Saturday, April 28, 2018

DC Comics Presents Annual #3 (1984)

When it comes to superheroes with a sense of whimsy fun, none can beat one Billy Batson, aka Captain Marvel. Created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, he first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940), which was originally released by Fawcett Comics. Captain Marvel (often mistakenly referred to as Shazam), would become one of the most popular and best-selling superheroes of the Golden Age of Comics.

Originally, the character was created as a team. Yup, Bill Parker originally conceived the Shazam concept as a sextet (group of six) superheroes, each with a unique superpower given to them by a patron mythological god. The concept would them be altered into a single superhero called "Captain Thunder", then "Captain Marvelous", which got shortened to "Captain Marvel".

So, who is Captain Marvel? Well, the good Captain is Billy Batson, a homeless boy who was summoned to a cave by the wizard Shazam. The elderly wizard chose the pure-hearted boy to be his successor in the never-ending battle against evil. When Billy was instructed to speak his name, he would be transformed into an adult hero in a flash of lightning.

In 1953, Fawcett Comics would find themselves the object of a lawsuit from National Comics Publications, basically the precursor to modern DC Comics. You see, they felt that Captain Marvel was a little too similar to their own character, a certain Man of Steel. The two companies would settle, but Fawcett got another blow. The Golden Age of Comics was ending, and interest in superheroes was fading away. With that, 1953 saw Fawcett shutting down its comics division, and Billy Batson was seemingly on his way to becoming an obscure piece of comics historical trivia.

Ironically, DC would help save Shazam from obscurity. With the Silver Age in full force thanks to the introduction of the Barry Allen Flash, Fawcett was unable to publish new Captain Marvel adventures, thanks to the terms of their settlement with National. DC would license the characters from Fawcett for publishing new stories with the good Captain. But then there was another problem. In 1967, Marvel Comics introduced their own Captain Marvel, an alien soldier-turned-superhero named Mar-Vell, taking advantage of the lapsed copyright. As a result, DC was forced to market the character under the "Shazam" name. This is why the Billy Batson Captain Marvel was often called "Shazam". As part of DC's Multiverse system, the Captain and his adventures took place on the alternate Earth called "Earth-S".

After Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Big Red Cheese was fully integrated into the DCU, making his first appearance in the 1986 miniseries Legends, and then he would join the 1987 incarnation of the Justice League. Roy and Dann Thomas with Tom Mandrake would produce the miniseries Shazam: The New Beginning, an attempt to update the Captain Marvel mythos. This, alongside his appearances in Action Comics Weekly, were meant to pave the way for a new ongoing. However, it never went to print because of disputes between Roy Thomas and DC editorial. This new ongoing would have introduced a black Freddy Freeman and a punk Mary Marvel.

In the 1990s, DC purchased the characters outright. In 1994, Jerry Ordway would release The Power of Shazam!, a critically-acclaimed painted graphic novel that would which led to an ongoing series of the same name in 1995. This series would last for four years, putting out 47 issues, a 1996 Annual, and a tie-in to DC One Million. The Captain would keep on truckin' through the 2000s, joining the JSA for a while, and in the leadup to the Infinite Crisis event, the wizard Shazam was killed off, causing Billy Batson to take his place.

When the New 52 reboot hit, Captain Marvel was revamped by Geoff Johns. He was officially renamed "Shazam", and Billy Batson was revamped as a cynical foster child, which got mixed reactions from fans. More recently, it has been announced the Big Red Cheese will be coming to live-action film. About time, considering he was the first comic book superhero to be adapted into film (A Republic Pictures serial called Adventures of Captain Marvel).

Captain Marvel has become one of Fawcett's, and then DC's most beloved characters. Besides the serial, he's appeared in a 1970s live-action show, and in various cartoons.

So, with that little primer out of the way, let's take a look at DC Comics Presents Annual #3!

