BHOC: SHAZAM #33

This is another book that I think was purchased by my grandmother, in this instance for my younger brother Ken. I can see her feeling as though if she was buying a comic book for me, she would have to bring one for him as well. At this moment, SHAZAM was an occasional read for me–having started to move into more sophisticated Marvel fare, it had started to feel a bit juvenile. And in another issue, a massive change would transform the series as it abandoned the simple, open art style established by C. C. Beck in favor of a more modern and realistic approach. But that wouldn’t be enough to save the series.

As such, writer E. Nelson Bridwell took this opportunity to wrap up the storylines he’d been running for several issues, a tribute to the Fawcett Captain Marvel comics of his youth in which the Big Red Cheese would go to different cities across the nation and interact with local celebrities and distributors (thus ingratiating the title with those selfsame distributors.) In this particular instance, the action was set in Indianapolis, the site of the famous car race.

The story opens with Captain Marvel averting a collision between two of the racers before transforming himself back to Billy Batson so that he can watch the end of the race. Suddenly, there is a voice over the loudspeakers–the voice of Mister Mind! He challenges mankind to a race against his champion, the robotic Mister Atom, here reconfigured into the Atomobile. If his challenge isn’t heeded within one hour, the Atomobile will release deadly radiation that will wipe out Indianapolis.

After first determining how mister Atom survived his last appearance in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA–Bridwell was a very continuity-minded writer–Captain Marvel takes up Mister Atom’s challenge. But the rules state that he must drive a vehicle–in this way, Mister Atom figures he’s neutralized any advantage that Marvel has. But Captain Marvel has a plan, and he consults with the old wizard and the six Elders, In addition, a local distributor, Mike Kuebel, directs the Captain to where he can construct his special vehicle. Kuebel’s appearance is right out of the Fawcett playbook, but it doesn’t seem to have done the title’s sales any particular good in this case.

Borrowing parts and garage space, Captain Marvel constructs the Shazamobile–clearly an effort to get ahead of potential licensing needs in the manner of the soon-to-appear Supermobile and the earlier Spider-Mobile. Becoming Billy Batson again, he sits in the driver’s seat of the car and says the magic word, which supercharges his vehicle. Now he and Mister Atom are going to race ten laps–and if Marvel loses, so will Indianapolis.

The two racers are neck-and-neck, and Mister Atom moves to engage his full power. But before he can, Captain Marvel opens up the Shazamobile, and it surges into the lead traveling at 300 miles per minute. After Marvel’s car passes him twice, Mister Atom knows he cannot win honestly, and he tries to crash the Shazamobile off the road. But empowered by the magic lightning, the car is just as strong as Captain Marvel himself, and Mister Atom’s Atomobile just bounces off harmlessly. Out of control, Mister Atom’s vehicle cracks up and Captain Marvel finishes the race in triumph.

Suddenly, Captain Marvel is astonished to witness Mister Atom’s headless body walk out to the wreckage of the Atomobile, where it retrieves its head. The homicidal robot is determined to do away with Captain Marvel, and the two fighters battle their way all across the state of Indiana, enough so that several local landmarks are spotlighted. Eventually, Captain Marvel grows tired of the tussle and punches Mister Atom so hard that the robot achieves escape velocity and is headed on a one-way trip into the sun. Marvel thereafter throws the rest of the Atomobile after him, so that it won’t leak any harmful radiation into the biosphere.

And then, in a final wrap-up page, we cut to the irate Mister Mind, irritated that his latest plan has once again been foiled by the World’s Mightiest Mortal. He begins to plot his next scheme–when a hand reaches out and grabs him! It’s Uncle Dudley, not seen in this story since the earliest pages! While Captain Marvel was dealing with Mister Atom, Dudley used a Geiger counter to track the radioactive signature of the Atomobile back to Mister Mind’s lair. With the wicked worm captured, this particular serial had reached its end.

In addition to the letters page, this issue of SHAZAM included the current edition of the Daily Planet, the page DC was using at this time to plug its upcoming titles–both for the coming week and further out. In 1977, there weren’t many outlets to get news about what was coming up in your favorite books, especially if you weren’t yet plugged into comic book fandom (and even if you were, honestly.) So the Daily Planet was to me a welcome preview of things I might look forward to.

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