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SHAZAM! My Secret Origin As A Captain Marvel Fan

With one magic word:  SHAZAM!

Although the super-hero boom in comics of the 1940s was undeniably started by the incredible popularity of Superman, and manifested in countless attempts to copy/capture/re-create/steal the Man of Steel’s successful model, Superman wasn’t necessarily the best-selling superdoer in the funny-book business.  For a time in the ’40s, Superman was outsold by his biggest rival, the original Captain Marvel.

For those who don’t know this original Captain Marvel, lemme give you the brief.  A young, orphaned newsboy named Billy Batson is granted secret, fantastic power by the ancient wizard Shazam; whenever our Billy speaks the wizard’s name, he is magically transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel. The wizard’s name is itself an anagram of the wonderful abilities Billy can access when he calls on the power of Shazam: The wisdom of Solomon! The strength of Hercules! The courage of Atlas! The power of Zeus! The skill of Achilles! The speed of Mercury! If you are a mad scientist like Dr. Sivana, or an evil tyrant (and literal worm) like Mr. Mind, or just another nogoodnik in The Monster Society Of Evil, get set to get your ass kicked by Captain Marvel!

I’ve been trying to remember when and how I first got hooked on Captain Marvel, who would ultimately become my all-time second favorite comic book hero (after The Batman). As a kid in the ’60s and early ’70s, I had heard of Captain Marvel, even though Cap was long gone by that point. The first Captain Marvel I ever saw was a Marvel Comics character who’d usurped the name from its rightful owner. Even as a stupid kid, I eventually figured out that Mar-Vell of the Kree couldn’t be the same Captain Marvel referenced on TV shows like The Good Guys and The Monkees.

(Digression: one of my many favorite moments on The Monkees was when Peter Tork had been kidnapped and tied to a chair. Left alone, still bound to the chair, our brave Peter shook ‘n’ shimmied his way in front of a mirror, squared his shoulders, and cried out with a defiant, “SHAZAM!” And the mirror shattered, prompting Peter to say, “Well, that’s seven years’ bad luck for Captain Marvel!”)

Thanks to Melanie Mitchell for screenshot

My first exposure to Cap was second-hand, in the letters page for a Lois Lane Giant. The letter-writer complained of a scene in a previous Giant where Superman fended off a number of super-powered suitors vying for Lois’ fickle affection; one of the defeated suitors, lying dazed on the floor, was Captain Marvel. The fan took issue with this, saying something like, “I know you put Captain Marvel out of business in the ’50s, but there’s no need to gloat over it!” The editor, E. Nelson Bridwell, replied that it was meant in fun; Lois Lane artist Kurt Schaffenberger had previously been one of the main Captain Marvel artists, and had included Cap’s image as a joke. Bridwell further commented something to the effect that Captain Marvel had been one of his own favorites as a young comics fan, and that he’d never wish to be disrespectful toward the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

I dug out that previous Lois Lane Giant, and I found the page and panel in question. There he was. So that was Captain Marvel! And now, I wanted to know more.

Coincidentally–but relevantly–I found a Super-8 movie projector in the attic. On subsequent visits to K-Mart and White-Modell, I saw Super-8 movies for sale, including Super-8 movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Super-8 movies starring Batman…and Super-8 movies starring Captain Marvel! I acquired them all in short order.

Long before the home-entertainment Utopia delivered by Betamax, laser discs, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and on-line streaming, 8mm and Super-8 films were short, silent movies made for home consumption. My two Captain Marvel Super-8s were twelve-minute distillations of the first and the final chapters of the 1941 movie serial The Adventures Of Captain Marvel.

The chronology of my Captain Marvel fandom gets a little confusing; so much happened either all at once or in short order, and I have difficulty putting it all together 45 years later.  But figure we’re in a rough timeline of 1972 to ’73 or so.  I watched my Captain Marvel Super-8s over and over. I read a single page of the first Captain Marvel comic book story, reprinted in Jules Feiffer‘s book The Great Comic Book Heroes (which contained just that one page of Cap, for legal reasons we’ll touch on in a few paragraphs). I was getting well hooked on Captain Marvel, albeit with relatively little to go on.