The cover is really awesome. You got what looks like Dr. Sivana with the power of Shazam, holding up a defeated Captain Marvel, with Superman flying towards him. Supes looks ready to avenge his fallen friend. It's a great cover. I love it.

"With One Magic Word"
Writer: Roy Thomas (Story alongside Gil Kane and Julius Schwartz), Joey Cavalieri (Script)
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Gil Kane
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Julius Schwartz

The story begins with Superman in New York City. He's not there to sightsee or try some of the City that Never Sleeps's famous pizza, he's there to do what he does best: save the day. And he does so here by laying a Super-Smackdown on a robot.

The robot is on a rampage, and Superman uses his X-Ray vision to find out who is in charge of this thing.

Yup, it's Captain Marvel's old nemesis, Dr. Sivana! The World's Wickedest Scientist is not a fan of Supes either, as he sees him as even more of a clown than the Big Red Cheese. The Sivanabot smacks Superman, sending him flying through a building. Superman gets up from the rubble. He takes the fight to the robot, reminding Sivana that the mad scientist is on Earth-One, and Superman is to this Earth what Ric Flair is to pro wrestling: The Man! Whoo!

Superman wrecks the robot, and Sivana tries to flee by using its head as an escape pod. The Man of Steel almost has Dr. Sivana, but he then hears a cry for help. A building is about to fall on a woman and her child. The Man of Tomorrow is forced to let Sivana flee to save their lives. After saving them, Superman remembers that he has some other business at the Daily Planet, so he heads back there and resumes his life as Clark Kent.

Sivana's headship flees to the Rock of Eternity, the home of the wizard Shazam, the sorcerer that empowered the Marvel Family. It's revealed that the World's Wickedest Scientist had used his brilliance to put the Wizard into a trance...somehow.

I'm guessing that Sivana used some kind of device. However, Sivana is aware of another problem for him. The wizard Shazam won't stay incapacitated long. Also, Billy Batson can still use the magic lightning to become Captain Marvel. But he found a solution for that problem. He heads out to a city (I wanted to say it was Fawcett City, but that was a post-Crisis concept, and this is a pre-Crisis story), the home of Billy Batson. He announces that unless the World's Mightiest Mortal shows himself, he will start vaporizing cities...starting with this one. Billy Batson is able to slip away, and change into the Big Red Cheese.

Sivana puts his little plan into action. He causes the bolt of magic lightning to split into two. The split bolt hits both Billy and a device on Sivana's shuttlecraft. The World's Mightiest Mortal flies up to investigate...and he's in for a shock.

Thanks to his collecting some of the magic lightning, Sivana now has the power of Shazam as well. As such, he decides to take on a new moniker: Captain Sivana. Using his newfound power, Sivana thrashes Captain Marvel, leaving the Big Red Cheese to wonder if his powers are failing on him. As he falls, Sivana catches him, saying that he doesn't intend for the death of Captain Marvel to come this quickly. Billy's sister Mary and friend Freddy Freeman witness this and rush to help, transforming into Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. The two Marvels rush to help, but Sivana distracts them by throwing his shuttlecraft at the city.

While the two other Marvels save the city, Sivana takes Marvel over to the Rock of Eternity. Captain Marvel is feeling a bit grumpy, and Sivana chuckles at that. He shows the Captain the mesmerized Shazam, but that isn't all. Evidently, when Sivana split the lightning bolt that empowers Billy Batson, Sivana got the good qualities of Marvel's patrons, leaving Billy with the bad.

These new values do make me scratch my head. I keep feeling it should be like this:

Solomon - Stupidity
Hercules - Weakness
Atlas - Lack of Stamina
Zeus - Powerlessness
Achilles - Cowardice
Mercury - Slowness

It makes more sense to me as these are the actual opposing values of the patron beings Marv gets his powers from. Sivana thrashes Cap some more, and he asks if Sivana is going to kill him. Sivana tells him that he is not going to kill the Big Red Cheese...the Rock of Eternity is. He carves a hole in the base of the Rock and tosses the good Captain in it. He then replaces the rock, hoping to suffocate the Captain in the air-tight hole. Marvel tries to move it, but finds his strength is gone.

