Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The New Beginning for SHAZAM! (Part 12 of the Blog history of ALL the Captain Marvels!)

As we saw in our previous chapter, DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths combined all the heroes on all its alternate universes into one Earth. This enabled them to reboot the entire history of the DC Universe to incorporate the characters of different companies, like Quality and Charlton, that DC had acquired or, like Fawcett, licensed, into one great big world. This meant some interesting shoe-horning and establishing of relationships between characters who had never met before. It also meant that they had to create new versions of their great "trinity" of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Whereas in the previous Multiverse there were older and newer versions of these iconic heroes on different Earths, now all three were established as having first appeared in modern times, while all the other older superheroes were established as just that, older superheroes, and in many cases, inspirations for the new ones.
    

I could go on about the significance of this and the nuances and quirks that this created, but we are here to look at just one aspect of this: how it affected the original Captain Marvel.

Roy Thomas, a big fan of the World's Mightiest Mortal, had a clause in his contract that said that he would get first crack at any new Captain Marvel project. Now was his chance to do what he had always wanted!

When DC licensed the Big Red Cheese in 1972, it was decided to put him into his own universe, Earth-S, for reasons that included the fact that he was drawn and written so differently from DC's other comics. Now that he was rolled into the regular DC universe, his origin had to be told again. It was told in a four-issue mini-series titled SHAZAM! The New Beginning (April - July 1987)
 
 

In this version, written by (Thomas and drawn by Tom Mandrake), Billy lived in San Francisco; the story began with his (unnamed) parents being killed in an auto accident; Uncle Dudley and Dr. Sivana were both Billy's real uncles; Sivana used his kids, Magnificus and Beautea, to trick Billy into choosing him as his new guardian so he could access Billy's father's assets to help his research (he actually arranged the deaths of Billy's parents); and Sivana managed to summon Black Adam from some other dimension.

    



But of all the differences between this version of Billy Batson/Captain Marvel and the original, the most definitive was that when Billy said the magic word to transform, his mind stayed in the hero's body. His personality did not change to that of a grown man. It is this one change that has stuck with all versions of the character since then (with the exceptions of Jeff Smith's and Earth-5, but we will get to that). It has also become the default assumption of this hero's character to this day.

The effect of this constant personality meant that Billy's passions remained intact when he was a superhero, so his fascination with his new powers affected his initial use of them, and his reaction to meeting Black Adam was that of an enthusiastic juvenile, rather than a grown man with the wisdom of Solomon.

And of course, this being being a new era of "grim & gritty" comics, Captain Marvel's costume had a lot of dark shadows and his driving motivation was that of a dark avenger. This was a big change from the light-hearted, whimsical stories that had been the hallmark of the Big Red Cheese up until then.

Fan reaction was mixed. some liked the new look and feel, others did not. Sales numbers, however, were positive; enough, at least to warrant an ongoing series.

He was a featured hero in the mini-series Legends, written by John Ostrander and Len Wein and drawn by John Byrne, placing him in the forefront of the new lineup of leading superheroes for the new, post-Crisis DC world. He also was a member of the new Justice League team, where his juvenile personality was played for comedy, and the new, "dark avenger" personality was forgotten.
 

    

A new, four-part miniseries dealing with neo-Nazis appeared as a backup in Adventure Comics, with a tag at the end promoting a new SHAZAM! ongoing series.

There was a regular series planned and plotted by Roy Thomas. Several issues were scripted. Mary Marvel would be a punk chick older than billy and unrelated. Freddy Freeman would be a black teenage boy in a wheelchair.

The first issue was completely redrawn at least three times, each time  by a different artist and each time not coming up to DC standards. Work was done on the next few issues as well, but somehow, DC dropped the ball on this. The project was never completed, and roy thomas' contract expired.

John Byrne proposed a new series, but it was not picked up. Then Jerry Ordway proposed a new one...

Coming soon: THE POWER of SHAZAM!
Also: THE LEGACY of GENIS-VELL!


Thursday, May 2, 2019

AVENGERS: ENDGAME review: FRACK YOU ALL! (minor spoilers embedded in the text)

Another short break from the ongoing saga of the many Captain Marvels to cover this rather important movie in superhero cinema history...

Frack you all, you anti-SJW push-backers, claiming that the two most recent Marvel movies would be feminist propaganda! Frack you, those complaining that Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel being the strongest hero in the Marvel Universe would turn her into a Mary Sue and disrespected the God of Thunder. Frack you all for making me have that in my mind as I was experiencing the awesomeness that is Avengers: Endgame!

