Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Crisis

By 1986, DC Comics had created two generations of superheroes, and acquired the rights to characters from at least three other companies, Fawcett, Quality, and Charlton Comics. They had explained the existence of these different superheroes by saying they existed in different parallel universes, and they were able to do cross-over stories by having the characters travel between the dimensions.

It was the heroes of the Silver Age that first discovered these dimensions, therefore, their world was called Earth 1. Because the world they first discovered was the world of the original superheroes, that world was called Earth 2. So in other words, the world of the first heroes, the first version of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman., etc, was Earth 2, and the world of the heroes created or re-started in the 1950's was Earth 1. Confused yet? Just you wait.

There was Earth 3, where the parallel super-powered characters were all villains, and Lex Luthor turned out to be a hero. The Fawcett characters, including Captain Marvel, were on Earth-S (for Shazam). The world where superheroes were all in comic books (ostensibly the world in which you and I live) was called Earth-Prime. This list went on and on.

It was decided that the readers were finding this confusing, so something had to be done. The answer was the Crisis on Infinite Earth. In a long, convoluted 12-issue limited series epic in which almost every single character that had ever been in a DC comic (except for those that were licensed properties, like Jerry Lewis and Mighty Isis) appeared, all the excess universes were destroyed, and most of the superheroes wound up on the same planet. Duplicate heroes, like Superman and Batman, were consolidated, and retconned (retroactive continuity) into not having existed before now, and heroes that were revamps of the originals (Flash, Green Lantern) were generally explained as the elder having been the inspiration for the younger.

So in this world, Captain Marvel existed on the same world as Superman. It was decided to start the series over from scratch.

Writer Roy Thomas and artist Tom Mandrake created a mini-series called Shazam! The New Beginning. It sold rather well, but response was mixed. While some liked it, traditionalist fans of the original World's Mightiest Mortal hated it. The series took place in San Francisco instead of New York, Dr. Sivana and Uncle Dudley both turned out to be Billy's real uncles, and Billy's personality was fully intact when he transformed into Captain Marvel.

A new series was planned that would have drastically re-interpreted the Shazam Family. Mary would now be a wild punk girl, not the sister of Billy, and Freddy would be a black kid in a wheelchair. There were at least three different versions of the first issue drawn, but none seemed to pass DC Comics muster. Captain Marvel was installed as a member of the newly-formed Justice League, but dropped out after a few issues when he got tired of being treated like a kid (even though he was written as one).

Next: Black Light

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