Superman #276 (June, 1974)
“Make Way For Captain Thunder!”
Writer – Elliot S! Maggin
Penciller – Curt Swan
Inker – Bob Oksner
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.20
Another one from the “wouldja lookit that cover!” collection… Seems to be a theme right now!
We open in a dingy Metropolis alleyway, where in a flash of light a confused young boy appears. This is Willie Fawcett, and he’s got a snazzy lightning-themed belt buckle. Superman flies overhead, which confuses him… he expresses confusion (and just about any emotion) with the word “Creepies!” If I can remember, maybe I’ll do a Creepies-Count toward the end. Anyhoo, he takes a bus across town to the Galaxy Communications Building… which, also confuses him. He was expecting the WHAM-TV building instead. Hmm…
Superman again appears overhead, and is in hot pursuit of a giant flying lizard… which is clearly a phony illusion. Superman realizes this, and understands the need to take it out of commission with the quickness as not to incite fear, and so he might suss out the real threat this is distracting him from. That was probably the clumsiest sentence I’ve ever written. Anyhoo… while everyone else is distracted, Willie sees the real menace… some robbers in a helicopter seeking to steal an armored car. He Shaz… er, Thunders! up and becomes the incomparable (ahem) Captain Thunder!
In his transformation, he finds that he is no longer interested in stopping the robbers… but instead, aiding and abetting them in their underhanded endeavor! He hoists the armored car over his head and flies off with it. Over the bay, Superman dispatches the illusion. He then heads back in to stop the attempted robbery… and to exchange blows and insults with Captain Thunder. He calls him “flabby” which, I dunno why… but it makes me giggle a bit.
Captain Thunder decides discretion is the better part of valor, and hurls the armored car at Superman. He then “thunders” down, and returns to his boyish figure… who is somehow none the wiser of the Thunderer’s wrong-doings. And so, he decides to visit with Superman’s friend Clark Kent to talk to him about Captain Thunder. Not sure why he’d be so inclined, but it helps move the story forward.
He also shares his dual nature, and the way he came to have it. Willie Fawcett’s origin begins at a campout for orphans. He sees an owl, and gets it into his head that he ought to follow it… to a mountain wall which opens up, and leads to the
park bench throne of Morokee, the Mohegan Medicine Man who endows him with the powers of Captain Thunder. We learn that not only does the lad need to say “Thunder” to transform, he also must rub his thunderbolt belt buckle… which, I think might make more sense than just saying a (relatively common) word.
Willie continues, and shares a recent adventure he had as Captain Thunder in which he fought… well, the Universal Pictures monsters, basically. He winds up trapping them in a strange dimension, however, as he leaves Dracula (?) says they’ve secretly messed with him, and he’ll never be the same!
Clark’s not entirely sold on Willie’s story, and feels that he might be suffering delusions. He decides to take the boy to the police station to see if anyone had reported him missing. He asks Lois to accompany them, so she might beg the question of his chauvinism. When they arrive, Clark uses his x-ray vision to spy a strange tank with a phallic blaster attached to it busting up the garage underneath HQ.
He excuses himself, running off for a hamburger with amazing urgency. As the odd tank emerges, Willie instinctively “thunders” up, forgetting that his super-powered alter-ego is, ya know… evil. Superman and Captain Thunder’s battle resumes!
Superman leads Cap out of Metropolis so they might fight without endangering the citizens. They fly through a storm cloud, and Superman uses his super breath to change it into a giant ice cube. This only serves to slow down Captain Thunder.
From here, the stakes raise… they literally start throwing mountains at one another. It would appear that the pair are almost too equally-matched… and neither would out-muscle the other. That leaves it to Superman to trick his foe into depowering himself. As the Captain says the word “thunder”, Superman forces him to rub his belt buckle. Ay yai yai.
He turns back into Willie, and Superman carries him to the ground. He shares a theory that Captain Thunder is from a different dimension and puts the boy into a full nelson… he asks him to re-thunder up one more time, so he might speak to the “big guy”.
And so, he manages to keep Captain Thunder in the full nelson! They exchange pleasantries, and Superman implores Cap to think about how he jumped dimensions… and he does! Captain Thunder thunders down again… and vanishes back to his home dimension.
The issue wraps with an epilogue in which Lois forces Clark to buy her an expensive meal. At the end, she is flabbergasted at the sight of him putting “catsup” on his prime sirloin! Little does she know that she’ll eventually have a taste for boeuf bourguignon with ketchup!
Such a weird little issue…
I think this is one of the more iconic (Nick Cardy!) DC covers of the 1970’s… instantly recognizable, even if you don’t necessarily know the issue number, or even which Superman book it occurred in. When I first saw it, I really thought this was DC playing with a character they didn’t yet have ownership or control over, however, upon actually reading it… it’s got an ad for a DC published Shazam! collection inside it!
I guess this issue came out at a time in which DC published Captain Marvel comics, but kept them separate from the mainstream DC Universe. Pretty interesting idea… and amazing restraint by editorial. I mean, if it were me, I don’t think I’d be able to keep everything separate. The temptation would be far too strong!
For the story itself… it was, ya know… weird. I enjoyed it, and lemme tell ya, I was happy that this wasn’t framed as an “imaginary story”, but it really wasn’t what I expected. Folks who know me, know that I grew up a Marvel kid. I’m used to superhero meet-ups being formulaic in that: (1) The heroes meet, (2) the heroes fight, and finally (3) the heroes team up against a common foe. That doesn’t happen here… and I feel like maybe it should have.
I think the issue spent far more time filling in Willie/Thunder’s origin and backstory… which is both amazing and strange, in that the character never really showed up again. During Flashpoint there was a Captain Thunder… but, unless I’m mistaken, it’s not the same one… and honestly even if it was, that story came 37 years and 4 Crises later… it wouldn’t really matter if it was! Let’s not get it twisted though, I’m glad this was an earnest effort toward making Captain Thunder feel “real”. Just the fact that they took the time and effort to acronym-ized T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was pretty cool. Perhaps this was an attempt at a backdoor pilot for the character… or just testing the waters for DC eventually bringing the Marvel Family into the DCU proper.
Overall, this is a pretty iconic and wonderfully strange issue that I would recommend even if I didn’t dig it just for the sheer novelty of the thing. That fact that I did like it, is just gravy. Somewhat surprisingly, this issue is not available digitally. It has been collected, probably several times, but specifically in Superman In the Seventies.
Oh, by the way, Creepies Count: 16