America’s Greatest: 1953: Gorilla Warfare, Prologue, 1987: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

by Libbylawrence

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Parker Maximum Security Prison was an ominous-looking compound with a highly trained security team, grim-looking facilities, and multiple dangerous inmates. While the prison did receive visitors, few of them could accurately be described as cheerful looking. That’s why the staffers of the facility were surprised by how friendly and courteous a celebrity visitor was when he pulled up at the gates in his car and patiently allowed the guards to conduct him through the detailed screening process. He was recognized by many of them, since he was occasionally a guest on various news programs, including the popular ones anchored by Billy Batson of Station WHIZ.

Although he was in his late sixties, he still possessed merely a shock of thick white hair that gave him an almost boyish or at least timeless appearance. He was somewhat overweight, but he moved gracefully and carried himself well. Everything about him suggested prosperity and a simple, decent satisfaction with life.

Warden Cleaver hesitated as he stopped the guest outside of one particular cell. “Mr. Wyman, this prisoner is eccentric, to say the least,” said the almost apologetic warden. “He actually takes pleasure in most of his nefarious schemes, and possesses a strange sense of humor. That makes him unpredictable, as does his absolute brilliance. He should not be dangerous under current conditions, but he may not prove to be cooperative, either!”

Ken Wyman grinned and said, “I know all about Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, and I assure you that all I want from him is his time — and he has plenty of that to spare, even considering his talent for making escapes!” Warden Cleaver’s frown deepened.

“Sorry,” Wyman said, shrugging sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to suggest that your facility was not secure, or that you and your excellent staffers weren’t reliable!”

As he was ushered into the private cell, he saw the small, bald genius look up from his cot and swiftly appraise his visitor with an uncomfortably keen and frighteningly accurate scrutiny.

“I recognize you,” said Thaddeus Bodog Sivana. “You’re Kenneth Wyman, the award-winning, crusading journalist! I suppose you’ve come to ask me if you could ghost write my autobiography, or perhaps you want to know what the Big Red Cheese is really like in person. The answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second question is that he’s an insipid dolt, and he’s most accurately described as the soon-to-be-late Captain Marvel! Heh! heh! heh!

Ken Wyman sat down and said, “Dr. Sivana, I haven’t come to ask for your story. I’m here to tell you my own, or at least the part that applies to you. You see, you changed my life completely. You fixed things so nothing was ever the same again for me.”

Dr. Sivana frowned as he sat up and swung his short legs over the side of the cot. “I changed your life?” he said suspiciously. “How is that possible? Did you secretly pocket some loot from the time I used my Midas ray to change most of downtown Los Angeles into solid gold?”

Wyman shook his head and said, “No. You changed my life forever when you trapped the Marvels and so many other heroes within Suspendium in 1953. (*) You see, after that, my life was never the same!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The World’s Wickedest Plan,” Shazam! #1 (February, 1973).]

Dr. Sivana’s eyes gleamed as he stared at the famous reporter. “Oh, that is rich! That is what they proverbially call a knee-slapper! You, a world-famous reporter, who may very well rank right up there with the greats of the field, were so sick with hero worship that it broke your heart when the world lost the Marvels for twenty years! If I had my way, they would have been lost for all eternity! Heh! heh! heh!” he chuckled wickedly.

Ken Wyman’s gaze hardened, but he retained his good humor. “You misunderstand me. It is true that I mourned the loss of so many good men and women because of your hateful trap, but my grief didn’t break my heart. On the contrary, the loss of the heroes you trapped only motivated me to make some real changes in my own life in 1953!

“I grew up in Carterville, Iowa. It was a nice place to live, but I almost had it too easy. You see, I was the son of the local banker, and he had an executive position at his bank all lined up for me. I was engaged to the lovely daughter of the town’s popular mayor. I guess you could say my future looked pretty bright. The only problem was I didn’t want to be a banker, nor did I want to settle down with Sandra or anyone else back in 1940. I wanted to have adventures. I wanted to be a reporter. I had worked for the Carterville Daily Blade after school, and my dad looked on it as a boyish hobby. He didn’t like it as much when I refused to take the job at the bank. Sandra didn’t much care for it when I refused to immediately marry her, either.”

