When Mary Broomfield (really Mary Batson) disappeared for days at a time with Billy Batson, there was a joke about how the suspicion is the two eloped and ran away together. And someone points out an entirely logical theory about the Marvel Family the general public might have: it is often assumed Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel are married and Captain Marvel, Jr. is really their son.
Another running gag in "Power of Shazam!" is centered around another squirm-inducing premise that's perfectly in keeping with the "how'd they get away with that?" Arrested Development sense of humor: Captain Marvel, as a boy in the body of an older superhero, has aggressive older women throw themselves at him. This always results in awkwardness on the part of the poor Captain, but the crazy part is, only at first. By the final year of the series…he actually starts to like it!
There are a few things I like about the 1995-1999 series.
One desperately needed key difference between CM and Superman: Billy Batson's powers come from the wizard Shazam, and the wizard Shazam can take them away if Batson goofs off with them. Also, Shazam can do things like wake Batson up at four in the morning to take care of a crisis.
It does have a few weaknesses, however. One is plotting, in that a lot of the long-term plot threads have resolutions that I either missed or don't make any sense. A big plot point: Mr. Tawky Tawny is a stuffed tiger doll who is able to come to life and give advice to Mary. The story takes a somewhat mysterious/sinister turn when Tawky Tawny tells Mary the wizard Shazam didn't send him, and that she shouldn't tell Shazam he's able to come to life.
Kids? Never trust an adult who says "let's keep this our little secret." Danger, Will Robinson!
I was very excited by this development, because Tawky Tawny is one of those characters Captain Marvel historians – who in general have a way higher tolerance for Casper/Richie Rich/Wendy Witch type kiddie stuff than I do – specifically finger Tawny as the shark jump point for CM's classic era. The guy is, in short, Captain Marvel's version of Jar-Jar Binks and Scrappy Doo…even by the terrifyingly low standards of occasionally nostalgia-blinded classic Captain Marvel devotees.
I expected them to deconstruct the character a little. Remember how it turned out a megalomaniac Scrappy-Doo was really the villain of the Scooby-Doo movie? To my mind, that's the only way to do something like Alvin and the Chipmunks in live action, have them be malevolent little imps whispering evil thoughts to Dave Seville, and when he isn't around they assume their "true forms."
Alas, the resolution to this plot makes no sense, because when you ultimately learn exactly what Tawny is, there's no real reason for him to have hidden his identity from Shazam.
Another plot thread resolved to absolute confusion is Ebenezer Batson's son, who, if I'm keeping track correctly, was mind-controlled simultaneously by Sivana, the Devil, space invader worms, and a Dick Tracy crime queen (not making this up).
I do appreciate the attempts to try to connect the Marvel Family with DC's continuity, and the other Fawcett heroes specifically. For instance, remember the long-standing Superman enemies Blaze and Satanus going all the way back to Marv Wolfman's tenure on the book in the early eighties? The ones who played a big role in, among other things, Death of Superman? Well, turns out they're actually demonic twin children of the wizard Shazam!
It was even more of a delight to see all these Fawcett guys show up in a book as supporting cast. It made the Marvel book feel bigger and more peopled, and gave the book a stronger sense of identity. "Power of Shazam" was about the entire Fawcett corner of the DC Universe.
At one point, the wizard Shazam even briefly retires, leaving his duties in the hand of Fawcett character Ibis the Invincible. Incidentally, Ibis happens to be the only Golden Age character I can think of who has after his original appearances, was since presented as a non-Caucasian.
Another big problem with the series? There was no "Sivana" story. In 46 issues, there was really no tale where Sivana was the main villain where we see why the guy's an interesting baddie. Considering there was a whole story arc around Mr. Atom, I have a hard time believing this.
I always had the feeling Mary Marvel makes a heck of a lot more sense in the Spanish-speaking world, where, considering how common the name "Maria" is, a "Maria Marvel" would hardly be a dead giveaway as to her identity. The name Mary isn't as common as it used to be, at least among the non-Irish. These days, if she wanted to be incognito, she'd have to be called "Jennifer Marvel."
There was a lot of resistance to the idea of Mary Marvel's corruption by Black Adam a couple years back. Actually I think it's a rather interesting idea, and one that can actually make Mary grow and be a different character at the start than at the end.
And this was also the greatest gift ever given to cosplay girls.
Here's an example of what I mean: remember that slimy creep Terry Long, an older chest hair and gold chain wearing community college professor divorcee who oozed and sleazed his way into the heart of Wonder Girl with Saturday Night Live quotes?
Reading Teen Titans, I kept on waiting for a plot twist that just never came.
I can totally understand why they felt the urge to have someone like Terry Long in Teen Titans, who is just a regular guy. One of my problems with X-Men is, nobody anywhere is ever really "normal." Even Nightcrawler's girlfriend turned out to be some kind of sorceress.
