DC Universe: Challenge of Shazam, Chapter 6: I Can See Clearly Now

by Starsky Hutch 76, Immortalwildcat and Cynthia Finnegan

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Uncle Marvel, Pinky the Whiz Kid, and Kid Eternity stepped through the portal Shazam opened, leaving the stone floor of the interior of the Rock of Eternity to set foot upon grass of a bright shade of green unlike anything they had ever seen. They stared at their surroundings in amazement.

“Everything is so bright here!” Pinky exclaimed.

“It’s like Oz… or Wonderland,” Kid Eternity said.

“Not Oz or Wonderland, though I can see the resemblance, having been both places myself,” a high-pitched voice said from behind them. “Try Funny Animal Land!”

The three of them turned around and saw a four-foot-tall, humanoid, pink-furred rabbit looking at them. Uncle Marvel immediately lit up. “Hoppy! Boy, am I delighted to see you, my lad,” Uncle Marvel said, stepping forward to shake the rabbit’s hand.

“I could say the same,” said Hoppy the rabbit. Feeling the older man’s strength in his handshake, he exclaimed, “You’ve got powers!”

“My… er… Shazambago’s been cured,” Uncle Marvel said, blushing.

“You’re a rabbit!” Kid Eternity and Pinky exclaimed.

“Well, duh,” Hoppy’s expression seemed to say. “Like the song says, ‘What I am is what I am. Are you what you are or what?'”

“Sorry,” Kid Eternity said. “Come to think of it, Freddy mentioned you. But I just thought he was pulling my leg.”

“My friends thought the same thing when I told them about your people,” Hoppy said. “On our world, humans only exist in funny-books and children’s stories.”

“You said ‘I could say the same,'” Uncle Marvel said. “What did you mean by that?”

“I’ve got some troubles of my own,” Hoppy said. “Let me change into my work clothes, then I’ll explain. Shazam!” Suddenly, there was a bolt of magic lightning, and then Hoppy was clad in the uniform of Captain Marvel Bunny.

“It was bad enough having to deal with that villainous mad monkey scientist, Thaddeus Banana, and his offspring, Beautia and Magnificus, but now there’s a new villain just as bad as me!”

“Whoever could that be?” Uncle Marvel said.

Suddenly, a black blur moved in and snatched Pinky. “I think he means me.” A wicked-looking black bunny appeared before them clad in a uniform like Black Adam’s.

“Grizzletail!” Marvel Bunny exclaimed.

“One wrong move, and the hairless ape gets it,” the villainous black hare said, his hands clamped around Pinky’s neck.

“Hairless ape?!” exclaimed Pinky. “Who the heck are you calling a hairless ape?” She reached up and, with both hands, gripped Grizzletail’s arm that was encircling her neck. She kicked her legs up and over, slamming both of her booted feet into the rabbit’s face. Though he wasn’t hurt, he was startled, and his arm loosened. Pinky slipped down and away.

“At him, Hops!” cried Uncle Marvel, relishing the thought of using his newfound powers for the first time.

Together with the Marvel Bunny, he leaped at the black-clad, super-powered rabbit. Four Shazam-powered fists slammed into Grizzletail’s chin, sending him backward in a somersault. His head hit the ground, and a trio of small blue birds flew in to circle around the befuddled bunny’s head.

“Wow, I never actually saw that happen before,” observed Kid Eternity. “But we better get going if we’re going to help Freddy and the others.”

“Of course, m’boy, of course!” Uncle Marvel looked at Hoppy. “So, are you with us?”

“Sure, just let me take care of something here first.” Reaching into a pocket within his belt, Captain Marvel Bunny pulled out a silver coin on a thin cord. “I borrowed this the last time Mr. Z pulled me out of his hat. Unc, you grab ol’ bushy ears there and slap him awake.”

As the portly hero bent to the task, Marvel Bunny started the coin swinging back and forth on the end of the string. As Grizzletail’s eyes fluttered open, he immediately caught sight of the flashing coin.

“Sleepy, you’re feeling sleepy,” intoned the heroic rabbit, over and over.

The black rabbit’s eyes drooped, then his head fell forward.

“Now, listen to me. Say your magic word.”

“Shazam,” murmured Grizzletail. A lightning bolt shot from the sky, transforming him back into a ragged-looking black and brown rabbit.

“Now, from now on, your magic word is ishcabibble. Say your word!”

“Ishcabibble.”

Boom!” shouted Pinky. When the others looked at her, she shrugged. “Hey, if he didn’t hear it, he might get suspicious!”

Pocketing the coin, Marvel Bunny turned to the others. “OK, he’ll come to on his own. Let’s go!”

As if on cue, a portal opened in front of the group.

“Looks like the old wizard was waiting for us!” Uncle Marvel led the way through the portal.

They emerged in a world even stranger than Funny Animal Land. Trees, buildings, even the ground itself tilted at impossible angles. Birds flew upside down, and in the distance they saw a pair of dolphins diving through the air, without benefit of any water beneath them.

“Great jumping juniper!” exclaimed Uncle Marvel. “What sort of world is this?”

“It’s my world, fatso!” came a sharp voice from behind him. Turning, they spied a small, twisted version of Billy Batson, wearing a yellow sweater with red trim. His eyes blazed with mischief, and pointed ears protruded from his unkempt mop of black hair.

“Of course! Why didn’t I think of this?” asked Uncle Marvel. “Of course, the fact that I had no idea how to get here might have been a slight problem.”

“What are you, the Earth-Warped version of Billy?” asked Kid Eternity.

“Something like that. But you can call me Zazzo!” said the boy.

