PART TWO: At The Rock of Eternity!

Eons ago, after a monumental struggle, the wizard Shazam defeated his arch-enemy, “Evil,” and imprisoned him in a bottomless pit located in “Eternity.” To keep Evil trapped in .this pit, Shazam placed a colossal rock atop it, and Shazam’s spirit took up residence in a Temple located near the top of this gigantic stone, which is known as the Rock of Eternity. Here, time itself stands still.

At the Rock of Eternity, it is possible to reach any time period, world or dimension. And it is here, reader, at Rock of Eternity, where we shall reveal the secret origin of .Captain Marvel Jr., discover when the first encounter between Elvis and Captain Marvel Jr. actually took place, and see how Cap Jr. started to become a dominant force in the life of young Elvis (pictured right).

As we learned in part one, Captain Marvel (Sr.) first appeared in Whiz Comics, published by Fawcett Publications. The Big Red Cheese, as Cap is often called, was a huge hit, and in no time his comics were outselling even Superman himself. Fawcett wanted to expand their line, so they created a junior version of Cap. The name “Captain Marvel Boy” was more than a little awkward, so Fawcett decided to call their new teen character (drum roll please)... Captain Marvel Jr.!

With the creation of Superboy still years away, Captain Marvel Jr. debuted as the first kid superhero who was NOT just another hero’s side-kick. Fawcett took another risk by hiring artist Mac Raboy to draw the character. Raboy’s fine, delicate line work was far more realistic than that of cartoonists C.C. Beck and Pete Costanza, but it was perfect for Cap Jr., a character whose adventures Fawcett was aiming at slightly older readers.

When Elvis was just six years old, in December 1941, Captain Marvel Jr. appeared on the scene. His three-part origin story crossed over between two different titles, a rarity in the Golden Age. Cap Jr.’s origin started in Master Comics #21, continued in Whiz Comics #25, and concluded in Master Comics #22.

Master #21
Whiz #25
Master #22

The story went like this: Freddy Freeman and his grandfather were out fishing when they were attacked by a villain named Captain Nazi. Freddy's grandfather was killed , and Freddy was crippled and left for dead. Captain Marvel discovered the young boy, barely alive, and flew him to a hospital, .where doctors told Cap that young Freddy Freeman would not live through the night.

Desperate to save the boy’s life, Cap transformed back into Billy Batson, snuck the unconscious Freddy out of the hospital, and took him to the underground chamber where Billy had first met the wizard Shazam. There, Billy could communicate with the wizard’s spirit, which resided at the Rock of Eternity.

Billy begged the wizard for help. Shazam said he couldn't repair Freddy's damaged body, but Captain Marvel could share a portion of his mighty powers with Freddy to revive him. Billy agreed. Billy said the ancient wizard’s name, SHAZAM, and was transformed into Captain Marvel.

At that moment Freddy woke up, saw Cap, and exclaimed “Captain Marvel!” As he did, the magic lightning struck again, and Freddy Freeman was transformed into the World's .Mightiest Boy, to be known henceforth as Captain Marvel, Jr.

Unlike Billy Batson, who transforms into Captain Marvel by saying the name of the wizard SHAZAM, Freddy Freeman transforms into Captain Marvel Jr. by saying the name of his hero, Captain Marvel. Fawcett thought this would remind readers to buy Cap Sr.’s book -- which it may have -- but it also had unintended comic consequences. Because of it, Captain Marvel Jr. is the only superhero who is unable to say his own name, since he transforms back into Freddy Freeman when he does.

Captain Marvel Jr. began starring in Master Comics with issue #23, February 1942. Junior was given his very own title just nine months later, when Elvis Presley was seven years old.

On November 6, 1948, Vernon, Gladys and Elvis, now 13 years old (pictured below left), moved from Tupelo, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. The Presleys lived briefly in two Memphis boarding houses, then, in September 1949, their application to .reside at Lauderdale Courts, a public housing apartment, was approved.

The Presley’s modest two-bedroom unit consisted of a living room, bathroom and walk-in kitchen that came with a working 1951 Frigidaire fridge, and a tiny stove issued by the Memphis Housing Authority -- all for $35 a month rent. Compared to their previous residences, it was a huge improvement, but they remained dirt poor. To be eligible for public housing, a family's income could not exceed $3,000 per year.

Lauderdale Courts consisted of 66 buildings and 449 apartments. The Presleys soon became part of this vibrant community, and it was here, in a basement laundry room, that future superstar Elvis Presley practiced his singing and guitar playing. Presley lived here between 1949 and 1953, when he was attending Humes High School.