But two events kicked my Shazam mania into overdrive. In this time frame, it became clear that my teeth were a mess, and that I would need braces. One evening, following an early (and physically uncomfortable) consultation with the orthodontist, my parents decided to treat me to an evening with the Syracuse Cinephile Society.  The Syracuse Cinephile Society was a monthly (I think) gathering of film buffs, who would convene upstairs at a downtown bar called The Firebarn to screen vintage films. This was not my first visit to the Syracuse Cinephile Society; my cousin Maryann had already taken me to The Firebarn to see Humphrey Bogart in Dead End, and she also took me to see Errol Flynn in The Adventures Of Robin Hood, though I don’t recall for sure whether that was before or after Mom and Dad took me to see….

Tom Tyler as CAPTAIN MARVEL!

…Well, they took me to The Firebarn to see the Syracuse Cinephile Society’s screening of the complete twelve-chapter movie serial, The Adventures Of Captain Marvel.  The whole thing! With sound, unlike my silent little Super-8s! Mind you, this was over three and a half hours of serial action, three and a half hours originally intended to be enjoyed over the course of three months in twenty-minute weekly installments, not in a single evening as your butt hurt from sitting and your teeth ached from orthodontic invasion.  But it didn’t matter. I was captivated. SHAZAM!

By this time, I probably knew a little bit about what had driven the World’s Mightiest Mortal off the newsstands decades ago.  The folks in charge of DC Comics were none too thrilled about the success of Captain Marvel, a character published by Fawcett Comics. DC sued, claiming that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman, and a violation of DC’s copyright on mighty caped guys who could fly.  Fawcett eventually capitulated, and agreed to retire Captain Marvel permanently. Captain Marvel and the rest of The Marvel Family (his sister Mary Marvel and their pal Captain Marvel, Junior) disappeared–seemingly forever–following their final appearance in The Marvel Family # 89, cover-dated January 1954.

One of my favorite comic books in the early ’70s was a reprint title called Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains, a DC book that usually featured stories from comics’ Golden Age, the ’40s. The fourth issue of Wanted was a particular favorite, with a lead story reprinting the original Green Lantern‘s first encounter with Solomon Grundy, and a back-up of Kid Eternity (another of my faves!) facing his evil opposite number, Master Man.  But, for all that, the one thing in this issue that just ’bout made my head explode was this one-page house ad:

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

Captain Marvel was coming back?! At DC??! Not even world peace or a Beatles reunion could have been more welcome news to me at the time.  Well, maybe a Beatles reunion. World peace is nice, too. But I could barely contain my glee at this announcement.  Captain Marvel was coming back!

The new comic book was called Shazam! During Captain Marvel’s nearly two-decade absence from newsstands, Marvel Comics had claimed the Captain Marvel name as a trademark, preventing DC from ever using that name as a comic book title. Curses! But I loved the new stories at the time, and I really loved the fact that DC was including a Golden Age Cap reprint in each issue. I figured this was the start of a new Golden Age!

But DC couldn’t quite get a handle on what to do with the World’s Mightiest Mortal. The scripts aimed to be charming, but usually settled for silly instead. Even with a new Saturday morning live-action Shazam! TV series, the character just never really caught on in a big way. Matters weren’t helped by the then-unknown fact that DC hadn’t actually purchased the rights to Captain Marvel; it was merely a licensing deal with Fawcett; that meant there was a limit to how much exposure Cap could get at DC, at least without DC having to pay additional fees that, frankly, wouldn’t have been worth it, given Captain Marvel’s lack of blockbuster sales appeal.

In the decades since, DC did eventually assume full ownership of Captain Marvel, and the character has appeared as a member of the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, and on animated TV shows including Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave And The Bold. There is a Shazam! feature film in development, with Dwayne Johnson signed to play one of Captain Marvel’s enemies, the mighty Black Adam. So the World’s Mightiest Mortal lives on.

Unfortunately, DC doesn’t call him Captain Marvel anymore; now, the character is just called Shazam. Marvel Comics owns the original name, and has its own Captain Marvel movie coming, with Brie Larson in the title role. It bugs me a little that the original Captain Marvel can’t use his own name, but that battle was lost a long time ago. I read Marvel’s Captain Marvel comic book regularly, and I’ll see Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie when it’s released. That’s the way it is, and I accept it.  I’ll even enjoy it, I betcha.

Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel

But, in my heart, I know who the real Captain Marvel is: a little kid with the biggest, best secret in the world; a kid who can move mountains, and fly around the world, and shrug off bullets and bad guys with a smile and a twinkle in his eye; a kid who can shed the troubles and limitations of frail humanity, and become a champion like no other; a kid who can become, at will, the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

It’s a pretty good deal. All it takes is one magic word.

