Whiz Comics #2
November 3, 2014
The story that encourages your kids to talk to strangers!
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. And welcome my friends to this year's Secret Origins Month.
(The "Secret Origins Month" title is shown, with new images)
Linkara: And while you're all posting in the comments, asking about whenever I'm gonna do a villains version of Secret Origins Month, I'll start talking about the big red cheese: Captain Marvel!
(Shots of Captain Marvel are shown)
Linkara (v/o): The good captain was created by writer Bill Parker and artist Charles Clarence, or C.C. Beck, for the company Fawcett. Parker is responsible for a few other who have had other minor roles continuing into today or at least have been mentioned before or cameoed, like Ibis the Invincible or Spy Smasher. Fawcett Comics was actually really damn successful with Captain Marvel after his creation in 1940. In fact, at one point, the book outsold Superman, and National Comics sued Fawcett over purported similarities between the two characters – and won. This is despite the fact that Superman actually started ripping off elements from Captain Marvel, like the ability to fly.
Linkara: Which I would remind you is a much more obvious power than jumping really high, since his name is Superman and not Trampoline Man.
Linkara (v/o): Or hell, the "leap tall buildings in a single bound" thing implies his superpower is pole-vaulting. But I could do an entire video about the National vs. Fawcett lawsuit. Hell, at one point, the judge declared that National had actually let the copyright to Superman run out. All I will say is that this lawsuit killed the Fawcett superhero comic line, which ultimately resulted in DC purchasing all the characters in 1980 and relaunching them in the wake of "Crisis On Infinite Earths", where they remain, for better or worse, to this day. But what about Captain Marvel himself? How did he come about? Well, in the wake of the success of Superman and Batman, Fawcett wanted a piece of that action and created several superheroes. Captain Marvel was initially conceived of as six superheroes, an entire team led by Captain Thunder. Each of the six would gain a power from a mythological figure. The higher-ups at Fawcett suggested paring it down to Captain Thunder himself having all the powers of the mythological figures, spoken with the magic word "SHAZAM!", an acronym for the first letter of each figure's name. We'll get more into that a bit later. Unfortunately, they could keep the Captain Thunder name either, since it turns out there was already a character named Captain Thunder.
Linkara: (annoyed) And it's thanks to (a shot of the other Captain Thunder is shown in the corner) that asshole that these days, we can't even use Captain Marvel's own damn name in DC Comics! If he had just been Captain Thunder, there wouldn't have been a problem! (sarcastically giving a thumbs-up) Thanks for that one, Cap!
Linkara (v/o): Although, ironically, in the '70s, DC was publishing Captain Marvel, licensed from Fawcett, but since DC was keeping his book as a separate universe from Superman, a thinly-veiled pastiche named Captain Thunder ended up meeting Superman in 1974. Comics are weird. Since kids were the primary readers of comic books, a kid being the hero was a natural. But instead of just letting the kid fight crime, a la The Awesome Tomboy...
Linkara: Whose adventures you can see on the (points to AT4W DVD on his shelf) first Atop the Fourth Wall DVD... Hint, hint...
Linkara (v/o): ...they decided on another way to make a little kid as big and strong as Superman. The "Captain" and first name of the character Billy Batson both derived from the founder of Fawcett, Wilford H. Fawcett, who also went by the nickname "Captain Billy". Visually, Captain Marvel's outfit was initially military-inspired, with a flap on the front that would often get phased out later, possibly harkening back to the Captain Billy thing again, since Fawcett served in World War I. The white cape with gold fleur-de-lis symbols, modeled after ceremonial capes worn by British nobility.
Linkara: So let's dig into "Whiz Comics #2" and see just how Billy Batson became "The World's Mightiest Mortal".
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has the opening dialogue from the Shazam! TV show in the 1970s)
Show narrator: Chosen from among all others by the immortal elders – Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, Mercury – Billy Batson...
(Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): You'll notice that today's issue is "Whiz Comics #2". There is no "Whiz Comics #1". Why? Well, because originally, it was printed under different titles as ashcan copies. An ashcan copy is the comic book equivalent of a pilot episode that's never aired. It's made with limited, if any, distribution, strictly for copyright purposes. These days, it's used mostly for promotional comics, but in this case, Fawcett created "Flash Comics #1" and "Thrill Comics #1" as ashcan books – but then quickly discovered that both of those names had already been used before. As such, they just skipped straight to Whiz Comics #2.
Linkara: And frankly, this makes sense that they would never print a number 1. As I've mentioned before, back in the Golden Age, being a number one meant nobody was sure if there'd be an issue 2, so kids were less likely to invest their ten cents into it.
