Random Musings: Joining Blake Walker on a Quest Crosstime

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Quest Crosstime

Blake Walker, now a wardsman with the agency that oversees crosstime travel, is assigned by his superior, Com Varlt (whom he’d known as Mark Kittson) to travel to a particular alternate Earth, to check on the status of Marfy Rogan and her twin sister Marva, daughters of the powerful Erc Rogan.

The book actually opens on Marfy, who has lost telepathic contact with her sister and is convinced she has somehow traveled by clandestine means to another “level” of alternate Earths. She puts in the call to Com Varlt, who sends Walker.

Walker’s ostensible mission is to deliver supplies to the project the twins had been visiting, one attempting to seed life on a sterile alternate Earth. He assumes it’ll be a routine job that’ll take a few hours, but his “early warning system” goes off almost as soon as he arrives.

He also realizes, once he meets Marfy Rogan and learns of her telepathic bond with her sister, that she could be right in her claim that a device purportedly broadcasting Marva Rogan’s vitals and indicating all is well can’t be trusted.

He decides to take her to see Com Varlt in person.

But someone didn’t want them to make that trip and Walker and Rogan find themselves stranded elsewhere. With their shuttle and their communications equipment sabotaged, they come under attack from spear-wielding lizards, apparently under the command of a giant turtle. Rogan tells him the lizards are telepathic, though on a low band she can barely read, and that they consider them an enemy they’ve been expecting.

Walker tries broadcasting an emergency signal, but without actual coordinates there’s slim chance it’ll be picked up and they’ll be rescued.

However, they are rescued and travel to the alternate Earth from which crosstime travel originates, and the one on which Walker now lives. It’s called Vroom.

Walker meets with Erc Rogan, who commissions him to find his missing daughter.

He also makes it clear that Marfy will be going along on the search because of her telepathic connection with her sister, and that he’ll be called to account for breaking this rule.

Rule?

Yes. It seems that Vroom, for all its technological advances, is stuck somewhere in the 18th century (or earlier) because these “rules” keep women from engaging in crosstime exploration. Only certain supervised trips are allowed.

While stranded on the turtle world, Marfy Rogan told Walker that she and Marva both chafed at those rules and that Marva, who is less inclined to follow them, may have voluntarily traveled illegally to another world.

Both Erc and Marfy Rogan believe that Marva may have traveled to the alternate Earth known as E625, because the twins were interested in it. Marfy also says that because of the telepathic bond the sisters share, she’d be able to find Marva on that world, especially if someone has her hidden away.

Walker learns that E625’s history differs from the world on which he grew up (presumably our own) with Richard III defeating Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and retaining his throne. Richard’s support of trade led to the first fur trading station on the American continent (following up on Norse rumors) in 1505.

The other significant difference is that in the present day, a “cold war” exists between New Britain and the Toltec Empire in what we know as the United States. The Mississippi river acts as a natural border between the two empires.

Marva Rogan is believed to be somewhere within the Toltec empire. All Walker and his party have to do is successfully pose as British merchants on a world where all such merchants engaged in trade with the Toltec Empire are from the same few families and known by sight (and where all strangers are viewed with suspicion), discover exactly where Marva Rogan is and get her to safety.

No problem, right?

Well, a few. To start with, Walker is thrown off the boat crossing the river, shot at, and arrested as a spy by Toltec officers. Even if he manages to get out of that predicament, he still has to find a way to reunite with his compatriots.

And find and rescue Marva Rogan.

Amid all this, a storyline running through the book concerns A man named Saur To’Kekrops’, who heads the Limiter party. He is advocating that crosstime travel be kept under strict control — his own, according to Marfy Rogan. In fact, she suspects he might have something to do with her sister’s disappearance.

Quest Crosstime offers some degree of page turning thrills and excitement, but it’s also disappointing in a number of ways. Why did those telepathic lizards consider Walker and Rogan enemies? No clue. As I was reading the book, I thought it might tie in to the main plot. It doesn’t.

We also never learn anything more about Blake Walker’s background or why he has his mental shield and “Spider sense” we first learned about in The Crossroads of Time.

The ending is also a bit too abrupt and unsatisfying. Saur To’Kekrops’ appears to have gained the upper hand in his efforts to control Crosstime technology. He has the good guys on the run, yet his defeat comes a bit too easily.

Imagine watching The Empire Strikes Back and getting to the end. All seems lost. Han Solo has been taken by Bobba Fett to Jabba the Hutt, Luke Skywalker has lost his hand and received devastating news about his father and the Empire seems triumphant.

Now imagine Luke saying he knows a way to defeat Darth Vader. Ten minutes of screen time later, Vader is captured and Han has been rescued. And then the film ends. Be a bit of a letdown, wouldn’t it?

The book’s final page suggests there’s more to come in a future volume, but there never were any future adventures of Blake Walker, for whatever reason.

