by Doc Quantum, Martin Maenza and Earth Elemental 99
From his vantage point on the Rock of Eternity, Shazam watched the Earth below and had noted with alarm the gathering of old villains. They would surely be a nuisance to the Marvel Family and the Squadron of Justice in the coming days. Meanwhile, Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana was currently up to his old tricks again, having sent yet another one of his giant robots to battle Captain Marvel. Some things never changed.
But while his intentions had been to focus entirely on events occurring in his own universe, the wizard had quickly realized that much of his time was now preoccupied with monitoring various attempts to pierce the barriers between universes. Indeed, Shazam had his hands full keeping an eye not only on his own universe but on the other four as well.
In August, the Justice Society of America of Earth-Two — thanks to the brilliance of the JSA member known as Starman — had found a loophole in the barrier and used it to send a message through to the Justice League of America on Earth-One. The wizard had since closed off that particular loophole, but there were multiple other attempts to pierce the barriers as well, including a formidable attempt not long after by the Spectre, Doctor Fate, and Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt. Despite the sheer combined power of those members of the Justice Society of America, the barrier had held, but only because Shazam had used all of his own mystical might to keep it from being pierced. (*) It was not an easy task to thwart Earth-Two’s most powerful being over and over again, and he was glad that the Spectre and the others there had finally relented in their attempts. But there were powerful individuals on all five Earths that were making similar attempts all the time.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 1, Chapter 1: Retirement.]
Thankfully, the Monitor had long ago planned for this eventuality, and he had arranged for others to act as each world’s respective monitor just as Shazam was the monitor of Earth-S. On Earth-Four, the hero called the Son of Vulcan had already begun his duties as the overseer of the world, having been recruited by that world’s Roman gods. (*) Alexander Luthor Junior — born on Earth-Three — had recently been taken in by Earth-Two’s Superman and his wife Lois Lane Kent. Since Alexander Lane, as he now called himself, had found a cache of equipment left by the Monitor on Earth-Two — one of five caches left on the remaining Earths — he was now beginning to use it to set himself up as the new Monitor of Earth-Two. (*) Uncle Sam, along with the Freedom Fighters, had been stranded on Earth-Two when the barriers went up — since they were originally from Earth-Two — but while they had successfully pierced the barrier to return to their own world of Earth-X, they had yet to arrive. (*) But if anyone was to be that world’s monitor, it was Uncle Sam. Earth-One — by far the world most in need if monitoring — had no monitor as yet, but Shazam suspected that the Monitor’s former assistant Harbinger would fill that role someday soon.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: The Calm Before the Storm, Prologue: Son of Vulcan, DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 3: Reconstruction, Freedom Fighters: The Fight Continues, Chapter 1: The Many Monitors Theory.]
But someday soon wasn’t soon enough, as far as the wizard was concerned. For it was from Earth-One that the latest threat to the barriers had come. A war between darkness and light — between Heaven and Hell — had caused all kinds of havoc in the multiverse, threatening to change forever all that remained of the worlds after the Crisis. The wizard would not have it, even if Earth-S alone was protected from the evil that would envelop the other Earths, making the worlds and even the brightest heroes just a little bit darker.
Already an army of angels, demons, and mystics — including the Spectre and Doctor Fate of Earth-Two and the Phantom Stranger, Etrigan the Demon, Deadman, and the Swamp Thing of Earth-One — had gathered on the planes of Hell itself to battle and watch for what was to come next. That was beyond Shazam’s control. What was not beyond his control, however, was a gathering of a different kind in a unique multi-dimensional mansion in Georgetown, D.C., on Earth-One. There, a few mystics led by the amateur John Constantine were interfering in their own way, their actions unknowingly threatening the barriers themselves. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See John Constantine, Hellblazer: The War of Darkness and Light.]
As he watched, the group led by Constantine gathered around a table and prepared to begin. Shazam recognized them all from his years watching from the Rock of Eternity. Besides the blond Englishman Constantine, there were six others present. One wearing a tan hat and trenchcoat was Doctor Occult of Earth-Two, who was only able to be there on Earth-One on this single occasion thanks to the properties of Baron Winters’ Georgetown mansion, which existed simultaneously on many planes of existence. Two others dressed as stage magicians were Zatara the Magician, originally from Earth-Two, and his daughter Zatanna, born on Earth-One. The wizard felt a strange foreboding concerning those two; somehow, he knew that this day would end in tragedy for them. The man in the turban was Sargon the Sorcerer, also originally from Earth-Two and now also living on Earth-One. And finally, the former member of the Doom Patrol known as Mento acted as a conduit between the planes of Earth and Hell. He would not survive this day unchanged, either. Although their host Baron Winters was also elsewhere in the mansion, he had slipped into another room to watch from afar rather than take part in this affair.
