Shazam! #2 (April, 1973)
“The Astonishing Arch Enemy”
“The Nicest Guy in the World”
“Captain Marvel Fights Niatpac Levram!”
Writers – Denny O’Neil, Elliot S! Maggin & Otto Binder
Artist – C.C. Beck
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.20
Well Holy Moley… I’m not sure if that’s the best cover or worst cover I’ve ever seen! It most definitely catches your eye, I’ll give it that!
Can whats inside even hope to compare? Well… let’s find out!
Our first tale is called The Astonishing Arch Enemy… and we can see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I’m always a fan of witty wordplay, so I’m down with this. The story begins with newly un-suspended animation Billy Batson catching up on the news and slang of the day. Here he, and we, learn that the proper way to say it in 1973 is “hip” not “hep”.
Billy decides to check in with his pal Tawky Tawny over at the museum where he is a guide. He catches up with the talking tiger as he is describing the Mr. Mind exhibit… which features, are ya ready for this… Mr. Mind’s stuffed corpse. Evidently the evil worm was caught and sentenced to death via electrocution. His dead body was mounted, stuffed, and made into an exhibit to be gawked at. Pretty morbid when you think of it, right?
Moments later, the Earth starts to quake, and the roof begins to crumble. Billy utters the magic word, and keeps the house standing long enough for the citizens to clear the premises. Among the wreckage, Cap and Tawky find the Mr. Mind exhibit has been robbed of it’s tiny spectacles and voice amplifier. Oh yeah, and the stuffed worm is a fake… but we already knew that. The real-deal worm squirms away with his goods explaining that he had instructed his army of creepy crawlies to cause the quake.
Captain Marvel attempts to follow the worm by heading to the traveling circus. Once there he calls Herkimer, former member of the Monster Society of Evil. Herk appears and proceeds to attack… but that doesn’t work out so well. He comes around, and informs Cap that Mr. Mind is likely St. Louis-bound.
And so, Captain Marvel is now St. Louis-bound! As luck would have it, he unknowingly arrives at the same time as his diminutive foe.
Mr. Mind notices the Big Red Cheese in his midst, and so launches an atomic expanding missile… which is basically a football with his face on it. Cap treats it as such, punting it into orbit. Mr. Mind bails out of his makeshift hot-air balloon, and manages to squirm away before he is nabbed.
Mind burrows into the ground to avoid capture… and so, Captain Marvel uses the Gateway Arch as a tuning fork!
Mister Mind and… a trillion other worms work their way out of the Earth. It would be difficult to discern which one is evil… if Mr. Mind wasn’t wearing a pair of specs that might glint in the Sunlight. Whoops. The day is saved!
In our second tale we meet the Nicest Guy in the World… Sunny Sparkle! It opens with him tiptoeing past a crowd of people. We might think the lad is up to no good… however, we’d be wrong! Ya see, the thing of it is, people just want to do (and give) nice things to young Sunny! Now… where have we seen that face before?
Anyhoo, a few blocks away Billy Batson witnesses a bank robbery. Before he can utter the magic word, he gets smacked across the mush with the bag o’ loot. While the robbers flee, Billy recovers… bellowing out a Shazam! while in a noxious cloud of exhaust. The robbers don’t go all that far though, as a bit down the road they run into our new friend Sunny Sparkle… and whattayaknow, they decide to give the boy their bag of dough! Now, I know we’ve seen this face before…
Moments later, Captain Marvel arrives… and, hmm… he’s caught under Sunny’s spell too! I really can’t shake the feeling that we already know this kid…
Where have we seen– oh…
Ahem… We shift to the robbers’ hide out where their bossman is none too pleased to see his men returning empty-handed. He decides it would be best for him to deal with young Master Sparkle himself. This doesn’t work out so well for him… he just winds up handing over a wad of cash to the lad.
The Bossman returns to the hideout, where he realizes that he’d just handed over a substantial sum to Sunny. He begins to understand that the boy’s got some sort of nebulous powers, and so he decides to enlist the aid of a third party. As luck would have it, since this is a Captain Marvel story, that third party is Billy Batson! The Boss asks Billy to fetch the satchel of dough because it’s meant to go to charity… and so, he does!
He hands over the bag, and the baddies take off leaving him in a (very familiar) cloud of exhaust. Billy now knows he just helped the bad guys… and so, he Shazams! up and nips their getaway in the bud.
Our story wraps up with Cap socking the baddies, and Sunny Sparkle being given the Key to the City… and a bunch of other stuff!
Our final tale is a reprint which first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #139 from December, 1952. It features Wizzo the Wizard who is terrorizing the neighborhood with bunnies… who are multiplying like… er, ya know.
A nearby Billy Batson turns into Captain Marvel and grabs Wizzo by the collar. Wizzo tells him that he only let the rabbit horde loose to tempt Cap to the scene. He then hands Cap his hat… which our man foolishly accepts. From it pours out a whole bunch’a bunnies!
With Captain Marvel distressed and distracted, Wizzo turns his attention to our man’s reflection in a nearby shop window. From it, he summons the reflection into the real world! He is greated with a “Olleh”, which… ya know… backwards, because mirror… yeah.
He introduces himself as Niatpac Levram, and Wizzo instructs him to cause all sorts of havoc around town. Later, at radio station WHIZ, newsreader Billy Batson gets the bulletin that Captain Marvel is terrorizing the city… but how could that be? He Shazams! up to check it out, and as luck would have it he’s still wearing Wizzo’s hat. He finds Levram, and they bonk each other about.
Levram knocks the magic hat off of Marvel’s head, restarting the constant flow of bunnies. While Cap attempts to wrangle’em, his dark reflection flees… to a cave conveniently labelled as a “School for Black Magicians”. Hmm. Captain Marvel powers down to secretly check it out… and trips up on a loose stone to alert the baddies to his presence., just as Wizzo gets promoted from Apprentice to Master Magician!
They nab the poor boy, and gag him before he can utter his magic word. Wizzo transforms Billy into a monster… unfortunately for him, it’s a monster with large teeth with which Billy could chew through the gag. He then Shazams! up, kayos Wizzo, and reclaims his reflection. Sadly, he could never change back to Billy again… lest he return to his beastly form. No, not really…
Well, well, well… this was a lot of fun! I know it’s probably cliche to refer to these older Captain Marvel stories as “innocent”, but… really… that might just be the best word to describe ’em! C.C. Beck’s wonderful art certainly lends to that squeaky-clean image. It’s neat to see with the inclusion of the classic story, that he didn’t lose a step between 1952 and 1973.
The stories here were fun and lighthearted, but not terribly substantial. Nice quick tales which don’t require a ton of analysis… which kind of makes this section of our discussion a bit difficult. I’m probably not going to be able to drone on as long as I usually do.
Despite the few pages of buildup each of these stories get, they kind of… just end. Perhaps I’m just built for stories that draw on endlessly and tie into everything else, so when a story does actually end… I’m not totally sure how to process it! I think I’d have preferred a single long-form story for this issue… or maybe one main feature with the classic Cap as a back-up. A trio of six-pagers just doesn’t give me enough to sink my teeth into regardless of how much fun they are.
That said, I did have fun and I did enjoy it… I think there’s a lot folks can get out of this if they are cool with shorter stories. I think I’d lean toward suggesting comic reading folks consider checking Captain Marvel/Shazam! books of this era out should you come across them in the wild. Luckily, this has been collected in the wonderful SHOWCASE Presents Shazam! (which I have and totally need to get around to actually reading!
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