Frack you all, also, who claim the the movie is just a big pile of contrived fan service. I did not go to the movies tonight to NOT see every hero in the MCU get a well-deserved moment on screen!
The message of the movie is what the Avengers movies have all been about: teamwork and sacrifice. It is about working together to succeed at an objective. It is about finding the right place for each member of a team according to their abilities. It is about being willing to sacrifice everything and fight to the end if you believe in the objective for which your team is fighting. That is the awesomeness that is Avengers: Endgame!

Now some elaboration...

For months, now, folks at Marvel were saying that Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel was going to be the most powerful hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "But what about Thor!?! You are disrespecting him!!!" was the plaintive cry of those who are "sick and tired of all this SJW nonsense in comic books." and claim that the push for "diversity" is killing comics; the "Carl Manvers" haters and Brie Larsen detractors who take offense at being told that a certain movie was not made for "40-year-old white dudes" and just can't get enough of that shot of Don Cheadle pulling away from Brie in that TV interview.

Here is a wake up call and analysis of the MCU and this movie and how Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel fits into it:


The MCU needed a Superman. Thor is not a Superman, because he is too flawed. He had been a flawed character from the beginning, and his journey has been one of self-discovery. Growing up he was so strong and so mighty in a culture that valued being strong and mighty that he could do no wrong. But from his very first movie on, the way to make something a challenge for him was to get him to fall victim to his pride and doubt himself. By the time the story truly begins in A:E, he has truly lost all his mojo because he failed, big time. It was perfectly within his character for him to react that way, and that made him more human, more entertaining, and his recovery more heroic. His heroic story arc is about earning his power by learning humility and overcoming depression.

Carol Danvers' story arc is about realizing her power in a culture that does not value women for being strong and mighty, and her independence in a culture that is subservient to the will of an authoritarian dictatorship. Her knock-downs are not blows to her pride, but rather challenges to her might. For dramatic satisfaction, the Superman that this movie needed needed had to be one that was a surprise to Thanos and a surprise to the audience. Who'da thunk that out of nowhere, from the far corner of the universe, would come a woman with the power of a star who can take a punch like no other superhero can?


Now the universe is facing a threat even more challenging than Superman's Doomsday in the DC Universe. Thanos is not only big, strong, and nigh-invulnerable, he is also brilliant, determined and erudite. He also leads a huge army of alien monsters and demons and things. He also has a spaceship capable of raining fire onto the surface of a planet. Even putting every Avenger on the table, along with the combined might of Wakanda, Asgard, and the Masters of the Mystic Arts, is not going to stop that. So they need a game-changing, field-clearing superpower who is super-strong, can fly, and is invulnerable, and does not have the issues of pride and self-doubt that plague Thor whom Thanos has not yet faced and for which he is unprepared.

Besides, we have seen plenty of movies in which Thor gets all thunder-godly and saves the day. It's good to mix it up once in a while. And just because there is a great and powerful female superhero in DC's cinematic universe does not mean that Marvel should not have one. And just because Wonder Woman manages to pull of elegance, style and glamour does not mean that having a butch, kick-ass chick with short hair who wears dress pants to a funeral is a bad thing. My girlfriend loves her, and is making a renaissance outfit styled after her costume. And as a blonde, I like having a superhero with hair like mine.

Having a character with her power-set means that you can have people stranded in space being rescued by a superhero. You can have someone fly through a giant spacecraft to blow it up. You can have someone who Thanos cannot defeat simply by punching in the face.

And she has had powers like that for a long time in the comics. Get over it.

But won't such a character just make the fight too easy? Well, no. Because this character has been off helping the rest of the universe while Earth's Mightiest Heroes have been serving and protecting Earth. Therefore, she is not on the spot when such a character would have solved all their problems lickety-split (which is kind of a shame, because I wanted to see more of her in this movie). Also, Thanos is tough and smart enough to keep it from being too easy for her, even if he is initially taken by surprise.

Furthermore, Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet are more than just a big, strong alien with a weapon, and she lacks certain attributes and abilities that turn out to be the final gag that saves the day and wraps up the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe Epic up in a perfect full-circle payoff.

And just because there is a moment when all the female heroes in the battle assemble and step up to the plate to advance the task at hand does not make this "feminist propaganda," nor is it a "Mary Sue" moment. Every single one of those characters had been established to have abilities, went through heck to get there, and were indispensable for the task at hand.

