by Dan Swanson
Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana and Captain Marvel were sitting on opposite sides of a small table in Billy Batson’s office. The Captain was watching Sivana intently, and was more than a little uneasy with this situation. Sivana appeared to be completely relaxed. Marvel had offered hospitality, and Sivana had asked for tea. When Joan Jameson came in carrying the silver tea set that was usually reserved exclusively for board meetings, Sivana rose graciously to his feet. A stunned Captain Marvel quickly followed suit. Marvel didn’t know when or where Sivana had learned his courtly manners, but he’d be darned if he’d let his oldest and deadliest enemy upstage him in the chivalry department.
Sivana took the tea tray from Joan and set it carefully on the table, then turned back to her. “Miss Jameson, it is simply delightful to see you again. You look marvelous, as usual.” He held out his hand, and Joan, stunned, reached out as if to shake it. But once again, he surprised both of the others by taking her hand gently in his, executing a stately bow, and brushing her hand with his lips. Joan was almost swept away by his courtly manner. His charisma was such that, for a moment, she forgot who she was facing.
She blushed as she retrieved her hand and stammered as she tried to respond. “Why, thank you…” she said, then hesitated; how should she address this enigma? She thought quickly, then continued, “…Dr. Sivana. I hope you enjoy your tea. I must get back to my work!” And she quickly retreated, flustered and confused at her reaction to Sivana’s unexpected behavior.
Before she reached the door, the courtly Sivana spoke again. “Before you leave, my dear?” She turned back. “There could be certain… repercussions, to both my reputation and that of the good Captain, were our meeting to become public knowledge.” The Captain looked stunned; he obviously hadn’t thought of that. “Not only that, but the media circus that would inevitably materialize within minutes would quite interfere with our discussions. Please make every effort to ensure our privacy.”
Joan looked at Captain Marvel, who quickly nodded. “Yes, what he said!” Joan turned to leave the room, but Sivana wasn’t quite done.
“Thank you, Miss Jameson. If you should ever find yourself in need of employment, please let me know!” Joan had no idea how to respond to this. There was no way in the universe that she would ever even consider working for Sivana, yet she found this particular avatar to be charming and even… attractive. Sivana watched as she left. “Delightful woman!” he said with a smile, then turned to the serious business of preparing tea.
Captain Marvel was dumbfounded and more than a little angry. This had to be a charade of some kind, and it was time to end it. Yet the Wisdom of Solomon was telling him that this was really and truly Sivana, and that this was not a trick.
“Who the heck are you?! You can’t be the Sivana I know — nobody that wicked could act as gentlemanly as you’re acting! Are you from some alternate reality or something?”
Sivana slammed his teacup to the table and yelled, “Listen, you big red id–” But he quickly shut up, paused for a few seconds to collect himself, then continued, much more quietly. “I beg your pardon for my unseemly outburst. As you might imagine, it is somewhat… stressful to need a favor from someone with whom you have engaged in total deadly war for almost fifty years. Yet this is important to me, and there is none other to whom I could turn. I would like for you to arrange for a complete pardon for Junior.”
Captain Marvel shook his head in disbelief. “After all the crimes Sivana Junior has committed over the years?” he cried, referring to Dr. Sivana’s youngest son, who was the spitting image of his father. “What are you, insane?” This situation was becoming weirder by the minute.
“Not at all, my dear Captain.” Sivana paused and thought for a second. “I apologize — in the spirit of our truce, I must rescind that answer. Yes, in the exact clinical sense that you mean, in your unscientific way of speaking, I am indeed ‘insane.’ I’ve been insane for years, ever since my wife died. As you might guess, my insanity is as unique as I am — in fact, in its own way, as unique as you are. But, while I might be insane, I am not now, never was, and never will be either stupid or foolish!
“You see, not long ago, Junior came to me and told me he was in love and wanted to get married. She loves him, too, but she refuses to marry a wanted criminal. Junior promised her he would ‘go straight’ in the charming colloquial terminology. But that’s not good enough, you see. She doesn’t want to see him in prison, or live in constant fear that the next knock on the door will be the police, or, worse yet, one of you ‘super-heroes.’ So he needs a pardon that covers any and all criminal activities he has ever been involved with in the past. I figured that only one hero in the world would have the influence to get him a pardon like that — and that’s why I’m here.”
“Holy moley!” gulped Captain Marvel. He realized that he had a chance right now to learn a great deal about his ancient enemy, and the thought of helping a lifelong criminal such as Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, Jr. begin a new life on the right side of the law was very enticing. What a boon to humanity his genius might be. Sivana had piqued his curiosity. “One thing that has always puzzled me about you, Doctor, is your devotion to your children — all four of them, even though two of them consistently oppose you. To be frank, I’m tempted to consider helping you. Enlighten me, and convince me.”
“It’s a long story. It will take much longer than the agreed-upon length of our truce.”
Captain Marvel looked at his old foe and weighed everything that had happened today, along with everything he knew about Sivana. His intuition told him that, just this once, Sivana was on the level. “I’m willing to extend the truce on the same terms we have already discussed until you feel you’ve had a fair chance to present your case.”
Sivana smiled, and once again the Captain was struck by the tremendous dichotomy between the wicked scientist bent on domination he was used to and this courtly, well-mannered gentleman.
“My Captain, as I believe I have already mentioned, your constancy is one thing I have come to expect and depend on. My thanks. Please make yourself comfortable.” He picked up the teapot. “More tea?” After he poured enough for both of them, he began his story.
“You, Captain, know me better than perhaps any living being, and yet you remain astonished by my current aspect, yes?” Marvel indicated assent. “Well, I was not always the wicked Dr. Sivana you know so well, with plans to conquer the world and the universe.