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The Greatest Record Ever Made: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”

“Columnist Carl Cafarelli originally posted this on his 59th birthday in 2019, and it will be included in his book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). The sentiment seems appropriate as we prepare to kick 2020 to the curb. Here’s to 2021 being our year.”

EYTAN MIRSKY: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”
Annus mirabilus. The ideal of the miracle year is intriguing, enticing, yet elusive, and damned near unattainable. We touch it sometimes, briefly. Our favorite sports team exceeds expectations. Our favorite performer delivers a brand new masterpiece, a film or novel or record that thrills our ever-fannish spirits. We connect with the one we love the most, and our hearts rise to a higher horizon. Something great happens to friends or family, or something great happens directly to us, and we feel the elation of miracle. This year…!
That euphoria is short-lived. Setbacks temper our optimism. We win, we lose, we remain precariously steady in place, all with varying and unequal proportion. People leave our lives, whether through death or distance, sudden discord, changes in goals, or a simple freakin’ fork in the road. Time. See what’s become of us.

But as we reach the calendar’s final crumpled page, and we crawl from the rubble of the preceding twelve months’ accumulated yin and yang, we still hope for something better beginning. Our new year’s resolution may be survive and advance. But more than that, no matter how much past experience insists we should expect neither miracles nor miracle years, some resilient spark within us may still whisper, This year’s gonna be our year.

In pop music–a cherished refuge for fragile hopes and unsteady ambition–the feeling is expressed elegantly by The Zombies in their delicate wonder “This Will Be Our Year.” It’s my favorite Zombies track, which is saying something when we’re talking about the group that did “She’s Not There,” “Time Of The Season,” “Care Of Cell 44,” “A Rose For Emily,” and so many more perfect, polished gems. For all that, though, the ultimate reconciliation of facing long, crushing odds and forging ahead anyway has gotta be “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” by singer-songwriter Eytan Mirsky.

Do you know Eytan? He’s had some success as a song-seller for film soundtracks, crafting tunes for The Tao Of Steve (“[I Just Want To Be] Your Steve McQueen,” sung by Eytan), Happiness (the title song, sung in the film by actress Jane Adams and during the credits by Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix), and American Splendor (the title song, sung by Eytan on screen). He’s released six albums from 1996 through 2016, with a new one on the way, and he’s recorded a number of additional tracks for various compilations and tribute albums. His public persona is a snarky Everyman, and he’s made a lot of really good music. If you’re a rockin’ pop fan, you should get to know Eytan Mirsky. You should most especially get to know “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year,” the lead track on Eytan’s 2012 album Year Of The Mouse

Do you remember
Way back in January
The way we had it all worked out?
Knew what we wanted
Knew what to do to get it
If there was ever any doubt
Then we’d say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
Which wasn’t good at all

Confidence. Forward! This year’s the year. I know it. I think I know it.

But it so rarely works out that way.
Do you remember
The way we felt in August
When nothing seemed to go as planned?
We didn’t waver
We never hesitated
‘Cause it was time to make a stand
And we said
This year’s gonna be our year…

At what point do we give up? When is it time to concede, to surrender?

Today is my 59th birthday. It’s a number neither great nor small, not ancient, not new. My brain thinks I’m a teenager. There are days when my body’s aches and my mind’s troubles seem like even more than just under six decades of dead weight. There’s so much to do. Sometimes, I don’t want to do any of it. 

But things get done. Bills are paid, responsibilities met. Goodbyes. Hellos renewed. Laughter gives way to tears, but laughter returns. I still know delight and wonder. I have my superhero comic books. I listen to my invigorating pop music, my loud rock ‘n’ roll. I read, I watch TV, I follow the ups and downs of my basketball team. I like food. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning more than I ever enjoyed a beer at night. I still enjoy a beer at night. I love, family and friends. I write. I look at my wife, and randomly say to her, “You’re pretty;” every mundane task we do together, I call a date. Hugs and kisses. I clear the snow from my driveway, and set my car’s radio to magnetic North. 

And now we’ve reached December
And it’s been so disappointing
That we’re glad this sorry year’s about to end
But in just a little while
We’ll be back in January
And you know we’re gonna start it all again
And we’ll say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
And the year before
Guitars and drums. Harmony. Purpose. Eytan sings, and we know he’s right.