But fans didn't like Terry Long because he was not only an annoying creep, he was marrying Wonder Girl. This kind of reaction didn't happen when the Vision and the Scarlet Witch or Green Arrow and Black Canary got married, since both the Vision and Ollie were heroes, worthy of their respective women. Notice Steve Trevor hasn't really returned in Wonder Woman continuity.
And look at how Spider-Fans get ludicrously jumpy about the virginity of Gwen Stacy. We care more about the guys she's dated than her father probably did!
Thus, a savvy editor should have shut the idea down, even if it might have resulted in a great story, the same way editors shut down interesting but problematic proposed stories like the one where Daredevil became mayor of New York or Bill Mantlo's idea in the 1980s for Spider-Man to have an illegitimate baby.
Here's another piece of advice I have for writers who want to do Captain Marvel in the future: don't listen to the Captain Marvel die-hards like Erik Larsen. What, you think they'll be grateful to you for doing anything with Captain Marvel? Ha!
The reason it's pointless is this: Captain Marvel, unlike Superman and Batman, was denied continuous publication. If you look at the stories told in say, Superman in the late 1940s, they were very similar to Captain Marvel stories, with Superman fighting bad guys who were practical joke themed. However, Superman was continually published, and eventually the practical joke baddies disappeared, replaced by a kind of science fiction epic grandeur that drew from space opera which reached a high point in the Schwartz years.
The Legion of Super-Heroes started off as an Otto Binder-style cute gimmick story. Would you have believed it if I were to tell you they'd one day be the subjects of grandiose, epic space stories like Earthwar and Great Darkness?
Because the only image we have of CM is from the Bad Old Days, unlike Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, our very definition of what makes CM who he is comes with the demand his stories be "wacky."
What's more, since the 1960s and Marvel comics (the other Marvel comics), there's been the requirement characterization and consistent continuity will be a part of any comic, just like there's the requirement every movie made since the 1920s will have sound and every movie made since the 1950s will be made in color and widescreen: these things are a non-negotiable expectation.
Ask any comics fan you want, or even members of the general public on the street, what the appeal is in Captain Marvel, and they'll tell you it's all about a kid who gets to be an adult superhero by saying the magic word. It's the "hook" the entire character is built around.
But ask die-hards like Erik Larsen and he'll tell you a different answer. Captain Marvel is a totally different person from Billy Batson! And anyone who says he's a kid in the body of an adult doesn't understand the idea at all!
Do hardcore Captain Marvel fans think it's really that important that CM be a different person from Billy? Consider the disturbing implications of that. It means when not summoned the Captain really exists in some negative zone. What if Captain Marvel wants to stay on earth, or falls in love? He's entitled to a life. It also means Billy is not really important at all: he's just a "bottle" Captain Marvel is stored in. Captain Marvel's heroism, courage and resourcefulness doesn't really come from Billy because they're different people. Anybody could be Captain Marvel.
Alan Moore's Miracleman showed the horror potential in very powerful heroes, and even used the notion of separate people to create chills. Miracleman had a contempt for his ordinary identity and said "I don't trust Mike Moran in a crisis." If you want to make Captain Marvel creepy, this is the perfect way to do it.
Why do types like Larsen say something like this? As a Superman fan, and someone with experience with the worst kind of Superman fan, I can provide an answer. A lot of Superman fans, in opposition to the now-undone Byrne/Helfer reboot of 1986, made a big point about how in every past version of the character, is actually Superman that is the true identity and Clark Kent that is the disguise.
That was just never true, though, even before the reboot: many writers had different opinions on the matter, and one famous Maggin/Bates story insisted triumphantly and explicitly Superman was both Superman and Clark Kent. Heck, Schwartz-writer Len Wein even insisted that it was Superman who was the put-up job, not Kent.
The reason classic Superman fans say this is not because it's true or accurate, but because of contrariness that leads them to misrepresent what they're defending. Know how lots of Superman fans demand the return of Super-Pets? Then you have the emphasis on the Lieutenant Marvels, who only had appearances that could be counted on the one hand of a wood shop teacher who raises piranha. This isn't nostalgia, because nostalgia is something you feel for something remembered fondly, impossible in the case of such negligible nonentities. The reason they're big on the pets is because they piss off what they imagine modern age fans are like. In short, contrarianism.
I must admit, I've seen fans be contrary, but to negate the entire hook of a character just to be oppositional to the modern age is really breathtaking.
Get it? They will literally never be satisfied ever with anything you do for all these reasons. There is no point in second-guessing yourself, no point in wondering if you might produce something that would please older classic Captain Marvel fans. Their voices can be ignored and discounted because their demands are not reasonable.