Linkara (v/o): This cover is awesome, and I can't but think it's trying to one-up Superman's first cover.
(Cut to the cover of "Action Comics #1")
Linkara (v/o): "Action Comics #1" had Superman smashing a car into a rock.
(Cut back to the "Whiz Comics" cover)
Linkara (v/o): For Captain Marvel, he takes that car and tosses it into a wall like he doesn't even care. I mean, look at that! The guys were still in the car! They're dead now! HE KILLED THEM!!
Text: GANGWAY FOR CAPTAIN MARVEL!
Linkara: (dramatically) Captain Marvel – defender of the bicycle lane!
Text: Whiz Comics proudly presents the world's mightiest man-powerful...
Linkara (v/o): Erm, way not to space that typeface, letterer.
Text: ...the world's mightiest man – powerful champion of justice – relentless enemy of evil...
Linkara: (dramatically) Prone to fits of road rage!
Linkara (v/o): We open at night in the city, next to subway, where child [Billy Batson] is selling papers.
Linkara: And with as specific a place as that, I can't wait for him to grow up so he can go to bar and have drink.
Linkara (v/o): A shadowy man approaches the young boy and asks why he isn't home in bed? Not a bad question, but I'm also curious why he's selling newspapers in the middle of a rainstorm. Or at night for that matter.
Billy: I have no home, sir. I sleep in the subway station. It's warm there.
Linkara: (as Billy) I sleep next to a hobo who smells like urine.
Shadowy man: Follow me!
Linkara: (as Billy) Well, certainly, mysterious stranger in black who remains in the shadows and is inviting me, a child, down into the dark, dank subway system. This seems perfectly safe!
Linkara (v/o): What a great message for kids: follow the stranger when he invites you into the dark, grimy area. He might be giving you magical powers! Or he's Freddy Krueger. 50/50 shot; I've seen worse odds.
Billy: Where are we going?
Shadowy man: Wait and see.
Linkara: Only now, in the boredom of waiting for public transportation, has Billy Batson realized, "Hey, where the hell are we going?"
Narrator: Suddenly, a strange subway car, with headlights gleaming like a dragon's eyes, roars into the station and stops. No one is driving it!
(Cut to a clip of the abridged version of Yu-Gi-Oh)
Narrator: Thomas was very cross because he'd been turned into a dragon, and all the other trains didn't want to talk to him.
(Cut back to the comic)
Narrator: No one is driving it!
(Cut to a clip of Clerks: The Animated Series)
Narrator: Who is driving?! Oh, my God! Bear is driving! How can that be?!
(Back to the comic again)
Shadowy man: Have no fear. Everything has been arranged.
Linkara: (as shadowy man) You will be delicious.
Narrator: The moment its passengers are seated, the car hurtles through the pitch-black tunnel at tremendous speed.
Linkara: (singing while looking around shiftily) There's no earthly way of knowing...
Linkara (v/o): I love Billy's expression here. It's like he's simultaneously really confused and really surprised. It's kind of like a wide-eyed innocence of the creepy shadow man wearing a hat as big as a Pilgrim's hat.
Narrator: The car has stopped at the end of the line. The boy and his phantom companion step out onto a platform resembling the mouth of a weird, subterranean cavern.
Linkara: And now you know how Batman recruits new Robins.
Linkara (v/o): Billy and the shadow man walk into a large chamber containing seven bizarre statues. Above them is a sign that reads, "THE SEVEN DEADLY ENEMIES OF MAN", representing the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness and Injustice. Yeah, for obvious reasons, lust was replaced with injustice and anger with hatred, though frankly, I'm in favor of those changes. Both of those emotions are perfectly okay under the right circumstances, whereas legitimate hatred is the end result of too much anger, and injustice is a true enemy of humanity, not that you want to bang someone. And nearby is Gandalf the White in a big white chair next to a globe and a giant-ass book.
Bearded man: Welcome, Billy Batson.
Linkara: (as bearded man) Let me tell you about my grandchildren.
Billy: H-How did you know my name?
Bearded man: I know everything.
Linkara: (as bearded man) But even I don't know why they're called Apple Jacks when they don't taste like apples.
Bearded man: I am– SHAZAM!
Linkara: Whew! I was worried for a second there. I thought he was going to say he was Kazaam. I do not want to "green eggs and ham" it right now.
Narrator: A huge black cloud–a blinding lightning flahs– a deafening peal of thunder form out of nowhere as the old man speaks his name–
Linkara: You think that's bad? You should meet his daughter: Frau Blücher.
