Monday, November 5, 2007

The Origin of Captain Marvel Annotated - pt. 4

[Parts 1-3 posted in October]
It is by sheer dumb luck that Capt. Marvel spots Sivana’s henchmen through the first window he tries with seconds to go before Sivana’s deadline – unless luck is one of the powers of Zeus.

The crooks make use of a technological television, while Shazam had used a magical “super-television.” That the screen bearing Sivana’s likeness is hidden behind a curtain is reminiscent of the wizard in The Wizard of Oz.

Sivana is allegedly based on C.C. Beck’s dentist. His demands are reiterated in the caption because this was originally meant to be part two of the story and readers coming in late would not know what the ransom demand was.

Once again a clock figures into the story, though this time the narrator provides the clock since Capt. Marvel is nowhere near the clock tower from earlier. Time as a recurring motif in the story may symbolize how we all grow up like (though not exactly like) Billy. The fear of a deadline may represent the fear of growing up, or how quickly Billy in particular had to grow up.

Capt. Marvel has still not been described as invulnerable, but the first indication seems to be the panel of him lunging head-first through a glass window without a scratch. It is, however, a cliché of the action genre for characters to jump through windows without a scratch.

P. 10: Sivana has entrusted his two henchmen with the “radio-silencer” machine that he needs to extort the $50 million. Sivana is not even present, so the henchmen would have had the honors of activating the machine. It may be smart of Sivana to keep his direct involvement minimal, but certainly defies certain mad scientist clichés.

Instead of smashing the radio-silencer machine with his fists or a weapon, Capt. Marvel effortlessly throws one of the henchmen into it. This scene echoes the cover, where Capt. Marvel threw a car and its driver in almost the same pose. This also shows a mean streak in the Captain, at least toward criminals.

There is a dynamic, beautifully drawn panel here of Capt. Marvel bracing himself as he pulls the elevator car and the escaping henchman back up to the penthouse, with the elevator cable flying wildly. Even the carpet under Capt. Marvel’s feet is being bunched up by the struggle. It is one of the more realistically-drawn panels in the entire issue, but it also suggests that pulling up the elevator car is a difficult physical feat for Capt. Marvel – hence, the bracing with his foot. Perhaps Capt. Marvel has underestimated the Strength of Hercules, or his creators had simply not decided yet just how strong to make him.

The next panel is a study in contrast, with the realism of the previous panel replaced with a “pop” sound effect as Capt. Marvel cuffs the henchman on the back of the head, and a thought balloon comically showing a bird singing coming from the now-injured henchman. It is a convention of the comic book genre to visibly show that a character has lost consciousness with the aid of visualizations like this. This dichotomy could represent Billy’s “real” world he knew before and the magical one he inhabits now.

P. 11: Capt. Marvel has not only destroyed the radio-silencer, but has used its parts to bind the two assistants; very likely the irony is intentional. Further evidence of Capt. Marvel’s playfulness is that he bows to his prisoners and calls them “gentlemen.” The first confrontation between Capt. Marvel and Sivana, via television, ends with Capt. Marvel seemingly losing his temper and threatening to kill Sivana. It is, of course, important to the story that Sivana not be present, for Capt. Marvel would subdue him easily. That Sivana is still present, in a way, through an electronic medium sets up the conflict of man vs. machine. Capt. Marvel would easily have won a man vs. man conflict, but must be unsure of the outcome of man vs. machine or he would not have lost his cool.

Capt. Marvel soon gets his cool back and is next seen leaning nonchalantly against a table with a telephone on it. The telephone may be an echo of the man vs. machine conflict, foreshadow Billy’s call to Sterling Morris, or simply be there to show Capt. Marvel is now in a different room where he has not smashed everything.

P. 12: That Billy has resumed his “normal shape” suggests that Billy physically transforms into Capt. Marvel and does not trade places with him. Hopefully, Billy did not just transform in front of Sivana’s assistants, at least one of whom was still conscious when last seen.

Billy must sound more persuasive over the phone, because he tried to convince Sterling Morris to come to the Skytower Apartments earlier in person and failed. Perhaps he forced one of the assistants to confess over the phone off-panel. Morris is now willing to take “a half-hour” to reach Billy.

Billy insists on anonymity and wants Morris to wait until after Billy leaves to call the police. While remaining secretive fits the superhero genre, it seems strange that a boy Billy’s age, without parents, would not be desperately craving attention (he does not appear in the least bit introverted). Perhaps Billy is avoiding the police for more practical reasons, such as if they were aware of his “orphan on the lamb” status and want to catch him and put him in an orphanage. Morris is quick to accept Billy’s plan, without asking for a reason why. We never hear what he tells the police, or if he takes credit for a larger role in stopping the radio-silencer.

Whatever his other intentions, Morris is feeling unusually generous toward Billy. Billy has only asked for a job. Morris could meet that condition and give Billy as menial a job as he would any under-aged boy. Yet he immediately gives Billy an on-air position as a reporter.

P. 13: These last two panels were the original ending of the shorter, ashcan version of this story, with the words changed.

Billy, who was not so excited about receiving superpowers, is suddenly jubilant about being rewarded with a job as a reporter. Becoming Capt. Marvel may have been the realization of his childhood fantasies, but securing a good job is surely the realization of his adult fantasies. Even though he still appears to be a child, Billy has crossed over into adulthood already – which is probably why he no longer craves child-like attention for himself. And yet…

The story ends on a silly joke, with Billy almost slipping up and giving his secret away, and then covering it up with a bad pun on microphone and “Mike.” Perhaps the story takes this step back to give Billy some more room to grow?

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