Friday, January 20, 2017

The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (DC)
Power of Shazam #11 When: January 1996
Why: Jerry Ordway How: Pete Krause

The Story So Far...
The Wizard Shazam has been taken captive in the depths of the Netherworld by his evil demon daughter Lady Blaze! Only a powerful magic can restore him to the Rock of Eternity -- and the talking tiger doll Tawky Tawny knows where to find it!

Mary Marvel and Uncle Dudley are in a desperate race beyond the wizard's secret subway entrance to find a hidden chamber within his lair. There, they will uncover the Tomb of Ibis -- where a special magic lies in wait to be resurrected by the reciting of a special incantation!

Unfortunately for the heroes, Blaze has ensured another Marvel will be waiting for them in the underground catacombs. An ancient champion whose mighty magic was corrupted in Egyptian times - and now waits to bring their doom!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Black Adam 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Black Adam 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Mary Marvel 5 (Super-Human)
Stamina: Black Adam 6 (Generator)
Agility: Mary Marvel 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Black Adam 7 (Living Weapon)
Energy: Ibis 7 (Cosmic)

What happens when the powers of Shazam are turned against themselves? We saw sparks fly when Captain Marvel battled his corrupt predecessor in Hawkman #24 -- but what about Cap's kid sister Mary Marvel?

Originally, Mary derived her powers from a separate set of her own patron deities: The grace of Selena, the strength of Hippolyta, the wiles of Artemis, the speed of Zephyrus, the beauty of Aphrodite, and the wisdom of Minerva.

The Power of Shazam series of the nineties recast the transformative powers as derived from a mutual source, shared by Captain Marvel himself. Essentially Mary Marvel is a chip off the old block (of big red cheese), just about as powerful and swift as any other Marvel!

We saw just how mighty Mary Marvel could be when her powers were corrupted by the evil New Gods during Final Crisis. She was powerful enough to ambush and fight Wonder Woman, defeating her with a chemical agent in Final Crisis #3. She had Supergirl on the ropes during Final Crisis #6, at least until the intervention of Captain Marvel Jr, and a weakened Black Adam!

Centuries before Billy Batson was blessed with the power to become Captain Marvel, the champion of Wizard Shazam was an Egyptian named Teth-Adam.

His powers were derived from the Egyptian pantheon: The stamina of Shu, the swiftness of Heru, the strength of Amon, the wisdom of Zehuti, power of Alon, and the courage of Mehen. Adam eventually allowed his powers to corrupt him and he turned to the side of darkness, becoming the Black Marvel.

Black Adam's conquests in the modern age have been swift and brutal. We've seen him effortlessly destroy: Kobra [JSA #51], Psycho-Pirate [Infinite Crisis #6], The Monster Society [52 #44], and Azraeuz [52 #45]. He defeated Uncle Sam while serving The Society [Infinite Crisis #1], but showed vulnerability when his strength was matched by Superboy-Prime during the same saga.

Ordinarily we'd probably consider Black Adam too powerful for Mary Marvel to defeat alone, but there's a third player in this equation! Today's feature fight takes place on the verge of the tomb of Ibis the Immortal! As possessor of the Ibis Stick, he commands near limitless magic, capable of achieving his merest whim!

If Mary Marvel can break the seal and summon Ibis to her aid, she no doubt stands a chance! Will she be so lucky? Let's see what happened...

History: Black Adam (1-0-0)
The Tape: Black Adam Ranking: Black Adam (#19)

What Went Down...
Mary Marvel bashes through a chamber wall to reveal an ominous sarcophagus marked with the symbol of the ibis bird. In the same chamber, Black Adam waits! The doll form of friend Tawky Tawny torn in twain in his mighty hands!

Lured by a pulsing energy emanating from the Egyptian funeral box, Adam grabs for its protruding ibis wand -- only to be dramatically repelled by its mysterious, awesome power!

Undeterred by Black Adam's wicked insinuations about Tawny's true loyalties, Mary continues on her quest to save the Wizard Shazam. She recites a spell before the sarcophagus: "Sibis eirsa ghitym... rulmseb royu morf..." The ibis wand emits waves of eerie light before the sarcophagus explodes open!

Surrounded by mist, a well dressed man emerges from the opened death box! He is Ibis -- possessor of the infinitely powerful Ibis-Stick! Bemused, he commands stunned Mary Marvel and her Uncle Dudley to explain their actions.

Informed of Shazam's dire predicament, Ibis immediately understands the significance of his magic slumber's end. Before the young Marvel can learn more about her strange new ally -- Black Adam revives!

Mary orders her friends to stay back while she handles the raging Black Marvel. Recovered from his earlier error, Adam now recognizes Ibis and no doubt has dark intentions. Mary blocks his looming fist with her forearm, impressing the villain with her fighting fearlessness!

She throws a mighty right hook, but Black Adam is unfazed by her brawn!

