Mary Batson smiled with pleasure as the sound of Christmas carols wafted through the chilly December air, along with the aroma of baked goods and spices, and piney Christmas trees. The pretty auburn-haired girl loved the holidays, and she had a particular soft spot in her heart for the traditional decorations that still dominated the busy streets of her home city.
Gosh, it’s lovely here! she thought. I know Mother wanted us to hit the big malls for our shopping, but there’s nothing quite like the simple beauty of the small shops along this part of town. You may not find as many products here as you do at the big malls, but you also gain so much in terms of friendly shop owners and uniquely handcrafted items. Plus, being a gal of the ’40s and ’50s, I have never really gotten into the mall frame of mind.
She adjusted her scarf and placed her hands in a muff that matched her winter coat. Brrr! It’s getting a bit chilly out here! Funny, how as Mary Marvel cold temperatures don’t bother me, even in my minidress. As plain old Mary Batson, I can really feel “Jack Frost nipping at my nose,” as the song says, she thought as she reached over to place some money in the bucket, where a slightly unevenly padded Santa Claus stood ringing a bell for a worthy charity.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas! We wish you a Merry Christmas!” sang a group of church carolers.
Mary listened to them with evident pleasure and clapped appreciatively as they finished.
A perky blond boy stepped out from the group and greeted her with a friendly wave. “Mary! Hey, Mary! Did we sound OK?” asked Sunny Sparkle.
Mary smiled with pleasure at the eager youth and said, “You were terrific, Sunny! You’d melt the hard heart of Ebenezer Scrooge himself, or better still, you’d thaw out my equally miserly uncle, Ebenezer Batson!”
She laughed as happy listeners who pinched his cheeks and offered him hot cocoa or cookies from the nearby bakery suddenly mobbed Sunny.
Mary watched him disappear beneath the crowd of mostly elderly fans, and she turned to continue shopping. “Poor Sunny!” she said. “Being the world’s most cheerful boy and having such a nearly supernatural amount of charisma makes it hard to be in a crowd. Folks just want to do things for him, even when he wants to be left alone!”
She turned to see her brother Billy Batson hurrying along the street in search of her. “Billy, you’re not late!” she whispered as she playfully punched him in the shoulder. “I half-expected some invasion from Venus or the latest rampage by Ibac to make you late!”
Billy grinned and shrugged. “Nope! Except for an attempted bank robbery, Doc Quartz’s out-of-control weather-control machine, and a lost puppy, it’s been a pretty slow news day for me! Of course, why should I complain? Captain Marvel’s not entitled to a day off!”
She nodded knowingly. Mary and Billy were, in truth, the respective alter egos of the famous Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel. Since they had been selected by the ancient wizard Shazam to act as his champions via the use of amazing powers gained simply by speaking his name, they both knew no day was truly free from some type of heroic duty.
Billy wore a blue jacket and scarf over a red and yellow sweater. He took Mary’s hands in his own and said, “I sure appreciate your helping me pick out a gift for Cissie. I want to make a great impression on her!”
“Don’t worry, she’s already sweet on you,” said Mary. “We’ll find her just the right item. I know she loves Piglet of the Winnie the Pooh tales. How about an ornament? That would show you put some thought into it!”
Billy grinned and said, “Sounds like a great idea. Now, which one is Piglet again?”
As the young people enjoyed the holiday cheer around them, they little suspected that they would play a major role in averting a seasonal disaster that threatened to ruin Christmas for the world as a whole.
Meanwhile, within Freddy Freeman’s newsstand, the young owner was engaged in a typically long-winded discussion with boy inventor Dexter Knox. Dexter removed his glasses and wiped at them with the tip of his scarf as he eagerly explained his latest brilliant idea.
“Freddy, imagine a nearly infinite amount of data available at one’s fingertips via a series of computer networks interconnected in such way that any user can easily access them!” he said.
Freddy stopped stacking a display of comic-books to interject an idea of his own. “An interconnected network, huh? Kind of an inter-net for short? Sounds great, but I hope you won’t let your desire to work on it mess up your holiday fun!”
Dexter grinned sheepishly. “Well, actually, Grandma says I can’t spend any time in my lab until after the holidays. She’s still remembering last year’s little incident!”
Freddy smothered a laugh as he said, “Well, Dex, it’s not easy for anyone to forget a sentient gingerbread man!”
Dexter blushed and said, “Every great idea begins with a few bugs!”