Mary Marvel and CM Jr. spot Sivana and engage him. The superpowered scientist easily wrecks the two, promoting himself to Major Sivana. The two try to use their numbers advantage over the newly-named Major. Wait, if Sivana gaining powers causes Captain Marvel's to weaken...why isn't it happening to them as well. Heck, CM Jr's powers come from Captain Marvel himself, so he especially should be affected by this!

Anyway, Sivana's intellect is boosted by the Wisdom of Solomon, so he comes up with a plan. He spins the Rock of Eternity around really fast, hoping to do a little time-traveling. At least, that's what he wants Mary and Freddy to think. Freddy heads to the future to find him, and Mary heads to the past. But it was a trick. Major Sivana is still in the present. He somehow creates a storm around the Rock to keep them away from it. He promotes himself to Colonel Sivana. Inside the rock, Billy realizes to his horror that Mary and Freddy have no idea of his current situation, and keeps trying to free himself.

Colonel Sivana gloats over his victory, but realizes that Superman could also pose a problem for him. I can also imagine he also wanted a rematch with the Man of Steel. The storm he created somehow prevented time travel, but it does allow travel to alternate Earths. But, he goofs up.

You see, Colonel Sivana fought the Earth-One Superman earlier. He accidentally transported himself to Earth-Two. Blog readers got to visit Earth-Two in my review of America vs. The Justice Society #1 (January 1985). Sivana is confused by the presence of the Daily Star, but shrugs it off when he spots a helicopter and decides to trash it. Kal-L, that world's Superman, overhears this with his super-hearing and flies into action. Sivana tosses the helicopter, forcing the Original Man of Steel to grab it and place it down. He engages Sivana, Sivana thinking Superman has aged since they last fought earlier. Kal-L punches him out, then Sivana gets it.

As such, he decides to use Kal-L as a practice dummy for fighting the Earth-One Superman, figuring that since this Superman is aged, he is weaker than his younger counterpart. I think it also helps that Sivana's power comes from magic lightning, and Kal-L shares Kal-El's weakness to magic. Sivana figures that somehow, he still can't kill this Superman. Because reasons. Instead, he attaches the Original Man of Steel to a meteor of Kryptonite. He then carves off a piece to use on Kal-El.

Uh, Sivana? That should not work. Earth-Two Kryptonite has no effect on the Earth-One Superman, and vice versa. *checks* Oh, I see, that was established in Infinite Crisis #3 (February 2006)...decades after this story was published. I see. Never mind then.

Sivana is so proud of himself he decides to promote himself to General Sivana. That is...actually accurate. In the US Army, at least. Generals do outrank colonels.

Inside the Rock of Eternity, Captain Marvel gives up, having no strength left. He has so little strength, he can barely move. On Earth-One, Clark Kent and Lana Lang are preparing to broadcast another edition of the WGBS news program. At the time, the Daily Planet was bought by Galaxy Communications after a 1971 storyline, and Clark Kent ended up in a new role of anchorman. Later on, his old friend from Smallville Lana Lang would join him as a co-anchor. But they're about to get an uninvited guest.

Clark saves Lana by taking some debris to the head and feigns getting knocked out. Sivana takes over the broadcast, declaring that he is now the ruler of the Multiverse, and no one can stop him, especially not Superman. Sivana gets a tap on the shoulder, then eats a fist from Kal-El, the Earth-One Superman. The two brawl through the city, the fight going to a locomotive. Sivana cracks a meta joke about the Man of Steel being "more powerful than a locomotive". The train is laced with Kryptonite, the Kryptonite Sivana stole from Earth-Two. Sivana reveals that he set a trap for the Man of Steel. Even worse, he made some Kryptonite "brass knuckles", which he proceeds to use to beat the holy tar out of Superman.