Quest Crosstime could easily have focused almost entirely on the events taking place on E625, with Walker and his compatriots having to navigate the dangerous waters of a cold war involving two empires about which they have almost no familiarity while seeking to find and rescue Marva Rogan. I would have liked to have spent more time on that particular alternate Earth.

If you enjoy books exploring alternate history, Quest Crosstime is worth a read. It just failed to realize its full potential.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.

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Random Musings: Revisiting Andre Norton’s “Crossroads of Time”

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Crossroads of Time

Blake Walker is a young, aspiring art student in New York who finds himself inadvertently embroiled in adventures across alternate Earths when he saves a neighbor from a murder attempt.

The man he saved claims to be an FBI agent named Kittson, but Walker soon learns that Kittson is actually with an agency with a far broader scope.

Not that Kittson (or his coworkers) had any intention of telling Walker any of this, but it seems Walker has some sort of automatic mental “shield” that prevents manipulation of his mind and memories.

He also has a sort of “Spider-sense” (to use a phrase that had yet to be coined when the book was published in 1956) which “told” him something was wrong in the hall outside his apartment and led to his rescue of Kittson.

Unfortunately for Walker, who has no interest in getting involved, his good deed has attracted the attention of certain parties and he’s persuaded that his safest option is to remain with Kittson and his colleagues until matters can be settled.

He learns that these men belong to an agency that works to keep different “levels” of alternate Earths safe from “irresponsible travelers” or to “prevent criminals from looting other time lines where their (psi) powers give them vast advantage.”

One such criminal is a man known as Kmoat Vo Pranj, whom Kittson and his allies believe is seeking to conquer Walker’s Earth.

About a third of the way through the book, Walker experiences travel from one “level” to another first hand as he’s inadvertently carried along on one of the platforms used for that purpose.

Circumstances force him to depart his first stop in a hurry and trust to luck that a particular setting on the controls will return him home.

It doesn’t. Instead, he finds himself on an alternate Earth where Manhattan island is dotted with the ruins of towers. Separated from the platform in his search for food and a fire to ward off the winter cold, an injured and all-but starving Walker must brave both a blizzard and the strange creatures that prowl the island seeking prey.

After facing a number of challenges on that “level”, Walker makes it back to the platform only to find himself transported to a world where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain (though Hitler himself is believed to have been killed in a bombing raid around 1950), the Japanese successfully attacked the west coast of the U.S. and New York, having been hit hard by a virus, has fallen into chaos.

Captured by one faction after the platform suddenly departs without him, Walker allows them to think he’s a “tech” who’s been cut of from the world for some time at an isolated research facility. Convinced he’s now stranded on this alternate Earth, he allies himself with this faction, but reveals nothing of his true origins.

He soon comes to suspect that a renegade “tech” known as Ares might actually be Pranj, which could mean Kittson and his colleagues might be aware of this level and that he might yet be able to find his way back home.

I enjoyed reading Andre Norton’s books when I was younger and especially enjoyed her novels involving “crosstime” travel from one alternate Earth to another. In fact, in one of my own novels, I paid tribute to her by having characters begin their journey across alternate dimensions from the Norton Space Center.

But it’s been years since I’ve actually read her books and decided it was time to re-read The Crossroads of Time.

I liked it. Not only does Norton give us an exciting adventure, but she also creates an aura of mystery around Blake Walker  from the start. We learn early on that his past is shrouded in mystery. He was found in an alley in Columbus, Ohio as a toddler and raised by police sergeant Dan Walker and his wife, Molly, both now deceased. How did he come to be there and  why does he have his mental “shield” and “early warning system”?

Maybe those answers will be revealed in the 1965 novel Quest Crosstime. I plan to read and review that book next time.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A look at Boom Studio’s Buffy Comic

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Since I’d read Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which ended recently, my local comic shop owner set aside issues of the new Buffy series by Boom Studios on the apparent assumption that I’d want to pick that series up as well.

It was an unexpected surprise since I didn’t even know there was a new Buffy series. I’ve now read the first four issues and thought I’d give my thoughts about it.

I’m enjoying it so far. And one reason I’m enjoying it is that the whole series has been re-set to the present day, but situations and relationships are different, so everything is new.

For example, in the TV series, Buffy first meets Willow and Xander at school. In the comic, she meets them when she saves their lives during a vampire attack in the parking lot of the fast food restaurant where she works.

Buffy meets Willow and Xander.

What’s more, in that first issue we learn that both Anya (who didn’t show up until the third season in the TV series) and Drusilla (who didn’t show up until the second season) are already in town.

In the second issue, we learn that Buffy’s mother has a boyfriend named Eric who’s been dating her for a year and living with her for a month.

We also meet a friendly and outgoing Cordelia, who encounters Spike (who also didn’t show up until season two in the series) in the woods near the school.

Cordelia meets Spike.