“Believe it or not, this little soap opera interests me,” said Sivana. “Tell me more!”

“Our sleepy little town was run by a mob of thugs led by a punk named Marlowe — Jeff Marlowe,” Wyman continued. “I knew it, and the cops knew it, but no one could pin anything on him. Folks were scared of that gang. I decided to use my job at the paper to expose the corruption, and I vowed to use my own skills to fight the gang in a secret way. I started wearing a mask, and I used my wits and my fists to bring down that pack of goons!”

Sivana stifled a yawn and said, “You became a mystery-man. Now I’m starting to lose interest. If you’ve seen one cape-wearing imbecile, you’ve seen them all. Who were you — the Centerville Crusader?”

“That’s Carterville, not Centerville. I was the Devil’s Dagger. I know it sounds like a name from the pulps, but it was the early 1940s, and it had a certain ring to it. I did a pretty good job, too. I felt free for the first time in my life when I put that mask on my face. Everyone thought I had it made, but I always felt trapped or smothered until I became the Dagger. I brought down Marlowe after some crazy adventures, including a battle on a blimp, but it turned out Marlowe wasn’t the real leader. (*) A mysterious Mr. H was the true mobster in charge of a whole national ring of killers and thieves. It took some real work, but with help of a pal of mine, I exposed Mr. H and cleaned up my town. At that point I put the mask away and told my editor all about my secret life. (*) I enlisted in the service at the outbreak of war after Pearl Harbor, and when I got out in late 1945, I took that bank job and even married Sandra Cole. I was wealthy and successful, and everyone liked me, but I was miserable. I felt trapped again like a rat in a cage… uh, no offense!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Devil’s Dagger, Master Comics #1 (March, 1940), The Devil’s Dagger, Master Comics #7 (October, 1940), and The Devil’s Dagger, Master Comics #20 (November, 1941).]

“Very droll,” said Sivana.

“I loved my wife, but she didn’t understand me,” continued Wyman. “I missed the paper. I missed being a hero. My old editor asked me to do him a favor and act as a special assignment man for the ceremony honoring the Marvels in November, 1953. He knew how unhappy I was, and I think he figured any association with heroes like them would do me good. He knew I had printer’s ink in my veins, as they say.”

Sivana nodded and said, “So what happened then, Devil’s Dagger, or may I just call you Dag?

“My car broke down,” said Wyman. “I was late for the ceremony, and I was angry. I saw it as just one more piece of bad luck in a life gone wrong. Well, of course that meant I was not in the crowd that got caught in the Suspendium trap. When I figured out what had happened — that the Marvels were gone — I vowed right then and there to change my life. I didn’t know they were going to be away for so long. I knew they had always beaten you before, and most of us expected them to show up any minute!

“In any case, I quit my job at the bank. I opened up to my wife. To my surprise, she did understand. We moved to Los Angles, and I took a job on a paper. Eventually, I established a successful and rewarding career for myself. We had several great kids, and I retired a couple of months ago to write my memoirs. I’ve had a great life so far. I resumed my masked role as well, although I started just calling myself the Dagger. I met other mystery-men, and we had some wild times!”

“So why come to me with this tale of bliss?” asked Sivana.

“I want to thank you,” said Wyman. “If you hadn’t trapped the Marvels and the other heroes, I might have stayed in Carterville in a bank job I hated. You made me see the need for heroes, and you gave me a reason to become one again. I’d say, in an indirect way, I owe everything I’ve accomplished as a hero and as a journalist to you! Every good deed the Dagger performed could be credited to you, in a manner of speaking.”

Sivana turned bright red as he yelled, “Guards! Get this dolt out of my sight! I can’t stand to hear another word! This is cruel and unusual punishment! It’s almost as bad as the time they gave me that cursed Nobel Prize!” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Sivana’s Nobel,” World’s Finest Comics #273 (November, 1981).]

As Ken Wyman walked slowly out of the prison, he smiled with satisfaction and recalled how his first postwar case started on the day of the Suspendium trap in November of 1953.

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