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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Power of Shazam # 1 - Things Change

Basic Plot : Billy’s “prodigal” cousin, Sinclair Batson, is attempting to modernize Fawcett City with new buildings and jobs but someone doesn’t want him to succeed and sends Ibac to cause problems by destroying the building he’s dedicating.   Later, Shazam takes umbrage with the way Billy is using his powers, (in this instance getting into a party to scarf down hor d’oeuvres), so strips them from him; unfortunately, this is when Arson Fiend sets things alight.

 

This issue is set 4 years after the OGN, which immediately sets up certain storytelling choices.  First off, it allows Cap to have participated in previous crossovers and team-ups, making him more a contemporary of the other main heroes and allowing continuity to stand without any major changes.  Second, it skips us needing to see Billy blunder through learning the ropes, (although we will get to see Mary and Jr. go through the process in a have your cake and eat it too way), and clearly establishes Billy as the “senior” Captain Marvel when the others do make the scene.  Third, it means we won’t have to see the origin of every villain Cap fights, (probably a good thing when so many of his villains share the transformational motif).  Finally, it lets us see Fawcett City’s reaction to Cap after he’s been established for a while, (definitely a different vibe than Metropolis has with Superman, as Fawcett City welcomes the help but doesn’t depend on him).

 

Lots of connections are made with the wider DC universe, including: a Wayne Tech building, a Big Belly Burger, and Ibac sporting what seems to be a tattoo of Blaze.  Meanwhile, other Fawcett characters are already being brought in, as “Bulletman” is a tv show.

 

An extensive array of supporting cast and subplots are introduced.  Sinclair Batson comments on Cap’s resemblance to his uncle, (making one wonder who else might notice).  Ebenezer Batson is revealed to be ill but living lavishly with a private nurse.  Beautia Sivana is shown as a knockout who has her sights set on Captain Marvel.  School janitor Dudley apparently knows about Billy’s situation and has been covering for him.  Relatedly, Billy has been using his “adult persona” to get by, appearing as an adult to rent his apartment, meet with the principle, etc., (a shame he’s not using the wisdom of Solomon as well).

 

Interesting tidbits:

- Cap can apparently cause his costume to form differently, in this case, a tux.

- Fawcett City doesn’t hold Cap in too much awe, in fact, the waiters are very unimpressed with the good captain.  (Since he ignores Solomon, perhaps one of his benefactors should have been Miss Manners.)

 

Best lines:

“I’m usually out like a log by ten.”

“Yes, beer does that to me as well.”

 

Questions:

- What part of the “misuse” of Billy’s powers concerns the wizard?  Is he upset that he’s using his powers for personal gain (to survive) or that he’s not using them more wisely or with more dignity?

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!

I don't think Sivana was supposed to have run Fawcett City's criminal organizations, he was just supposed to be corrupt.  Actually, with his crazy intelligence, it kind of makes sense that he'd be rich.  In any case, I think the OGN was the last time he was shown to be a business mover and shaker; he had a pretty hard fall from grace.

Power of Shazam # 2 - The Arson Fiend

Basic Plot: After a short guilt trip down memory lane, Billy remembers a basement with dumb waiter access and manages to get the party guests to safety.  Seeing Billy’s resourcefulness, Shazam restores the powers and Cap battles it out with the Arson Fiend.  Captain Marvel has won the battle when Sinclair finds out his father, Ebenezer Batson, hired the Arson Fiend to get more publicity, so he distracts the “Big Red Cheese” while the Fiend transforms and escapes.

 

Sinclair Batson is really a chip off the old block.  He won’t acknowledge Billy but he’s quick enough to notice the resemblance between Cap and his uncle.  He invites Cap to his party and puts up with his antics, but soon as he notices Billy he kicks him out, despite Billy being on good terms with some of his other guests.  Then, to add insult to injury, he takes credit for the rescue that Billy engineered.  No wonder Billy takes such glee in destroying lots of Sinclair and Ebenezer’s things.

 

Shazam, never the poster geriatric for sound judgement, seems preoccupied and out of it.  Maybe there’s more to the reason he’s passing on the power now.

 

Interesting tidbits:

- Beautia Sivana not only knows Cap but already knows Billy at this point.

- Arson Fiend’s broach and Ibac’s tattoo (from the first issue) both have the same symbol.

- Arson Fiend is more than just a fire villain, he can apparently go toe to toe with Captain Marvel.

- The fireman may be the first (in continuity) to call Marvel the “Big Red Cheese” as a way of saying, “you’re the boss”.  Bet Cap wishes that fireman wasn’t on the scene.

 

Questions:

- On page 7, Billy seems to break the 4th wall and quip at the reader.  Is there a story here?  Is the rude guy a reference to someone?  Is this something Billy used to do back in the Fawcett days?

 

Best Lines:

“You realize you could save these people a lot of property damage if you just walked away?  I’d still have to fry the old man, but at least his hazard insurance wouldn’t go up.”

IIRC, Shazam acts a bit wonky because he still remembers the Pre-Crisis Earth-S where his charges were THE champions of the universe and not second tier to the Superman Family, which would rub it in more by adding a seperate teenage Superboy to the mix.