For whatever reason, despite the fact that he’s a vampire, he doesn’t attack her and she goes on her way.

The issue also establishes that Willow has a girlfriend named Rose and that Robin Wood is also a student at Sunnydale High School.

Meanwhile, a fight between Anya and Drusilla has released a giant bat-like creature that seeks death to all vampires.

In the third issue, Cordelia and Spike fight the giant bat

Cordelia and Spike fight the giant bat.

and Willow and Xander save Buffy from Drusilla.

By the end of the issue, we learn that Drusilla and Spike are seeking “the power”, but have no idea where it is.

In the fourth issue, as the gang enjoys a night off from slaying, Drusilla sets her sights on a vulnerable member of Buffy’s inner circle.

Dru and Spike set a trap.

Another difference between this new comic series and the original TV show is that over the course of these first four issues, there’s been no mention of the Master, Darla, Luke or Angel, who all appeared in the first episode.

For that matter, there’s not even a mention of the Annoying -—— I mean the Anointed One, whom Spike dispatched when he came to town in the TV series.

We do catch a quick glimpse of one of the above characters at the end of issue four, but without any context.

Again, everything in this comic is new when it comes to the world of Buffy. The Dark Horse series, which ran from “season eight” to “season 12”, picked up where the TV show left off and took the characters in a number of interesting directions, but everything tied back to the events of the TV show. With this new comic, everything is brand new.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is written by Jordie Bellaire and illustrated by Dan Mora. If you like Buffy and/or comics, you might want to check it out.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Reviewing Shazam

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In Philadelphia, 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is searching for his mother, having gotten separated from her during a carnival as a child. Over the years, he’s run away from several foster homes in his continuing quest to find her and the most recent doesn’t want him back.

However, a home run by Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews) welcomes him.

He’s introduced to his foster siblings, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen) and Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), but he remains standoffish. He doesn’t participate in a dinner-time ritual of joining hands and at school the next day he hurts Darla’s feelings by telling her they’re not actually related.

The dinner time ritual.

To his credit he immediately regrets this, in large part because Darla (who’d greeted him with an enthusiastic hug) is a little kid.

Later that day, when some bullies beat up Freddy, who walks with a crutch, Billy defends him.

He then eludes the bullies in the subway system. On board the train, the other passengers vanish, leaving Billy alone. The windows ice up and the doors open to reveal a large cavern.

This, we later learn, is the Rock of Eternity. Billy encounters an old man sitting on one of seven thrones. The man (Djimon Hounsou), who identifies himself as the wizard Shazam, says he’s chosen Billy as champion. He tells Billy to grasp the staff he’s holding and say his name.

Billy and the Wizard.

Billy acquiesces, primarily to humor the old man, and is transformed into an adult wearing a red costume and white cape (Zachary Levi).

This, of course, is Captain Marvel.

Well, not any more, as I explained last month. However, while the “Big Red Cheese” is now called “Shazam” in the comics, he’s never officially given a name in the movie. For convenience sake, I’ll refer to Billy’s superhero persona as “Shazam” from now on and the wizard as the Wizard.

Ironically, Djimon Hounsou also appears in Captain Marvel as Korath, a character he first played in Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Wizard, who crumbled to dust upon transferring his power, had been seeking a champion for a long time. Decades earlier, he’d tested a young Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto), but Sivana failed to prove worthy and was rejected.

In the present day, a short time before Billy is given the power, the adult Sivana (Mark Strong) has discovered how to return to the Rock of Eternity. He confronts the Wizard and frees the Seven Deadly Sins, who take up residence in his body and give him super powers as a result. With help from the Sins, who manifest in large, monstrous forms, he kills his father and brother (John Glover and Wayne Ward), along with the board of directors at his father’s company.

Shazam convinces Freddy that he’s a transformed Billy and turns to him for help in figuring out what’s going on. Freddy declares himself this new superhero’s manager and tries to come up with a number of superhero names, including “Captain Sparklefingers” (because of Shazam’s ability to generate bolts of lightning.

Shazam roundly rejects that name.

Shazam and Freddy conduct a series of tests to determine what powers he possesses. He has strength, bullet immunity and hyper speed.

On the other hand, he’s not doing too well when it comes to flying.

He also has no idea how to change back into his normal self, so he and Freddy sneak into the Vasquez house under cover of darkness and head upstairs.

Fortunately, Shazam doesn’t have to worry about leaving unseen the next day because he inadvertently triggers the transformation back into Billy by telling Freddy about meeting the Wizard and saying “Shazam.”

Darla witnesses this transformation, but Billy and Freddy swear her to secrecy.

Meanwhile, Sivana has learned of this new champion and seeks to destroy him before he can realize his full potential.

For his part, Shazam performs a lot of tricks for the crowds and poses for selfies. One trick inadvertently causes a bus to crash and fall from a bridge, but he catches it.

Shazam catches the falling bus.