Every year, and every moment of every year, we will discover that our path has been blocked. We will overcome the obstacles, until the day comes that we can no longer overcome them. Today isn’t that day. Not now. Not yet. We haven’t quite exhausted our supply of miracles. Like freedom fighters, abolitionists, and suffragettes before us. Like Tom Joad moving his family west, or Green Lantern vowing to shed his light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light. Allen Ginsberg putting his queer shoulder to the wheel. ElvisChuck BerryRosa ParksThe Beatles aiming for the toppermost of the poppermost. Lesley Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me.” The miracle MetsBarack Obama insisting Yes, we can. Malala. Anyone who’s ever looked ahead and seen the promise of possibility, the odds against us be damned. Win or lose. This year. Annus mirabilus. This year’s gonna be our year. 

It must be true. I have a song that says so. This year, man. This year.

“This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” written by Eytan Mirsky, Mirsky Mouse Music BMI
You can hear the song hereand order music from Eytan here.

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REJECTION ACCEPTED: Trying (And Failing!) To Write For DC COMICS

My vulgar sci-fi rock ‘n’ roll comedy short story “Guitars Vs. Rayguns” hit comic book stores last week. Specifically, it appeared as a bonus feature in the pages of the AHOY Comics title Billionaire Island # 5. If you’re looking for a foul-mouthed, fast-paced, three-chord space farce, I humbly suggest you snag a copy of Billionaire Island # 5 and read “Guitars Vs. Rayguns.”


Written and sold last year, “Guitars Vs. Rayguns” was my first-ever fiction sale. I’ve sold a few more since then, but you never forget your first. Its publication casts my memory back to some previous failed attempts. Now, I do have some skimpy credits as a professional freelance writer of nonfiction. But I always wanted to write fiction, too. 

And I especially wanted to write for DC Comics.

DC Comics was my first and most prevailing missed target as a would-be writer. My first attempt to break in at The Line Of Superstars was a handwritten Batman story, about which I remember nearly nothing. I began writing it while at my cousin’s wedding reception, probably around ’73 or so, maybe ’74 at the latest. The only detail I can recall of the story (other than the fact that it was simply awful) was that it was set in Syracuse, as The Batman had traveled here from Gotham to consult with local police regarding the shooting death of a city teenager. That part was based on a true story at the time, though apparently the Syracuse Police Department wasn’t really able to enlist Batman’s help. Stupid real world. I finished “writing” it, and mailed it off to the good folks at DC. I don’t believe I even received a rejection slip.


Roughly concurrent to that–perhaps even in the same mailing–I also concocted a handwritten story for the Shazam! comic book, starring the original Captain Marvel. The story may or may not have co-starred Plastic Man; as a reader and fan, I know I wanted these two lighter-hearted heroes to meet, but I don’t recall if ol’ Plas made an appearance in my Captain Marvel mini-epic. The story itself concerned Captain Marvel’s arch nemesis Dr. Sivana devising a way for his equally-evil son Sivana, Junior to become the super-powered villain Captain Sivana. Just as Billy Batson’s magic word “SHAZAM!” transformed the young Batson into Captain Marvel, Sivana, Junior’s shouted “SIVANA!” changed him into Captain Sivana. Hero and villain fought to a standstill, until Captain Marvel suddenly veered off and challenged his evil foe to follow him to Savannah, Georgia to continue the fight; confused, Captain Sivana repeated, “Savannah, Geor…?!” and instantly changed back into mortal form. Savannah is a homophone for Sivana. I am so damned clever. Captain Marvel zipped back, slapped a gag on Junior, and carted the lot of those miscreants off to the hoosegow. The folks at DC were speechless. I never heard back on this one either.

Around 1975 (I think), I tried again, this time with a full script. Typewritten, too! “The Overtime Crimefighter!” showed a typical day (and night) in the busy life of The Batman. I think I still have this one somewhere. I don’t remember much of it, other than Batman systematically dismantling my fictional version of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that had kidnapped and brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst. I am nothing if not topical. Of course, “topical” ain’t quite the same as “not terrible,” and “The Overtime Crimefighter!” earned me a form-letter rejection.

But I would not be deterred! I was far too oblivious for that. My friend Mike DeAngelo was a very good artist, and I thought we could collaborate professionally. I worked up another complete Batman script, “Nightmare Ressurection!” It was a sequel to a classic Batman story from 1966, “Death Knocks Three Times!,” reviving a villain called Death-Man, unseen since his one and only appearance in Batman # 180 in ’66. My story was grim, frenetic, and nonsensical. Not even Mike’s art samples could save this from rejection.

