Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shazam! #34

Shazam! #34 (On Sale: December 1977) has a cover by Alan Weiss that made it very clear that things had changed regarding DC's Captain Marvel revival. The book, called Shazam! instead of Captain Marvel because Marvel Comics had glommed onto the trademark, seemed pretty close to cancellation when DC did a 180 degree U-Turn.

By issue #11 DC had removed CC Beck from the title and replaced him with Bob Oksner, Kurt Schaffenberger and Tenny Henson, who took turns doing there best at aping the Beck style, while giving the book a slightly more traditional comic book feel. For some reason, DC felt the need to keep Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family in a style that was very different from every other book they published. Even recent humorist DC books like Plastic Man and The Maniaks strip in Showcase were still drawn in a fairly traditional manner. Given this, Shazam! #34 was a bit of a surprise.

Alan Weiss was the anti-CC Beck. His art was dynamic and powerful, featuring beautifully sculpted muscled men and sexy women. In the 17-page "The Fuhrer of Chicago" he gave us a completely different Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. There are three other things that make this issue such a dramatic turnaround for the title. First, the book is inked by, well, next to Neal Adams, the best inked Weiss ever had, Joe Rubinstein.  Though powerful, Alan's pencils can sometimes go out of whack a bit, his figures' proportions can get a bit wonky. A great inker will correct this and Joe Rubinstein is a great inker. Second, the coloring on this book is at times spectacular, being the work of Cornelia Adams, Neal Adams' first wife. Third, E. Nelson Bridwell turns in a hell of a good story, featuring the return of Captain Nazi, not seen in comics since Captain Marvel, Jr. #19, April 1944.

The story opens with Billy Batson and Uncle Dudley on their way to a meeting in Chicago in Uncle Dudley's motorhome when they run across a mined highway. Billy shouts Shazam! and turns into Capitan Marvel, who saves the motorhome, explodes a number of other mines and then flies the damage vehicle to the closest repair shop.

Billy has an appointment to keep, so he leaves Uncle Dudley with the motorhome and flies off to his meeting in Chicago. Uncle Dudley checks in with Sterling Morris back at WHIZ in Manhattan and is given a message that causes him to wander off alone.

Meanwhile Billy meets with Weldon Stone at the Chicago affiliate of Amalgamated Broadcasting System. Billy has been assigned to do a report on the wave of terrorism that has hit Chicago lately and mentions their run in with the land mines on the way into the city. Stone tells Billy that it is believed to be the work of a small but determined neo-Nazi group led by someone known as the New Fuhrer.

Across town we see that in the Sears Tower is none other than the old Marvel Family foe, Captain Nazi. We then learn the untold origin of Captain Nazi, how his father developed a secret miracle food that he fed his son from infancy, which made him strong, agile and intelligent. We learn how his father presented his son to Adolf Hitler as the ultimate example of the Aryan race and how Hitler sent Captain Nazi to America to battle Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, Minute Man and Bulletman, and how eventually it was Captain Marvel Jr. who disrupted his plans time after time.

When the Fuhrer lost the war Captain Nazi went into hiding and planned how to resume the Nazi movement. But when he learned that Sivana had trapped the Marvel Family in a strange substance, he put himself into hibernation to await their return. When he awoke, the Marvels were back and he put his plan into action by taking over the Sears Tower.

Back at the TV station Billy and Weldon Stone learn that the Nazi group has taken over the Sears Tower and that their leader is on the roof. They head to the roof of there building to see what they can learn. Billy recognizes Captain Nazi but when he calls out Shazam! no lightning bolt come to transform him. back inside they learn that all satellite signals are down. Billy calls WHIZ in New York and talks to Freddie Freeman, AKA Captain Marvel Jr. and gets Freddie to amplify his phone call.  Billy then yells Shazam! which is amplified in New York where the magic lightning appears and travels through the phone line to Chicago, transforming Billy into Captain Marvel.

Back in New York, a frustrated Freddie remembers the day Captain Nazi fell from the sky and killed his grandfather before crippling young Freddie. Then he recalls how Captain Marvel took the dying Freddie to the abandoned subway station where Billy first met the wizard Shazam. Billy summons Shazam who says that Freddie can be saved if Captain Marvel will give up some of his powers to Freddie, who is transformed into Captain Marvel Jr.

Back in Chicago, Captain Marvel and Captain Nazi fight it out in the skies over the city. Nazi uses a lightning gun on Marvel which transforms him back into Billy Batson. As Billy falls from the sky he is rescued by Captain Marvel Jr., who dodges Nazi's lightning and punches him from the sky. On the ground a raging Jr. starts to beat Captain Nazi and threatens to drown him in a fountain, the way that Nazi drowned Freddie's grandfather.

But Billy reminds Jr. that he does not want to be like Captain Nazi and Jr. comes to his senses, deciding to take Nazi to jail instead. Once Captain Nazi's force field over Chicago is turned off, Captain Marvel and Jr. round up the rest of Nazi's group and then as Billy and Freddie head back to the garage to pick up Uncle Dudley. That is when they find out that he is gone, but that he left them a message. That is where we also find out that when the magic lightning bounced off the force field over Chicago, it returned to the Rock of Eternity where it broke the chains holding for years a captive King Kull, the Beast Man.

So we get terrific Alan Weiss/Joe Rubinstein artwork featuring a stylistic redesign of the series, the reintroduction of a character after a 33-year hiatus, one new origin, the recapping of another, a tight little current story and two hooks for next month's book. Never reprinted and worth owning for sure.

Edited by Jack C. Harris.

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