Thursday, February 02, 2006

Shazam! lost.

Captain Esco is goin' down, son. Word is bond.

Go up to your average non-hip-hop fan (notice how I kept race and/or age out of this), and ask them who Jay-Z is. They'll probably know. Now, ask them who Nas is. They probably won't know. Now, tell them that Nas is as talented a rapper as Jay-Z, if not more so. Watch for the screw face: "If he was really that ill, wouldn't I have heard of him?"

Now, go up tp your average non-comic-book-fan (notice how I kept social interaction level out of this), and ask them who Superman is. Of course, they'll know. Now, ask them who Captain Marvel is. They probably won't know, or they'll tell you he (or she) is some sort of alien that rolls with Spider-Man an' nem. Tell them you mean the "Shazam!" guy, and then tell them that Captain Marvel is just as powerful and interesting a superhero as Superman, if not more so. Watch for the screw face: "If he was really that ill, wouldn't I have heard of him?" (or, alternately, "if he was that ill, wouldn't he have four monthlies dedicated to him?")

"Take THAT, motherfucker!"

The Superman/Shazam! rivalry is something of a comic book history legend. It's like the Jay-Z/Nas battle, but with less swagger and more lawyers:
Jay/Supes= the favored victor with all the money and the power
Nas/Cap= the underdog with the loyal fanbase and the more interesting output).

It's hard sometimes, though, to root for the underdog, especially when the overdog (yes, I just made up a word) has money and power (although not always respect) behind him. Even though Jay-Z is a camel and Superman is a dick, Jay-Z now owns Nas's soul recording contract, just as Superman owns Captain Marvel's soul publishing rights. And don't think either overdog has forgotten about the beef with the overdog. If it takes him years, Jay will bust Nas' chops. Maybe he can take a lesson for Supes, because, on January 4, 2006 (not a whole week into the new damned year), the Man of Steel finally found a way to permanently do away with the World's Mightiest Mortal. It took him fifty-five years, but he's proved to be a dedicated little bastard.

If you've been keeping up with Infinite Crisis and the Day of Vengeance miniseries and special (if not, you're damned late. Get thee to a comic shop!), you know that the Spectre murked the wizard Shazam (how is that possible? I thought ol' Shaz was dead). If you know that, you’ll also know that Shazam's lair, the Rock of Eternity, exploded into a billion pieces. Most of the rubble landed in Gotham City, and the already beleagured citizens of Gotham find themselves overcome by the Seven Deadly Sins and the other demons and monsters that were held captive in the Rock. In the Day of Vengence Special put out on January 4, damn near all of the magic-based heroes in the DC Universe, including Zatanna, the Marvel Family, the Shadowpact, and more, undertook a little impromptu arts-n-crafts project and reassembled the Rock to keep the wild magicks contained. Once they were done, Zatanna dropped Captain Marvel a bomb: the Rock is unstable without someone to watch over it, and Captain Marvel is the only person qualified.

So, instead of battling criminals, saving the world, and smiling all the way, Cap is going to be stuck for eternity inside the Rock of Eternity, playing solitare and tiddlywinks, and watching Lost reruns on Shazam's Historama device.

And somewhere, Superman is chillin' in his apartment, with Lois in his lap doing, well, her thing, and laughs to himself, "Cap lost."

The circle in the upper left hand corner reads "highest circulation of any comic." Yes, that included anything starring Superman's punk ass.

Perhaps some background info is needed.

Supes was created in 1938 by DC Comics, while Captain Marvel was created for Fawcett Comics in 1940 as a magic-based derivative of Superman (albeit, a better-written and drawn derivative that existed in a more imaginative universe). DC cried fowl (especially when they saw how well Cap was selling), and promptly sued Fawcett. Twelve years of litigation followed, during which time Cap beat Supes to the movie theatres and became the first superhero to appear in film, Captain Marvel Adventures outsold Superman for several years. Fawcett artist C.C. Beck gave Cap a distinctive, stylized, funny-paper look, which gave the character an appealing identity of his own. Fawcett writer Otto Binder created a whole spin-off "Marvel Family", giving Cap a jailbait sister (Mary Marvel), a Mini-Me (Captain Marvel Junior), three liuetenants (the Liuetenant Marvels), an unrealted fool who claimed he was an uncle (Uncle Marvel), another unrealted fool who claimed she was a cousin (Freckles Marvel), and a rabbit (yes, a rabbit: Hoppy the Marvel Bunny). DC, accusing Fawcett of biting their style, did some biting their damn self, and went and conjured up a Superboy, a Supergirl, a superdog, and (I am told) a supercat, a superduck, and a superhorse (the Kent farm must've been populated with Kryptonian livestock).