(As he says this, the sounds of thunder and lightning and a horse whinnying are heard)
Narrator: Simultaneously a curious inscription, explaining Shazam's name, appears magically on the wall.
Linkara: Oh, big deal! He's got Siri on his walls.
Linkara (v/o): Actually, it spells out the mythological figures that make up the acronym: 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.
Linkara: (as Shazam) Admittedly, though, the stamina of Atlas ain't what she used to be.
Narrator: Once again Shazam speaks.
Linkara (v/o): Well, he speaks up above, where naturally we'd be reading, but you decided to shove this narration text into his beard. Or does the beard have a mind of its own, and it snatched the narration into it to be consumed? Shazam explains that for 3,000 years, he's used those abilities to battle evil.
Linkara: And he doesn't look a day over 2,000.
Shazam: And during that time I have seen everything–known everything–that happened throughout the world, from the highest to the lowest.
Linkara: (as Shazam) Unfortunately, that means I've had to watch every episode of Two and a Half Men.
Shazam: The Historama!
Linkara: (as Shazam) Patent pending.
Shazam: Through this Historama I have watched you from the moment you were born, Billy.
Linkara: Aaand we're right back to being creepy!
Narrator: Miraculously the Historama, a super-television screen capable of depicting past, present and future events, flashes scenes from Billy's life.
Linkara: And that's how you explain how he was able to see every episode of Two and a Half Men in 1940. See? My jokes make perfect sense!
Linkara (v/o): Shazam exposits for the audience information that Billy would already know: namely, that after his parents died, his greedy uncle shoved Billy out into the streets in order to get the money and bonds had willed to Billy. Hanging above Shazam is a massive granite block attached to a thin thread that's fraying apart. Shazam instructs Billy that he's too old now to continue the fight against injustice and cruelty, and thus, by speaking his name, Billy will become the mightiest man in the world: CAPTAIN MARVEL! Aaand Shazam naturally never bothers to ask Billy if he wants the job, just tells him, that's it. But whatever. He does, and a bolt of lightning shoots Billy, transforming him.
Shazam: Henceforth it shall be your sacred duty to defend the poor and helpless, right wrongs and crush evil everywhere.
Linkara: (as Shazam) Also to constantly get into fights with Superman when the writers want someone who's a match for him.
Linkara (v/o): And after Shazam explains that saying his name again will turn him back into Billy, the granite block falls down and crushes Shazam to death.
Linkara: (spreading arms out and grinning) You know, for kids!
Linkara (v/o): Seriously, what the hell with that?! What's even the point of killing Shazam right after you introduce him like that? It's not like with Green Lantern, where Abin Sur needed to pass off the powers before he died. What the hell was the problem with just letting him retire? Also, a little trivia note: C.C. Beck said in an interview that Shazam was deliberately drawn to resemble a much older Captain Marvel, which you can read a lot into if you so choose. However, I'm here to snark on a classic comic where an old man is crushed to death by a granite block that was put over his head for some reason, so let's get back to that. I mean, seriously, is that gonna happen to Billy in 3,000 years?
Linkara: (waves dismissively) Oh, silly me! We know that won't happen! What'll happen is that Captain Marvel will become a jealous dickhead over Wonder Woman and will eventually help bring about the end of the world. (beat) Dear Lord, was "Distant Fires" a stupid story!
Narrator: A moment later, Billy finds himself standing at his old post. Shazam, Captain Marvel and the weird underground cavern have vanished.
Linkara (v/o): So has the shadow man. We never see him again in this issue. I don't know if it turned out if he was Tawky Tawny or something, we have no idea who that was.
Linkara: (holding his finger to his ear) Who's Tawky Tawny, you may ask? Oh, well, that's the talking tiger that sometimes hangs out with Captain Marvel. (beat) I have mentioned that comic books are weird, right?
Linkara (v/o): So yeah, he's right back in the rain with his newspapers.
Linkara: (as Billy, looking up, wide-eyed) Wow! I have the powers of several demigods... Well, back to being poor and homeless!
Narrator: NEXT MORNING... Sensational news almost makes Billy forget his night's adventure...
Linkara (v/o): And what news overrides what happened?
Linkara: (pretending to read an invisible newspaper) "Soggies may rule"!
Headline: MANIAC SCIENTIST THREATENS U.S. RADIO SYSTEM; DEMANDS $50,000,000!
