On November 9, 2010 the Direct To Video Feature DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam will be released. In honor of the new animated short film I'll be doing this list of my top ten favorite comics on the lead hero of the piece, the World's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel!
10. Shazam! - The Monster Society Of Evil
A Four issue mini-series by Jeff Smith of Bone fame (which I admit to having never read) that I think is a terrific introduction and retelling of the beginnings of Billy Batson and Captain Marvel. It retains all the wonder and grandiose nature that a Captain Marvel story should have, yet has the time to reflect on the homeless orphan aspect of Billy's upbringing as well as Captain Marvel's newly acquired taste for Hot Dogs.
The only thing I really take issue with is Sivana as Attorney General, which regardless of your personal politics seems forced and dates the story, unless the idea is that we should be vigilant no matter who is in a political office, but I really don't think that is the message here. Either way the moments with Sivana really take me out of an otherwise great story.
I enjoy Billy as a little kid and his little sister even more. Tawny as a shape-shifting Ifrit makes a talking Tiger a little easier to swallow and Mr. Mind actually looks pretty frightening in this piece rather than a cuddly evil doer as he has in the past. The Monster Society hearkens back to the original Captain Marvel Adventures and even the titles of the individual chapters need to be decoded, like the messages encoded in the original comics from the 40's.
9. Captain Marvel Adventures #28
"Sivana For Governer"
A pretty awesome story about Sivana pretending to clean up crime in Fawcett City so he can run for Governor (of whatever state Fawcett City is in)
and then pardon's all the crooks he helped Captain Marvel nab. This seems to be a running theme in later comic story lines whether it be with the Penquin running for Mayor in the Adam West series or Batman Returns, Lex Luthor as President, Norman Osborn's run as President in Earth X, or the most recent take with Osborn's Dark Reign.
8. Whiz Comics #16-18
"Captain Marvel vs. Spy Smasher"
I've mentioned this story before in the third part of the History of Comics on Film, but it's definitely worth mentioning again here. This 3-part storyline in the pages of Whiz Comics features a mind controlled Spy Smasher that Captain Marvel has to hunt down and bring to justice. In many ways the story is a precursor to future Superman-Batman face offs and provides a decent reason for their face-off unlike the randomness of heroes fighting heroes that would eventually become common place in comics. The Spy Smasher's arch-nemesis The Mask (not to be confused with the Dark Horse character) has turned his foe against the very country and government he has sworn to protect using a device called the Hypno-Chair. Luckily Captain Marvel is there to foil Spy Smasher now that he has been brainwashed to attack America. Not counting All-Star Comics #3 with the Justice Society, this story from 1941 may very well be one of the earliest face-offs and team-up of two superheroes. Superman and Batman did not meet until 1945 and that was only on the Adventures of Superman radio series. It wouldn't be until 1952 in Superman #76 that these two would actually meet in the comics. By Whiz Comics #18 Spy Smasher is back to normal and he and Captain Marvel team-up against the Axis powers and 5th Columnists that threaten the country.
7. L.E.G.I.O.N. '91 #31
"Where Dreams End"
Written by Alan Grant and penciled by Barry Kitson, the Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network is an interplanetary police force headed up by Vril Dox. One of the many operatives that work for Dox is the bounty hunter known as Lobo. Trying to get away from his duties as a L.E.G.I.O.N. operative the aggressive Czarnian bounty heads to a local dive bar to have a drink when Captain Marvel fresh from the War of the Gods crossover comes tumbling into the bar crashing directly on top of the self-proclaimed "Main Man." Captain Marvel tries at all costs to avoid being provoked by Lobo, but eventually when Lobo stuffs a patron into a toilet bowl Captain Marvel has had enough.
Basically this is a fun brawl between two super-powered titans slugging it out. Of course the battle is not really finalized as Marvel is teleported back to the War of The Gods crossover, but it still makes for a rather entertaining romp, even if it's nothing but a random slug-fest.
6. Shazam! #33
"The World's Mightest Race"
Fun little story from E. Nelson Bridwell about a face off between Captain Marvel and Mr. Atom during the Indianapolis 500. Mr. Atom is kind of like an evil Jet Jaguar or the Avenger's villain Ultron, an evil super-powered robot bent on world domination. Mr. Mind rescues Mr. Atom from hurtling through space from a previous Justice League story and so in this story Mr. Atom is acting as an agent of Mind. Mr. Atom uses his head to power a race car called the Atomobile that if not defeated by a challenging race car will flood the city with radiation. Captain Marvel then talks to the Elders and decides to build his own Shazamobile to enter into the race. Powered by the magic word Shazam it has the same durability as Captain Marvel and lightning nitro speed to boot!