This time it's Ibis who orders Mary Marvel to fall back. Warned of Black Adam's treachery by the Wizard Shazam himself, Ibis knows he's not to be trifled with!

Ibis directs Black Adam to Hades -- his powerful Ibis-Stick able to fulfill his every whim! Beams of light shoot from its crest and strike the mighty villain!

In a haze of smoke and light, Black Adam dematerializes before their very eyes! A trivial feat for the incredible Ibis-Stick and its sighing master! Mary marvels at his banishment as Ibis begins the tale of his secret origins.

The Hammer...

By virtue of the passage of time alone, my tastes are becoming increasingly "retro". I don't really see it that way -- superheroes aren't exactly going out of style in 2017, and I'm a pretty young man -- but in the case of Ibis, there's no getting away from it!

I touched on the character briefly as a Hero of the Week last year, having just had a fun time reading this very issue (and others) during a power blackout. It was a fairly nostalgic experience unto itself, recalling youthful enthusiasm for reading comics by torchlight. These days you'd use a phone.

Power of Shazam doesn't really read like a comic from 1995 or '96. That's probably why, just a few years later, it was already being talked about with a hushed reverence. Just as fictional Fawcett City is placed under a spell that blankets its reality in a deep retro haze, so too does this comic embrace the power of nostalgia, with a few modern twists.

It's kind of hard to put a finger on eactly who this comic was targeted at. Golden Age retro would admittedly linger in comics right through to the 2000s, but it had mostly died out in mainstream pop culture by the mid 90s. I suspect the book was at least in part for readers old enough to miss the classic adventures of Captain Marvel and Family, who were thrust into the grittier predicaments of modern comics during Legends.

The acquisition of The Marvel Family by DC Comics in the seventies seems like it came with mixed fortunes. It finally allowed for bona fide battles between Captain Marvel and his court acknowledged inspiration: Superman. Fantasy fights that scratch an itch we all have, but seem to have ultimately doomed Captain Marvel to eventual obscurity, and a loss of identity.

Nostalgia's become a contorting beast in the 2010s. Mismanaged by exploitative corporate forces who don't quite understand what they're dealing with, or have misguided designs for updating an old brand with detached content. Hollywood have been at it for so long, some of the audience now demands this once reviled "reboot" approach to licensing. The infantalization of the audience, becoming its own negative force in a confused, stagnating market.

Most of the examples I'm alluding to come from the eighties and nineties, only occasionally impacted with the retro movements of those times, which infused the twenties through to the fifties with a neon chic. Much of the audience excited by Reagan era heroes probably won't dwell on, or even recognize, earlier cultural touchstones. Greasers and burger joints? 'OMG, so eighties'.

As much as I've learned to have deep misgivings about nostalgia and its potentially crippling effects -- I love a comic like Power of Shazam!

I'm a total sucker for the muted fantasy of a magicman in a suit and turban. An unabashed holdover from WWII era comics, which themselves were carrying over pulp ideas popular decades earlier!

I would argue American comics are always at their best when they're aware of, and in touch with, their history. I'm utterly repulsed by the modern predicament of constantly reliving (and retelling) the same stories, but I love the fantastic premise of a serialized character essentially unscathed by time.

In the case of Captain Marvel, I think a sustained squinty-eyed innocence must be viewed as the definitive characterization. He's a character who can be easily compared to Superman, and isn't burdened by the iconic status that demands The Man of Steel change with time.

As we've seen in Zack Snyder's movies, New 52 comics, and even popular spin-off properties like the Injustice video games -- there's tremendous pressure on Superman to be a bastard. Popular acceptance seems to demand an emotionally volatile, potentially dangerous mirror of our modern selves. A Superman prone to human weaknesses mistakenly ascribed as more "relatable". When did being "super" ever have anything to do with living down to us?

Even if Superman can still be a symbol for hope, goodness, and all that we should aspire to, he will always be a modern man. As long as he is modern - Captain Marvel doesn't have to be.

Captain Marvel can still squint and smile and be everything he always was -- not just as a hold over from the past, but as a point of difference. Characterization of a nice man in a nasty world, advancing without breaking.

Power of Shazam doesn't seem like a comic from 1995 or '96 -- but was! It was a part of the contemporary DC Universe. It occasionally crossed over with other characters and events that were going on in the DC Universe. A fun, good natured, "new reader friendly" comic told in a unique modern style. Hoo-ray!

Of course, variety is also the spice of comic book life. It takes all sorts to make a universe, and there's plenty to go around. Classic or contemporary, you can find more feature fights and musings in the Secret Archive Index! If you like what you see, be sure to hit the G+1 at the top of the page (or below this area), and share links via social media. Every bit helps keep the wars infinite!

Winner: Ibis (w/ Mary Marvel)
#301 (new) Ibis
#309 (+6) Mary Marvel [+1 assist]
#19 (--) Black Adam

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