Freddy reprimands him, pointing out that he, “Electrocuted a bus and almost killed these people.”

“But then I caught it.”

Later, Sivana, having seen Freddy and Shazam together in TV news footage, threatens the boy.

Sivana threatens Freddy.

When he subsequently learns where Freddy lives, he threatens all the kids and forces Shazam to return with him to the Rock of Eternity, where he intends to make Shazam transfer the power to him, using the Wizard’s staff.

Shazam is able to extricate himself and the kids from the situation and get them back to Philadelphia, but Sivana, now in possession of the wizard’s staff, attacks the crowd at a carnival.

At this point, the other foster kids all know that Billy is this new hero (I’ll get to that in a bit).

During the battle, Shazam comes to realize the meaning of something the Wizard had said to him, wrests the staff away from Sivana and instructs the five kids to grasp the staff.

“Say my name,” he says.

“Billy!” they reply.

“No, say the name I say to change into this guy.”

“Shazam!”

Freddy, Mary, Darla, Eugene and Pedro are transformed into super hero versions of themselves, played, respectively, by Adam Brody, Michelle Borth, Meagan Good, Ross Butler and D.J. Cotrona.

Led by Mary, they distract the Sins, drawing them away from Sivana and making him that much less powerful.

Together, the six heroes stop Sivana and return the Seven Deadly Sins to the Rock of Eternity, where Shazam encases them in stone, as the Wizard had done before.

Back at the Vasquez home, Billy, having accepted that these people are his true family, leads everyone in the mealtime ritual.

In his cell, as shown in the mid credits sequence, Sivana has a most unusual visitor.

Do I recommend seeing Shazam? Sure. It’s not perfect, but it’s still an enjoyable film. In many ways, it’s a movie about family (in all its myriad forms) that happens to concern a superhero more so than it’s a superhero movie, per se.

Shazam and his foster siblings, Pedro, Eugene, Freddy, Darla and Mary.

In fact, it’s Billy’s foster siblings who help him succeed in locating his mother (Caroline Palmer) when he’d all but given up hope.

As to the superhero aspect of the film, I think there may have been a bit too much of Shazam showing off and not enough of him being a hero.

Shazam shows off.

Ironically, it may be one of the most realistic superhero movies, despite the fact that it involves magic, because Shazam shows off so much. Billy Batson is 14 and Shazam acts like a 14-year-old might if suddenly given super powers.

In-universe, how would Freddy have behaved if the Wizard had chosen him? He’s a fan of both Superman and Batman (he has a bullet that had been fired at Superman, (complete with certificate of authenticity, as well as a replica batarang) and seems more interested in and knowledgeable about superheroes overall than Billy before his transformation.

Freddy shows Billy his Superman bullet.

Granted, Freddy was enthusiastic about many of Shazam’s “tricks”, and he might have done much of the same, but I suspect he might have been more actively superheroing sooner than Shazam did.

Wonder how their approaches to being a superhero will differ in a sequel?

I mentioned that the other foster kids know Billy is this new hero. Mary figures it out, which comes as a relief to Darla, who isn’t good at keeping secrets.

Earlier in the film, Shazam had saved a distracted Mary from being hit while crossing the street and addressed her by name. He’d also knows other things about her. Granted Mary’s very smart, but it’s still a hell of a leap to connect the adult superhero with the teenage Billy Batson.

She made the connection based on the fact that A) he knew her name; B) she’d seen Shazam and Freddy together on TV and C) the fact that Freddy and Billy had argued about this new superhero at the dinner table.

Of course it helps that Darla immediately confirms her suspicions.

Shazam contains elements of the original Captain Marvel’s origin story (the subway train that leads to the Rock of Eternity, Sivana being the first villain the “Big Red Cheese“ faced), along with aspects of more recent interpretations of the character (Billy having foster siblings who share the power).

The Shazam family in the comics.

So, what do Captain Marvel and Shazam have in common?

Apparently, they hang out together.

.And why not? They’re both great characters appearing in enjoyable movies.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A non-spoiler review of Captain Marvel

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Captain Marvel

Even though I’ll be seeing Captain Marvel with friends later this month, I decided to see it on Sunday in part because I was looking forward to seeing it and in part because I didn’t want to inadvertently come across any spoilers in the coming weeks.

I liked it.

In the 1990s, a war is underway between two alien races: The Kree and the shaping changing Skrulls. A group of Kree Starforce warriors are assigned to extract a Kree spy whose cover is in danger of being exposed, but the rescue is a trap. A Starforce member known as Vers (pronounced “Veers”) (Brie Larson) is captured by the Skrulls and interrogated.

During the course of the interrogation, Vers, who has been haunted by nightmares, has scattered flashes of unfamiliar images from the life of a young woman— images she suspects have been planted as part of the interrogation process. She can’t be sure, because she has no memory of her life prior to joining the Starforce six years earlier.

