Mary Marvel and Atom Blake: Magic and Demons and Ghouls, Oh My! Chapter 1: The Prize

by Dan Swanson

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Atom Blake the Boy Wizard was working on his end-of-year project at the exclusive Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge, which existed on a unique island accessible by five different Earths.

By all appearances, Atom was merely an ordinary six-year-old boy, small for his age, with black hair and black eyes. His dorm room in Samekh House in Merlin Hall was decorated strangely for a normal contemporary six-year-old, however — he had posters of 1940s movie stars and mystery-men on the walls, models of World War II planes hanging from the ceiling, and a scattering of magical apparatuses throughout the room, including a crystal ball, and a thurible, and crystals of all shapes, sizes, and colors on almost every horizontal space. A table against the wall was covered with glassware, flasks, tubes, ewers, and a small oil lamp. One shelf over the table was devoted to solid spell components in pouches, burettes, tins, and earthenware bottles, and the shelf above that was filled with an impressive number of bottles, flagons, flasks, alembics, and phials, each partially filled with some exotic potion.

Of course, Atom wasn’t exactly a normal contemporary six-year-old — he’d been born in 1925, had developed amazing super-powers as he grew up, been age-regressed and condemned to perpetual six-year-old boyhood by a pair of evil demons in 1950, and spent nearly forty years with the body and emotional maturity of a young child. And, of course, he was a powerful wizard in his own right.

In fact, his perpetual youth was the reason he’d enrolled at the Grimoire Academy at the end of last year. Atom had not always been an actual magic-user. In fact, he had only been nicknamed the Boy Wizard because of the amazing super-strength, speed, and invulnerability that had been granted to him by his father, brilliant physicist Stuart Blake. Atom also been left an amazing sunergy ring by his father that could make the impossible become true. While the ring was actually scientifically based, its capabilities were so incredible that it seemed like magic, allowing him to transform objects and to protect him while traveling through outer space at faster-than-lightspeed. That, combined with Atom’s ability to travel through time and space and perform many other amazing feats merely by reciting certain advanced mathematical equations had granted him the monicker of the Boy Wizard. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Atom Blake the Boy Wizard, Wow Comics #1 (Winter, 1940-1941).]

When Atom fell afoul of Blaze and Satanus in 1950, those two powerful demons cursed him by making him a literal boy wizard, transforming him into a permanent six-year-old and then, almost as an afterthought, taking away the sunergy ring and scientifically based super-powers he’d become used to and granting him magical abilities instead. As his control of magic grew, Atom had attempted to cure his condition — there might be many people who thought immortality to be a blessing, but Atom realized that being stuck at six forever would be intolerable. He had been twenty-five and courting the woman he planned to marry when the demons had cursed him, and he remembered the glimpses he’d had of some of the joys of life that he would forever be denied if he remained trapped at six. Part of his reasoning for enrolling here was that he would perhaps learn something that could help at the most advanced institute of magical study on five Earths.

Atom Blake had already reaped unexpected benefits from his studies, since another part of his curse was a kind of magical narcolepsy: immediately after using his powers, he would fall into deep sleep for several hours, like a tuckered-out child. His drowsiness ended up being rather inconvenient in the middle of a battle versus magical foes. And so, in an advanced alchemy class, he’d learned to create an energy potion — something like Jolt Cola, only more effective. As long as he could drink a shot of his potion every couple of hours, he could keep his affliction under control.

He’d been unhappy when he discovered that the academy was located on the secluded Grim Island in the South Pacific and surrounded by a magical protective barrier looking like a fog bank, which not only shielded the island from discovery by the outside world, but also prevented magical arrivals or departures, such as by flying or teleportation, and that he’d be isolated from his family and friends for nearly nine months a year at this remote boarding school. But he’d quickly adjusted; the school’s excellent magical communications systems allowed him to keep in close touch with those acquaintances who knew of his powers, and even though Headmaster Gallowglass stubbornly insisted that Grimoire Academy was technically not a magic school, Atom had learned more about magic and the supernatural in the past nine months than he had ever imagined was possible. Plus, he’d made a lot of new friends among both the faculty and students, only a small percentage of which were actually from Earth-S.

Because of his years of prior experience using his magical abilities, he’d been admitted to advanced mystical arts classes only available to fifth-years and up despite the fact that most of his classmates all appeared to be in their late teens and thus looking ten to twelve years older than he was. Atom Blake was one of a few students on the island that weren’t counted amongst the normal student body, since he didn’t need to take most of the non-magic-based, academic classes such as science and mathematics, which were required for graduation by the rest of the students. After all, Atom was a child prodigy and mathematics whiz who had graduated from high school in 1941 at age sixteen and from Princeton University in 1945 at age twenty.