Now that I've traded my old computer in for a newer (and working) model, I'll get back to posting again.

Power of Shazam # 3 - Lost and Found

Basic Plot: Captain Marvel is incognito loading a truck, (to pay Billy’s rent), when some mob goons throw a guy off the peer in cement shoes.  Cap dives down to rescue the fellow and finds out it’s “Muscles” McGinnis, an undercover cop.  It turns out Muscles hasn’t been outed, he’s just being killed because he wouldn’t go along with a kidnapping.  Later, after Billy officiates a  spelling bee in his new position as Whiz Radio’s roving reporter, one of the contestants, Mary Bromfield, is taken by Ibac.  Cap foils the kidnapping but Mary is left wondering why Captain Marvel looks like her dreams of what her father looked like.

 

With this issue, we find that Ordway isn’t just bringing Captain Marvel to the DCU, but much of the rest of his world as well.  Not only is Mary brought back in the picture early in the new series, we also get Freddy Freeman and his grandfather, suggesting we’ll be getting more of a Marvel Family title instead of just a Captain Marvel title.  Additionally, references to the Fawcett past, which were all over the OGN, start to get peppered throughout Fawcett City more extensively.  Beyond standard road signs, this issue has Raboy trucking, (particularly appropriate with Freddy reintroduced), Whiz Radio hosting “Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang show”, and Freddy representing the “Binder School” in the spelling bee.  (Incidently, one of the other schools, Kinnickinnic School, suggests that Fawcett City is supposed to be located somewhere in Wisconsin.)

 

Interesting Tidbits:

- Billy is given a job with Whiz Radio, therefore, he shouldn’t need to continue to do manual labour as Cap to make ends meet.  This should make the wizard happy.

- We’re given a clear indication that something more than just the architecture is different about Fawcett City.

- Something is happening to the statue of Pride.

- Sinclair, once again, denies being related to Billy and he doesn’t seem to know Mary either.

- Ibac’s tattoo is gone.

- Marvel immobilizes Ibac by pulling him through a dryer so that his arms are stuck and he can’t get any leverage.  Refreshing for a writer to realize that just because a character has super strength, they wouldn’t always be able to use it.

- After 3 issues, Cap’s foes are all people he’s met before, thus acknowledging that he’s had time to get experience in the interim since the OGN.

 

Questions:

- It’s stated that Billy had a job with Whiz Radio before.  Why did he lose it?

 

Best Lines:

 “I’m sick o’ bein’ tossed around by you - you overconfident red-breasted yuppie!”

Power of Shazam # 4 - Family Values

Basic Plot: The issue starts with Captain Marvel making Muscles McGinnis look good while covertly retrieving a sealed adoption file that reveals Mary Bromfield is Billy’s sister. Back at his apartment, Billy is trying to figure out how to approach Mary when the Tawky Tawny doll comes to life and offers to explain the situation to her.  Tawny, being the smooth cat that he is, convinces Billy, who arrives at the Bromfields just in time to get knocked out, trussed up, and gagged in the course of another attempted kidnapping of Mary.  Luckily, Tawny has a chance to speak to Mary and convinces her to say Shazam.  Mary mops up the kidnappers and she and Billy are off to see the wizard.

 

Sarah Primm; Theo Adam’s sister, Mary’s nanny, and a complete idiot.  In order to make up for her brother’s actions, Primm arranged Mary’s high end adoption and insinuated herself in as the nanny.  Then, in order to protect this life, “for Mary”, she invites a bunch of criminals into her home to take care of anyone that might disrupt the new life.  Yeahhhh, that’s certainly not going to go bad.  Plus, she obviously knew the Batson’s before, seeing as she instantly recognized Mary when she’s grown and her face has changed, yet she had Mary spend extra time with Sinclair, Mary’s biological relative.  No way that would disrupt the new life she’s so anxious to protect.  (Fortunately for her, something else is going on with Sinclair.)  Finally, she jumps in front of a bulletproof person, so they won’t be shot... brilliant.  Sarah Primm, too stupid to live.

 

Interesting Tidbits:

- Undercover cop, McGinnis, is moving up the city’s organized crime ladder.

- Thanks to Billy getting the wrong idea, Dudley is now in on the bigger secret and not sure he’s up for to keeping it.

- Cap gets lost and shows that he’s not a true man... he asks for directions.

- When both Mary and Billy are drawing on the power, neither of them is as strong.

 

Questions:

- How is Tawky Tawny suddenly alive?

- Why can he only appear to the Batsons when they are alone?

- Tawny says he hasn’t been needed in a long time, has he always had the ability to come alive and just been brushed off as an imaginary friend?

 

Best Lines:

“It’s Captain Marvel in drag.”

Power of Shazam # 5 - Madame Libertine Strikes

Basic Plot: Captain (Mary) Marvel is about to kill Theo Adam in his jail cell when she realizes, she probably doesn’t want to do that.  Turns out she’s had her inhibitions released by Madame Libertine who’s causing mayhem for fun and parts.  The inexperienced Mary goes back after Libertine but lets her get away.  Mary then takes a delayed meeting with Billy and Shazam while Madame Libertine goes to watch her great uncle, Captain Nazi, emerge from his stasis tube.