Linkara: Yes, the news of a mad scientist threatening people is truly more important than him becoming a superhero. (goes back to reading "paper" again) Oh, my God! "Building code under fire"!
Linkara (v/o): Two goons buy a paper from him, one of whom casually mentions reading about the boss, implying that they work for the mad scientist. Acting on a hunch, he follows the two to some swanky apartments.
Doorman: Go on, kid, beat it! You can't sell newspapers in here.
Linkara (v/o): Or anywhere, for that matter, since they appear to be blank.
Narrator: Billy tries to follow them, but the doorman stops him.
Linkara: Captain Marvel's greatest nemesis: the doorman.
Linkara (v/o): Billy decides to go meet with Sterling Morris, radio head, to tell him about the two strange men.
Linkara: (as Billy) I saw two guys casually mention (makes "air quotes") "the boss", which could be referring to a completely different story in the past. We've got to do something!
Linkara (v/o): He runs past the receptionist and sees Morris, explaining what he saw, but Morris doesn't believe anybody living in the rich apartments would be extorting money. And he's got a point: if he's rich already, probably thanks to his mad scientist thing, why would he be trying to extort money? Billy says he'll leave, but asks for a job as a radio announcer if he does manage to catch the mad scientist.
Morris: A job? I'll give you anything you want if you find this madman.
Linkara: (as Morris) But I'm sure I'll catch him first, for you see, I am the superhero known as... RADIOHEAD.
Linkara (v/o): That night, Billy transforms into Captain Marvel and heads over to the apartments again, finding a laboratory of the scientist quickly. He communicates with his goons via television screen, and indeed the identity of the mad scientist is Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Sivana's name was apparently a combination of the word "nirvana" and the Hindu god Siva, or Shiva.
(Cut to a clip of Suburban Knights)
Cinema Snob: (dressed as Indiana Jones) You betrayed Shiva!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Since the radio stations won't agree to his demands, he states that he will drive every radio station from the air... forever! How? Uh... really not sure. I don't know, Captain Marvel bursts in, and the narration says the machine they have is a "radio-silencer", so maybe it scrambles radio transmissions? It's not really clear. What is clear is that Captain Marvel wastes no time tossing a guy into the machine so hard it's destroyed. And when the other goon flees in an elevator, Marvel rips open the door and pulls the elevator cable back up so he can get the other guy and pop him over the back of his head. Sivana, still on the TV, sees all of this.
Marvel: Well, Sivana, that's the end of your radio-silencer.
Linkara: (as Marvel) Even though you could probably just build another one. (as Sivana) No, I can't. I'm a mad scientist. The union won't let me do the same plan twice.
Sivana: But not the end of me! We will meet again – Captain Marvel!
Marvel: Yes, Sivana, we will meet again. And when we do you will be behind prison walls– OR DEAD!
Linkara: (stunned) Did Captain Marvel just threaten to kill Dr. Sivana?
Linkara (v/o): After he changes back, presumably out of sight of the goons, he calls up Morris to come over and explains what happened, minus the "Captain Marvel" part. Morris is a little disbelieving that the little kid did all of this, but accepts it for now, fulfilling his promise and making Billy Batson a radio announcer. Just a reminder that Billy is, like, what, ten? Twelve?
Billy: Boy, oh, boy! Here's where we go to town! Me and–
Morris: You and who else, son?
Billy: –er–nobody, sir. Just me and the microphone. That's all, sir – just me and "Mike"!
Linkara: (as Billy) "Mike" is what I'm naming the giant paperweight that'll hang over my head. (normal) Anyway, this story is great.
Linkara (v/o): I admit, it's fairly basic overall, both in terms of very little detailing on the artwork, particularly the lack of backgrounds, and Billy looks a little too cartoony versus the slightly more realistic people around him, and the story is very straightforward, with just him getting his powers out of nowhere and conveniently stopping some bad guys, but hey, it's for kids; this is exciting and adventurous. Stuff like the strange man who takes you to the alley and whatnot is... not healthy, but hey, it was a different time.
Linkara: When we return next week, Secret Origins Month will cover someone (holds out hand at forearm level) very small... Even smaller than Billy Batson...
(End credits roll)
Shazam narrator: This is Billy Batson, star reporter for station WIZZ-TV. He has been picked by the ancient wizard Shazam to carry on the...
(Stinger: The back cover of the comic is shown)
Text: Don't fail to be on hand next month when he [Billy] and CAPTAIN MARVEL "GO TO TOWN"!
Linkara: (dramatically) Billy soon becomes a public menace as he (makes a throwing motion) throws cars around without regard for lives and property!