Regardless, DC kept fighting Fawcett in the courtroom. Fawcett won round one, after pointing out to the judge that DC had forgotten to copyright some of the Superman newspaper strips, and provoking the judge to declare Superman's copyright invalid. DC, pissed as all hell, filed an appeal and instigated a Takeover. Not only did DC win the suit, they squeezed 400 G's out of Fawcett and shut their comic book division down. Cap lost.

During the critical Silver Age of comics, when DC's Supes, Batman, and Flash became popular again, and Marvel Comics characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Hulk stepped onto the scene, where was the World's Mightiest Mortal? The character who'd outsold Superman? That mofo was somewhere washing the shit offa Superman's boots, begging him for a chance.

"Don't think 'cause I'm holdin' this curtain open for your punk ass that shit is sweet. I own you, bitch. Your ass is still mine."

In 1972, DC gave Cap a chance, or at least pretended to: they set Cap up with a new comic book series called Shazam!. Why call it Shazam! instead of The All-New Captain Marvel Adventures or something else totally '70's? Because the aforementioned Marvel Comics had, while the Fawcett Captain Marvel was on ice, introduced their own Captain Marvel (geez, biting abounds here, don't it?) and copyrighted the name. Bastards.

So, yes, Captain Marvel was now back in publication...but that doesn't mean everything was squashed. Much of Shazam! was made up of reprints from the Fawcett days, and the new stories printed in it were so lame that C.C. Beck, whom DC had begged to come onboard for Shazam!, refused to illustrate them and quit after ten issues. Of course, Shazam! didn't do too well, and the series didn't last that long. By 1979, the once proud Marvel Family was livin' in shame, relegated to the back pages of World's Finest Comics. DC gave Superman a major motion picture. DC gave Shazam! a campy low-budget TV show (with a geeky fat guy playing Captain Marvel during the second half of its run) and a cartoon show, both done by the champions of crappy-ass cartoons, Filmation Studios. Cap lost. Again.

After the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths brought Captain Marvel into the mainstream DC Universe (he and the other Fawcett holdovers originally populated an alternate world called "Earth-S"), Cap was permanently established as "not-quite Superman", always depicted as being weaker, slower, and more inept than Supes. Moreover, they decided that since Cap was really a 14-year-old kid named Billy Batson, the character should act like an immature teenager, and as a result we have the infamous Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatheis Dimwitt Marvel...a 230- pound, grown ass superhero who always babbles and carries on like a clueless, emo'd-out adolescent. Giffen and DeMatheis apparently forgot that first on the SHAZAM list is the "S" for Solomon. The wisdom of Solomon, that is. How could a motherfucker with the wisdom of Solomon try to lead the Justice League in an impromptu rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" (and then bitch when they decline to do so)?

A battle of epic proportions is being waged. And at the center of it all:
"Holy Moley, Superman! Why can't we be friends?"
"Shut up and fight, motherfucker!"

There was no way this Captain Marvel could become a premiere DC universe star, and despite the efforts of Roy Thomas, Jerry Ordway, Judd Winick, and even the seemingly unstoppable Geoff Johns, barely anyone today gives three shits about Captain Marvel. Yeah, you might see Cap, Mary Marvel, or Captain Marvel Junior pull a cameo here and there or join a superhero team for a hot second, but they're always under- (and mis-) written in the process. The closest Marvel’s gotten to being cool within the last two decades was:
  • Jerry Ordway’s The Power of Shazam! graphic novel and at least the first two years of the series that was spun of PoS (must avoid bad joke, must avoid bad joke). Although Ordway’s writing was sometimes spotty, he did bring back Mary Marvel, Cap Junior, most of the Marvel Family villains and allies…and even the bunny.