5. DC Comics Presents Annual #3
"With One Magic Word"
Written by Roy Thomas (who I know best from his work on All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.) and penciled by one of my favorite artists Gil Kane (famous for the designs of the Silver Age Green Lantern and Atom), the story begins with Superman victorious in a battle against Captain Marvel's arch-nemesis Dr. Sivana. Sivana uses a gigantic mecha to attack New York City on Earth-1, but Superman defeats his Mech-Armor and sends Sivana on his way back to Earth-S. Not to be outdone, Sivana uses science to manipulate the wizard Shazam and when Fawcett City is threatened and Billy says the magic word that turns him into Captain Marvel, half of that power is funneled into Sivana, turning him into the super powered villain calling himself Captain Sivana. Sivana keeps altering his title as he defeats other members of the Marvel Family such as Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. Now proclaiming himself Colonel Sivnana, he decides it's time to get revenge on Superman for his defeat at the New York City of Earth-1. Heading to Metropolis, but mistakenly arriving at the Daily Star of Earth-2, Colonel Sivana draws out Kal-L the Earth 2 Superman into the conflict. When he defeats Earth 2 Superman with the aid of a Kryptonite meteor shower, he decides he'll be General Sivana and finally heads to the proper Earth for the showdown with Kal-El (the Superman of Earth-1). Kal-El clearly has the upper hand until Sivana springs a trainload of Kryptonite on him while Captain Marvel watches horrified from the Rock of Eternity. Pulling a Spider-Man, Captain Marvel gets a pep talk from the Elders and gets back into the game stopping General Sivana from delivering the killing blow to Superman. Kal-El jumps over to Earth-2 to save the older Kal-L from the meteor shower, while Captain Marvel is the one who finally lays the smack down on "General" Sivana. With Shazam released he turns Sivana back to normal and everybody heads back to their proper universe. Again I like this because things are as they should be. That Superman could've beaten up Sivana if not for the Kryptonite and Captain Marvel gets to finish off his arch-nemesis which is also how things should be. A fun story within the old multiverse context with great art and exciting super powered fights.
4. Underworld Unleashed #3
"Seduction of The Innocent"
This book written by Mark Waid with art by Howard Porter of JLA fame, is something that I always point to when friends would accuse the DC Universe of being too Superman/Batman-centric. Although my buddy Michael Vargas, whose video game blog you can read about here, would always laugh about how in most DC Crossovers it would ultimately come down to how "Superman's the bestest!" (which while I laughed along is something I generally took pride in) But this tale that features no trace of Batman or Superman in a huge company crossover, actually turns that conception on its head. Much like the Marvel crossover Acts of Vengeance a council of villains have grouped together under the direction of DC's lord of the underworld Neron.
Superman just so happened to be in the deep reaches of space at the time, but the other heroes didn't know this. Thinking Neron had captured Superman, Captain Marvel and a group of DC's remaining heroes come to Neron's domain seeking the soul of Superman, only to discover that Neron was never interested in any soul other than the pure and true soul of Captain Marvel himself.
While all the other heroes are going bat-shit crazy, Captain Marvel is much like the Silver Surfer to Neron's Mephisto, remaining pure of heart and his soul unaffected by the corruption of the underworld. If it wasn't for Captain Marvel and his magic word then the other heroes would have never been freed and with some help from The Trickster, Captain Marvel's soul is offered out of pure altruism which is so selfless it defeats Neron himself. Anyway even though most story lines are about Superman (or these days Batman) being "the bestest", this was a nice moment where The World's Mightiest Mortal got to shine and stand out among the other heroes of the DC Universe.
3. JSA #48
Maybe this is a cheat, but when Captain Marvel is stuck in the Shadowlands along with Courtney Whitmore aka Stargirl he can no longer access his abilities and is transformed back into Billy Batson. Courtney is surprised to discover that within Captain Marvel is a boy of her own age. Making their way through the Shadowlands where people's nightmares become actuality, they fend off ghosts of Alan Scott's past. In between all the hoopla Billy tells Courtney a story about how he tried to use the wisdom of Solomon to cheat on a test which he couldn't study for because he was off fighting Black Adam instead. Of course the wisdom of Solomon knows that cheating is wrong and so he can't even pick up his pencil. In the middle of this heart-to-heart the two share a kiss. It's a sweet and rather obvious pairing brought to fruition by David Goyer, Geoff Johns and Leonard Kirk.
"When Earths Collide!"
One of the over-sized comics typical of the late 70s Superman/Shazam! is
written by Gerry Conway with art by Rich Butler and Dick Giordano.
