Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Comic Book Character Visits a Comic Book Universe

Lex's plan is actually a pretty logical one. He knows Superman is vulnerable to magic. So he invents a magic accumulator that will store up enough magical energy to destroy the Man of Steel.

But then he gets careless. Disdainfully tossing aside a copy of Shazam (because that fake superhero stuff is so silly--not at all like the completely logical DC Universe!), he zaps it with the accumulator and accidentally transports himself to Earth-S. He's now in Captain Marvel's universe.

He's a tad confused at first, especially after he encounters a helpful talking tiger. But then he sees Captain Marvel in action and realizes where he is.

This is the set-up for "Captain Marvel meets... Lex Luthor!?!" from Shazam #15 (November-December 1974). Remember that DC had by this time acquired the rights to the Big Red Cheese and other Fawcett characters, but until the 1986 reboot, these characters were kept in their own universe.

This, I think, was a wise decision. It allowed Earth-S to maintain its own individual feel. It remained a Universe where the veneer of "realism" gave way to Comic Book Logic taken to its farthest extreme without ever quite breaking it. It's a world in which Captain Marvel and his supporting cast worked best. When these characters were made a part of the regular DC Universe, that individuality and the fun that went with it were lost. When this happened, the chances of a Shazam story that would be as entertaining as the original Monster Society of Evil was lost, as were any further chances of Captain Marvel fighting giant robot bunny rabbits. The world is a poorer place because of this.

Anyway, Lex meets and teams up with Mr. Mind. The deal is that they will use the magic accumulator to destroy Captain Marvel, then Mr. Mind will assist in destroying Superman. Of course, the two villains plan on back-stabbing each other at the first opportunity, but that's to be expected.

They lure Captain Marvel to an aquarium, where Lex zaps him with the accumulator. This drains the hero of his magic and turns him back into Billy Batson. Poor Billy is underwater, unable to say Shazam--and there's a hammerhead shark in the tank with him!

Fortunately, hammerhead sharks react the same way to waving something red in front of them as do bulls. (Because of course they do.) This gives Billy a chance to use the shark to break the glass and escape. He turns back into Captain Marvel and Lex decides its time to double-cross his partner.

Lex uses the accumulator to zap himself back to Earth-1, where a bad day is capped off by his immediate capture when he discovers Superman is waiting for him.

This story was written by Denny O'Neil, who was best known for writing Batman tales but knew how to play well with more powerful characters when he had to. The pencils are by Bob Oksner, whose style is indeed reminiscent of C.C. Beck. "Captain Marvel Meets.. Lex Luthor!?!" drips with the same sort of fun that Beck and writer Otto Binder brought to the Golden Age stories.

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