I’ve been in the process of preparing a “comic book starter kit” for my little nephews and it occurred to me that I’d like to include a good Captain Marvel story as part of the package. While having, overall, very good memories of “The Power of Shazam” series, I can’t say that any story jumped out at me as the one that should be included. Therefore this seems like as good a time as any to take a look back through the series I remember so fondly. Since I’m reading through anyway, I thought I’d post my observations and open up a discussion for anyone that might be interested

The Power of Shazam started with an original graphic novel, written and painted by Jerry Ordway, released in 1994. DC had made a couple of prior attempts to integrate the Captain Marvel characters into the DCU but I would argue that, despite a timeframe that made it more concurrent with Zero Hour, this was the post-Crisis version of the character. [Previous to this series, Cap had been “re-invented” for the ‘80s in the mini “Shazam a New Beginning” and a followup feature in “Action Comics Weekly”, plus he had roles in “Legends”, the “Justice League” series before it went international, “War of the Gods”, and “Eclipso: The Darkness Within” . However, this version didn’t seem to gain any traction and one could easily see the Ordway version filling the role in Justice League and the crossovers, (which was the DC continuity party line.)]

For my purposes, I intend to start at the OGN and continue through the end of the series, including guest spots in other titles but not any of the crossover events from that time. [A side note: This doesn’t say anything about the quality of those events or Cap’s place in them. In fact, I quite enjoyed “Underworld Unleashed” which had Cap in a pretty prominent role. I just feel that the events didn’t affect the series very much and therefore, don’t need to be covered.] So, the reading order I will be following is:

The Power of Shazam OGN
The Power of Shazam 1

The Power of Shazam 2

The Power of Shazam 3

The Power of Shazam 4

The Power of Shazam 5

Superman #102
The Power of Shazam 6-7
The Flash #107
The Power of Shazam 8-13
Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #4
The Power of Shazam 14-18
Showcase ‘96 #7
The Power of Shazam 19-34
Starman #39
The Power of Shazam 35
Starman #40
The Power of Shazam 36-43
The Power of Shazam #1,000,000
The Flash #1,000,000
The Power of Shazam 44-47
Supergirl Plus The Power of Shazam
Superboy Plus The Power of Shazam
The Power of Shazam 48

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The Power of Shazam OGN

<Spoiler Alert> As this volume contains a huge amount of references and reinventions, not to mention a ton of setup for things to come, I’m going to do a fairly in-depth recap of the OGN.  You have been warned.

The OGN starts out in Egypt where Billy’s parents, C.C. and Marilyn Batson, along with Theo Adam, are on a Sivana sponsored archaeological expedition.  While the Egyptian overseer is otherwise occupied, Adam leads the Batson’s into the temple in hopes of finding something valuable, (which he hopes to smuggle out of the country for Sivana).  They do locate a heretofore unknown chamber that has a strange lightning bolt symbol on it.  Reading the hieroglyphs around it, C.C. “translates” the word Shazam, after which a bolt of lightning flashes and a recessed door opens.  

Inside this new chamber is a sarcophagus with a valuable scarab gem necklace on it.  While C.C. is distracted with a ghostly image of Shazam behind him, Adam and Marilyn scuffle over the necklace.  The necklace breaks in two during the fight, Marilyn flees, and Adam murders C.C. collapsing some of the chambers in the process.  Pursuing Marilyn from the temple, Adam runs across their overseer, slits his throat, and continues following Marilyn into Cairo.  

Meanwhile, instead of going straight to the police, Marilyn goes to the hotel where their daughter, Mary, and tutor are staying.  Not finding them in their room, Marilyn sees Mary’s “Tawky Tawny” stuffed doll and hides the part of the necklace she kept into the doll.  Before she has time to do anything else, Theo arrives.  Theo kills her but does not find the necklace before the tutor shows up, with Mary following.  Theo kills the tutor, out of sight of Mary, and then heads out with a naively trusting Mary in tow.

Switch to America, where young Billy Batson is hustling to sell newspapers on the street.  A shadowy figure in an overcoat convinces Billy to follow him into the subway where a strange train whisks them to a magic chamber.  Leaving the “stranger” behind, Billy passes the “Statues of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Men” and meets the wizard Shazam.

Shazam tells Billy he’s chosen him as his successor for fighting evil, wielding the power of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.  The wizard then uses his “historama” to go over recent history with Billy, filling us in on why Billy wasn’t in Egypt with the rest of the family, (punishment for doing bad in school), and why he’s now on the streets, (his Uncle Ebenezer kept the Batson’s savings but kicked Billy out).  Finally, Shazam has Billy speak his name and a Lightning bolt transforms him into Captain Marvel.