  • Geoff Johns’ uses of Cap in JSA. Cap finallly overcomes the Dimwitt Marvel stigma a bit (every third word out of his mouth in that series was "wisdom"), and presses up on teenage superheroine Stargirl, only to get kicked out of the JSA because they think Cap's a pedophile. An interesting (if unsettling) look at how being a kid who turns into a grownup can indeed be a bad thing.

  • Mark Waid. Alex Ross. Kingdom Come. ‘Nuff said.

  • That episode of Justice League Unlimited was cool (although Supes handed Cap's ass to him in that fight)

Now, while Cap has third-string status in the DCU nowadays, the Captain Marvel universe is another story. For the last decade, DC writers have been writing around Cap, keeping him at least present and accounted for, but giving elements of his mythos more prominence and respect in the DCU than Cap has. The best example of this is Captain Marvel's greatest enemy, Black Adam, who went from being "I'm Captain Marvel's evil and corrupted opposite!" to being "I'm a hero again like Captain Marvel...but EXTREME!" through Jerry Ordway's and Geoff Johns’ talented work. In the process, however, DC, so intent on underplaying Cap all these years, discovered something they'd been looking for years in one of Cap’s related characters: Black Adam is a true anti-hero with an attitude, a dark past, emotional problems, his own brand of justice, and the will to kill in the name of justice. In other words, he's just like a Marvel Comics character (and in more precise terms, Wolverine). So, over the last two years or so, DC has been quietly shuffling Black Adam ahead of Captain Marvel, and Adam is now second-string while Cap is still chillin’ at third. Cap lost. And how.

Don't believe the hype.

And now, bringing us up to the Day of Vengence Special and Zatanna’s plan, Cap is gonna be spending however much time remains between now and the next big DCU shakeup stuck inside a big-ass Rock, doing absolutely nothing. You might could point out that Zatanna didn’t quite yet shut the Rock's front door on the Captain, but I don’t doubt that DC’s actually gonna get rid of Cap (hell, they got rid of the Blue Beetle AND the Flashes as well during the I.C. Note to DCU superheroes: if you’re a hero that cracks jokes, your ass is grass). Oh, they’ll keep Black Adam, though. They love that fucker. I dunno what they’ll do with Mary, Junior, or the bunny (please don’t hurt the bunny).

So, by buying out the underdog and pretending that everything is all gravy, the overdog can enact a covert plan to undermine and eventually do away with the underdog….(purportedly) once and for all. Nas, if you’re reading this, consider yourself warned.


MR. MAJOR said...

You know what I realized reading this? Superman doesn't say motherfucker nearly enough for my taste. If Kal-El uttered motherfucker more often I'd be more inclined to pick up his books. Thanks for a great read.

invisiblist said...

haha one paragraph in I knew who it was that wrote this. Good read.

AFKAP of Darkness said...

haha one paragraph in I knew who it was that wrote this. Good read.

no doubt.

this is the kind of stuff we need more of, btw.

JiggysMyDayJob said...

Man this was good. We do need more about comic charactes that get underplayed

Kwasi said...

This was a great piece. Hilarious too

buckshot said...


KangolLove said...

haha one paragraph in I knew who it was that wrote this. Good read.

Right. Like if Brandon was trying to stay undercover, this entry would've exposed his secret identity like Daredevil.

Brandon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brandon said...

whoops. guess you can't edit comments. I meantersay that I'm (of course) not trying to stay undercover.

Melanism said...

Does that make Memphis Bleek Superboy?

Nah...more like Jimmy Olson.

bshelly said...

Fantastic. Favorite PtP thing yet.

JRennoldz said...

SHAZAM! rules. This entry is damn good. Thanks!

Internet Street Philosopher said...

That sucks. That really sucks. That's why we don't see Cap Marvel anymore.