blossom."
Captain Marvel's famous artist, C.C. Beck, admitted that he based that character's appearance on the actor Fred MacMurray. He later said, "Mary Marvel was based on Judy Garland." - however as it was Swayze and not Beck who did the first sketches I am not sure if Beck's statement is correct...
Mary Marvel isn't real. As a comic character she was created solely to complement the commercial objectives of Fawcett Publications. But, in common with many other fictional characters, she's come to be a channel for expressing the ideas, beliefs, hopes and possibly fears of a series of writers. Similarly, her appearance has changed not only in accordance with the general dictates of fashion but also to illustrate and supplement the qualities given her by the writers.
However, fictional characters can become larger than their stories. Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the prime example. Over the past century, quite a few people have believed him to be a real person. Perhaps illustrating the increasing influence and stature of the fictional character, Holmes's creator Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have relished killing off the Baker Street detective in that epic struggle with Moriarty, only later to bow to public pressure and write about the sleuth again.
I certainly don't put Mary Marvel in the same fictional character, or literary, league as Sherlock but she has had, and does have, a significant number of fans and followers. Fans who each have a perception of her - it could be about the way she should behave, her looks, her costume, her age, her 'innocence' (or lack of it), her hairstyle or other facets of her persona. If a 'fan' truly is an abbreviated fanatic, then I suppose that I'm not a fan. I don't want her exclusively to follow a rigid template. On the contrary, I'm very relaxed to see her being interpreted in many different ways. I've no problem with Mary being portrayed as a mother, a dictator, a peacemaker, a philosopher, a Mormon, an atheist, a soccer player, an antidisestablishmentarianist or a sitcom character...
From: "Let's make OUR OWN new JLA (and other teams)" forum webpage on DC Comics forum discussion section of official Warner Brothers website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000044548&messageID=2001467913; viewed 7 January 2006):
Mary Marvel [Mary Batson] - (Marvel Family; Superbuddies) Powers of Shazam like brother Billy and friend Freddy, best user of wisdom of Solomon of the lot. Fun Golden Age-type character. Sister of Captain Marvel. Talks about her Christianity more than most other heroes.
From: "Mary Marvel amd Religion" forum discussion, started 21 May 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-4767.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
May 21st, 2005, 08:55 AM
In the current arc of JLA: Classified, Mary Marvel mentions her Christian faith several times. Now, I know that I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League isn't a serious take on the characters and I love it for that reason. I also know that Mary Marvel is being played as the purer-than-driven-snow type aand that the character archetypes are being played up here, plus this arc is pretty much out-of-continuity, but...
How can Mary Marvel be Christian? She's empowered by six other gods/demigods - the very basis of her power stems from her connection to a non-Christian pantheon. I guess it could be explained away by her believing in the Judeo-Christian God as well, but I believe the Bible claims that its God is the only one. (I'm agnostic, so I'm not certain of that.)
I think a better take for Mary Marvel (heck, all the Marvels really) would be similar to Wonder Girl - believing in the god/s that she knows exist.
I'm not trying to start a huge religious debate; I just think it's an interesting point of contradiction for the character (and for all I know, that may be what DeMatteis/Giffen are aiming for! :D)
May 21st, 2005, 11:07 AM
I can explain this away the way I (a Christian) would if i lived in the DCU, those 'gods' who empower the Marvels or even the Olympians aren't gods, just incredibly powerful beings.
May 21st, 2005, 11:17 AM
Mixing religion with any type if art form is a very tricky thing.
May 21st, 2005, 12:59 PM
Thatrealfastdude has it pretty well down. (And while it is tricky to mix religion or faith in any art medium) When you consider the other beings around Mary, it would be quite simple to look at them bestowing her powers to her in a similar fashion to say the Guardians giving a Green Lantern ring. As a Christian, the faith asks that you accept the belief in one God above all...there are no others. As a character who has met other super powered beings and beings from other dimensions and various regions of space, I would look at them as just more powerful beings, not gods.
May 21st, 2005, 01:11 PM
Suppose there was a major Crisis in your town and one of those powerful beings spoke to you (or a group of people) and told you he met God and he was concerned for the welfare of the town/city?
If you lived in the DCU it could happen!
"The new DCU, Anything's possible!" :D
May 22nd, 2005, 07:35 AM
Mary could be Christian simply because it's the way she was raised.
And it's interesting to consider I've heard a couple times that Bea was raised Catholic but instead of doing some quoting about God herself or invoking Mary (meaning Jesus' mom, not her just-as-unlucky pal but the double use of that name would be an interesting humor source) or anything like that she's just complaining about her circumstances, not the weird religious implications of her situation.
May 22nd, 2005, 10:54 AM
It's just a comic. Live well.
May 22nd, 2005, 12:12 PM
Well, seeing how Mary once had the wisdom of Solomon, who gained his gift from God, I think it would be very easy for her to reconsile her faith with her association of the Olympian characters. Solomon's inclusion into the SHAZAM must have gotten God's approval.
Did they go back to Mary using her original goddess powers? If so, did Aurora's beauty give her invulnerability? And was Zephyrus really a female or just the one male god who gave her his power?
I would have done:
Sphinx - fleet of foot and wing
Hera - power (she did survive being eaten by Cronus after all)
Atropos - stamina (she is one of the Fates)
Zenobia - mortal queen honored for her bravery even after her capture
Antiope - the Hippolyte connection
Minerva - keeping one of the original gals around
May 22nd, 2005, 12:43 PM
Yep, they ran out of female gods, so they had to use Zephyrus, a male god, for her "Z". They stretched it with Black Adam, too, using a random alternate name for Thoth, "Zehuti".