Freddy nodded and said, “Hang in there, pal. You’ll be as big as Dr. Kilowatt of Phonograph Hill someday.”
As Dexter walked away muttering about something called a DVD, Freddy noticed his old buddy Red standing dejectedly outside his service station. “No customers this late on a cold night,” said Freddy. “I think I’ll see why Red’s looking so blue.” He closed his stand and crossed the street slowly with his customary crutch as a necessary support.
“Hey, Red, what’s got my favorite mechanic looking like somebody swiped his last wrench?” he asked.
Red smiled and said, “Oh, hiya, Freddy! It’s nothing directly related to me. I just had to turn a guy down for a job, and you know how hard it must be for a family man to be out of work at Christmas. He’s a swell mechanic, but I can’t afford to take on any staff!”
Freddy nodded in sympathy. “You’ve got a good heart, Red. If this fellow was so qualified, he’ll find work soon. Good mechanics are hard to find!”
“Well, he’s got a record,” said Red. “He just got out of prison. He served time for taking part in a robbery, but he turned his life around in prison. His wife and kids stood by him, and I’d sure like to have given him a job, but I just don’t have the money!”
“Could you give me his name and address?” asked Freddy. “I see you still have his resume. Maybe some pals of mine could help him out.”
Red ran one hand through his unruly red hair and said, “Sure. That would be fine.”
Freddy took the resume and rounded the corner until he was out of sight. “I spend so much time locking crooks up that it would be a real kick to see one make something of himself! If I can borrow a line from one of the comics at the stand, this looks like a job for… Captain Marvel Junior!”
As Freddy said the name Captain Marvel, a bolt of magic lightning struck and transformed the crippled newsboy into the world’s mightiest boy. As the blue-and-gold-costumed Captain Marvel Junior, he was part of the legendary Marvel Family, and he could indeed work wonders.
He flew off into the night, determined to help out the reformed crook-turned-mechanic named Eric Smith.
Meanwhile at TV station WHIZ, where Billy Batson worked as a broadcaster, a portly man struggled to fit into a colorful red and white costume. As he brought his belt around his chubby stomach, his white wig and beard slipped forward to cover his face.
“Uncle Marvel, I think you need some help from your loyal elf!” said Mary Marvel with a giggle.
In place of her customary red and gold costume, the world’s mightiest girl now wore a bright green dress lined with fake fur and red hosiery with green slippers. She was dressed as an elf to help Uncle Marvel with his own role as the station’s TV Santa Claus.
Dudley grunted and slipped the wig, beard, and a hat in place as Mary adjusted his Santa suit. “By George, I’d rather tussle with Black Adam himself than try to squeeze my manly form into this torture chamber of a suit!” he said.
“Perhaps you just need to cut back on the Christmas sweets,” said Mary. “Still, you make a wonderful Santa! The kids will just love to hear you read their letters to Santa on the air!”
“I’ll do my best as always, my dear,” said Uncle Marvel. “I’ve got our proud Marvel Family tradition to uphold! Can’t disappoint the little ones!”
Mary nodded in approval. She knew that Dudley only pretended to be both her uncle and another recipient of the super-powers Mary and Billy were granted whenever they spoke the name of the ancient wizard Shazam. Still, he was an endearing and good-hearted man, and she loved him as if he was truly her flesh and blood.
Uncle Marvel marched out on the set and roared with laughter as he kept one hand ready to grab his slippery beard. “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” he cried.
Mary followed along and assisted him for the next hour as he read letters from eager kids and brought a few children out to sit on his lap and make their requests in person.
After the broadcast ended, he smiled warmly at Mary and said, “My dear, you made a delightful and charming Jingle Belle!”
She curtseyed in mock pleasure and said in a soft tone of voice, “Unc, we have one more child. She’s shy, but I think she wants to talk to you!” She gestured to a little girl who waited with a mixture of expectancy and timidity.
Uncle Marvel smiled broadly and said, “Come here, my little friend. Santa won’t hurt you! Tell jolly old Saint Nick what he can bring you this Christmas Eve.”
The child stepped forward and was encouraged by Mary’s winning ways and Uncle Marvel’s robust good humor. She climbed on his lap and said, “Santa, the only thing I want for Christmas is for my Daddy to come home! He’s missing, and nobody can find him!” she said as she began to weep.
“Here, here, my child!” said Uncle Marvel. “Dry your tears. Tell Santa all about it.”
She slowly and hesitantly explained that her father was a research scientist named John McGuire. He had been working in Antarctica on an ozone project, but he had disappeared a week ago, and none of his team could explain how or why.