But Vers possesses the ability to fire photon blasts from her hands and is soon able to break free and escape.

One of the images she saw during her interrogation was of a woman identified by her Skrull captors as Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Benning). She learns that this woman was last known to be on a backwater planet called C-35 (AKA Earth) and heads there intent on learning more about this woman and the Skrulls’ interest in her.

Vers is especially interested in learning more about Lawson, about whom she knows nothing, because she sees Lawson’s image when communing with the Kree Supreme Intelligence.

In the comics, the Supreme Intelligence looks like Slimer from Ghostbusters with the snakes-for-hair of a gorgon, but in the film, it appears as a particular person generated by an individual’s subconscious.

Supreme Intelligence

The Supreme Intelligence.

Vers crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store, jury-rigs a communication device from a local Radio Shack (thanks to help from helpful, but confused security guard who points out the building when she asks about communication equipment) and contacts her superior officer (Jude Law) to update him on her status.

Her actions attract the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his new assistant, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Fury dismisses Vers as crazy— until he sees proof of her claims about the Skrulls first-hand.

Witnessing her actions in and on a commuter train also helps convince him.

Using the resources of an Internet café and a stolen motorcycle, Vers is able to follow a possible lead to Dr. Lawson: A bar that evokes even more flashes of images/memories.

Vers at an Internet cafe

Vers at an Internet cafe.

With help from Fury, she’s able to put enough clues together to lead her to the realization that she had a life on Earth before becoming part of the Kree Starforce and that she was an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers. She also learned that she’d worked closely with Dr. Lawson on something called Project Pegasus, which involved the development of a “light speed engine.”

According to the official record, Danvers and Lawson were killed during an experimental flight six years earlier.

The trail leads to Louisiana where Danvers is reunited with her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), a fellow pilot, and Maria’s daughter, Monica (Akira Akbar). There, she gets the last pieces of the puzzle into the mystery of Dr. Lawson, what really happened six years earlier and how she came to possess her abilities.

She also confronts both her fellow Kree Starforce warriors and the Skrulls and discovers that there’s more to the Kree-Skrull war than she’d realized. After completing her work on Earth and giving Fury a special upgrade on his pager, she decides to head into space to do something about the war.

Which explains why she hasn’t been part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe before now. And it also gives context to Fury’s “You think you’re the only superhero in the world” comment to Tony Stark in the post credits scene of Iron Man back in 2008.

Captain Marvel is a fun movie that’s as enjoyable as any other film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson make a great team— both in terms of the action and the comedy.

Carol Danvers and Nick Fury

Carol Danvers and Nick Fury.

One thing I liked is that rather than showing images of the various Avengers as part of the Marvel Studios logo, as has been the case in recent Marvel films, Captain Marvel opened with various images of the late Stan Lee. I thought that was an excellent gesture.

It’s also fun to see a (relatively) warm and cuddly Nick Fury, given what we’ve known about the character in the other films.

Why don’t people within the fictional universe of these Marvel films know about this super-powered woman who turned up a decade before Tony Stark publicly declared himself to be Iron Man? Mainly because much of the public demonstration of her powers took place on top of the train, out of sight of the commuters (she mostly engaged in hand-to-hand combat while on board the train) and because people in the 90s didn’t carry around devices capable of recording photos or video.

True, someone with a regular film camera (whether shooting still photos or video) could theoretically have captured her in action, but the photos or video could easily have been dismissed as fakes or been out of focus. There weren’t thousands of images being shared all over the Internet. The mystery woman a few people saw that day would have been a local rumor at most, possibly dismissed as some sort of publicity stunt.

I said the film is set in the 1990s, but I’m not entirely sure when. While I’ve read in various places online that it’s set in 1995, there’s a calendar behind Nick Fury in one scene that I’m sure reads 1997. Unfortunately, a friend who also saw the film didn’t even notice the calendar, so I haven’t been able to confirm it.

As I said last time, when I discussed the original, Fawcett Comics version of Captain Marvel, the first Marvel Comics character to bear that name was a Kree warrior named Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell appears in the film, but with a few “tweaks” from the comics’ version.

Which is fine. As I’ve said before, comics are, in many ways, our modern mythology and myths are often reworked.

One Easter egg for comics fans: Maria Rambeau’s call sign is “Photon.” In the comics, Monica Rambeau— one of the many holders of the “Captain Marvel” name — also uses that name as superhero.

And why did Nick Fury call the thing he wanted to talk to Tony Stark about “the avenger initiative”? As we learn in Captain Marvel, it had something to do with Carol Danvers.

Again, Captain Marvel is an enjoyable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: At the utterance of a single word: A look back at the original Captain Marvel

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Whiz Comics #2

In 1940, Fawcett Comics introduced one of the most popular superheroes of the era— the original Captain Marvel.