Captain Marvel is watching this...somehow. I'm guessing it's because of his connection to the wizard Shazam and the Rock of Eternity. He laments that he can't help Superman. The Big Red Cheese falls into despair. However, he starts to hear the six beings who give him his powers.

You know, I just realized this, but Gil Kane's take on the World's Mightiest Mortal here is rocking some serious Duke Togo eyebrows.

Duke Togo does NOT approve of Captain Marvel stealing his eyebrows.
Maybe Gil Kane was a fan of Golgo 13. Either way, Billy Batson should watch his back, lest he gets an custom M-16 cartridge to the head. The six elders assure the good Captain that he still has his power. Sivana may be able to siphon power from the magic lightning, but he could never truly take them away. So, why were his powers failing? I get it could explain why CM Jr. and Mary were unaffected, but it does feel a bit like they were trying to fix a plot hole with another plot hole.

Bolstered by the elders' assurance, Captain Marvel breaks out of his prison.

Back on Earth-One, Colonel Sivana is getting ready to deliver the deathblow to Superman, but Captain Marvel spears him. As the two brawl, Marv tells Superman that Sivana left his Earth-Two counterpart to die on a Kryptonite meteor. Superman uses his power to break the vibrational barriers between dimensions, and finds his alternate elder self. A meteor is heading towards the meteoroid that the Earth-Two Superman is trapped on, and between his weakened state from the Kryptonite and his age, the collision could kill him. The Man of Steel then uses his body as a battering ram, smashing the meteor to pieces, and knocking the Earth-Two Superman free from his deathtrap.

Meanwhile, Captain Marvel has gotten the upper hand on Colonel Sivana, and the wizard Shazam finally wakes up from his forced nap. Using his wizardly powers, Shazam sees Sivana and Billy brawl, and sends out a magic bolt of lightning. The lightning strips Sivana of his powers, reducing him down to merely being the World's Wickedest Scientist instead of being the World's Wickedest Superhuman Scientist.

The two Supermen arrive, alongside Mary Marvel and CM Jr. The two Marvels grab Sivana and head back to their Earth, the Earth-Two Superman doing the same. Superman notes that the two nearly didn't make it that time, but if fighting evil was easy, anyone can be Superman. The story ends with Superman flying off, Captain Marvel saying anyone can be a Superman, when they have the courage, wisdom, and perseverance of the elders.

And for some reason, the elders appear there as well.

This issue...could have been better. I personally felt that the jaunt to Earth-Two was rather pointless. You could have taken out that battle with the Earth-Two Superman and it would not have changed a thing. And also, I felt that Mary Marvel and CM Jr. were only there just to acknowledge their existence. I think the story would have been better if it just focused on the superhuman Sivana going for a rematch with the Earth-One Superman, and Superman getting some help from Mary and Freddy.

Captain Marvel's escape is rather...odd. It seemed that Sivana splitting the magic lightning bolt that gives him his powers had a negative effect on him, but it turns out that Sivana couldn't truly take his power. So, why was Captain Marvel so weak? Was it a mental thing? It's not really handled very well, in my opinion. I get why it went the way it did, but I think it could have been done better. I would have gone with CM Jr. and Mary also being weakened thanks to Sivana siphoning off the Captain's power. Would have made more sense in my opinion.

It's a shame, because the concept of Dr. Sivana getting the raw power of Captain Marvel would have made one heck of an awesome story. I just don't think we got that here.

Gil Kane's art is interesting. I have read some of the Silver Age Green Lantern stuff he worked on in the 1960s, and twenty years later, his art here looks a bit...rougher is the best word I can come up with for it. There's a lot of hatching in places, and it does look odd in others. It's really the best part of this comic. I don't think this comic is terrible, it could just have been better, especially in the story.

Next time, we're celebrating Superman's 80th birthday! And we're going to do so in style, by asking one question: What's so funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

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