Atom’s only interest was formalizing his knowledge of magic, so like a number of Homo Magi students from different Earths, he was given permission to attend a number of magic-based classes, including some that were normally only available to grads who had completed all seven years at the school. He’d had to study extra hard to catch up in some academic areas, while his years of experience gave him an advantage over his classmates in others. He expected that next year would be easier, as he had nearly closed all the gaps between his own knowledge and that of a typical seventh-year grad student and would be admitted to advanced collegiate-level classes at Nommo Hall, where some of the greatest magical authorities in history would provide him with private tutoring.

For his final project this year, he’d convinced his advisor to let him do an analysis of the accidental time-stoppage spell he’d encountered and dissipated on the South Sea island of Maloana a few years back. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See Bulletman and Bulletgirl: The Castaways.]

He hadn’t realized before he started that it was much more difficult to reverse-engineer a spell than it was to cancel it, and he’d had to ask for an extension. The school year ended today, October 31, 1987, and most of the students had already caught boats for the mainland of their respective Earths to celebrate Halloween, but he would be here until he finished the project. He could have asked for an academic exception to finish between terms, but an exception would automatically drop his grade a half-point, and he needed an aleph on this project to maintain his perfect 7.0 GPA.

Suddenly, he felt a wash of intense heat, as if a gigantic bonfire had flared in his room, followed instantly by an intense chill. Though he’d never himself actually cast the spell he had been studying with such fervor, he instantly recognized its side-effects — somehow a time-stoppage spell had just been activated. Uh-oh! he thought in panic. I think I’m in troub…

***

Atom Blake came back to consciousness slowly. He was a little disoriented, and he had no idea how long he’d been unaware. As he gradually became more focused, he realized he could sense the time-stoppage spell, still active but no longer affecting him. He thought that his past experience with the spell, along with his current intensive study, might have made him partially immune, but he could figure that out for sure later. Right now, he began making preparations to dispel it once again. He was pretty sure, though, that even if he straightened things out himself, this little incident was going to shoot his perfect GPA to heck.

He got to his feet, the ambient spell fighting his every breath and movement as if the air around him had turned to water. He recalled the spell he’d used on Maloana, and cast it again, but it didn’t work this time. Whatever was powering this version of the time-stoppage spell was much more powerful than the best the old shaman, S’ville, had been able to muster. Atom rummaged around his room, gathering some mystical ingredients, and ground them to powder in the pestle. He then mixed the powder with a potion he pulled from the upper shelf and, while chanting, quaffed the new potion. The pressure around him eased, and he knew he would be able to move normally until the potion wore off, though he wasn’t sure how long that would take. Then he took a quick look out his window to learn whatever he could. He assumed it had been his investigation that had somehow started this mess, which made him the guy who needed to resolve it. He was wrong about the cause, though.

In the quad in front of his dormitory at Merlin Hall, he saw two familiar figures. They were humanoid except for large horns on their foreheads similar to those on sheep, each about seven feet tall, the male figure with coal-black skin, the female blood-red. Atom recognized them instantly. Blaze and Satanus! he thought to himself. What are they doing here? He first thought they must have been here for him, but he quickly realized that they were headed for Strabo Hall, home of the Endor College of Necromancy, one of the collegiate-level facilities associated with Grimoire Academy. Atom strongly disapproved of necromancy and avoided Strabo Hall, but Grimoire accepted students who studied all of the mystical arts. Atom did know, however, that recently the Endor College had received a new relic for study from his own universe — the corpse of a long-dead alien from the Aldebaran star system called the Space Ghoul, who had died fighting the Marvel Family in December of 1952. (*) Could the demons be here for the corpse of the Space Ghoul?

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Ghastly Space Ghoul,” The Marvel Family #80 (February, 1953).]

The boy wizard quickly recalled the details from memory. The Space Ghoul from Aldebaran had come to Earth looking for free meals, as his species lived on carrion, preferably human flesh. They preferred it freshly dead, still warm, but weren’t all that picky, and would gladly feast on rotting human corpses. The Space Ghoul had trapped Billy Batson, Mary Batson, and Freddy Freeman in their human forms, but Billy had managed to summon the magic lightning just in time, and during his fight with Captain Marvel, the Space Ghoul had fallen on the knife he’d planned to use to butcher the three kids. Even after thirty-five years, the creature was still shrouded in mystery and could be a valuable prize for the two demons.

Of course, Grim Island held many other mysteries of its own, any number of which could be a target, but Atom thought it most likely that the two demons would be searching for something from their own Earth. He also guessed that they had picked this time to invade the island, when travel to and from Grimoire was once again permitted. The headmaster of the school, Mr. Gallowglass, was also its main protector and certainly had the reality-warping powers to stave off almost any foe, but even he couldn’t keep his single eye on everything all at once, and he was apparently too occupied by something else at the moment to notice the demonic intrusion.

Atom wasn’t reckless enough to tackle two incredibly powerful demons on his own, especially as they had already bested him once before. But he wasn’t going to simply hide from them, either. He picked up a crystal from his desk, quickly crushed it with a mortar and pestle, and then, while chanting, he sprinkled the dust over the flame of an oil lamp. There was a flash as it vaporized, and the popping of displaced air as four beautiful young women appeared in his room.