Next month, Warner Bros will release a film about Captain Marvel, except both the film and the character are called Shazam, while on Friday Marvel Studios will release a film called Captain Marvel about a woman who has no connection to the Fawcett Comics character.

So, who is the Fawcett Comics Captain Marvel, how did he come to be associated with DC Comics and why does Marvel Comics also have a character (several characters, actually) with that name?

As related in Whiz Comics #2 (Feb. 1940), a young orphaned newsboy named Billy Batson is brought by a mysterious stranger before a 3,000-year-old Wizard named Shazam who makes Billy his successor. By uttering the wizard’s name, Billy becomes Captain Marvel and is endowed with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.

Captain Marvel, initially intended to be called Captain Thunder, was created by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck. The character proved to be an immediate hit and was the subject of a 12-chapter 1941 serial titled The Adventures of Captain Marvel. It was the first serial to focus on a superhero.

Adventures of Captain Marvel

That same year, the company now known as DC Comics filed a copyright infringement against Fawcett Comics claiming Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman. In some respects, it should have been the other way around. Captain Marvel was flying from day one. Supes was leaping an 1/8 of a mile to get around in his early years.

At any rate, the case dragged on and was finally settled in 1953, with Fawcett agreeing to stop publishing. This was probably due as much to the decline in sales of comics in general as it was the result of the lawsuit. Either way, it seemed that Captain Marvel’s day was done.

In an ironic twist, DC Comics would license the rights to the character and revive him in 1973. He would star in a 35-issue title called Shazam, initially illustrated by C.C. Beck. That title ran until 1978.

Shazam #1

It’s ironic that Superman is re-introducing comics readers to the character.

But why was the book called Shazam instead of Captain Marvel? Because Fawcett Comics neglected to renew the trademark, which Marvel Comics secured (for obvious reasons) several years earlier. That name has been used by several characters in the Marvel universe, starting with a Kree warrior named Mar-Vell. At one point, he became trapped in the Negative Zone and could only return to our universe by exchanging places with Rick Jones via the use of “Nega-Bands.”

Rick Jones and Mar-Vell trade places

Rick Jones and Mar-Vell trade places.

Which isn’t much different than Billy Batson or Captain Marvel saying “Shazam” to change into one another.

The most recent Marvel Comics character to hold the title is Carol Danvers. She’s the focus of the Captain Marvel movie opening on Friday. I’m looking forward to seeing that movie later this month with some friends, but, for now, I’m going to keep my focus on the original.

For the record, it wasn’t always clear whether Billy Batson, who worked as a radio reporter for station WHIZ, and Captain Marvel were two separate people or whether Captain Marvel was essentially a super-powered Billy as an adult.

Captain Marvel was not only a mainstay in Whiz Comics, which ran for 155 issues, but also starred in Captain Marvel Adventures, which ran for 150 issues.

He soon became the head of a “Marvel family” that included Billy’s sister Mary, who was originally known as Mary Marvel, and Freddy Freeman, AKA Captain Marvel, Jr.

Marvel Family

Freddy actually turned up before Mary did, making his debut in Whiz Comics #25 in 1941. Mary first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 in 1942.

Mary transforms by saying “Shazam”, while Freddy does by saying “Captain Marvel.”

That’s right, Captain Marvel, Jr. can’t say his own name.

Especially in his Fawcett days, many of Captain Marvel’s adventures had a whimsical element to them. Take one sequence in the “Monster Society of Evil” storyline that ran in Captain Marvel Adventures #s 22-46 from 1942-1944. The overall storyline pit Captain Marvel against a horde of villains led by the mysterious Mr. Mind.

Mr. Mind, we later learn, is a worm (literally). In the sequence in question, he attempts to prevent Captain Marvel from saving Russia (a wartime ally, don’t forget) by tickling him.

Mr mind tickles Captain Marvel

Mr. Mind tickles Captain Marvel.

Mr. Mind was one of many villains Captain Marvel faced. The first, and perhaps most persistent, was Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, a mad scientist who plotted to rule the universe and referred to Captain Marvel as “The Big Red Cheese.”

He also knew Billy Batson transformed into Captain Marvel.

Another was Black Adam, who had been the wizard’s chosen champion millennia ago in Egypt, before he turned evil. In more recent years, Black Adam has been depicted in various DC titles as a more complex anti-hero.

Among Captain Marvel’s allies was Mr. Tawny, a debonair, civilized tiger who wants to live in the city instead of the jungle.

Mr Tawny

I mentioned that DC published a title called Shazam from 1973 to 1978. During that time, Captain Marvel would star in a Saturday morning TV series called Shazam, which would run from 1974-1977. That series was my introduction to the character.

In the comics, Captain Marvel would go on to make occasional subsequent appearances over the years, including as a member of the Justice League in the late 80s.

His longest post-Fawcett solo series, The Power of Shazam, ran for 47 issues starting in 1995. The series, which was set in Fawcett City and incorporated elements and characters from Fawcett Comics, as well as from the 1941 serial, followed on from the 1994 Power of Shazam graphic novel.

