Opening the closet and fetching his favorite blue jacket, Billy Batson said, “I’m going over to her place and see what the heck’s been going on.”
Mary Batson walked with her brother over to the front door. “Maybe I should go along with you. It’s a shame we haven’t made much of an effort to keep in touch ever since that nasty business with Mazahs and his minions almost a year ago.”
“Yeah, Mary,” said Billy. “I was thinking the exact same thing. More the reason I need to know what’s going on with Caitlin and to find out why she’s been keeping to herself as of late. Let me go alone, but I’ll call you when I get over to her apartment.”
Freddy Freeman put his arm around Mary as they both waved goodbye to Billy. “I hope she’s all right,” Freddy said to Mary. “What the two of you said… except for a couple of battles, all of the heroes have been pretty much not keeping in touch. I guess that war with the evil wizard and the Black Adam Family took its toll on everyone.”
An unusually cold wind blew as Billy Batson made his way up the street. Caitlin O’Malley’s apartment was several blocks down the street. Sure, he could always turn into Captain Marvel and be there in mere seconds, but since he didn’t think there was any evidence of foul play, walking would be just fine.
As Billy walked around the corner, he heard a voice yelling at him from across the street.
“Hey, Master B! Wassup, my man?” It was Willie B, or William Batson, who as Cool Marvel was the newest member of the Lieutenant Marvels.
“Hey, Willie. How’s it going?” Billy answered back as he crossed the street to meet his friend out of the front of the Blazin’ B Restaurant and Jazz House, a restaurant and blues hangout that was a virtual landmark in Fawcett City and that Willie’s father had owned and operated for the past fifty years.
“You look like you’re in a rush. Anything goin’ on?” asked Willie.
“Just going to check on Cait. No one has seen or heard from her in a while,” Billy answered back.
“So… something’s up with the witch, eh?” Willie always called people with colorful names; Master B was what he called Billy, while he called Cait the witch, referred to Freddy as J.R. It had been an annoyance at first, but it soon became all right with the gang.
“I sure hope not,” said Billy. “I know you two didn’t get along at first and didn’t see eye-to-eye on things, especially during our fight with those villains.”
“Nah, Master B. We’re cool,” said Willie. “You know me. I tend to say things before I think them out sometimes. You better head on over and see what’s up with the witch. I don’t know why, but when you mentioned her name, I felt a cold shiver up my spine.” As if to emphasize his point, he tightened up his jacket.
“Thanks, Willie. I’ll let you know what’s going on when I find out more. ‘Bye!” As he waved to him and continued on to Caitlin’s apartment, however, Billy couldn’t help but think about the recent past.
Eight months ago, during the funeral of Fat Billy Batson:
It was a cold Saturday morning in early October as many of the heroes, as well as many citizens of Brooklyn and Fawcett City, were on hand as they all said goodbye to their close friend William Batson, known to his friends as Fat Billy. (*) There was no body, unfortunately, but his casket was still surrendered to the cold, hard ground.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Marvel Family: Farewell to a Friend.]
His two closest friends, also named Billy Batson, were the other two members of the Lieutenant Marvels, who went by the names of Tall Billy and Hill Billy. They had lost a true and dear friend.
Willie Batson, known as Willie B, had been given the power of Shazam quite unexpectedly, and he had used his role as Cool Marvel to help defeat the evil wizard Mazahs despite his unpolished, sometimes sarcastic comments and personality.
Of all the people at the funeral, Caitlin O’Malley seemed to take his death the hardest of everyone. She had been present at the time of Fat Marvel’s demise. As a matter of fact, he was shielding her from a spell that Shazam’s doppelganger had aimed at her, and she somehow felt responsible for his death. (*) Cool Marvel had wondered about her commitment to the battle, and though he later apologized to her, Cait’s guilt had manifested itself, apparently unnoticed to anyone.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Challenge of Shazam, Chapter 8: And One Shall Die.]
In the present, Billy thought to himself, Holy moley! Cait was feeling bad enough, but she always told us she was OK.
Finally, Billy reached the apartment where Caitlin had lived for the last several months. However, when he went up the walkway to the front door, for some reason he felt the same cold shiver that Willie B had said he felt earlier.
At the front door of Caitlin’s apartment, Billy knocked several times, as was his custom, instead of ringing the doorbell. There was no answer. After waiting for a moment, he decided to go to the side of the building to peek in through the window to see if he could notice anything out of the ordinary. Billy wasn’t thrilled about being a peeping Tom, but he had to know if something was wrong, or if everything was being blown out of proportion.
As he made his way to the window, he almost slipped in a mud puddle made by a water hose left running on a slow trickle at the flower bed Cait tended. Very odd, thought Billy. Cait wouldn’t be this careless around her flowers. She treats them like children. Stepping around the mud, he peeked into the side window. Though the curtains were in place, he noticed no lights on within her apartment.