Tina McGuire looked up at Uncle Marvel and pleaded with him tearfully. “Please, Santa, bring Daddy back home!” she said. “I’ll be good!”
He calmed her down and said, “Santa will help you! Never fear!”
Tina smiled and rushed over to receive a candy cane from one of the station pages, while Mary and Uncle Marvel moved over to where her mother stood with a sad look on her face.
“I had no idea she would make this request,” explained Mrs. McGuire. “I had been trying to keep John’s disappearance from her until we could learn more.”
“Mrs. McGuire, give me the location and some facts about the research project, and we’ll look into it!” said Mary.
“Oh, thank you so much!” said Mrs. McGuire. “I’ll call you with all the information we have!”
A returning Tina said, “Don’t worry, Mama! Santa will bring Daddy home! He can do anything!”
As the McGuires departed, Uncle Marvel dropped his beard and said, “I can’t fail to help that poor child! It’s bad enough that the Marvel name is riding on this, but if we fail, she’ll never believe in Santa himself again!”
Mary kissed his cheek and said, “I’ll find him! Don’t you worry for a minute! After all, Christmas is a time for families to be together.”
Billy Batson was excited as he prepared to head home, change clothes, and return for the WHIZ Christmas party that night. He had his girlfriend Cissie Sommerly’s special present under one arm, and he had high hopes for the evening.
Holy moley! It’s going to be swell to actually give Cissie something she’ll like, he thought. My past gifts haven’t exactly swept her off her feet. I guess she’s just not into board games.
Before he could leave the office, his pretty blonde secretary Joan Jameson caught him at the door and said, “Billy, you’ve got a visitor. He’s a bit odd, but I figured you’d be willing to see him. It might make for a good story!”
Billy nodded at the young woman and said, “Sure, Joannie! I trust your instincts. What’s his name?”
She gestured toward the outer office where visitors waited, and she said, “Call me crazy, but I’d say he’ll answer to Kringle or Claus!”
Billy peered out the door and saw a red-and-white-clad man with a white beard and a slightly florid complexion. “Holy moley! That’s not much of a Santa Claus. He looks like he lost his last reindeer or something! Show him in.”
Joan led the depressed Santa Claus into the office and prepared to close the door when he turned to her and said, “About the Christmas of 1933… I could have told you that you were a bit too mature to carry off Shirley Temple curls, but you did ask for that perm kit!”
She nodded and said, “Oh, well, that wasn’t your fault… Hey, wait a minute!”
As she gazed at the door in wonder, Billy eased it shut and turned to his guest. “I’m Billy Batson,” he said. “What can I do for you? Are you here for the office party? You’d really need to see Mr. Morris about that.”
The man in red and white placed his finger alongside of his nose and gazed thoughtfully at the young newsman. “Billy, I know who you are,” said the old man. “You’ve topped my nice list for years and years. That’s why I’ve always brought you more of those red and yellow shirts! I need to see you in your other role. Son, Santa needs help from Captain Marvel himself!”
Billy gasped in surprise and said, “You really are Santa Claus! You knew all about Joannie’s past Christmas wish, and you know about me, too! I feel like I can trust you. It’s not just the instincts about folks I’ve developed over the years, it’s more like you couldn’t lie if you wanted to do so!”
Santa laughed and said, “I appreciate your trust! I am indeed Santa Claus, although I am sorely pressed to display my normal abilities. You see, I’m powerless! My eons-old talents have deserted me. I can’t magically enter any building. I can’t summon my faithful reindeer! I can’t even see if a person is naughty or nice! I need your help to gain my old powers back by tonight, or Christmas will be ruined as far as my role within it is concerned! Will you help me, son? What do you say?”
“Holy moley!” said Billy. “I better just say Shazam!”
As magic lightning struck and thunder boomed, Billy transformed into the heroic Captain Marvel. “Santa, the wisdom of Solomon enables me to know that we should try to get you back to your base at the North Pole! That’s where your equipment and your staff can be found. Have you any idea how you lost your powers?”
“I was working in my shop when a weird ray of light hit me and teleported me across the globe,” said Santa. “I found myself powerless outside this state. It took me this long just to get to you. It’s funny how hard it is for a man in a Santa suit to get a cab!”
Captain Marvel smiled and said, “Billy needs to be back here for the station party, but helping you comes first! Let’s get moving!”
He picked up Santa Claus, and the odd pair flew off toward the North Pole.