Billy doesn’t take “growing old” very well, even when he finds out he now looks like his father.  Add that to voices suddenly speaking in his head and he starts smashing things.  Shazam counsels that he must seek balance and listen to the voice of wisdom, but Billy doesn’t really calm down until the shadowy man reappears and he’s able to return to his own form again.  As Billy transforms and leaves the chamber, a large stone block is dislodged and falls towards the wizard.

Switch to Sivana having a meeting with some upset Egyptian officials.  Sivana attempts to cast blame on the Batsons for the problems at the temple, saying that their incompetence has left his Fawcett City World’s Fair in the lurch as well.  The Egyptian officials will have none of it, categorically stating that his man, Theo Adam, was to blame, revealing that the overseer survived and can testify to it, and demanding that Sivana gives them Theo Adam’s location.  Sivana dismisses them, prompting the officials to threaten to “tell the truth” on Whiz talk radio.  A frustrated Sivana goes to a secret room where he convinces Adam to eliminate both the Egyptians and the radio station.

Outside the Whiz radio building, we find Billy sleeping with a pile of his meager possessions, (including the Tawky Tawny doll that had been returned from Egypt).  Disturbed by a bunch of men climbing the outside ladder of the building, Billy follows them, and discovers Adam and a bunch of thugs planting a bomb on the building.  The men notice him and Adam promptly throws him off the six story roof.  With no hope other than “that crazy dream”, Billy shouts Shazam and transforms into Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel confronts the thugs and deals with the bomb.  In the confusion, Adam gets away and Cap overshoots the harbour, causing the bomb to set the fairgrounds on fire.  Shocked, and not quite sure what’s going on, Cap accidentally transforms back to Billy in mid-air, fortunately landing on a dirigible.  Unfortunately, transforming back to Captain Marvel sets the dirigible on fire.  An embarrassing debut for Captain Marvel and a costly one for Sivana as he owned both the dirigible and the fairgrounds.

Back on solid ground and in kid form, Billy goes looking for the wizard.  Unable to find the special subway, nonetheless, Shazam pulls Billy into a spiritual realm to talk, revealing to Billy that he’s already encountered his parent’s murderer.  After this info is revealed, Billy finds himself back in the real world where he bangs into Dudley the school janitor who decides to “escort” Billy to school.

Meanwhile, Adam has returned to Sivana’s secret room.  Having noticed a resemblance between Captain Marvel and C.C. Batson, Adam makes an intuitive leap that Billy must have been C.C.’s son and the scarab gave him powers, so he grabs his part of the scarab necklace, shouts Shazam like in the chamber, and transforms into Black Adam.  Once transformed, Adam realizes the doll must contain the other part of the necklace, so he lights out, but not before throwing Sivana across the room and setting his place on fire.

Black Adam goes through Billy’s things, pulls the piece of the necklace out of Tawky Tawny and combines it with his part of the necklace to “gain more power”, then goes on a destructive rampage.  Billy shows up as Captain Marvel, fighting Black Adam across the city, ultimately battling it out in the fairgrounds.  Cap realizes the necklace is keeping Black Adam powered up and removes it from Black Adam, causing him to revert to Theo Adam.  

Deciding against taking revenge, Cap decides to hand Adam over to the cops but the wizard intervenes, taking away Adam’s memory of being Black Adam and making him mute before the hand over.  After Adam has been turned over, the wizard reveals to Billy that the shadowy figure is the ghost of his father, something Billy admits to having known from the beginning.  However, before leaving, the wizard and the ghost reveal to Billy that his sister is still alive and that his powers will help him find her, giving Billy incentive to continue being Captain Marvel.

Ultimately, the battle with Black Adam has leveled the fairgrounds.  Combined with all the other losses he incurred and the testimony given on the radio, a very bitter Sivana has had to go into hiding.  Thus even as a hero rises, enemies have already been created.

This was a gorgeous effort by Ordway.  His affection for the characters and the setting just comes out loud and clear in the work.  There are tons of easter eggs and nods to the past scattered throughout, but all done in a way that keeps the story on track.  Overall, I’d rate this a 9 out of 10.

As far as reinvention and story setup, Ordway made a lot of good calls..

Captain Marvel is given his own city, in Fawcett City, so he has his own playground and reason why he hasn’t interacted all that much with the rest of the DCU in the past.  The art deco and old style of the buildings makes the city standout, much like Gotham and Opal, making way for the city to become a bit of its own character as well.  Additionally, the implication that the city’s been stagnant or in decline since the second world war opens up some storytelling possibilities.

