Monday, February 7, 2011
A cockroach crawled out of the rain along an extension cord running through a window into an abandoned tenement through to the tiny portable television watched by young derelict Billy Batson. Billy shooed the vermin away from the apple he had been saving.
A banging came at the disheveled slum door, which Billy had already taken the precaution of barring with a chair and beam of wood. LaGreen was a hooded scumbag who stole money from homeless children for his own needs, and he figured Billy owed him “rent.” LaGreen managed to force his way into the hovel, and when Billy refused to give up the change his buddy Talky Tawny had let him keep, Lagreen decided to teach a lesson in fear at the sole of his boot.
Flashback: Billy sitting at a nighttime trash can fire with the friendly hobo Talky. Tawny was a thin older man with bronze skin who wore a thick goatee and a ratty red ballcap. Talky let Billy run errands for him, and paid him with the remaining change. Tawney was a wanderer by choice, but with winter setting in, he felt Billy needed to find a real shelter. Billy didn’t like the city shelter, as he was an independent lad who wished to keep company with folk like Talky.
Billy was distracted by a shadowy figure in a hat and trench coat he swore looked like his deceased father. Billy left Talky to pursue the figure into an abandoned subway station. A magnificently ornate train pulled into the station, and when the figure stepped aboard, Billy followed. The figure refused to speak until the first stop, when a voice that set Billy’s hair on end ordered him to get off. Billy complied, but was surprised when the figure remained seated as the train pulled away.
Billy found himself in an underground chamber held up by ancient columns. He walked toward torchlight coming from a series of statues representing the seven deadly enemies of man: pride, envy, greed, hatred, selfishness, laziness and injustice. At the end of the row, a wizened old man in robes with a flowing beard sat on a stone throne, a globe to one side, a massive book to the other, and a great stone block overhead held by a mere string. The man beckoned, and Billy came closer with great trepidation. Billy kneeled before the figure, and asked “Are you God?”
“Of course not. I am as mortal as you are. What I am is a wizard. Now get up. You don’t bow before wizards.” The wizard knew Billy Batson’s name, among a great many other things, and asked the boy to touch his fingertip. A white-blue snap of electricity confirmed that Billy would do nicely. “I wanted to see if you were filled with good electricity. You are.” The wizard had been a force of good for ages, but he was getting old, and needed a replacement. “I have chosen for you a magic word made from the names of heroes whose powers you will need… Solomon for wisdom. Hercules for strength. Atlas for stamina. Zeus for power. Achilles for courage! Mercury for speed!” Mystical electricity surrounded the pair as the wizard’s words grew more forceful, lifting Billy off his feet. “Say the magic word! BILLY BATSON!! SAY THE MAGIC WORD!!”
“SHAZAM!” With that, Billy disappeared in a bolt of lightning, and a red-garbed hero stood in his place. Static continued to pop around the champion as he solemnly approached the wizard. “Hello, Marvel.”
“Master, I feel strange.”
“You have a new host. A young boy named Billy Batson. He is a good boy. You’ll like him.” The wizard explained that his time was nearly done, but should Marvel need him, he could be contacted by lighting the brazier in the chamber. Marvel warned the wizard not to sit under the stone weight, but his plea was ignored, and the string soon gave out. As the wizard was crushed, Marvel called out, “SHAZAM.”
Flashforward: LaGreen was riffling through Billy’s things, trying to find where he had his money stashed. A voice from behind asked, “Are you still here?” LaGreen was surprised Billy was still conscious, and tried to stomp him again. LaGreen’s leg was caught, and he was forced to the ground. A large, menacing silhouette stood over LaGreen, with a shiny gold lightning bolt at the center. LaGreen freaked out and jumped through a window to escape. After watching LaGreen flee, Marvel turned back to observe of Billy’s room, “Hmmm. This is no way for a kid to live.”
Billy woke up the next morning, found his small stash of bills untouched, and headed downstairs. LaGreen spotted him immediately, and gave chase. Billy ran to a hot dog vender, and gave him all his money to buy breakfast for his friend, Captain Marvel. While the vender prepared the dog, Billy ran off, and LaGreen tried to claim the food as his own. The thug turned to bump into Captain Marvel, who took his hot dog back. “This is your last warning.” LaGreen again ran scared, as Marvel explained to the vendor “He’s a thief who preys on homeless children.” The vendor though Marvel protected them in exchange for hot dogs. “No, but I like hot dogs, and I do not have any of my own money. Could I have mustard and onions on this, please? Don’t you have the onions in the tomato sauce? No? That’s all right. Mmm… you know, I think of all the advancements in civilization I’ve seen so far, hot dogs from a cart might be the very best one!” Captain Marvel wasn’t originally from around here, “But I’m starting to like it.”
Captain Marvel took to the air, using the power of Zeus to fly fast enough to travel through time. In this magical current, Billy appeared to coexist with Captain Marvel, riding on his back toward a point of singularity representing the Big Bang. “As we get closer to the beginning, space and time will merge, forming a perfect field of eternity, the source of all magic!” The wizard lived in the Rock of Eternity, from the peak of which emanated light from the moment of creation. Billy couldn’t resolve the paradox of everything coming from nothing, and wondered about the universe that existed before our creation, but Marvel explained it was forbidden to look into the light at the rock’s peak.
At the entrance to a cave, Marvel led by example. “Take your shoes off. This is a sacred place.” The pair returned to the seven deadly enemies of man, whose eyes were now closed. Skeletal legs still hung from under the stone that crushed the wizard, their feet still resting in slippers set casually on the floor. The spirit of the wizard arose from this space, and asked how Billy was doing. Marvel complained about Billy’s living conditions, and lack of family or friends his own age. Billy protested that since his parents died, he didn’t want some bogus family. The wizard cast a spell, and found that Billy had a baby sister living with an adopted family.
Billy began to cry, and wanted to go home. Before that, Billy needed to learn the rules. For starters, he couldn’t say his magic word at the Rock of Eternity. Marvel explained, “Magic is unpredictable here… time and space are smashed together here-- like in a black hole! I’m your future self!” The wizard continued, “Calling upon the magic here could cause a terrible paradox!” Billy looked stressed and fell silent. “Perhaps you’d like to wait outside for Captain Marvel.”
Marvel had gaps in his memory that would return slowly, and worried about working with such a young boy. “And yet you and he are one. Together you will solve your problems. The seven enemies of man opened their eyes at once, signaling catastrophe. “Take the boy and hurry back to Earth.” Unfortunately, the boy had snuck up to the forbidden peak of the Rock of Eternity…
Billy awoke in his hovel from the sound of police sirens, thinking there might be a terrorist attack. From above, he saw a woman menaced in an alley by a gang. Billy ran down with a baseball bat, only to feel the smack of the tail of an anthropomorphic alligator. Billy called “Shazam,” and a croc shattered its teeth biting Captain Marvel’s head. “Mr. Mind told us all the mammals were soft!” Marvel asked about the gators’ boss.
“He is our beloved leader!”
“ALL HAIL MR. MIND!”
“Do your worst! No monster would ever betray our savior!”
“Death to you, human!”
Captain Marvel prepared to fly the monsters to the authorities, but from above spied two enormous footprints. Mr. Mind was looking for the Captain as Marvel was looking for Mr. Mind…
Chapter 1: “Yroob Szh Z Hvxivg!” was written & drawn by Jeff Smith