Oct 14, 2017

Did Mars Ravelo Really Read Captain Marvel?

I've made many comments over the years about how Mars Ravelo must have based Darna, the Philippines' #1 superhero, on Captain Marvel, he who says "Shazam!" Since Darna's alter-ego is a young girl who says a magic word to turn into Darna, she's more like Captain Marvel than she is like Wonder Woman, who she looks more like. But recently I was asked...

Did Mars Ravelo Really Read Captain Marvel?
by Duy

Well, honestly, although I do vaguely remember reading somewhere that he definitely read Captain Marvel, I can't find it now. What I do find are some unsubstantiated claims and references to Superman, specifically this, pertaining to Varga, his pre-Darna creation:

Alam mo naisip kong gawin yung Varga para itapat kay Superman. Lalake yung sa mga Amerikano, babae yung sa atin. Di ba ayos?
(You know, I thought of doing Varga to put up against Superman. The Americans have a guy, we have a girl. Wouldn't that be cool?)

However, I would find it really difficult to believe that he didn't base Darna on Captain Marvel. Let's just look at some facts.

1. Mars Ravelo created Varga in 1939

Varga was the original Darna, and was created to be a counterpart of Superman. There isn't much more to her beyond that and the fact that her costume is based on the Philippine flag:

That's because Varga wasn't actually published until 1947. So although her creation precedes the release date of Captain Marvel (1940), there are no details about how her secret identity would have worked in 1939. When Varga was released in 1947, rights disputes forced Ravelo to give her up and then create Darna with the legendary Nestor Redondo. (Side note: Isn't this basically what happened with Walt Disney and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, leading to the creation of Mickey Mouse with the legendary Ub Iwerks?)

2. By the time Varga/Darna was released in full, Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero in the world. 

Superman was created to be a two-fisted champion of the oppressed. He was a grounded hero who just happened to have a crapload of superpowers. By 1950, he was participating in fantastical sci-fi adventures, and that's because Captain Marvel was outselling him, and everyone else.

As Michael Uslan put it:
If you go back and look at when Captain Marvel first started outselling Superman, this was a huge, huge turning point in the Golden Age of comics. And the way DC responded was by ordering a more comical, silly direction for Superman. 
All of a sudden, you started to see one-after-another covers of Lois dropping the pie she’d made on Superman’s toe, or Lois cutting Superman’s hair in a barbershop. They started to switch it over, since Captain Marvel had the lighter tone and was outselling Superman.
So Varga may have been created before Captain Marvel, but by the time she was published and had a secret identity, Captain Marvel had already been firmly established as a young boy named Billy Batson who said one magic word and then turned into a superhero. That's a bit too much of a coincidence.

3. During World War II, American soldiers got comics in care packages
Many soldiers who had read comics overseas found them to be a comfort item on their return. Maybe it was escapism, maybe it was a habit, but either way they were a solace to many of the soldiers who would later introduce the comics to their children.  -From History Rat
And a huge portion of American soldiers were stationed here in the Philippines. If Captain Marvel was the biggest comic book of the time, and American soldiers got comics in care packages, it's incredibly unlikely that Captain Marvel didn't make it to the Philippines. I mean, Plastic Man did:

Larry Alcala's Siopawman, playing off the three
most famous heroes whose names end with "man."

And we know Ravelo based a superhero on him:

The not-so-imaginatively-named Lastikman,
on a much more imaginative cover for Aliwan

4. Mars Ravelo created Captain Barbell, for crying out loud.

After her release in komiks, Darna had two movies in the 1950s, and Ravelo was a legend. He created more in the 1960s, most very probably because the superhero genre was getting revitalized in America. And next to Darna, his most famous creation was a young scrawny asthmatic boy named Tenteng, who'd lift magic barbells to become Captain Barbell.

C'mon. That's pretty obvious. The names even rhyme!

So Therefore...

It's possible that Mars Ravelo never had Captain Marvel on the brain when creating Darna. It is. It's also possible that the name of your favorite search engine has nothing to do with Barney Google. Meaning it could have happened that way.

But it would have been extremely unlikely. And I really, really wouldn't believe it.

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