The team-up that will never be: Captain Infinity and The Batman

After “Nightmare Ressurection!,” I took some time off for college and–believe it or not!–girlfriends. Yep, man of the world, that’s me. In the early ’80s, I tried to create a theoretically original character called Captain Infinity. It was, frankly, not thought through at all, but it was intended as a cosmic tale of a prince from a far galaxy renouncing his throne and fleeing his responsibilities; his escape route brought him to Earth, and hijinks ensued. I wrote a synopsis and introductory pages for the pilot story, “The Splitting Of Infinity!,” and sent it off to resolutely unimpressed DC staffers. I don’t blame ’em a bit.

I tried a few more times with DC in the ’80s. I submitted a plot treatment for another new character, Lawman, designed to be the resident, non-powered local hero in a crime-ridden urban neighborhood. Lawman was meant to be a superhero version of a neighborhood watch program, with one guy playing the role of masked hero, backed up by a small network of friends and allies determined to take their city blocks back from the thugs and ne’er-do-wells. I also submitted treatments for a couple of existing DC properties. One of these was a story about Green Arrow, stuck on monitor duty aboard the Justice League‘s satellite, dealing unexpectedly with an attack from Mala, an obscure Kryptonian bad guy whom Superman defeated in the ’50s. Another was a Justice League story called “The Trial Of Dr. Light!,” which would have introduced a new supervillain group called The Predators. My memory of The Predators is sketchy, but I know I intended them to be a team that worked together like the good guys would, without the back-biting and betrayal that characterized most groups of honorless thieves. One of The Predators was named The Miracle Worker, and his schtick was a device used to tap into other dimensions, including a solid dimension that allowed him to create floating chunks of dense matter upon which he could effectively walk on air. The female Predator Deathsong, who was The Miracle Worker’s beloved sister, was able to destroy people, property, even planets with her singing–kinda like Mariah Carey. There were two more members of The Predators, but I remember nothing else beyond the fact that it was all very, very ’80s, and DC rightly passed on the lot.

DEATHSONG! Her music will kill you.

Those Green Arrow and Justice League treatments were submitted alongside one more original character pitch, intended for DC’s New Talent Showcase book. That character was called The Trident, a World War II-era super-scrapper I envisioned as an answer to the unanasked question, “What if Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had created a two-fisted black superhero in the ’40s?” That question remains unasked and unanswered. My treatment for The Trident’s debut in “A Trident Glows In Brooklyn!” was a preposterous mess about a black police officer working his Brooklyn beat circa 1942, and being granted super-abilities by some cosmic do-gooders called The Men Of The Trident. No, I don’t think it made any sense either. Writer Roy Thomas had recently introduced a black hero called Amazing-Man in the pages of his WWII Justice Society book All-Star Squadron, and I wanted The Trident to be the second black superhero retroactively placed in that 1940s DC milieu. I viewed The Trident’s racial identity as incidental, which may have been foolish; but I liked the idea of a hero who just happened to be a black guy, just as The Guardian and the Silver Age Green Lantern (the two overriding influences on my concept of The Trident) just happened to be white guys. Foolish or not, someone at DC felt it wasn’t necessary to reject it outright. The letter accompanying my spurned ‘n’ returned Green Arrow and JLA proposals noted that The Trident was being forwarded to the editor of New Talent Showcase for further consideration.

That was 1985, and it was the last I heard from DC. But it’s as close as I ever came to achieving my dream of writing for DC Comics.

(I did write one more complete story using DC characters, a pulp short story starring The Batman and Aquaman. I never submitted it to DC, but I like it a lot, and never tire of pointing folks in its direction: The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze.)
And while I never did break in at DC, I have now sold four short stories to AHOY, and I’ve cashed the paychecks for each of them. Call me a late bloomer. I started this as a teenager. I’m still doing it. More to come.

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DEAR SUPERGUYS (or: I Was A Teenaged Comic Book Letterhack)

I’m not sure exactly when I wrote my first letter to a comic book editor. I know I wrote a letter to DC Comics in the summer of 1970, when I was ten years old, asking if the good folks there would be willing to send me a copy of Superboy # 129 as a reward for bypassing fifth grade on my way to sixth grade that fall. Presumptuous? Duh. My letter did not merit a prompt response. I don’t think it was my very first attempt at a “Dear Editor,” but it’s the earliest I can remember with any precision. If there were indeed earlier missives, they were also inquiries about securing elusive back issues from DC, albeit with a promise of appropriate payment. I got yer twelve cents; I got yer twelve cents right here.