Black Adam is given a personal connection to Billy as well as the wizard, making Cap’s opposite number all the more resonant.  The fact that Shazam took away Theo Adam’s  voice implies that even though he no longer has the initial catalyst, he’ll be able to continue to channel the power.  Additionally, by making Theo Adam a contemporary, (there’s a bit of a sense of reincarnation but I might be reading too much into it), we don’t have to lose a major antagonist by the power leaving and him turning to dust, (like in some previous versions).

Sivana is given a personal reason, in addition to the “this is my city” reason, to hate Cap.  No sooner did Marvel arrive then he disrupted his plans, set his fairgrounds on fire, and destroyed his blimp.  Then he follows it up by brawling with Black Adam and completely demolishing the World’s Fair construction that Sivana had sunk a ton of money into.  Additionally, Sivana starts right off with a reason to hate the power itself, as his own ally uses it to torch his penthouse.

I think another set of good choices Ordway made was in the family department.  Making Dudley and Sivana once again non-relations was a good call.  Sivana didn’t need the extra reason to hate Billy and this way we get an extra antagonist in Ebenezer Batson.  By making Dudley a non-relation, it absolves him of guilt for Billy’s situation.  Also, clearly showing Billy’s parents and Mary right off the bat works for me; this way we can see the resemblances and the missing Mary doesn’t come off as just a cheap ploy.


Other things I liked included: having the Tawky Tawny doll in the thick of things, having Billy show he’s not above using the powers for personal gain when he used the powers to “impersonate his Uncle Eben” (which also showed he’s not always going to make wise choices), and making Cap actually be Billy instead of having him switch places.

The only real misstep I saw was making it so Black Adam was previously an Egyptian ruler.  They had to know that Hawkman would get priority in that regard, (and following writers would feel the need to synch up the timeframe between the two).  Overall though, that’s a pretty minor quibble.

The OGN did raise a couple of intriguing questions.  

First, who did Theo Adam think Captain Marvel was initially, C.C. Batson or Billy?  It was pretty clear that after seeing Cap, he realized the boy he pitched off the roof must have been C.C.’s son.  The question is, did he intuit right away that the boy was Captain Marvel or did he think it was a surviving C.C.?  If he didn’t realize it was Billy initially, that implies he learned it when he transformed into Black Adam... an intriguing possibility.

Secondly, when Billy first transformed, he talked to the wizard about voices in his head, who were the voices?  One was clearly stated to be the voice of wisdom, ie. channeling Solomon, however, who are the others?  One interpretation would be that each of his “benefactors” are a voice in his head.  Another interpretation would be that the “Seven Deadly Enemies of men” were able to whisper from their statues.  Either way, this could open up some interesting story avenues.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about this OGN.  Is there any wonder that it led to a series?

It seems to me DC keeps doing new and different versions of Captain Marvel. None of them since the Ordway series has interested me.  I've run across certain opinions that the Ordway series was seriously misguided. I don't agree, as it was probably my favorite of the MANY versions I've seen from DC over the years. Then again, I recall an article in ALTER EGO detailing multiple versions of CM that never saw the light of day (in the late 80's, etc.), and each one seemed WORSE than the one before it.  What's the matter with some people???  (And a number of these really AWFUL proposals had Roy Thomas connected with them!!)

Then again, I have the increasingly feeling that, if I had more of the originbal Fawcett comics, that EVERYTHING DC has done with the characters would start looking MUCH WORSE to me... including the Ordway material.  (At the very least, that's exactly how the William marston-Harry Peter WONDER WOMAN Archives affected me.  After reading those 3 books, EVEN George perez' run started to REALLY SUCK BAD in my eyes, by comparison.)

http://www.comics.org/issue/244929/cover/4/

http://www.comics.org/issue/244944/cover/4/

...I have tended to think that , in the years that DC has had cap and the other Marvels , they have tended to treat the character as a " good old days "/" retro " kind of character - recalling an earlier era of comics , RELATIVE TO THE ERA THE CURRENT SERIES IS BEING PUBLISHED IN .

  So , the 70s title rather recalled - Anyway , a vague " when things were nice " " innocence " and I think - note the couple?? of photocovers featuring little kids - was seen by DC as an early version of what we now call an Adventures title .

  That Shazam! strip made official the non-Marvel Fawcett heroes ( That DC acquired - I believe Radar was some sort of U.S, Goverment Information/propaganda office-created " teach kids about the brave , new , postwar world and its technology that we're heading for " - Does Ron Paul know about this ????? - sort of concept , yes ??? And Ralston urina??? flat-out owned Captain Midnight , though an anthology , b7w , " Golden Age retro-style " comic that I bought recently before I was active here had a new Captain Midnight story in it , I don't have it anymore . :-( ) mixing with/living in the area/proximity of the Ms , no ????????? When did DC buy outright the other Fawcetts ?