During the run of The Power of Shazam, the series with which I’m most familiar, Mary decided that she had just as much right to the name as her brother and also called herself Captain Marvel.

As for Freddy Freeman, he decided to go by “CM3.” At least he could now introduce himself.

Speaking of which, as of its “New 52” reboot, DC has taken to calling Billy Batson’s superhero persona “Shazam”, even though he’d been called “Captain Marvel” within the pages of the various comics in which he’d appeared. But doesn’t that mean he can’t introduce himself?

Apparently not. Seems Billy must say the word under the right conditions.

New 52 Shazam

The New 52 Shazam.

So, I guess he can introduce himself as “Shazam” and not trigger the transformation, but what if he’s in a noisy, crowded room?

“I said ‘I’m Batman!’ What’s your name?”

“Shazam!”

BOOM!

“Hey, who let this kid in here?”

While The Power of Shazam is the longest-running series featuring Captain Marvel since his Fawcett days, he has appeared in several limited series. I especially enjoyed Shazam— The Monster Society of Evil, a four-issue 2007 series written and drawn by Jeff Smith, the creator of Bone. That miniseries, inspired by the original “Monster Society of Evil” storyline, has much of the whimsy of the Fawcett books.

In that miniseries, Captain Marvel is an adult, as per usual, but Mary Marvel remains a child.

Mary Marvel

Mary Marvel flies circles around her brother.

It’ll be interesting to see how the upcoming movie Shazam portrays the character. From the trailers it seems clear that the filmmakers see Captain Mar- that is, Shazam as a kid in an adult’s body, but what sort of story will the film tell? Hopefully, a fun one.

As to the “Big Red Cheese” himself, his adventures have been assembled in various collections, including Shazam! From the Forties to the Seventies; The Shazam Archives; The Shazam Family Archives; Showcase Presents Shazam and Shazam! A celebration of 75 Years.

The storyline “Captain Marvel Battles the Plot Against the Universe”, which ran in Captain Marvel Adventures #100, was reprinted in A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, while a story from Captain Marvel Adventures #1 was reprinted in Shazam!: The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

Whether you call him Captain Marvel or Shazam, “The Big Red Cheese” is one of the best and most appealing superheroes of all time.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Returning to the Planet of the Apes

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Return to the Planet of the Apes

The popularity of the original 1968-1973 Planet of the Apes film series not only resulted in a number of Mego toys, but also two one-season television series; a live action one in 1974 and an animated one in 1975.

Today, I’m going to talk about the animated series, which I first learned about around 1981 through a trilogy of novelizations by “William Arrow” (a pen named shared by writers William Rotsler and Donald J. Pfeil).

Astronauts Bill Hudson (Tom Williams), Jeff Allen (Austin Stoker, who played MacDonald in Battle for the Planet of the Apes) and Judy Franklin (Claudette Nevins) leave Earth in the Venturer in 1979 only to return in 3979.

As in the original 1968 movie, humans are mute (and called “humanoids” for some reason). However, unlike the movie, ape society has technology roughly equivalent to the late 20th century.

The animated series was developed for television by David H. DePatie and Fritz Freleng, while Doug Wildey (creator and a supervising art director on Jonny Quest) was supervising director and associate producer.

The DVD episode order (which the novelizations also follow) provides a serialized narrative that makes the storyline that much more engaging.

Bill, Judy and Jeff

Bill, Judy and Jeff.

In “Flames of Doom”, the Venturer crashes in a lake in a wasteland the astronauts later learn is called the Forbidden Zone. Judy disappears during an earthquake.

Bill and Jeff later encounter a group of primitively dressed people, including a woman called Nova (also Nevins), living in caves. Nova wears dog tags belonging to a man named Ronald Brent (born 2079).

To the astronauts’ shock, the caves are attacked by talking gorillas in military vehicles. Jeff escapes, but Bill is captured.

In “Escape from Ape City”, chimpanzee scientists Dr. Cornelius (Edwin Mills) and Dr. Zira (Philippa Harris) discover that Bill, whom Zira names “Blue Eyes”, can talk. Knowing his life is in danger, they help him escape.

Bill captured

Bill captured.

A gorilla sentry tells orangutan politician Dr. Zaius (Richard Blackburn) about the “talking humanoid”, but Zaius— who knows that humans once ruled the planet— has no direct evidence that Bill could speak. However, he decrees that if one humanoid is found to be capable of speech, all of them must be killed.

Ambitious (and increasingly paranoid) gorilla General Urko (Henry Corden) makes capturing “Blue Eyes” one of his primary goals (along with wiping out the humanoids and taking control of the government).

Reunited, Bill and Jeff free the humanoids and destroy the wagon cages.

They decide that the humanoids need a safer place to live and that they should retrieve their laser drill.