And is that moment, and every Carol Danvers moment, contrived fan service targeted at the feminist market? Well sure! And why the frack should that not be part of a movie in which every element of every Marvel movie up 'till now gets a moment to be noticed, recognized, and advance the story? There are fans of Marvel movies, of superheroes, of comic books, who like seeing females save the day. There are girls and women who want their heroes to have chromosomes like them, who want to see that women can also have superpowers, that they can play with the big boys if they really want to. Just about every other fan demographic was served in this movie, why not this one?

And besides, only one of these fan-service moments could be the one that saves the day. But even that one could not have happened were it not for every other one making it happen. I am talking now both in terms of story-writing and plotting. The situation was set up so that there was no other way for the heroes to win other than with that one hero doing what he did, and there was no way that hero could have done what he did if the rest of the heroes did not do what they did to enable that moment. Remember, it has been established that there were over 14 million possible outomes, and in only one of them would the heroes win. It only makes sense that it would have to be the one in which every  hero (almost) gets their moment to ante up and pitch in, in which every villain (almost) gets involved in the story to some degree, and we have to revisit every step (almost) that we have taken on this journey with the heroes that got us to this moment.


I m just going to take a moment to digress here...


We are fans of these heroes, much like sports fans are of their favorite teams. We live and die with these heroes, and laugh and cry as they go through their ups and downs. It is fiction, of course, but when the projector is running, and the pages are turning, the "It's still real to me" pro wrestling dynamic.



I am a big sports fan, particularly of my NY Teams, the Yankees, Giants, Rangers, Knicks, and whatever is the NYC team of whatever short-lived alternate sports league happens to be open this week. In 1986, the NY Giants had a dramatic, near-perfect season that took them all the way to the Super Bowl, where they won their first NFL championship  in over two decades.

That Super bowl was an almost perfect game for a Giants fan. It started out pretty even, going back and forth between them and their opponents, the Denver Broncos (with future Hall of Famer John Elway). But Phil Sims had the game of his life,  and everyone on the team had a moment to pitch in and shine. Running backs Joe Morris, Maurice Carthon, Ottis Anderson, and Lee Rouson, tight ends Mark Bavaro and Zeke Mowatt, linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks, defensive end Harry Carson, wide receiver/kick returner Phil McConkey, nose tackle Jim Burt, offensive lineman Brad Benson, even the punter Sean Landeta and kicker Raoul Allegre (one of three kickers they had that season) and late-season addition safety Tom Flynn got in on the action either in the Big Game or the playoffs. I got total fan service for all my favorite players that day!

Not to mention, of course, that I got the ultimate in fan service: A Super Bowl victory that paid off a decade and a half of disappointments as they went from hapless to hopeful and back again year after year.

This movie is the Super Bowl of superhero movies. It is the championship game, the big kahuna, an all-the-marbles, blow the works, shoot the moon, no-tomorrow, apocalyptic blowout in this ever-gun-brought-to-bear, every-trick-in-the-book-played, nothing-left-on-the-table-or-in-the-gas-tank, finale, and only after every possible option is explored and every opportunity taken, do we finally get to the one last, best, but only hope, and that could only be the most perfect conclusion that the past 12 years of movies have set us up for.

It would have been interesting to see more of how society was adapting to the sudden drop in population. The bar for how to do multi-character superhero battles in terms of clarity, drama, and pace was set in Captain America: Civil War, and for all the epic scope and fan service, it is not matched here, though it is still exciting and awesome and not to be  missed. Some of the CGI is a little distracting, looking a little unreal, as if they needed to take another few passes with it to look real next to real-life actors. I do want to mention that it was great to see that Jim Starlin, who created Thanos, get a little cameo, that Stan Lee's cameo is awesome, and that it was interesting seeing which characters had their creators acknowledged and which did not in the credits.

So, in sum, frack the critics and haters, if you want to see the championship game of superhero movies, go see this!

Oh, and for those who are counting, here is a breakdown of screentime for most of the major characters from https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/1119712/Avengers-4-Endgame-okoye-screentime-poster-danai-gurira-black-panther-2:
Iron Man: 1hr 2mins
Captain America: 1hr 6mins
Thor: 45mins
Hulk: 40mins
Black Widow: 33mins
Hawkeye: 37mins
War Machine: 35mins
Ant-Man 38mins
Nebula: 41mins
Rocket: 36mins
Captain Marvel: 15mins
Valkyrie: 8mins
Wong: 6mins
Okoye: 6mins

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

SHAZAM's WORLD'S FINEST CRISIS! (History of ALL Captain Marvels Part 11)

Back in Part 5 we saw how DC licensed the original Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family from the still-extant Fawcett Publications. When last we left our hero, his book had been cancelled right at the start of the "DC Implosion" and he had been relegated to the back of World's Finest, a "DC Dollar" anthology book.