  I've tended to think that TPOS! tended , as it worked out , to rather recall early 80s DC , when the post-Silver Bronze Age was playing itself out , a little more " serious " but still pre-grim'n'gritty , Dark Watch , etc. I've never seen the SHAZAM! strip that appeared in WORLD'S FINEST during the actual early 80s , so scratch that from my discussion...um 'kay ??:-)

...I rather liked the THE TRIALS OF SHAZAM! mini of a few years ago , which people at CBGXrta expressed much dislike for a few years ago - and then I missed the friggin' last issue !!!!!!!!!!! Ay yi yi . Oy vey .

Ugh, I bailed on that series about 3-4 issues in. I thought it was just awful.

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...I rather liked the THE TRIALS OF SHAZAM! mini of a few years ago , which people at CBGXrta expressed much dislike for a few years ago - and then I missed the friggin' last issue !!!!!!!!!!! Ay yi yi . Oy vey .

The covers of the 70s Shazam! series included homages. Shazam #2’s cover was based on that of Whiz Comics #112, and Shazam #11’s cover was based on that of Captain Marvel Jr. #26. The cover of the Shazam from the Forties to the Seventies collection was based on that of Captain Marvel Adventures #18. The introductory contents pages in the giant-sized issues were modelled after introductory pages from the Fawcett comics.

 

DC's recent efforts with Captain Marvel include the Jeff Smith Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil mini and the Billy Batson & the Magic of Shazam! ongoing.

I really think it was the last time DC tried with the marvels

It felt like the last somewhat traditional try DC made.  The Trials of Shazam had some interesting ideas but it didn't feel like a Marvel Family title, all it seemed to keep was the window dressing.  Meanwhile, the Monster Society of Evil and Billy Batson were out of continuity; not really DC giving the characters support.  (On a side note, I found that version of Mary to be a deal breaker for me.)

I was quite surprised there wasn't a Flashpoint mini or a new 52 title.  At this point, I'm kind of hoping we get something similar to the Flashpoint Shazam as the backup to Justice League and a more traditional version on Earth 5.  Having Geoff Johns write a traditional version just seems like a bad idea.

They should get the guys who did the BIG BANG COMICS version of "Mighty Man" to do new CAPTAIN MARVEL stories. Gary Carlson & Bill Fugate really seemed to capture not only the look, the the feel of the characters, as far as the writing goes.

I mean, it would make more sense than what Alan Moore did in the early 80's in WARRIOR magazine...   : )

IMHO, the best SHAZAM stories (Pre-Crisis) are the Bridwell/Newton series from World's Finest, which richly deserve to be reprinted.

Roy Thomas said basically in Alter Ego #100 that his SHAZAM!: A New Beginning sold so well that his attempts to do a series were sabotaged so others could, well, steal a potential successful franchise! But he does NOT accuse Jerry Ordway of any inner-office politics!

I have the graphic novel somewhere and maybe the first three or four issues of the series that followed. I thought it was a game attempt to bring Captain Marvel and his cohorts kicking and screaming into the post-Crisis Universe, whether or not that was a good idea. 

I certainly liked it far better than the Roy Thomas/Tom Mandrake series Shazam: The New Beginning, which, to be charitable, was execrable. Tom Mandrake was totally miscast on the title. Also, setting the series on the West Coast -- which meant that Billy Batson's employer wasn't WHIZ radio but K-WHZ -- was a stumble right off the bat that 

I reread the GN and realized that Theo Adam/Black Adam was drawn to resemble Boris Karloff!! :-)

And the Captain had hints of Fred MacMurray in his face.

Sivana wasn't as creepy looking as he was in Shazam!: The New Beginning but then again he was never a looker to begin with!

What bothered me was that they had him be the same as the Post-Crisis Luthor AKA The Kingpin. Better to have him settle Venus!

Then there was Old Shazam as a manipulator of orphan children though he justified that only purer minded children could be trusted not to abuse the Power of the Elders.



ClarkKent_DC said:

I have the graphic novel somewhere and maybe the first three or four issues of the series that followed. I thought it was a game attempt to bring Captain Marvel and his cohorts kicking and screaming into the post-Crisis Universe, whether or not that was a good idea. 

I certainly liked it far better than the Roy Thomas/Tom Mandrake series Shazam: The New Beginning, which, to be charitable, was execrable. Tom Mandrake was totally miscast on the title. Also, setting the series on the West Coast -- which meant that Billy Batson's employer wasn't WHIZ radio but K-WHZ -- was a stumble right off the bat that 

...I guess Roy was always a writer who " worked within his surroundings " , Clark !!!!!!!!!!!

  Now that he's lived in SC for the past many years..." Wo't You Charleston With Me " ???????????

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