“Years ago, much longer than you might guess, I was just another young scientist trying to make my mark in the established order. And yet my unorthodox beliefs, my unconventional methods, and most of all my astounding results always made me something of an outcast. Indeed, when I received a nomination to the Royal Society, the youngest nominee ever, I might add, the London Times wrote this about me — and I quote — ‘Despite his obviously vast intelligence, he has no respect for his elders, acknowledges no peers, and displays less wisdom than God granted a goose.’
“I must admit that my feelings were somewhat hurt. And yet not only was I blessed with vast intelligence, life blessed me with love. My wife was a woman of incredible beauty; in all the years since, I have seen none to compare, save perhaps, Helen of Troy. And yet, when her visible beauty was compared to the inner beauty of her soul, it was as an electron compared to the universe.”
His smile vanished, and Captain Marvel could tell that he was very sad. The Captain had met Helen of Troy at the same time as Sivana during one of their memorable battles that had spanned time and space, and he could still see her incredible loveliness in the theater of his mind. Sivana’s wife must have been incredibly stunning.
“She loved me for my mind, you see. And we had beautiful children together — you know them, Beautia and Magnificus. Even when they oppose me, I love them, for they are perpetual gifts from my beautiful beloved.
“While they were still young, Captain, she sickened. A rare, exotic disease, virtually unknown to medical science at the time — a mystery; even now, medical science knows almost nothing about this malady. And yet, the mystery yielded easily to my great intellect, and I quickly prepared a cure. Perhaps you can guess the next part, good Captain?”
Actually, Marvel was starting to get a pretty good idea.
“I was not a member of the medical ‘profession,’ as it is still so laughingly called.” Anger was beginning to creep into Sivana’s voice, and the Captain began to worry that he might be returning to normal. “Primitives, little better than witch doctors they were — ignorant, uneducated, and mostly stupid… butchers with credentials. They prevented me from saving my wife, old enemy. The most wonderful woman in history, and I had the cure in my hand, and they barred my way! And afterwards, when I offered them the cure for their future patients, they laughed at me!
“Is it any wonder that I became bitter and angry? The world rejected my brilliance, and prevented me from saving my wife, my beloved, due to utter ignorance and stupidity. You must be able to sense it, too, Captain — the Wisdom of Solomon surely cannot let you ignore the idiocy of the majority of the human race!”
Captain Marvel was becoming somewhat uncomfortable with the topic. This was where the wicked Sivana he had always known had come from, and he really didn’t want that fellow back right now. “There may be some ‘idiots,’ as you suggest, but I’ve found that most people have good hearts and good intentions.”
“You know where good intentions get you, don’t you, big red?” Sivana chuckled. “The whole race is on the path to Hell! Heh-heh!”
“I think we’re straying from your story, Doctor. Tell me about Junior and Georgia.”
“Ah, yes, my very own pride and joy! Thank you for reminding me. By the mid-1930s, I could clearly see that, as much as I love them, Magnificus and Beautia were not cut out for the life I had chosen. Oh, yes, they were still following my lead, as you found out in our earliest encounters, but they had begun questioning the destinies I had planned for them years before. (*) I knew I couldn’t keep them at my side, and yet I also knew I needed allies I could trust.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Marvel, Whiz Comics #4 (April, 1940) and Captain Marvel, Whiz Comics #15 (March, 1941).]
Sivana looked at him, tilted his head, and took a sip of tea. “You, of all people, will probably not be shocked at this; in fact, you have probably figured it out long ago. You have no doubt heard of cloning. Junior and Georgia are not only my children, they are also my siblings and my alter egos. They are my clones.”
In fact, the Captain wasn’t surprised; it had seemed obvious to him from the moment he had learned the meaning of the word. Yet he had never expected to hear Sivana admit it.
“You love them as much as you do, because they are you!” Captain Marvel was never more amazed at anything in his life than when he received a high five from Sivana. But he was still puzzled. “Ah, Thaddeus — may I call you Thaddeus?” Sivana nodded graciously. “Um, I’m not sure how to say this. I don’t want to offend you or anything, but over the years…”
“You’ve noticed that Junior is a little thick and something of a klutz? And Georgia, a little insipid and headstrong? Of course you would, my longtime foe. If they were just like me, why, we would have mutually annihilated each other long ago. Just the absolute minimum of genetic manipulation to make them more amenable to following my lead rather than plotting to overturn me. It was amazing to me that such small changes had such unexpected consequences. Who could have expected Junior to be so clumsy, or Georgia to be such an airhead? And yet, and yet…” He sipped his tea again, before continuing. “And yet their potential is exactly as great as my own. Nothing was removed, only slightly masked.”
Captain Marvel saw great sadness in his eyes.
“If they had developed away from my influence, either one might now be ruler of the world. It is indeed a sad commentary that I, for my own benefit, have interfered in their lives and kept them from the independence and greatness that is rightfully theirs. As you can see, child of Shazam, I am as conflicted about my offspring as any ‘ordinary’ parent, and I love them all as I am sure no other father can love his children.”
“Holy moley!” Marvel said again. This story had a definite ring of truth to it. Yes, some of the serial numbers had been filed off, so to speak, and he hadn’t missed the fact that Sivana hadn’t given him any names, dates, or locations he could actually check out, and yet he knew with a magical certainty that the basic facts were true, and that Sivana’s apparent concern about his children was real.
Captain Marvel realized with some little shame that he had never really thought of Sivana as a person. From the first day the two had met, Sivana had been, instead, an enemy with a capital E — something (not someone) to be wary of, to fight against, to defeat. The Wisdom of Solomon kept whispering, That’s only human, but the heroic, courageous and humble spirit shared by both the mighty hero and his earth-bound alter-ego whispered back fiercely, That’s a rationalization!