From his apartment at Lauderdale Courts, Elvis could fill his leisure time by walking to .Beale Street to hear black rhythm and blues music, attending gospel concerts two blocks away at the Ellis Auditorium, and, quite possibly, reading comic books. Elvis' Lauderdale Court apartment has been preserved as a historic spot, and a copy of Captain Marvel Jr. #51, cover dated July 1947, has been placed on a desk in Elvis' old room (pictured right).

It's not likely that this particular issue ever made it to Lauderdale Courts, though. Since the Presleys moved in 1949, Elvis would had to have saved the book for over two years. But as a symbol of Elvis' love for the character, it's perfect.

So what issues DID young Elvis read? From our timeless vantage point at the Rock of .Eternity, reader, it looks like September 1949 to January 1953 is the time period when Elvis, from the ages of 14 to 18, is most likely to have first encountered Captain Marvel Jr.

According to Pamela Clarke Keogh’s “Elvis Presley: The Man. The Life. The Legend,” Elvis used comics as an escape. “Like a lot of kids with a chaotic home life, Elvis created his own world inside his head. He read comic books and was drawn to Superman, Batman, and, most of all, Captain Marvel Jr. Around the age of 12, Elvis discovered Captain Marvel Jr. and quickly became almost obsessed with him.”

Billy Smith, a lifelong friend of Elvis’ and member of the so-called Memphis Mafia, concurs. “One of the comics Elvis read when he was a kid was Captain Marvel Jr. He went after Captain Nazi during WWII. And he had this dual image -- normal, everyday guy and super crime-fighter. Sounds like Elvis, don’t it?”

Finally, Elvis himself once mentioned comic books in a speech."When I was a child, I was a dreamer," Elvis said. "I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book.”

So, there can be no doubt that Elvis Presley did, indeed, read and love Captain Marvel Jr. comic books.

Since the Presleys were dirt poor, with a family income of just $3,000 a year, it’s likely Elvis borrowed comics from friends, and didn't get to actually BUY comics himself very often. Imagine the young king of rock and roll in front of a newsstand, staring at racks full of comics -- each one calling out to him, each one bursting with amazing action and dazzling color, each one promising a fantastic new adventure. He could probably only have afforded to buy a single comic. Which book, specifically, might have caught young Elvis’ eye?

Master #107, Sept. 1949
Marvel Family #41, Nov. 1949
CMJ #78, Oct. 1949

A historian might say we have no way of knowing -- but historians aren't usually comic book fans. We are. We don’t have to imagine what it’s like to stare at racks of comics and choose -- we do it every week! And we know .that when money is in short supply, we comic fans are likely to buy team books, because they features LOTS of superheroes. Or, if we have a favorite character, we’ll more than likely buy just that character’s own title, because that way we’re guaranteed more stories featuring the hero we want to see.

So, although Captain Marvel Jr. appeared in a number of different comics, it’s almost certain that Elvis, if buying, would have gone for Cap Jr.’s own title. Given the dates of Elvis’ move to Memphis, the issues of Cap Jr. he is most likely to have read are #77-119. Here are some of the covers that might have attracted the future king of rock 'n' roll:

CMJ #84, April 1950
CMJ #100, August 1951
CMJ #111, July 1952

Late in 1952, Fawcett Publications was faced with a lawsuit from DC comics claiming Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman. Rather than continue to fight it at a time when the comic book market was in rapid decline, Fawcett discontinued the entire "Marvel" line. For Captain Marvel Jr., this meant his own title ended with issue #119, Master Comics was canceled with issue #133, and the Marvel Family's final issue was #89. The times were changing.

And things were about to change for Elvis, too. Lauderdale Courts was not meant to be a permanent residence. Tenants could be forced to move if they were earning too much money, and this is exactly what happened to the Presleys in 1953.
They moved to 698 Saffarans in the Uptown neighborhood in January 1953, just one day before Elvis turned 18. He had already begun to model his look after Captain Marvel Jr., as a comparison of the Mac Raboy drawing of Cap Jr. and the early publicity photo of Elvis pictured right shows.

"He already had the greased hair, color and black satin pants -- with his friends standing next to him in jeans and shirts. He already looked different than every other boy. Everyone in the Courts knew who he was," according to Elvis researcher Alex Mobley.

Six months later after moving, on June 3, 1953, Elvis Presley graduated from Hume High School in Memphis. What would he do now?

“You know,” Elvis confided to his cousin Earl, “I believe there’s a superboy inside me, just waiting to bust out.”

Elvis was right. He had the talent, the looks, the charm and the style. There WAS a superboy inside him just waiting to bust out. The only thing missing was the magic words. Freddy Freeman transformed by saying the name of his hero, Captain Marvel. Now, Elvis was ready to transform too -- by saying a name that belonged not to a Captain... but to a Colonel.

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