In those pages Don Newton did the art and E. Nelson Bridwell wrote the stories under the editing of Jack C. Harris. Many parts of Marvel Family canon were explored.

It was revealed that the wizard Shazam had been a superhero named "Champion" thousands of years ago, with his own fictional "proto-semitic" pantheon that gave him powers when he spoke the magic word "Vlarem!" (unscramble that to find out where World's Mightiest Mortal got his name). Together, he and Captain Marvel put the Rock of Eternity into its place.




Freddy Freeman found that he was actually the brother of Christopher "Kit" Freeman a.k.a. Kid Eternity, a young hero from Quality Comics who had been acquired by DC and rolled into the Marvel Family's universe. Interestingly, Kid Eternity had been created by Otto Binder, the prolific writer who had written more than half the stories of Marvel Family characters for Fawcett.

Mr. Tawny discovered that the serum that gave him the ability to speak had also slowly transformed him physiologically until he was so human-like, it was difficult to walk like a tiger.


The "power of Zeus," long undefined (except in that he was the one who delivered the transformational lightning), was revealed to be an augmentation of the powers of the all the elders (wisdom, strength, stamina, etc), thus enabling certain abilities that were not strictly the named powers, such as flight and invulnerability.

Even the brocade on the capes of the Marvel family was brought into play, as someone mentioned that "moly" (As in Billy Batson's frequently-used expression "holy moly") was a plant with "little yellow flowers."

Eventually, DC cancelled its DC Dollar Comics line. SHAZAM! stories continued as a backup feature in Adventure Comics for a while, then in April, 1985, DC began their Crisis on Infinite Earths "12-Issue Maxi-Series." The object of this was to "simplify" the DC Universe.

 

Here is a little backstory on the original DC Multiverse:

DC's original cast of superheroes had mostly ceased publication by the 1950's. As we have seen,  in 1956 the Flash was re-invented with a new costume, a new alter ego, and a new "secret origin." He was such a hit that DC decided to reboot its entire superhero line. They would keep some characters largely the same (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman), alter the costumes, powers, origins, and alter egos of others (The Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Red Tornado), create some brand new heroes (Martian Manhunter, Adam Strange, Captain Comet). A couple of heroes who had already existed (Green Arrow and Aquaman) continued to exist largely unchanged with these new and newly-interpreted heroes. This world continued as the main superhero world of which stories were told in DC Comics.

But what happened to the original heroes, including the ones who were not re-booted or re-invented, like Dr. Fate, Hourman, Mr. Terrific, Wildcat, and Johnny Thunder? It turned out that they still existed, along with their pre-reboot comrades, but in an alternate universe existing on a different "vibratory plane." This was discovered by the new Flash (Barry Allen) when he traveled to the world of the original Flash (Jay Garrick). Because the new Flash had discovered the world of the old one, his world was called "Earth-1" and the one with the older heroes was called "Earth-2." This world appeared from time to time in special stories uniting the Justice Society of America (The original DC superhero team) and the Justice League of America (the new superhero team).

It was later revealed that there was an "Earth-3," whose versions of superheroes were really super-villains, Supeman being called "Ultraman," Wonder Woman "Superwoman," and Batman "Owlman," for instance.

When DC acquired the superhero characters of Quality Comics (Uncle Sam, Black Condor, the Ray, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, Human Bomb, etc) they placed them on "Earth-X," a world where the Nazis won World War II.

So when DC revived Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, they put them on their own world Earth-S (for SHAZAM!).

Our world (in which the writers and artists of DC Comics created all these stories) was even a part  of this "multiverse," known as "Earth Prime."

By 1985, the folks at DC decided that having all all these worlds was confusing to the readers, hence Crisis. The story was a massive, sprawling epic that crossed over into almost every DC comic book. By the time it was all done, all the worlds in the multiverse (including a brand new one on which the recently acquired superheroes from Charlton Comics, Blue Beetle, The Question, Peacemaker, Judo Master, Captain Atom, etc, resided) were merged into one. The fictional history of these characters was re-written. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and most of the characters of Earths 1, X, and S, and the Charlton heroes, began their careers contemporaneously in the present day. The original superheroes of Earth 2 began their careers in the 1930's and '40's, corresponding with their original creations. DC's "Trinity," however (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) began their careers in the modern day, and were retconned to not have existed in the early days, and their origins were re-written with a few tweaks here and there.


So, with this new, combined universe, the Big Red Cheese was given an all-new origin story...

NEXT: The New Beginning!