Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shazam!




At first blush, this is not the typical variety of comic book that I write about on this blog.  After all, there is no science fiction present.

Or is there?

First things first.  That superhero you see depicted above is not named "Shazam" as so many fallaciously believe.  He is Captain Marvel.  Shazam is a wizard.  I shall explain.
The majority of comic book superheroes have an alter ego or secret identity.  In many cases, these aliases are meeker, weaker, and deceptively modest versions of their other selves.  Not in the case of Captain Marvel.  In this instance, Captain Marvel has an alter ego that may also qualify as being an altar boy.  He is Billy Batson, a newspaper boy somewhere between the ages of 10 or 12.

In the beginning, Billy was homeless.  One day he was led by a mysterious stranger into a subway tunnel.  After boarding the train, Billy soon noticed that the subway car had no driver.  The train passed by statues of the Seven Deadly Sins of Man and then arrived in the lair of the wizard Shazam.  To be fair, Shazam does not technically live in a subway tunnel.  It is later revealed in continuity that he inhabits dimensional location known as The Rock of Eternity.  But I digress...

Shazam endows Billy with the ability to transform into the superhero named Captain Marvel.  Marvel has the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.  Get it?  Hah!  In other words, he's super strong, super fast, nigh invulnerable, and very smart.  All Billy must do to enact this transformation is to say the name of Shazam.  A lightning bolt then strikes Billy Batson, turning him into the adult Captain Marvel.  Though Captain Marvel was charged with defending the planet Earth against all menaces, Shazam did make himself available for consultation.

Sounds like a lot of fantasy, eh?  That is until you consider a few of Captain Marvel's most nefarious adversaries.  Most formidable among them IMHO...Mister Mind.

That's Mister Mind on the viewscreen to the left of Captain Marvel.  This page is from World's Finest Comics 
issue #264.

Mister Mind is a two-inch long alien worm from the planet Venus (or at least I think I read that planetary point of origin in Showcase Shazam.)  He was originally drawn to Earth after hearing the planet's World War II-era radio dramas.  Charlie McCarthy was a particular favorite of Mister Mind's.  When he found out that Charlie McCarthy was not real but rather a puppet, Mister Mind decided to conquer the Earth in retaliation.  The alien worm has amazing telepathic abilities, powerful enough to take control of another person's mind.  While he has many other insect-based powers, such as rapidly spinning super strong strands of silk, it is primarily this mental ability to control and manipulate that makes Mister Mind such a deadly threat.  So deadly that only Captain Marvel can stand against him.

Yet Mister Mind is not the only game in town.  He eventually teams up with other ardent adversaries of Captain Marvel, namely Doctor Sivana: "the world's wickedest scientist."  Sadly, Sivana utilizes his tremendous scientific genius to invent advanced, bizarre contraptions meant to either take over the world or destroy Captain Marvel.  Oftentimes both.  One might argue that Doctor Sivana is symbolic of "science run amok" as so many other mad scientists have been meant to embody.

There are other menaces to Captain Marvel.  Adversaries and enemies such as the Crocodile Men from the planet Punkus.  Additionally, there was King Kull, last of a prehistoric race of warlike "submen"...and no relation that I can see to the character of the same name that was created by writer Robert E. Howard (more on him in the coming days.)

I don't own many Shazam comics but as I said before, I do have the Showcase edition.  The comics contained within that collected edition are simplistic, sophomoric, naive, and indicative of a far less complicated time.

In this day and age of gang violence, environmental deterioration, and constant political bickering...I can think of no fiction more enjoyable.


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