Pinky’s eye widened in recognition. “Hey, I remember you. You came to our world about ten or eleven years back and stole Captain Marvel’s thunder, didn’t you?” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Who Stole Billy Batson’s Thunder?” Shazam! #19 (July-August, 1975).]

“That’s me. Dad got so mad, he took away my ability to visit your world.”

“What about the helmet?” asked Uncle Marvel.

“Oh, that’s at home, right over there. You want to see it?”

“More than that, m’boy. We want you to use it. We can share the powers of either myself or Hoppy with you.” Uncle Marvel bent forward and put his hands on his knees. “So, Zazzo, who do you want to be today?”

***

In a cave somewhere on the legendary Rock of Eternity, Caitlin O’Malley sat, bound and gagged in some sort of a black magic-made bubble, unable to see her friends and fellow heroes. She knew that Ibis the Invincible was there with her, as well as the heroine known as the Mighty Isis. Isis and Ibis — they rhyme! she thought, giggling in spite of herself. But she couldn’t see them, either. The pretty redhead knew that the total, Hell-formed darkness of the bubble was meant to keep her from seeing anything and using her telekinetic abilities, but why go to such an extreme? Keeping a blindfold over her eyes would work just as well.

And then, the villainess known as Darkling opened her own big, fat mouth and spilled it.

“That’s right, Mary! Your magical friends have fallen to my sorcery! They won’t speak their spells or use their talismans while the Stygian mists choke the very air out of them. It is all they can do to remain alive!”

Bollocks! the young white witch thought angrily. There’s more than one way out of this stupid, bloody fishbowl, and maybe I can keep the others in here with me alive a bit longer if I do this!

A radical plan came to Caitlin’s mind. It was risky, even dangerous for her, but she couldn’t just sit there and allow the others to slowly suffocate. Besides, it was against her nature to do nothing while others suffered. The only one who would be likely to see her astral form was Billy Batson, and she wondered again if he might be clairvoyant. She would need help, and she knew just who to ask.

“Excuse me, Prince Ibis?” she asked.

“You are Billy, Mary, and Freddy’s friend Caitlin, are you not?” the Egyptian prince replied, answering her with a question.

“Yes I am, and even though we haven’t been properly introduced yet, I seek a boon from you. I’m going to walk between the worlds, and I need someone to watch over my physical form while my spirit is out of it.”

His decision didn’t even take a moment’s thought. “My young friends have spoken very highly of you, so I will aid you in your endeavor.”

“Thank you. I’ve done this before, never for more than a few minutes, but if it works, you’ll live to go home to your lady.” Caitlin closed her eyes and instantly fell into a deep, meditative trance, so deep, in fact, that you couldn’t tell if she was breathing unless you held a mirror under her nose. As her breathing got slower and slower, so did her pulse rate, until it was undetectable by all but a doctor. Before she went completely under, she reminded herself that she had someone to watch her back.

And a moment later, when she opened her eyes again, Caitlin found herself sitting in front of a surprised Billy Batson, and a very startled Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman. Mary gasped at the sight of their friend sitting cross-legged like some strange Buddha and floating two inches above the cave floor, and the normally unflappable Freddy nearly shouted through his gag until she placed a finger over her mouth.

“Shhh, Freddy!” Cait exclaimed in alarm. She was pleased that they could all see her, but she hadn’t counted on what their reaction might be when she popped into view. “The bad guys might not be able to see me right this minute, but they’ll hear you, and if that happens, I’m a dead duck!”

Billy, however, simply rolled his eyes and thought, Showoff.

Holy moley! thought Freddy, Cait? Are you…?

“Don’t wig, folks, I’m not dead. Not yet, anyway. Just out of my body, and right now, you’re the only ones who can see me like this. I don’t know how much time I have until…”

But how? Mary asked.

“Good old astral projection. Almost as fun as flying…”

What do you mean, almost? Nothing’s more fun than flying, Billy said with a good-natured chuckle.

Cait ignored the remark. “The only drawbacks are that nothing happens when I say Shazam, I can’t use any of my more active powers, like fetching, and I have the density of a ghost.”

Fat Billy’s in bad shape, Mary mused, concern etched on her lovely face.

So is Bulletgirl, Freddy added. Those two… sorry… witches… gave her a pretty bad beating.

“I’ll see what I can do for them. No promises, mind, but… I’ll try to take care of Bulletgirl and Fat Billy first, then I’ll start giving the villains a major case of the wiggins…”

Be careful, kiddo, Billy thought at the pretty, dark-red-haired girl.

“Don’t worry, mother hen; they won’t know what hit them.”

Cait walked to the fallen heroes and, starting with Bulletgirl, began to heal them. Susan Barr was battered and bruised, but had no broken bones, thank goodness, so it wouldn’t take long to get her back on her feet.

“You’re fine now, so I need to go to Fat Billy.”

As she walked over to the barely conscious Fat Billy, Cait saw the one called Black Dionysius look around, completely freaked out. Could it be possible that he was sensing her presence? She had to find out, so as she laid one hand on the Lieutenant Marvel, she punched Dean with the other, and the fledgling villain nearly leaped out of his skin as her fist went through him.

Gaaa-aaa-aah!” he screamed.

“What is the matter with you now, you young fool?!” Darkling demanded angrily.

“I’ve got the tickle feeling again… something freaky’s going to happen!” said Black Dionysius.

Meanwhile, not that far away, Billy’s scrabbling search of the floor around him paid off. His hand closed on a scrap of something, possibly metallic and definitely sharp, and he began working on the ropes that bound his wrists, hoping he wouldn’t get caught until it was too late.

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