Guess she’s not home. I’ll leave her a message on the front door and try to call her later on.
But Billy’s thoughts were interrupted by what sounded like a small thud coming from within the apartment. Returning to the front door, Billy decided to try the doorknob, and surely enough, it was unlocked.
“Holy moley! Now I know something’s wrong. Cait would never leave the door unlocked. She would even keep it locked when she was home.” Billy slowly opened the door, closing it behind him once he was inside. The room was dark, with only the last rays of sunlight coming through the windows. He navigated through the darkened room, and finding a lamp, he turned on the light. The room was nice and straightened out, as Caitlin, amongst other things, was a very neat and tidy person, each item having its own place within the place she dwelled. But something was still amiss.
Billy rolled his fingertips across the coffee table, and pools of dust collected on them. “She hasn’t been here for days. Now I’m really concerned for her safety. I think it’s time for Captain Marvel to…”
Once again, his train of thought was interrupted by that selfsame thud he heard earlier, this time coming from the hallway between the living room and bedroom.
“Caitlin?! Is that you? Are you here?!” shouted Billy as he darted through the hallway to the bedroom. When he opened the door, he saw the person he was looking for, sitting on a chair facing the doorway. As he approached his good friend, he noticed that Cait was staring out into space, as though she was not aware of anything going on.
“Cait? It’s Billy. What’s going on? Is everything OK with you?” His voice was filled with concern for her friend, when suddenly there was a loud thump. Billy felt a sharp blow from behind the base of his head and blinding pain for but a moment, before he collapsed on the ground, unconscious. A dark-cloaked person holding a blackjack stood over the body of the young reporter.
“Looks like one of your friends tried to pay you a little visit, Miss O’Malley. Too bad it will be the last mistake he does in his pitiful little life.”
Caitlin continued to sit still at attention, her eyes open and seemingly without the spark of life.
Hours had passed by the time Billy finally began to slowly open his eyes, his head still throbbing from that sneak attack earlier. As reality began to set in for the young reporter, he found himself in a familiar position, at least for him — bound and gagged to a chair. Of course, with the gag in his mouth, he couldn’t call on the wizard’s power to change into Captain Marvel. He looked around the still-darkened room and saw Caitlin O’Malley standing in a corner, seemingly at attention.
“Mmmphh!” His voice muffled by the gag, Billy tried in vain to get the white witch’s attention. However, she remained as still as a statue. Suddenly, he heard a door open, and the lights came on in the room.
“Ahhh, Mr. Billy Batson, kid wonder, boy reporter, friend of that accursed Captain Marvel. This, indeed, is a big surprise. I knew Miss O’Malley was connected with the hero, but never realized she was a friend of yours. Such a small world, isn’t it?”
Billy’s eyes squinted a bit. Though the lights were on in the room, there was a shadowy presence around the person talking to him. He wore a flowing black cape and a black top hat, and his face was hidden. The mysterious man continued to talk.
“And with you as my hostage, my revenge against Captain Marvel will be complete! He will pay for what he did in the past!”
Billy didn’t have a clue on who the person was or what he meant by his statement.
It was closing time at the Blazin’ B. It had been another full house, and Willie B was helping his father with a couple of faithful employees when the phone rang.
“Willie! It’s for you!” said one of the employees as Willie finished putting up the benches and hustled to the phone.
“Your dime. Start talking!” Willie said, and he heard the somewhat worried voice of Uncle Dudley.
“William, my lad, I’m glad to get ahold of you. I’m starting to get a little worried about Billy. He hasn’t called me back, and Mary and Freddy went to a late movie, so I haven’t been able to talk with them.”
“You know Billy. He can take care of himself, Unc. Maybe he’s putting in some quality time with the witch,” Willie said half-jokingly.
“Ah, yes, but still, it’s not like Billy to not call. If he found her, he would’ve called to tell someone what’s going on. Perhaps a visit to Caitlin’s apartment may be in order for me.”
Willie thought about his encounter with Billy earlier in the day, when the mere mention of Cait’s name had made him shiver. Now that sensation was coming back when Uncle Dudley mentioned her to him. “Tell you what, Unc, let me finish up here at the home front, and I’ll head on over to the witch’s pad. Are you cool with that?”
“Very good, William. Call me if you find out anything, and please be careful.”
Willie hurried up with the closing chores, then grabbed his jacket. “Pops, have to go check on a friend. I’ll be back in a short while.” Before he could step out the door, Willie’s father stopped him.
“It’s awfully late for you going out,” the older man said. “Are you sure it’s a friend you’re visiting?”
“Remember my new friends, Billy Batson and Caitlin O’Malley?” said Willie. “They haven’t called anyone, and Billy’s uncle wanted to make sure everything’s OK. I told him I’d check. Don’t like the idea of someone his age being out on the streets this late at night. Besides, they are my friends.”
