Shazam! The New Beginning #1 (April, 1987)
Writers – Roy & Dann Thomas
Artist – Tom Mandrake
Letterer – Agustin Mas
Colorist – Carl Gafford
Cover Price: $0.75
Suppose I should get this out of the way. I don’t know a whole lot about Captain Marvel… yet, I really really like the character. I always feel as though I should know more about him, his cast, and his past exploits… and yet, I don’t. I have a very pronounced Shazam!-sized hole in my collection, and in my addled brain-banks. I’ve had this issue (and a handful of others) in the collection for years now, and just never gotten around to reading them.
I always hear comics-types in podcasts or blogs name Captain Marvel among their favorites, and I, for whatever reason just nod along… as if to agree, as though I have any idea what the character’s all about. If I’m being honest, the Captain Marvel with whom I have the most experience and knowledge is the New-52 iteration. All others that came before… well, I can point him out in a line-up, but not all that much more.
The book we’re going to discuss today is the post-Crisis (post-Legends) reimagining of Captain Marvel for (presumably) a new generation of readers. Well, I’m psyched to finally get some first-hand Shazameducation… and I hope you are too.
The story opens on a rainy San Francisco street. A car is barreling down a city street and winds up plowing into an electrical pole before ultimately bursting into flames.
Next, we’re at the the Dudley Batson home, where Dud is entertaining his young nephew Billy with card tricks. Dudley is a small-time magician who sometimes takes his show on the road. They are interrupted by a ringing phone. Dudley waits his requisite four rings (can’t look too anxious, after all) before answering. It is the authorities on the line, they inform him there’d been an fatal accident involving Billy’s parents. He breaks the news to Billy.
At the funeral, Billy and Dudley are joined by another one of Billy’s Uncles. This one from his mother’s side of the family… it’s his uncle Thaddeus Sivana. Billy is confused, as he thought Dudley was his only Uncle. Dud tells Billy that Sivana was Billy’s mother’s step-brother, and that he was her hidden shame. Sivana promises Billy that he will see him again shortly.
Moving right along, we are now in the midst of a custody battle for Billy between Thad and Dud. Billy is left outside of the proceedings, and he meets two blondes who claim to be the son and daughter of Dr. Sivana. They tell Billy that if he stays with Dudley, he would have to give up his career as a road magician.
Billy is finally called into the courtroom. When asked for his thoughts, he stuns Uncle Dudley by telling the Judge that he’d rather live with his Uncle Thaddeus.
Upon arrival at the rustic Sivana estate, Billy finds that his new brother Magnificus and sister Beautia aren’t Sivana’s children at all… they work for him. Billy is shown his room, which is not much more than a utility closet. When Billy questions him, Sivana becomes physically abusive to the boy. That night he overhears Sivana on the phone with somebody about special equipment and payment.
The next day, Billy starts at a brand new high school where he immediately runs afoul of the resident bullies.
He walks home, minding the thunder… he claims it’s been storming an awful lot of late. When he gets home, the house is in complete darkness except for a sliver of light escaping from behind Sivana’s metal door that had been left ajar. The doorway leads to the basement, and Billy decides to take a peek. He observes Sivana on the phone in a room full of humming machinery which is meant to make contact with other-dimensional lifeforms. He overhears Sivana mention that he only wanted Billy for the inheritance he was due.
Billy runs for the door. Sivana notices and gives chase, though Billy easily gets away. He heads to Dudley’s apartment only to find he had already left town on a trip. He bolts out of Dud’s building, tripping over a garbage can along the way. He recovers to find he is sitting in front of a subway station on the very street that his parents died. Behind the subway grate is a shadowy man… he is pointing directly at Billy summoning him inside.
Billy enters, and makes his way to the tracks… Suddenly he finds himself in front of statues representing the seven deadly sins.
He continues to a throne made of stone. Atop it sits an old wizard… above him is a large stone block being held aloft by a thread no thicker than a hair.
The wizard introduces himself as Shazam. He asks Billy to recite his name. Billy becomes the World’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel.
The wizard tells the tale of having been through this before, an indication that he is aware of the pre-Crisis universe, perhaps even the Fawcett universe. He alerts Captain Marvel of the pending arrival of the man he had been created to fight, Black Adam. Billy (still with the mentality of a boy) jokes that in his new body, nobody stands a chance… the old Wizard sighs and asks himself why he didn’t choose to “start with a girl” this time around.
The stone block above the throne begins to fall. Before it crushes the wizard, he asks that Captain Marvel say his name one more time. Billy lets out one more “Shazam!” as the wizard is seemingly crushed. With a bolt of lightning, Billy is back in his own body… and back in front of the subway entrance.
He says the magic word and becomes Captain Marvel once again. He tears the grate off of the subway entrance and soars back toward Shazam… only to find a a brick wall. No sin-statues… no wizard, just a brick wall.
Back in Sivana’s lab, he is continuing with his trials. He is attempting to make communicate with extradimensional life. Wouldn’tcha know it, he’s made contact. Out of the ether flies the man who had been banished from Earth 5,000 years prior… Black Adam.
The issue opens with a short text piece on Captain Marvel by series writer, Roy Thomas.
I remember the first time I heard of the movie, Eraserhead by David Lynch. It was the mid-1990’s and I was in high school. My friends and I really wanted to see this movie after hearing bits and pieces of what it was about. Only problem was, the film was for whatever reason only released on BetaMAX (at least that’s what our research claimed). I remember imagining what the movie must be like, things that may happen… how I’d feel while I was watching this disturbing piece of work. It wouldn’t be until the late 2000’s that I finally caught the movie… and while I dug it, I was so far up my own ass with how I thought it should play out that it ultimately affected my enjoyment.
I failed to separate the expectations of a 16-year-old boy and the reality of the work. I’d watch a scene, and think to myself “That wasn’t how it went…” or “No, that’s not right…” I had somehow convinced myself that I knew better than the creator.
This is how I feel after reading this Captain Marvel origin story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful piece of work by Roy and Dann Thomas… it’s just not how I thought it was going to go. When Dr. Sivana was revealed to be Billy’s (step) Uncle, I was pulled out of the story… I didn’t think that was the way it should go. Billy being in San Francisco rather than Fawcett City (there is a Fawcett City right? I didn’t imagine that, right?) was another. Keeping in mind, I have embarrassingly little Captain Marvel knowledge here… I guess what I’m trying to say, is that this issue surprised me. I enjoyed it overall, however, while reading I couldn’t shake that tiny voice in the back of my empty head saying “Nah, that’s not how it goes…“
After shaking off my preconceptions, I can appreciate the story for what it was. The writing/dialogue was very good, as would be expected. The folks we meet in this issue are all given wonderful characterization. It actually feels as though we are meeting them. I’ll concede that Dr. Sivana may have come across a bit too mustache-twirlingly evil, but by the same token, it kind of works for him. He’s a character that doesn’t really need a “shade of gray”. I also really appreciate the fact that it appears as though Shazam knows about the pre-Crisis continuity. That was a fantastic touch! I love stuff like that.
Tom Mandrake’s art fit the tone of the story very well. It felt very down to earth and street level (dare I say gritty?) prior to Billy’s meeting with Shazam. Captain Marvel was given a majestic regal look, and the ending with Black Adam had a foreboding and black-magical feel to it. Great work all around.
If you’re a fan of (or have a passing interest in) Captain Marvel, go ahead and check this one out.
|Lemme tell ya somethin’ brother!|
|Gotta start’em early|
|Who wants an omelette?|