My Aunt Clementine was my Grandmother’s sister, and she and my Uncle Jerry Blazer shared a house with my grandparents that they’d all purchased in 1955 and remained in for almost 50 years. Because of this, they were very much immediate family, although we didn’t see them as often since Clem didn’t like to travel all that much. When they did come out to our house, knowing that I liked comic books, she would occasionally bring me one–and she would dutifully write my name on the cover (or the name of one of my brothers if the book happened to be meant for them.) This bugged me as a kid–I wanted to keep my comics in as nice a condition as possible–but delights me today, a tangible representation of the affection of a woman who has been deceased now for over twenty years. My copy of this issue of SHAZAM is one of the books so inscribed, indicating that I got it from her.
I wasn’t a regular buyer of SHAZAM at this point. The stories had become a bit inconsistent in their appeal as the writers of the 1970s attempted to crack the secret appeal that the character held from the 1940s and 1950s. E. Nelson Bridwell, a Captain Marvel fan since those days, likely came the closest–though he was simultaneously trying to square the circle of making the series relate to the live action incarnation of the property then running on Saturday morning television.
Here, Nelson had been taking a page from those 1940s Captain Marvel stories by having Billy Batson and Uncle Dudley/Mentor visit different real-world cities across the nation. In this issue, the pair are in Detroit–and Nelson even throws in a cameo of a local distributor, just the way that Fawcett used to do (in an attempt to spike local sales.) The pair are meeting Tawky Tawny there, as the sentient tiger intends to try out for the Detroit Tigers baseball team.
As it turns out, Mister Mind has abducted the visiting team for the day’s game, and replaced them with his own team of super-powered alien players. He insists that the Detroit Tigers play his team to show off his superiority. If they won’t play, he’ll execute the visiting team, who are his captives. Captain Marvel is helpless to intervene directly, but after consulting with Zeus of all people, he tries out for and is accepted as a Detroit Tiger.
Cap is, of course, a phenomenal player, and with him on side, the Tigers feel confident about their chances. Even with Uncle Marvel volunteering his services as a coach. Mister mind, though, is concerned–and so when Cap transforms back into Billy in order to phone the details into WHIZ TV, the alien team jumps him and captures him, leaving him tied up in the locker room while the game begins.
What follows is a farcical display of the alien team’s powers and prowess, as they swiftly rack up 28 runs to the Detroit Tigers’ 2. Mister Tawny is playing his heart out, but he’s a bit out of shape and the exertion is winding him. Eventually, Billy is able to free himself by hooking his gag on a discarded set of cleats, and Captain Marvel joins the game. But the deck is stacked against the Tigers.
Captain Marvel uses his powers to even the score here–doing so in ways that strictly speaking probably aren’t completely legal play–but it’s to save lives, so we’ll give him a pass. Cap and the Tigers triumph, and then Cap follows the defeated alien team back to their headquarters in time to save the captured visiting team. But Mister Mind once again gets away, vowing to see Marvel later in Indianapolis. And Tawky Tawny has had his fill of being a professional ballplayer–he’s going to go back to his nice, quiet job at the museum.
The letters page in this issue includes comments from Kevin Dooley, who would one day become a DC editor himself. Dooley is famously (or infamously depending on your point of view) the editor who presided over the transition of Green Lantern from being Hal Jordan to Kyle Rayner. And the Daily Planet plug page announced the discontinuation of the DC Hotline, among other things. The Hotline was a bit difficult to navigate (and to hear) but I loved getting a glimpse inside the walls of DC headquarters every week, so I was sad to see it go.