In the ’60s and into the early ’70s, I was a near-insatiable fan of comic books, particularly superhero comic books, particularly DC and Marvel superhero comic books. I also read books from CharltonArchieHarveyGold KeyDell, and later from Atlas and Warren. Besides my cherished costumed crusaders, I read funny animal, war, Westernhumor, monster, and eventually some horror, too. I confess to occasionally peaking at romance books, because the girls were cute (and the artwork often gorgeous). Sad SackWhere Monsters DwellStar Spangled War StoriesThe Mighty Marvel WesternForbidden Tales Of Dark MansionTomb Of DraculaUncle ScroogeSgt. Fury And His Howling CommandosThe Lone RangerThe PhantomThe Phantom StrangerMaster Of Kung Fu. VampirellaThe ScorpionArchie’s Pals & GalsDennis The MenaceThe Super Cops. TarzanConan The BarbarianFruitman, God help me. Plop! SpoofDoomsday + 1. I read ’em all, and loved ’em all, right alongside my Justice League Of America and Avengers.

By the time I was 15 (and probably earlier), I was identifying myself specifically as a DC Comics fan. I continued to buy, read, and enjoy Marvels and others, for sure, but my primary allegiance was to the boys at 909 Third Ave and (later) 75 Rockefeller Plaza. Why DC? Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, for starters. The work that writer O’Neil and artist Adams did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman (the latter often ably penciled by the underrated Irv Novick instead of Adams, all of it inked to stunning effect by Dick Giordano) just knocked me out, and the afterglow of that stuff kept me in DC’s thrall. I dug Jack Kirby‘s Fourth World stuff, Len Wein‘s scripting on JLAeditor Joe Orlando‘s stewardship of Adventure Comics, O’Neil with Mike Kaluta on The Shadow, the return of the original Captain Marvel in DC’s Shazam!, and the plethora of vintage reprints in DC’s 100-Page Super Spectaculars. I still loved Marvel, but I was clearly a DC guy.

Which, I guess, is why all of my letters of comment went to DC books. As adolescence and early teens brought me a sense that I might want to become a writer, I sought the recognition and ego-stroke of seeing my name in print in DC Comics letter columns. I evolved from my previous letters asking how I could track down copies of The Spectre‘s 1966 appearances in Showcase to attempting fannish praise and pithy commentary. My reach far exceeded my grasp, and my hand-scrawled drivel was justifiably ignored by DC’s editorial staff.

(I was only, like, twelve or thirteen when I began writing these letters in earnest, but I cringe to look back on them now. No physical copies survive, thank Rao, but I remember the sheer pimply cluelessness I exhibited therein. I wrote a letter to The Brave And The Bold‘s editor Murray Boltinoff, demanding that he explain his editorial policies to me, ‘cuz I di’n’t like his and B & B writer Bob Haney‘s disregard for continuity. I recall a letter to JLA which casually used profanity to make this immature soul seem mature. I signed off most of my letters with “Thanx,” an attempt to create a signature gimmick for what I hoped would be an abundance of published letters of comment. Not a one of them saw print, nor did they deserve to see print. I cringe at their memory, and recognize them as the work of a square-peg kid in dire need of a girlfriend.)

I did begin to receive some form letter replies, and some form letters with annotation added. I recall a reply to a heartfelt letter I’d written to Batman editor Julie Schwartz, begging that The Batman’s atmospheric noir adventures never again succumb to the campy approach of the mid ’60s. Some time after that, our local hero Mailman brought me a letter ostensibly from The Batman hisself: a form letter with a classic Carmine Infantino Batman drawing and a note “Thanks for your nice letter, from The Batman.” A more personalized postscript was typed in following The Batman’s signature: “…who will eschew camp like cyanide from now on, rest assured!” Cool! Plus, I learned a new word with “eschew.” I figured this meant my letter would soon see print on an imminent Letters To The Batman page, but it was not to be. I guess a letter from The Batman was all the recognition I required. Thanks, citizen!

Middle school passed by. High school commenced. I continued to buy and read comics, to try to write comics, and to write letters to the comics’ editors. I walked home each day after school, and often made a side trip to the nearby Gold Star Pharmacy to see if any new comics were in. A pretty girl from my school worked there, but I never bothered trying to flirt with her while buying my comics–what would have been the point?–and she remained friendly and professional. Yvonne. Not her real name. One day during the Spring ’75 semester, I stopped at Gold Star for my weekly fix. Among the haul was Superman # 289, and that contained my first published letter of comment.

