Tag Archives: Billy Batson

Recovering Ideals (4)

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The third and fourth stories from DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes have the most mythological themes. This week, we’ll take a look at Shazam! Power of Hope by Alex Ross and Paul Dini. This features a mistreated boy named Billy Batson who can transform to an adult superhero by pronouncing the name of a wizard.

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You want mythology? This story has it. The wizard’s name is Shazam, an acronym derived from the names of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. Billy becomes Captain Marvel, “earth’s mightiest mortal”, whenever he says this name. Since he exists alternately as a boy and a supernatural man, he has the characteristics of both. Even as an adult, Captain Marvel shows childlike sensitivity.

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There are plenty of action sequences, but what affected me the most was the theme of Captain Marvel interacting with children in a hospital. The captain is advised by Shazam, the wizard, before embarking on this mission.

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After he has been at the hospital for a while, there is a charming sequence showing the response given by the soul of a boy in the body of a man when he finds himself in a more adult situation: that of being affectionately thanked by the pediatric doctor of the children’s ward. It is innocently nuanced.

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Well, I might as well admit it. The following sequence made me tear up (that’s masculine for “cry a little”). My wife is a school nurse, and this reminded me of a story she told me about one of her students.

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The theme that I found the most powerful is that sometimes Captain Marvel isn’t enough, and it takes an ordinary boy like Billy to solve a serious problem.

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It takes a human being to reach other human beings. In this sense, the incarnation in Christian doctrine makes sense to me. One of our greatest superpowers is that of being a friend.

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Graphic Mythology: Kingdom Come

I bought Kingdom Come (DC Comics) because I appreciate the artwork of Alex Ross and because of the concepts behind the plot. The story was written by Mark Waid. This effort was an interesting combination of superhero imagery with quotations and themes from the book of Revelation. The first person POV character, a minister named Norman McCay, makes the storytelling approach distinctive. He is based on Clark Norman Ross (the real life father of Alex Ross and a minister himself).

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Biblical accuracy is not the purpose of this story, but Ross did want to honor his father’s character and profession. I noticed nothing disrespectful or blasphemous as I read through it. Philosophical implications concerning the extent of human and divine responsibility add depth to the plot.

In a couple of posts four and five weeks ago, I questioned the validity of Wonder Woman as a feminist icon. Last week, I qualified that by saying that this depends on which version of her is being used. She is treated much more respectfully in this series. This time around, she and Superman are portrayed as an eternally young, middle-aged couple – an approach which I found refreshing.

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Even their arguments seem more mature…

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… and their relationship develops over time.

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Another character with mythical dimensions is Captain Marvel (whose name confused me because of the Marvel character by the same name). I looked up his origin and found that a boy named Billy Batson was endowed with the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury to become “Earth’s mightiest mortal.” His appearance in the story is connected with the coming of Armageddon.

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But the characters that impressed me the most were the Spectre and Norman McCay (who play the role of the two witnesses from Revelation). The Spectre’s origin is hard to describe because he went through several incarnations/revisions since first appearing in 1940. He is essentially the undead spirit of a murdered policeman named Jim Corrigan, but he takes on or enters physical form. He seems to be in between the states of human and angelic beings in Kingdom Come.

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One of my favorite panels shows a more human Jim Corrigan having lunch with Normal McCay as Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), Bruce Wayne (Batman), and Clark Kent (Superman) walk by.

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I couldn’t think of a better conclusion to this year’s series on graphic mythology.