The Power of Shazam
by Jerry Ordway
(DC Comics, 1994)

I've never been a big fan of DC's Captain Marvel, who gains powers of legend by uttering the name of the wizard Shazam. I mean, he's pretty much a Superman clone, but without the cool alien backstory. And, let's face it, he's kinda hokey, so naive and goody-gosh-goody he makes Superman look positively edgy. And, I'm all for alter-egos and secret identities, but concealing one of the DC universe's most powerful heroes inside a 10-year-old boy is not the most exciting plot twist I've seen. Besides, aren't there some child endangerment laws being broken here?

But let's be honest, I've never really read much about him. I didn't know his origin story, and I avoided the Marvel Family tales like a plague. Perhaps I've judged him unfairly.

Or, maybe not. But The Power of Shazam, penned in 1994 by Jerry Ordway, does make the character a bit more palatable to my taste.

This is Captain Marvel's origin, right here. How much it's been altered from the original, I can't say.

The Batsons are part of an archeological team in Egypt when they are betrayed and murdered by a member of their crew. But their final discovery, a priceless scarab necklace, is hidden from their killer, who has his own reasons for desiring it. Cut to Fawcett City, back home in America, where young orphan Billy is living on the streets after being thrown out by his mean-spirited uncle. A mysterious stranger lures Billy into a part of the subway not shown on any city map, and he meets the wizard Shazam and gains immeasurable power -- if only he can figure out how to master it in time. For the plot that led to the death of Billy's parents has threads here as well, and his life is in jeopardy.

This book reads like an old Saturday-afternoon serial. It looks like one, too, capturing a classic look in the architecture of Fawcett City, the people's mode of dress, even the style of good guy/bad guy combat.

OK, sure, Captain Marvel is Superman in red, with a lightning bolt instead of an "S" on his chest and roots in Egyptian mysticism instead of alien science. And, yes, he's pretty hokey. But in the world of comics, maybe it's not so bad to have a wholesome, drink-your-milk kind of superhero, one who never curses or kills or kisses icky girls. It's obvious Ordway has a lot of respect for the character, and it's always a pleasure to see a book written and drawn with such unabashed enthusiasm.

Maybe Captain Marvel isn't so hokey after all.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 14 May 2005

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