In “The Unearthly Prophecy”, (Called “A Date with Judy” in the first novelization) Bill and Jeff discover the hidden world of the Underdwellers, a race of advanced humans. They also discover the ruins of New York and realize they’re back on Earth.

Ancient subway

Bill and Jeff in the subway.

They’re reunited with Judy, who is under some form of mind control and whom the Underdwellers hail as “Usa” (pronounced “Oosa” and spelled that way in the novelizations for some bizarre reason), the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy (a bust of her features the inscription “Lost— U.S.A.”).

Bill and Jeff snap her out of the mind control, but are forced to escape alone, promising to come back.

In “Tunnel of Fear”, Bill and Jeff seek help from Cornelius and Zira in finding a safer home for the humanoids.

Cornelius takes them to his archaeological dig and tells them he’s heard of an unexplored valley some 90 miles south.

Meanwhile, Urko becomes suspicious when he learns that Cornelius went to his dig without his tools.

In “Lagoon of Peril”, the astronauts retrieve their laser drill, but face danger from both an ape expedition into the Forbidden Zone and from something in the lake itself.

This episode establishes that the apes literally refer to their world as “The planet of the apes.” The front page headline of The Ape City Tabloid reads, “Intelligent Humanoids Invade Planet of the Apes?” and a TV news anchor uses the same phrasing.

Ape news vendor

An ape news vendor.

In “Terror on Ice Mountain”, Cornelius and Bill use a hot air balloon to hide a book titled A Day at the Zoo —which Urko would use as a pretext for destroying the humanoids if he found it — high atop a mountain.

In “The River of Flames”, a holographic image of Judy seeks help on behalf of the Underdwellers. They need the laser drill to create a vent in the mountainside to divert a river of molten lava that would destroy their civilization.

Urko inadvertently helps by blasting the mountain with a howitzer, but loses all his equipment in the resulting lava flow.

Krador, the leader of the Underdwellers, releases Judy, who promises to return if needed.

In “Screaming Wings”, Urko gets hold of a World War II-era airplane with which he intends to both take over the government (he makes that point clear to Zaius) and destroy the humanoids.

Urko's airplane

Urko’s airplane.

Bill and Jeff destroy Urko’s airplane factory while Judy steals the plane, which they hide in a cave.

In “Trail to the Unknown”, the astronauts ferry the humanoids down the river in four large wooden rafts, followed by a trek across the desert, in order to reach New Valley.

They finally meet Brent, whose flight launched Aug. 6, 2109. Brent estimates he crash landed 15-20 years before the Venturer.

Meeting Ron Brent

Meeting Ron Brent.

Brent knows about New Valley and used to fish there, but doesn’t know about the apes.

Meanwhile, Zaius gives Urko permission to find out where the humanoids have gone, but says he needs a mandate from the Council of Elders before he can attack.

In New Valley, the astronauts use the laser drill to make building blocks out of large boulders and construct pueblos.

“Trail to the Unknown” is the last episode adapted for the novelizations.

In “Attack from the Clouds”, a large dragon-like creature (“the monster bird”) terrorizes both Ape City and the valley.

Meanwhile, Zaius makes it clear that he’ll look forward to dealing with Urko in the appropriate way if he fails to capture “Blue-Eyes”, but will authorize a full scale attack against the humanoids if he succeeds.

Urko and Zaius

Urko and Zaius.

Bill and Judy retrieve the plane, barely eluding an ape patrol. However, the monster bird attacks when they reach the valley.

In “Mission of Mercy”, the astronauts must obtain a cure for a disease that has affected Nova and will become communicable in 36 hours.

They also need more fuel for the plane in order to effectively protect the valley.

Judy flies to Ape City to seek help from Cornelius and Zira in creating a cure while Bill and Jeff use a stolen truck to steal fuel from the apes’ aviation plant.

In “Invasion of the Underdwellers”, Urko and a band of his gorillas commit a series of robberies disguised as Underdwellers as part of a plot to start a war.

The astronauts foil Urko’s plans and Zaius makes him and his accomplices personally return everything they’ve stolen.

The Council suspends Urko from duty without pay for three months and orders him to make a public apology on national television.

In “Battle of the Titans”, Cornelius and Zira decide that with Urko out of power, it’s the right time to retrieve the book that proves humanoids once ruled the Earth and present it to the Senate.

Meanwhile, Urko plots with one of his colonels to attack the humanoids.

As the army prepares to attack the valley, Judy uses the plane to frighten and scatter the ape soldiers.

The episode (and the series) ends with Cornelius and Bill heading back to New Valley in the balloon, so we never get a chance to discover how the Senate would have reacted to the book.

Nor do we learn whether Zaius or Urko wins their power struggle.

I don’t know how well remembered Return to the Planet of the Apes is these days, but both the episodes on DVD and the novelizations (which go into a bit more depth) are worth checking out if you’re an Apes fan.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.