“OK, son. Remember, if there’s any trouble, call the police, then call me. Don’t try playing the hero, especially if there’s trouble a-brewing, OK?”
“Right, Pop. I’ll call, and I love you!” Willie darted out into the street and headed to Caitlin’s apartment, thinking to himself, Yeah, Pop. If you only knew… I am a hero.
Mr. Batson watched his son jog down the street and then disappear around the corner, and he thought to himself, It looks like my son has grown up quite a bit in the past few months, having friends he’s looking after. Around this time last year, I never thought such a thing was possible. He chuckled quietly and headed back into the restaurant.
Willie continued on his small quest, thinking out loud. “Man, if I could only say ‘Shazam’ and change into Cool Marvel, I’d get there faster.” His powers, having come from the unfortunate death of Fat Marvel, meant he was limited to only changing into a Lieutenant Marvel in the presence of the other Billy Batsons or by shouting out the wizard’s name along with Billy, Mary, and Freddy (who said “Captain Marvel”), he could change into the newest member of the Marvel Family. Alas, with none of them around, he had to do things the normal way.
Finally arriving at the front walkway to Caitlin’s apartment slightly out of breath, Willie approached, not realizing what was going on inside.
Billy Batson was still woozy from being hit on the back of the head, but he still didn’t recognize the cloaked person standing in front of him, though in the back of his mind, he did look familiar.
“Still don’t know who I am?” said the man. “Not totally surprised. Perhaps if I mention a name from the past. Does the name Black Magician do anything for you, Billy Batson?”
Black Magician?! Holy moley! thought Billy, still bound and gagged and unable to speak out in astonishment as the person dressed in a cloak of darkness revealed himself to be an old and very obscure adversary not only of Captain Marvel, but of Billy himself.
It had all started in 1941, when Billy had broadcast a radio series exposing as frauds all tales of witchcraft and black magic from the backwoods. One such practitioner of magic, listening along with his son Nip, was very offended by it. Determined to teach Billy respect for his black art, the black-beared, middle-aged man known only as the Black Magician sought out and captured Billy Batson, only to immediately run afoul of Captain Marvel. After a prolonged battle involving black magic and voodoo dolls, and Captain Marvel took both the Black Magician and his son to the insane asylum, since they had seemingly lost their minds during the ordeal. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Captain Marvel and the Black Magician,” Whiz Comics #19 (July 11, 1941).]
A few years later, Billy would hear that his sister Mary also encountered the Black Magician, who by then had adopted the look of a sorcerer, wearing a black cloak with green polka dots, a pointed cap, and pointed slippers, as well as a magic wand. His long black beard was also now pure white, but he was just as malevolent as ever. This time he helped a hunter who was a wanted man get revenge on Mary Batson and her girlfriends after they had witnessed him shoot a deer in a federal parkland and planned to call the police. Through his dark arts, the Black Magician transformed the girls’ heads to those of animals such as deer and birds, while also causing them to lose their memories. Mary herself had lost her memory until her elders — female Greek goddesses all — managed to get her to say the name Shazam. Mary Marvel then arrested the Black Magician and the hunter. (*) As far as Billy knew, the Black Magician’s son was not involved in that case.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Mary Marvel and the Black Magician,” The Marvel Family #2 (June, 1946).]
“Yes, I know what you’re thinking,” said the man after a long pause, “but since you’re not going anywhere, the Black Magician you’re thinking of is — or, I should say, was — my father. I look much different now, but as I boy I was called Nip. After our battle with the hero, and after we both recovered from a bout of insanity, he was sent to prison, while I was set free. But with my father in prison, I was left to fend for myself. By the time he escaped five years later, he had aged greatly, and by that time I had grown to resent him.
“Then Mary Marvel sent him back to prison, and I didn’t want anything to do with him for a long time. However, after finally visiting with him a few years later, I realized how wrong I was, and that he should’ve been set free. However, the only person capable of freeing him from prison with a personal recommendation was Captain Marvel himself. Too bad that wasn’t possible, since he, along with the heroes and a select few, were captured in Dr. Sivana’s Suspendium trap. So, while time stood still for them — and you, too, Billy — he aged and grew old. But from him I learned magic and his trade. Shortly before the Marvels and the others were freed from the Suspendium, he passed away.” The Black Magician paused for a long while as he relived the moment in his mind.
“He told me he held no remorse toward Captain Marvel or Mary Marvel. However, I told myself otherwise. I know my father’s powers — or mine, for that matter — couldn’t affect the hero, so I was going to seek out his friends and get my revenge through them. I plotted and waited for the right time to strike. When the Marvel Family was attacked recently by the otherworldly wizard and several of their archenemies, I figured the Marvels would be weakened by that. And shortly afterward, I came across her — Caitlin O’Malley — and I knew the time had come.”
Billy looked once again at his close friend, who was still standing in the corner like a statue, unmoving and oblivious to everything happening around her. And he thought about the recent past.