In this epic tale, Karmang an evil Martian wizard (from Earth-S one would assume) brings back Black Adam and the Quarmer (the Sandman Superman from the famous Denny O'Neil run on Superman) to hatch a plot that will eventually collide Earth-1 and Earth-S destroying both worlds forever. Formerly a scientist whose quest for immortality led to the destruction of his people, Karmang knows that the power generated by the destruction of both Earths will bring his people back from a ghost-like state that his last disastrous experiment caused. Black Adam arrives on Earth-1 posing as Captain Marvel and zonks Superman with red solar rays that have a maddening effect on the Man of Steel, while The Quarmer disguised as Superman attacks the World's Mightiest Mortal with the Judgment Ray.
This pits the real Superman and Captain Marvel against one another angrily fighting as if possessed. Supergirl and Mary Marvel soon figure out that it was Black Adam and the Quarmer who tricked their cousin and big brother into fighting one another and decide to track down the impostors themselves. Supergirl defeats Black Adam and Mary Marvel is victorious over The Quarmer and the pair agree to tell the girls what they know about the wizard Karmang. Shazam instructs Captain Marvel to prolong the fight while Karmang downs Supergirl with his magic. Mary Marvel is unaffected by his assaults and presses on. While Superman defeats Captain Marvel, horror of his violent actions finally snap him out of his possessed funk. Shazam then reveals where the girls are and the Captain Marvel is weaker on Earth-1 much like Superman under a red son. The two heroes then head out to help their cousin and little sis. Supergirl manages to power down Karmang's Space Time Engine controller while Mary Marvel holds the villain off. Cap and Supes then stop the Space Time Engine Karmang has set up to collide the two worlds. Superman maintains the gravitational forces while Captain Marvel destroys the device smashing it to pieces. The heroes have saved the day and Karmang is stuck in some kind of Purgatory forever. I think this is probably one of the best and longest fights between Captain Marvel and Superman. Since showdowns between these two characters are often clamored for and greatly anticipated, I thought I'd include my favorite showdown here on this list.
1. Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46
"The Monster Society of Evil"
This long running 25 chapter comic storyline would be advertised like a movie serial, containing face-offs with many of Captain Marvel's greatest villains and even the movie serial trademark of a secret "hidden" master villain who hides behind his radio squawk box. The master villain calls himself Mr. Mind and is the leader of The Monster Society of Evil made up of a variety of villains and monsters that all do the bidding of the unseen Mr. Mind. Other previous villains of Captain Marvel who would do his bidding in this Knightfall-esque storyline were Captain Nazi in issue #22, IBAC who is kind of directed by Mr. Mind via radio like Old Man Wayne instructs Terry McGuiness in Batman Beyond in issue #23, the Mad Scientist Dr. Sivana in issue #25, the oh so politically incorrect Nippo from issue #24 (but really Nippo isn't really any worse than Voodoo Annie)and even Adolf Hitler himself would do the bidding of Mr, Mind!!! (issue #28)
Captain Marvel finally figures out that Mr. Mind is a tiny super-intelligent worm when his sidekick Steamboat nearly eats Mind who has burrowed into an apple.
Mr. Mind would attack America and other Allied Nations of the era such as Russia, China, Scotland and Britain using alien Crocodile Men from the Planet Punkus, Japanese Axis mad scientists, Nazis, as well as his underwater Monster Brigade made up of a gigantic whale, octopus, hammerhead shark, and a sea-serpent.
A funny moment to me is when Captain Marvel and the US Marines liberate a Japanese occupied island where Mr. Mind is stationed (#31) - Cap is lured by a cigarette machine, which he plans to use so he can take some packs out "for the boys."
After the first 5 or 6 chapters the story was less of a barrage of Captain Marvel's greatest villains and more of a hunt for Mr. Mind as the world's most wanted criminal. Mr. Mind would often start a plot to destroy America and the Allies which Captain Marvel would foil, then Mind would escape or Billy would be caught in a death-trap bound and gagged unable to say the magic word to turn himself into Captain Marvel.
In one story in issue #38 Mr. Mind discovers Hollywood is making a movie about his evil deeds and like a true fanboy, he is rather disappointed in his adaptation to film.
Eventually by the final chapter of the serial, most of Mister Mind's Monster Society of Evil have been defeated by Capt Marvel and his remaining assistants have all quit. Mr. Mind then gases Billy Batson and decides to electrocute him for payback. Luckily Billy wakes up and smacks Mind away. As Mind escapes yet again Billy turns into Capt Marvel to track him down and then Captain Marvel hires an exterminator to gas the building and is able to capture Mr.Mind. Mind is brought to stand trial for his war-crimes, where Captain Marvel serves as the prosecuting attorney and the defense even hopes Mind gets the electric chair.
The story actually ends with Mr, Mind being found guilty and executed by electric chair. Hammers of Justice Indeed.
Anyway this final tale I think is the epitome of a Captain Marvel story and is fun and makes great use of the serialized nature of the comic book medium, which is why this is the number one pick on my top ten list.