 

With this issue, Ordway gives notice that Mary Marvel is going to be a major part of the title.  In setting her status quo, he makes a number of changes to the character that I suspect older readers weren’t too thrilled with, but I personally think were good moves. 

 

First, he makes it so that Billy and Mary share the power and actually notice a decrease when they’re using it at the same time.  In the shared universe, this will help explain why sometimes Cap is on par with Superman and sometimes he clearly isn’t, (other than inconsistent writing ;)).  Also, this should help head off too extensive a character dynasty, (although Ordway clearly has plans for Jr. as well), and remove the question of why they don’t just power up more people.  Plus, it could open up some intriguing conflicts and storyline possibilities.

 

Second, Ordway has Mary grow and become the image of her mother, just as Billy takes on the appearance of his father.  One of the things that makes Captain Marvel unique is that he not only powers up with his magic lightning, but he grows up as well.  By making this change, it doesn’t make Billy less special, instead it opens up the story possibilities to see the similarities and differences when this occurs from a female point of view.  I don’t see this as taking away from Billy, instead I see this as drastically adding to Mary while still making the pair of siblings unique.  This one change opens up so many story avenues, beyond simply contrasting experiences, it gives DC a venue for exploring sibling relationships, (without having to have one sibling submissive), or on the creepy side, one could explore how wearing their parent’s bodies affects how the siblings interact.  I think this was a good call. 

 

[Looking back, one thing I think they should have considered was having Mary look less like her mother.  Because they look so similar, I think later writers didn’t even realize that Mary wasn’t just powering up her own body.  Because of this, a great deal of the development Ordway brought to Mary was lost.]

 

Finally, Ordway has Mary refuse to go by Mary Marvel, instead insisting on going by Captain Marvel.  I liked how this played out in the book, although the only one that seemed to acknowledge it outside of POS was Morrison.  In context, I agree that in universe Mary would never consider calling herself Mary Marvel, however, in the world of DC, the Mary Marvel moniker was going to happen. [Looking back, I think Ordway should have had the press hear Billy calling Mary by her name and the papers should have christened her Mary Marvel.]

 

Interesting Tidbits:

- Mary takes out Theo Adam’s memory wipe in one fell swoop.

- Primm has decided she belongs in Hell... she’s still an idiot.

- I love that Libertine thinks Mary is going to turn on her despite the mind screw.

- Mary’s listening to voices but not using common sense yet.  She completely forgets an innocent bystander and lets him get killed even when her mind hasn’t been tampered with.

- Some wider DC influences are felt, with Blaze showing interest in the Marvels.

 

Questions:

- Why doesn’t the wizard want Mary and Billy living together?

- What’s Tawky Tawny’s game?

- How often do the Marvels, or other heroes in the DCU, intimidate citizens without meaning to?

 

Best Lines:

“Who the heck was that?”

“Think Marvel got himself a wife?”

 

*** On a personal note, I think this was the first issue the cover was a little lacking.  Overall, I think there are few series’ that have had such a run of outstanding covers.  I don’t know at what point the market changed so that covers weren’t as important a selling feature, but I do know that this was the last series that I tried from the drugstore spinner rack based solely on the cover.

I'm one of those older readers that didn't like some of those changes. Billy wished to be a grownup, so his "powered-up" version, Captain Marvel, was grown. Mary was happy in her life, so Mary Marvel looked identical to Mary. Freddy wanted to be able to walk, so Captain Marvel Jr looked just like Freddy. The split powers may have been good for a storyline, but I didn't care for the idea as a permanent state.

I'm one of those older readers that didn't like some of those changes. Billy wished to be a grownup, so his "powered-up" version, Captain Marvel, was grown. Mary was happy in her life, so Mary Marvel looked identical to Mary. Freddy wanted to be able to walk, so Captain Marvel Jr looked just like Freddy


From a motivational standpoint, I can see your point of view, but I think there's a reasonable counter argument as well.  One could argue that being an adopted child Mary would have an inner desire to connect with the family she had lost.  Seeing Billy and being subconsciously reminded of her father, when she transforms, she has a yearning to connect with her mother.

The bigger question in my mind though is which transformation makes Mary a more interesting character?  As far as I'm concerned, Mary is much more interesting transforming into a grown likeness of her mother, however, that's just my two cents.

The split powers may have been good for a storyline, but I didn't care for the idea as a permanent state.


This element I could take or leave, there are good story avenues in both directions.  The biggest argument I could see for this is DC wanting to keep Superman supreme.

Border Mutt said:

The bigger question in my mind though is which transformation makes Mary a more interesting character?  As far as I'm concerned, Mary is much more interesting transforming into a grown likeness of her mother, however, that's just my two cents.

 

I can see your point, but I disagree. Billy's got the grown-up thing going already.

I miss this series.

Comixology has the first 20 issues of this series on sale this week.

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