Over the friggin’ moon, man!

The letter itself was perhaps not much less embarrassing than my earlier, unpublished attempts. But no matter! Though it was just a silly letter gushing about how great Superman # 277 had been with its dazzlingly clever doppelgangers of Ernest Hemingway and Mason Reese–a combination one would rarely see otherwise–it was technically my first nationally-published piece of writing. It was a piece of something all right, but I was thrilled.

And again: no, you get a life.

For dramatic purposes, the part of Yvonne will be played by Ms. Yvonne Craig

I don’t think I showed it to Yvonne at the drug store, though I did show her a subsequent letter published in Adventure Comics # 444. She was very polite. Somewhere in there, a letter in The Brave And The  Bold # 120’s letter column mentioned in passing that “Carl Cafrelli” wanted to see Batman team with The Shadow, a request I do not recall making, but probably did. I don’t know how many more letters of comment I wrote, but I do know I was trying to concentrate more and more on my own writing (and my collection of rejection slips from DC), so my letterhacking likely petered out around this time.

Then it was off to college. Nascent independence. An illusion of maturity. GIRLS! Success with girls, even. And, y’know, punk rock. I continued to read comics well into my freshman year at Brockport, 1977-78, but finally abandoned my four-color friends when Steve Englehart stopped writing Batman in Detective Comics; everything that came after that was a disappointment to me, so it was time to quit.

I mean, after I wrote one more letter.

My final letter of comment of the 1970s appeared in Detective Comics # 479, extolling the virtues of what Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers had done with The Batman, a short run that remains my all-time favorite series of Batman stories (even above O’Neil and Adams). With that, I was done with comics for the remainder of my college career.

(My love of comics did help me snag one little bonus perk in college. No, it wasn’t a girl, though–oddly enough–my ostensibly hilarious impression of former DC Comics star Jerry Lewis did somehow convince a girl I already knew that I was suddenly irresistible. Ah, if Yvonne coulda seen me then…but I digress. During my freshman year, I wrote about comics and other topics in my assignments for Dr. Burelbach’s Popular Fiction class. The following September, I wanted to get into a Fiction Workshop reserved for upperclassmen, so this mere sophomore had to plead his case to that course’s instructor, Dr. Fitzgerald. Dr. Burelbach happened to be there in Dr. Fitzgerald’s office when I arrived, so I mentioned that I’d taken his Pop Fic class the previous semester. This made for a much shorter interview than I was expecting. Fitzgerald turned to Burelbach and said, What do you think, Fred? Burelbach nodded toward me and said, Well, he’s a brilliant writer. Fitzgerald turned back to me, smiled, and said, All right, you’re in. Score one for the good guys.)

I returned to comics after graduating (early) from college in 1980. My return was slow and tentative at first, but eventually resumed with a fervor to match the fannish enthusiasm of my adolescence. In the ’80s, I had a few letters published in Green Lantern and/or Green Lantern Corps (when Englehart was writing it) and in Batman (when Doug Moench was writing it), and I wrote an unpublished rant complaining about gratuitous violence in Justice League Of America. I started freelancing for the fan magazine Amazing Heroes in 1984, and I didn’t write many letters of comment after that. I had one published in an issue of The Power Of Shazam! in the ’90s (even though I didn’t intend it as a letter of comment, just a note to accompany my request for Mr. Mind‘s Venusian Decoder Card), and finally my first and only published letter to Marvel Comics in 2016’s Invincible Iron Man # 11. Marvel still has letters columns in its books; DC does not. I read ’em both anyway.

But I’ve always been a DC guy at heart. I have the letters to prove it.

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Categories
Boppin'

Justice Society Of America: The Movie (a random notion)

Some years back, I had a vague notion of a major motion picture starring comics’ original super-team The Justice Society of America. It was just a series of passing fancies, not something I would have wasted time trying to plot out or conceptualize to any degree. If someone ever attempts to make a JSA movie, there is no plausible chance that I would have any involvement whatsoever. (I mean, y’know, beyond buying a ticket.)

But back to the fantasy. My ideal JSA movie would be set around 1940 or so, prior to America’s official entry into World War II, but with much of the rest of the world already engulfed in that conflagration overseas. The villains would be Axis, because I like adventure stories that involve punching Nazis.


