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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Shazam! 1 - Captain Marvel debuts as a DC character, and we find out where he has been for 20 years

Superman is featured on the cover of Shazam! 1 (Feb 73), but does not appear in this issue. The Shazam! comic brings Captain Marvel and the rest of the Fawcett line under the DC imprint. Fawcett had been DC's biggest rival back in the 1940s, and Captain Marvel, at his peak, outsold Superman. Fawcett had stopped publishing superheroes in the 1950s, and Dennis the Menace became their big character. In 1973, DC began licensing Captain Marvel and his family, and would later outright buy the characters. Because Marvel Comics owned the copyright to that term, the name of the wizard who gave Billy Batson his powers, Shazam, would become the title of the comic. This lead to many years of confusion among readers (like me, when I was young), who thought the hero himself was Shazam.

Denny O'Neil joins CC Beck, the artist who created the character, for the first two stories in this issue. The third is a reprint from Captain Marvel Adventures. The first story begins with Billy Batson walking down the street and meeting Mr. Binder (Otto?)  Binder is amazed that Billy has not aged in twenty years, the amount of time since his last appearance in the comics. Clearly Mr. Binder is not familiar with the way comic characters never age. But in this case there will prove to be more to it.

Billy then has a reverie, recalling his origin, how a strange man lured the orphan down into an abandoned subway tunnel. This unauspicious beginning did not lead to sexual assault. Rather, Billy wound up on a cool Art Deco train, then past a row of statues of the Seven Deadly Sins before meeting the wizard Shazam.

Shazam meets Billy while sitting under a huge block of stone. He gets Billy to say his name, which transforms the boy into the adult Captain Marvel, and endows him with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury. The block falls and crushes Shazam, although Billy discovers he can talk to the ghost of the wizard by lighting a special lantern. Later, Captain Marvel will learn of the Rock of Eternity, where Shazam actually lives when not hanging out in subway tunnels.

The first story basically leads right into the second one, by the same creative team. Captain Marvel goes into action to stop some thieves. Once again, people wonder where he has been for twenty years.

This leads to another flashback. There was a ceremony honouring Captain Marvel, his sister Mary Marvel, and their friend Captain Marvel Jr. Marvel's arch enemy, Dr. Sivana, and two of his children, Sivana Jr and Georgia, trap all those attending in suspendium, which keeps them in a state of suspended animation. Thanks to the son, the Sivanas wind up trapped there as well, for twenty years. 

Eventually the globe of suspendium neared the sun, and the heat melted it enough to revive Captain Marvel. The Marvel Family break free, and bring the globe back to Earth, releasing all those inside. In this story, we see a number of Marvel's supporting cast get released from the suspendium, including Billy's boss at WHIZ radio station, Sterling Morris, and his secretary, Joan Jameson.  Uncle Dudley, who will occasionally dress up as Uncle Marvel, but has no powers. Professor Edgewise, an absent minded scientist, Beautia Sivana, another child of the mad scientist, and Mr Tawky Tawny, a talking tiger. Later issues would reveal quite a few more characters, including a lot of villains, who had also been trapped in the suspendium. It's not a bad concept, really, for bringing this all back after such a long time.

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