Mary Batson was unused to being abruptly transported from her dorm room at UCLA to an unknown location, particularly when she was changing clothes. Nevertheless, she was used to responding instantly to danger. She shouted her magic word, “Shazam!” and the mystical lightning flash and accompanying roll of thunder only added to the confusion of the other three women in the room. Not so for the delighted Atom Blake, however.

“Ha-ha! I saw your underpants!” Atom crowed victoriously to Mary Marvel. Sometimes he couldn’t help acting six years old.

“Atom Blake, I have a good mind to swat your bottom for that!” she said in as mean a tone of voice as she was able, which wasn’t very mean, as Mary Marvel was one of the sweetest people on Earth. “You better have a good reason for bringing me…” She paused as she noticed the other young ladies in the room, then continued. “…for bringing us all here!”

Us included a tall, shapely blonde beauty with an awesome tan dressed in a green short-sleeved dress, gloves, high-heeled slippers, and hat, with a transparent green veil over her face; a very pretty redhead dressed in a long red cloak with long sleeves and red gloves, with a red hood and mask; and a hot brunette dressed for clubbing, with shiny black leather hot pants and revealing lace-up vest and high-heeled, thigh-high boots, all trimmed in gold lame. For a moment, Atom didn’t know where to look, and more than ever he hoped he could find a way to lift his youthfulness curse.

“Like, hi, other Marys!” the blonde said. “Like, wow, Totty, that is some totally awesome Halloween costume! Hillbetty, here, and I are headed for our sorority’s costume party dressed as Lady Luck and the Woman in Red! (*) And, like, neither of us would dare dress like you are, much as we, like, totally wanted to! Like, we’d be totally slapping boys’ hands away all night!”

[(*) Editor’s note: Lady Luck and the Woman in Red are two of the earliest mystery-women, or female super-heroes, both having debuted in 1940.]

“This isn’t a costume; I’m properly attired for a social evening in London,” the girl who had been addressed as Totty responded with offended British dignity and accent. Then she her tone of voice changed abruptly. “I say, it’s very good to see you blokes!” The girls gathered together for a round of hugs with their best friends. Atom interrupted.

“Hey, we don’t have time for all that icky girl hello stuff!” he piped up. “Mary Marvel has to help me take care of Blaze and Satanus!” He wasn’t exactly sure why his spell had brought four girls here; he’d only wanted Mary Marvel. He hoped the others wouldn’t get in the way.

“Satanus is sure a spooky name,” the hillbetty commented. “Who are Blaze and Satanus?”

“I’ll show you.” Atom waved his hand, and a scene appeared in the air in front of the group. Blaze and Satanus were trying to smash their way through the closed door of Strabo Hall. Even though they were seen through a mystical vision at a reduced size, the girls could still feel their palpable auras of powerful, menacing evil.

“Mary Marvel and I will take care of the demons. You other girls wait here, where it’s safe!” Adam ordered, his high-pitched voice deadly serious. The girls started giggling, even Mary Marvel. “Look, those two are deadly! I should know — I’ve fought them before! It’s too dangerous for a bunch of girls!”

“You’re in for a surprise, Atom,” Mary Marvel laughed. “Turn your back!” She remembered what she’d been wearing when she arrived, and Atom had already seen enough. He didn’t turn away immediately. “Now!” she sternly raised her voice. He shrugged and obeyed.

“Shazam!” The magic lightning struck again. What was Mary doing? Atom didn’t need any more non-powered girls, regardless of their attire, or lack thereof; he needed the powers of Selena, Hippolyta, Ariadne, Zephyrus, Aurora, and Minerva, all rolled into one girl — he needed Mary Marvel. So he was relieved when Mary once more spoke her magic word — and puzzled as he realized the other three girls were saying it along with her. “Shazam!

The magic lightning struck again, but this time it was four times brighter and four times louder, and it delivered four times the power of Shazam. With his mystical senses, Atom could feel the awesome magical powers now arrayed in his room, and he almost started to feel sorry for the demons — almost, but not quite. But even though he suspected, he was not quite prepared for the sight that met him when he turned back to the girls. Where before had stood the majestic form of Mary Marvel and three beautiful, alluring, but otherwise normal teenage girls, he now witnessed one of the most awesome assemblages of super-heroines in history — Mary Marvel and the three Lieutenant Mary Marvels: blonde Valley Mary Marvel, redheaded Mary Belle Marvel, and brunette Posh Mary Marvel.

“Wowzer!” was all he could say as his mouth dropped open.

“Like, let’s like totally wipe the floor with those icky demons!” was Valley Mary’s battle-cry. The four Marys flashed out the window, and Atom belatedly followed, hoping the Marys would leave him some battle action.

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