Practical considerations (a factor even in fantasy) would preclude the use of characters like SupermanBatman, or Wonder Woman, plus the original Captain Marvel. We would probably steer clear of some Golden Age characters that share a name with modern heroes–specifically The Flash and Green Lantern–but would be free to use Hawkman or The Atom if we wish.

My vision of this story is slightly more down-to-earth, so I wouldn’t really want to use the most powerful characters. I might or might not want to use Hawkman, but I would use the 1940s Atom, who was a short guy with a penchant for fightin’ but no super powers.

My most integral JSA member is an unlikely one: Ma Hunkel, The Red Tornado (often derisively nicknamed “The Red Tomato”). Yeah, I know she was just comic relief (a brawny homemaker who put on an ad hoc costume to bop bad guys in her working class urban neighborhood), and that she wasn’t really a member of the Society anyway.  But Ma Hunkel is essential to me, more so than any other character we could use; I just like the idea of a headstrong, stubborn Jewish tenement scrapper takin’ on Adolf’s boys and unceremoniously kicking their collective ass. Repeatedly.

(Brief aside: I’ve written elsewhere of my introduction to The Red Tornado, and it’s worth repeating this passage describing what I would do if I were given a chance to write a Justice League/Justice Society crossover: “Although Ma Hunkel never appeared in any of the old JLA/JSA meetings, I would have definitely wanted to include her if I’d had an opportunity to write such a story. I picture a scene of a group of non-powered JLA and JSA members, huddled in hiding while surveying an enemy army, Batman urging caution as he comes up with a plan of attack, only to see ol’ Red Tomato break ranks and dive-bomb headfirst into battle. Green Arrow joins the fight, saying ‘I like this dame!,’ and Wildcat replying, ‘Told ya so!'” Yeah, that’s the Red Tornado I wanna see in a JSA movie.)

Hey, speaking of Wildcat, he would also be an essential JSA member for this film. Another scrapper–specifically a champion heavyweight boxer–I see Ted “Wildcat” Grant as a character connected to his own working class upbringing, possibly from the same general neighborhood as Ma Hunkel. We may as well call it Suicide Slum, and potentially bring in Simon & Kirby‘s hero The Guardian and his kid gang The Newsboy Legion.

I would also ignore comics chronology and bring in The Black Canary as a founding JSA member, the blind hero Dr. Mid-Nite, and possibly The Vigilante, too. Ol’ Vig was never in the JSA–he was in The Seven Soldiers Of Victory and The All-Star Squadron–but the idea of a singing radio cowboy by day/masked crimefighter by night is irresistible to me, and it carries out my long-standing belief that any adventure story can be improved instantly just by adding a cowboy. 

So: The Red Tornado, The Atom, Wildcat, Black Canary, and maybe Dr. Mid-Nite, The Vigilante, or The Sandman (DC’s answer to The Green Hornet). Or maybe wealthy overachiever Mr. Terrific, to ultimately fund our fledgling supergroup, former Fawcett Comics hero Spy Smasher to help combat the Fifth Columnists, and/or Air Wave to rally the public via radio. Let’s add Hourman and Starman (two heroes enhanced by science, the former with chemically-induced strength and the latter with hi-tech weaponry), and reserve some real cosmic heavy-hitter for the film’s climax. Either the dormant ancient Egyptian power of Hawkman or the mystic might of Dr. Fate could be inadvertently resurrected by the Nazis as their evil plan literally blows up in their goose-stepping kissers. And a Society of Justice is formed to defend America and fight for justice. A swell bunch of guys and gals!

I could also see bringing in folks like the aviator Blackhawk or Green Lantern’s cabbie buddy Doiby Dickles as supporting characters. I’m tempted to include the JSA’s comic relief member Johnny Thunder, but his magic genie Thunderbolt would feel out of place, so best to skip Mr. Thunder entirely. Potential sequels could have any Golden Age DC/Fawcett/Quality hero we want, from Midnight to Liberty Belle to Bulletman and Bulletgirl to Merry, Girl of 1000 Gimmicks. And Ibis the Invincible. I’d love to bring Captain Marvel and the power of SHAZAM into the mix, but even flights of fancy require some slight tether to the real world.

And yeah: no script, no plot, no outline here, no grand idea of a superhero movie that needs to be made. And it’s not the Justice Society of the comics, so purists would cry foul. It’s just a notion, and an ill-defined one at that.

But wouldn’t it be cool? Keep ’em flying, JSA!

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