A Tribute to the of

Before we get in to the subject of this edition of the Sage, I want to take a moment to mention the passing of another of my interviewees [Sage #294] Ken Bald.

Captain Marvel is very much on the collective radar these days and I, for one, find it interesting that both of the Captain Marvel characters are at the box office within weeks of each other. The Marvel Comics version, Carol Danvers, to be precise, because Lord knows the name has gone through more than a couple of iterations, is already tearing it up and getting integrated for her upcoming appearance in the Avengers Endgame grand finale movie later in April, but on the 5th of this month, we’ll see Billy Batson and the original Captain Marvel, aka Shazam on the big screen and while the tone is decidedly different, it looks like it could be fun and pretty true to the classic Big Red Cheese. As a kid I used to watch the live-action television series on Saturday mornings and it wasn’t bad, and of course I did a pretty in-depth treatment of the good Captain here at the Silver Lantern a while back [Sage #429], delving into the old serial and so forth, but this should be a new turn on the character and I’m looking forward to it.

With all that in mind and to mark the occasion, let’s go way back to the Golden Age and look at a story from December of 1947, reprinted in the 100-page Shazam! #13 from July/August of 1974. Julie Schwartz, assisted by E. Nelson Bridwell, noted Captain Marvel fan and expert edited this edition with Bob Oksner on cover art. The original story I’ve selected, titled “The Ancient Crime” was written by the immortal Otto Binder for Fawcett editor Wendell Crowley and it appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #79, again from December of 1947 (I just noticed the years are sort of reversed between the original and the reprint, i.e. 1947 and 1974) and artwork is credited to Pete Costanza with C.C. Beck on the cover.

The 8-page tale begins (+reprint splash) with Billy Batson, the boy broadcaster at radio station WHIZ looking through a book on ancient Egypt by a Professor Jenks. Batson is perusing the book in hopes of finding some material for his show when he is startled to see this notation: “In the First Dynasty an evil magician named SHAZAM stole gold and jewels from the Pharaoh and never was caught for the wicked deed.”

Incensed, Billy decides to invoke the wizard’s name and changed to Captain Marvel to confront the author of the book. Arriving at Professor Jenks’ study, Captain Marvel asks if the author is sure about his assertion. Incidentally, Jenks sure looks a lot like C.C. Beck to me (see pg.2). The Professor produces an ancient papyrus that seems to validate his claim and it sends Captain Marvel into the dumps until he decides he can go right to the source and invoking the name of Shazam, changes back to Billy Batson prior to paying a visit to the wizard in the old subway tunnel.

Billy feels a wave of nostalgia as he retraces his steps, past the statues of the seven deadly enemies of man and arriving at the throne room of Shazam. He then lights the brazier that will summon the spirit of the old wizard and soon Shazam appears. Billy asks about the allegation and the ancient mage says that his word would be meaningless, but there is a way for Batson to learn the truth for himself and he then fades back into nothingness.

Billy ponders the meaning of his mentor’s words and then transforms once again into Captain Marvel to take action. He flies off into the stratosphere toward the rock of eternity, located at the very end of both time and space. Flying faster than the speed of light and relying on Albert Einstein’s formula, he can now visit ancient Egypt and do some sleuthing.

Slipping into the palace of the pharaoh, Captain Marvel observes Shazam taking his leave of the ruler as he is thanked for the help of his mighty magic. Just then, Cap notices a man in the shadows muttering good-bye and good riddance to Shazam and that now he can put his scheme into play. Our hero begins to confront the man when he notices a carelessly placed torch has ignited the palace drapery near the pharaoh. He swiftly grabs the burning cloth and leaps into the reflecting pool to douse the flames. The grateful ruler says he will reward the “red one” when Shazam unexpectedly returns to the throne room.

He proceeds to demand gold and jewels for his magical services. The pharaoh protests, noting that recent plagues have all but emptied the treasury, but the wizard is insistent, threatening to use his magic against the kingdom if his demands are not met. Captain Marvel looks on in astonishment, thinking that he dares not intercede as Shazam is the source of his power and he could easily remove it from him.

Just after the wizard has departed, our hero realizes that the wizard didn’t seem to recognize him, so he had to be an imposter. Taking flight after the camel rider, the World’s Mightiest Mortal removes the false beard to reveal the scheming man he’d seen before in the palace. Knocking him from his mount with a mighty blow (and in the traditional fashion, the reader never sees Marvel actually make contact, just the resulting recoil and a mighty BLAM! sound effect) Captain Marvel demands that the imposter write out a confession of his deed on a gold plate with a diamond for the etching. As soon as his task is complete, a sudden, violent sandstorm kicks up, burying the entire city with only Captain Marvel and the plate left standing.

The good Captain proceeds to lift up the corner of a pyramid and place the plate beneath it so that it can be excavated in the 20th century. Then it’s off to the rock of eternity and back to the present, where he promptly escorts Professor Jenks and his archaeological party to the same pyramid where they soon discover the etched plate. Professor Jenks is thrilled with the discovery and promises he will immediately have a retraction run in all the major newspapers to exonerate Shazam. That wraps up this short and charming story from the ever-fertile and prolific mind of writer Otto Binder. One thing I’ve noticed about these Captain Marvel stories is that nearly without exception, the artwork is remarkably consistent across the decades and the different pencilers and inkers, so they never seem dated.

Here’s hoping the movie does this long-running hero some justice. Since Michael Uslan is involved, I have high hopes.

Thanks as always for coming along to another review here at the Silver Lantern, where we pay our deep respects to the greatest age in DC comics publishing, along with a few side trips to the Golden Age, Bronze Age and sometimes even more contemporary fare if it suits our fancy. As is our custom, we’ll be back with a new review on the 15th of April (be sure your taxes are filed) and another adventure explored.

I can always be reached at my handy e-mail with your comments and questions, so feel free to express yourself:professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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