May 22nd, 2005, 04:39 PM
Doesn't "thou shalt have no other gods before me" presuppose the existence of other gods?
May 22nd, 2005, 04:50 PM
Remember guys, JLA Classified is way out of continuity, so the characters may be slightly different than in the normal DCU.
May 22nd, 2005, 05:06 PM
I try to exclude religion from comics whenever possible. Kinda like a Blue State would.
May 22nd, 2005, 05:27 PM
I was reading the DC Comics Encyclopedia (reviewed in another thread) and on Mary Marvel's page, it says that she summons the same gods that Captain Marvel and CM3 do. So maybe her separate pantheon was only a pre-Crisis thing.
May 22nd, 2005, 05:38 PM
re: "JLA Classified is way our of continuity, so the characters may be slightly different than in the normal DCU."
Only in the sense that it takes place in the past. The current arc is set in the post-FKatJL/pre-Identity Crisis DCU. It's better to think of this as a mid-2004 story that's been severely delayed. :D
May 22nd, 2005, 05:47 PM
I think I heard the writers sayig this was just a fun story to tell and had nothing to do with the continuity of the DCU.
May 22nd, 2005, 06:11 PM
I think they meant that they were content with it being a "past tale", rather than reworking the story to fit the current status quo. But there were some minor, trivial changes. Richard Hertz was original supposed to the old Green Lantern foe Blackhand, but was changed to former 1000 member Blackguard in order to jibe with Rebirth.
From: "Questions about super tight mary marvel ad" forum discussion, started 8 April 2007 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/message.jspa?messageID=2003669097; viewed 19 June 2007):
Posted: Apr 4, 2007 1:08 AM
I know some people are pissed over the Mary Marvel ad for Countdown and I can understand why, but I'll be honest, that is still the only one that has caught my eye. I think it is well put together and honestly makes me look forward to Countdown, whereas before I was neutral.
My only question is though, is Mary Marvel really all that innocent? Has she always been some Mormon with a cape? Because the impression I always got from her was she is really just a supporting character with no real depth. Have I just been missing it due to the fact there hasn't been an ongoing Shazam! title in forever, or are they just now giving her this innocent persona now to fit the story?
From: "The religions of comic book characters" thread started 10 February 2001 on rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe/browse_thread/thread/13590fda80c5d6e1/e5e0b094ced80f0b; viewed 12 June 2006):
From: Terry McCombs
Date: Sat, Feb 10 2001 6:35 pm
For the most part you don't get much of an idea as to the private lives of most comic book characters. Marvelish soap opera not withstanding.
What I mean is you don't get much of an idea what their politics or religion might be. This is sensible enough I guess as they don't want to offend any of their customers... for the most part you just can't really say just what, if any religion or personal philosophy that or that comic character might follow...
I note that Captain Marvel (Golden Age version) got his powers from Greek gods (and one Hebrew patriarch) while Mary Marvel got hers from Egyptian ones...
Date: Sun, Feb 11 2001 6:05 am
...Nit-picking time: Mary Marvel also got hers from Greek/Roman goddesses (Selena, Aurora, Minerva) plus a minor Greek wind-god (Zephyrus) and two heroines (Hippolyta and Ariadne)...
From: "Religious Beliefs of DC Heroes" forum discussion, started 4 July 2006 on ComixFan website (http://x-mencomics.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?p=1357699; viewed 6 July 2007):
Jul 4, 2006
I am a Christian (Baptist) in real life and I was wondering if anyone knows any DC characters that have been labled to a certain religion. I think DC has tried to stay away from religion, but... I thought this would cool topic. So please list anything you might know on this subject.
Jul 5, 2006
Well I don't think DC characters are very relgious because DC comics in general seem to have a very general liberal feel to it. That's not to say only conservatives are religious, but that's my opionion. Ok lets see... well Wonder Woman is polytheist since she believes in the Greek Gods. And I know Green Arrow II (Connor Hawke) is a Buddhist. But that's all that comes to mind. And since Donna Troy, Wonder Girl, Hercules, Fury (Golden Age), Fury II, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and Mary Marvel are all heroes who got there powers from the Greek Gods I say they're polytheists as well.
Jun 19, 2007
There's a website that speculates on this in great detail (not just DC):
Because I was bored tonight, I went through and broke down most of the Superhero list for the DC guys and gals. I left off most of the Shazam family (most of whom tend towards Protestant + Pantheism, which makes things confusing), as well as 'splinter imprints', like Watchmen or WildStorm...
From: "Possible writers' cliche/prejudice: No well-adjusted athiests/agnostics in the DCU?" forum discussion, started 26 May 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-5064.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
May 31st, 2005, 11:03 AM
Religion is almost always brought up as a vehicle for some kind of struggle. Otherwise, it's usually left alone. It certainly works both ways. Superman and Father Leonne sat around talking about their dissappearing faith several times during the lengthy "For Tomorrow" arc. There was no turnaround (sudden or otherwise) there. In JLA: Classified, Mary Marvel was constantly shown as naive and dogmatic largely because her faith. Recently, Hal declared that God must be cruel and vindictive as he distanced himself from the Spectre.
Besides, while it is a fact that some sort of belief in the divine is only sensible in the DCU, those convictions almost always show up in the form of "theistic humanism", for lack of a better term. All it really means is that 95% of the heroes stick to universal principles found in nearly all religions and in secular lines of thought, like "love your fellow man".
Webpage created 7 January 2007. Last modified 6 July 2007.
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