Shazam #1

Shazam! #1, February 1973

A certain “Mr Binder” is surprised to meet Billy Batson on the street. It seems Billy has been missing for twenty years — but hasn’t aged a day! “I must be flipping my gourd!” exclaims Binder as he staggers away, leaving Billy to recount the origin of his alter ego.

A mysterious stranger beckons the homeless Billy into an abandoned subway station — and he follows (hey! — it was a more innocent time!). There, a brightly-decorated train appears and sweeps the pair away. At the end of the line, there is an ancient underground hall that contains carved statues of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man. There’s also an old guy with long white hair and beard looking a little like Willy Nelson. He explains his name is Shazam and that Billy is to be his successor. Billy repeats the old man’s name and is transformed by a bolt of lightning into Captain Marvel.

With that, a thread breaks, and a huge stone block falls, killing Shazam instantly! “Holy Moley!” shouts Cap, seemingly not that concerned that a pensioner has just been crushed to death right in front of his eyes.

Coming out of his reverie, Billy changes to Captain Marvel and stops a couple of hoodlums. He’s recognized and the townspeople want to know where he’s been for the last twenty years. Cap casts his mind back and remembers a day when he, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel, along with a fair few other folk, were transported into a spaceship by arch villain Dr Sivana.

Sealed in a huge bubble of Suspendium, those kidnapped are left to spend eternity in suspended animation. However, Sivana’s ship goes out of control and also ends up trapped in the bubble. Two decades pass, as the bubble orbits ever closer to the sun. One day the Suspendium begins to evaporate and Captain Marvel awakes. He is quickly able to free Junior and Mary, and all three return the townsfolk to Earth — all unaware that twenty years have passed.

Cap tracks down Dr Sivana and his family and everyone has a good chuckle as the baddies are carted off to jail.

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DC had forced rival publisher Fawcett out of the comics market in 1953 following years of legal battles over the supposed similarity between Superman and Captain Marvel. Twenty years later, and ever on the lookout for a much-needed hit, DC publisher Carmine Infantino bought the long-defunct Fawcett characters and quickly set about getting Cap back into print. In his heyday Captain Marvel had outsold Superman by a respectable margin, and hopes were high that the Big Red Cheese could be just what the doctor ordered in DC’s current sales battle with the upstart Marvel Comics.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

This is undeniably slight stuff. The original Captain Marvel stories were always rather undemanding, but even they weren’t quite this undemanding! Denny O’Neill seems to have written this in his sleep. Original Cap artist CC Beck turns in a lovely art job, but even he can’t do much with the material. He allegedly became ever more unhappy with the scripts as time went on, until he finally refused to do any more.

Interesting use of marketing on the cover: Superman doesn’t actually appear in the comic at all, nor is he even so much as mentioned. Indeed, later on, it came to pass that all Captain Marvel stories took place on Earth S, well away from the established DC Universe. While CC Beck drew the Billy and Cap figures, Nick Cardy drew Superman.

In addition to the story outlined above, this premier issue also features a Golden Age Cap reprint from 1946, with art by Pete Costanza. It is, not surprisingly, superior to the new material.

The “Mr Binder” who appears right at the start of the story is, of course, a tribute to major Marvel Family writer, and Mary Marvel’s co-creator, Otto Binder.

Cover ©2008 DC Comics