It was impossible for the wizard to influence them directly, since he had set the barriers up against all traffic between universes, but he could issue them a warning. As the group clasped their hands together, Shazam’s voice boomed across the dimensions to Earth-One: “Beware! You tamper with things that do not concern you!”
The group looked around in surprise and amazement at this, but Constantine held his ground. “Who are you?” he called out to the air.
“I am the wizard Shazam and keeper of the mystical barrier between the Earths! I warn you again — tread carefully lest you bring about more trouble than you bargained for!”
Constantine seemed unfazed by Shazam’s warning, merely acknowledging it by curtly replying, “Point taken. We’ll be careful.”
The wizard broke off the connection and sighed as he watched, knowing those mortals would do what they would no matter how stern a warning the wizard gave them. And Shazam was forced to sit back and watch as the events took their predictable course. From the grounds of Hell emerged a thing of immeasurable size and pure darkness, and not even the most powerful of beings were strong enough to fight it, despite the mystical assistance of Constantine’s group. Shazam watched as being after being attempted to fight the darkness, only to be swallowed up by it and spat out soon after. Even the Spectre himself was utterly powerless against it.
Meanwhile, that group of mystics in Georgetown were under assault for their interference, and the wizard was unable to protect them from harm. They managed to thwart destiny a few times by taking the destructive power sent to them through Mento’s link to the plane of Hell and diverting it to explode harmlessly in each of the five Earths. But this tactic could only be successful so many times, and as the wizard had foreseen, tragedy struck. Zatara, protecting his daughter Zatanna, was consumed by the energies striking the group. But as the veteran magician hero died, the group was forced to persevere, successfully diverting another blast of mystical power to Earth-S itself.
Shazam watched as the burst of mystic fire streak across the heavens above Earth-S. The bearded old wizard just shook his head silently. The fools! They actually managed to accomplish something despite my warnings.
He turned his attention back to the mystic barriers between worlds, ensuring they remained intact and strong.
Captain Marvel had been caught by a giant robot that had him trapped in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The metal hands were so strong that even he couldn’t break free. Suddenly, enormous flames from the heavens totally incinerated the robot to ashes, leaving the Captain unharmed.
Unable to comprehend this utter mystery, Marvel headed for the Rock of Eternity to find answers from the old wizard, but there would be no wisdom to be given on this day.
Shazam continued to watch events unfold both in Hell and in Georgetown on Earth-One and did not turn as his protégé walked into his hall upon the Rock.
“Wizard?” said Captain Marvel. When Shazam did not respond, he continued. “I was battling a giant robot sent by Sivana, when–”
“Silence, my boy,” said the wizard. “The destiny of worlds hinges upon what happens next.”
Captain Marvel nodded and waited as the old wizard watched the war of darkness and light come to its anticlimactic end. Remarkably, where such beings as Etrigan the Demon, Doctor Fate, and the Spectre were utterly defeated by the darkness, only the Swamp Thing — Constantine’s own protégé — walked unharmed from within. Then the darkness rose, revealing itself to be but the tip of the finger of a very large hand, which reached up to Heaven to clasp an equally large hand made of pure light. And as the two clasped, the picture became blurry, and only shades of gray remained.
“Hmmm,” Shazam said with a disapproving glare. He turned back to Captain Marvel and nodded.
“What does all this mean, wizard?” asked the Captain.
“The other universes have changed — become darker in nature,” explained the wizard. “But our universe remains as bright as it always was… I hope.”
“I — I had a dream a few weeks ago,” said Captain Marvel. “I remembered a great battle between the heroes of five worlds and an evil being from the antimatter universe. But there’s no record of it anywhere! I’ve told people about it, but no one remembers it except as some vaguely recalled dream. Why? What has happened to our world?”
“You do not recall the Crisis because I have willed it so,” explained the wizard. “I foresaw that on this day a great darkness — no, a great grayness — would engulf the universes, tarnishing even the brightest of heroes.” Shazam smiled. “I could not bear to see my mighty Marvel Family become grim and gritty. I have tried my best to prevent that from happening, but I fear that even I may have failed. Only time will tell.”
“I don’t understand,” said Captain Marvel after a moment.
“Ah, but don’t listen to the ramblings of an old man,” said the wizard, rising from his throne. “There is a new threat arising on Earth, and the entire Squadron of Justice must be prepared for it. Now go — I believe the world’s wickedest scientist is awaiting his inevitable capture.”
Captain Marvel nodded and left the Rock of Destiny, more confused than ever.