“I’m telling you it wasn’t a dream! It really happened!” The high, feminine voice of Mary Batson carried across the tables of the Big Belly Burger restaurant.
“You don’t have to convince me, sis! I don’t know what made us forget it, but I remember the Crisis now.” (*) Billy Batson took another bite from his burger.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Rock of Eternity, Chapter 1: The Gathering.]
“Mary, Billy, come on. How could we all have gone through this huge battle, and how could the world be nearly destroyed, yet nobody remembers it?” Freddy Freeman ran a hand through the mass of wavy black hair on his head.
“Look, Freddy, you remember when we met up with those heroes from the other worlds a while back — Superman, Batman, Robin? They were back again.”
“No, Billy. They didn’t come back to our world. Somehow, for a while at least, there was only one world. It was like we all lived on the same world, and always had. It was horrible! All those black shadow creatures attacking!” Mary stopped, her shoulders shaking as sobs wracked her young body. “Awful. I was right there when Robin and those two women were killed. (*) I tried to save them, but when one of them formed that crystal shield, it stopped me for a moment. By the time I got through, they were gone!” Mary’s head fell into her hands. Billy wrapped an arm over her shoulder.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]
“Come on, sis. I know; it was the worst thing I’ve seen. Even Superman’s cousin died, fighting the creature that was behind it. I heard that a lot of heroes from the other worlds died. From what I’ve been able to figure out, we were lucky on that account. All of the heroes that I know about are accounted for.”
“Look, I’ll take your word for it,” said Freddy. “But what are we going to do now?”
“Maybe the old wizard has some answers. Let’s finish up here, then we can go and ask him.”
Mary shook her head. “Not me, Billy. You’re wrong about our world not losing any heroes.”
“What do you mean, sis?”
“After what I went through, I’m finished. No more Mary Marvel!”
“You’re what?!” Billy Batson shouted, arousing the interest of others in the burger shop.
“You heard me, bro. I’m not going to play heroine anymore.” Mary Batson was referring to her identity as Mary Marvel, the world’s mightiest girl.
“Take it easy, sis. We all did what we could during the Crisis. You were in there through the whole thing, helping where you could. We did the same thing, battling demons and super-villains and whatever got thrown at us. But we were up against more power than any of us has ever seen before. You can’t let that scare you off from your career as a super-heroine.”
“Scared? Oh, God, Billy, you have no idea how scared I was. We’ve battled everything from demons to mad scientists, to aliens invading from space and from inside the Earth! None of that could even begin to compare to what I saw when the worlds were merged. You and Freddy weren’t in New York with me; you didn’t see that tornado creature killing anything that stood in its way!” Mary turned to Freddy, letting her head fall on his shoulder as his arms came around her. “I just want to try life as a normal person for a while.”
“Look, Mary, I understand. After all that, a break is good idea. Just don’t make any final decisions yet, OK?” Freddy said.
“Well,” she said, lifting her tear-streaked face up to look at both of her heroic partners, “I have made one decision. The fall semester starts next week. Because of the Crisis, most of the colleges are letting people register right up to the first day of classes. I’ve decided that I’m going to UCLA, and I’m leaving this weekend.”
“UCLA? In California? But that’s so far away!”
“Billy, what’s a cross-country trip for you, when you have the speed of Mercury? I expect you to come out and visit me.” She turned to Freddy. “And you better make a habit of coming out there, too, buster!”
“Ulp! If you say so, Mary.”
What a difference a week could make.
Just a week earlier, Mary Batson was in New York City, debating her future as a super-heroine. Now she was in a classroom, listening to a professor lecture about the comparative merits of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Her first few days in California had been a jolt. California was strange enough for anybody, but for the few dozen people who had spent twenty years in suspended animation thanks to the machinations of Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, a trip to a city on Mars would seem less shocking than a move to Southern California.
Even the professor seemed so strange. Instead of the dark suit or camel-hair sport coat favored by most of the college instructors Mary had known, Professor Martin Higbee was lecturing in faded blue jeans and a tie-dyed sweatshirt. He seemed pretty tame, though, compared to some of her fellow students. From afros, to mohawks, the hair styles ranged wildly. Clothes seemed to be anything people had laying around, and in some cases, clothing almost seemed optional. For a girl brought up in the prim and proper attitudes left over from the 1940s, it was almost too much.
Mary’s thoughts were interrupted by the ending of her class. “Don’t forget, class, I want to see those essays on the structure of the sonnet on my desk on Monday.” Professor Higbee was speaking to their backs as the students rushed out of the room to greet their first weekend as bonafide college students.
“Mary, wait up!” Mary turned to see Linda Lee, her roommate, rushing up behind. Once she caught up, she was full of questions. “So, you ready to hit the mall tonight? Did you think about how you want your hair cut tomorrow? What about your nails? We have to take care of those — that bare look is sooo, like, grody!”
“Grody?” Mary was still trying to figure out the language her roommate and other friends used.
“Yeah, like, sooo bad, but not bad enough to be gross, you know what I mean? So, what are we going to do with that hair of yours? You wanna go for the spiked look?”
Mary shuddered. It had been hard enough, twelve years earlier, to give up the carefully curled style of her childhood in favor of a more modern, softer look. That, along with some careful alterations to her Marvel costume, had been her sole fashion concessions to the jump she seemed to have made through time. “I don’t know, Linda. I kind of like it the way it is.”
“No way, Mary. Like, nobody wears it so straight anymore. At least get some curl in it, or dye it, or something!”
“Hmm… I wore it curled when I was younger. I can try that again…”
“Geez, Mary, calm down. You said you used to have your hair curled? What’s wrong?”
“Curled. Rolled up in curlers at night, so the ends and bangs curled in big hoops. Not these little streamers of hair all over my head! Oh, what will Mother say?” Mary stared at her image in the salon mirror. Her chestnut hair looked like tiny paper streamers, all over her head.
“Ewww… that sounds like your mother was punishing you. She’ll love this, I just know she will. Now, let’s see about your nails.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Mary’s activities were being watched.
“So, you’ve decided to try life as a normal mortal, have you, Miss Mary Marvel? Can’t take the stress of heroics anymore? That’s fine with me; it makes it so much easier to lure you in.”
The voice was quiet, seductive, like honey flowing over velvet. “After the trouble you and your ‘family’ caused me, I think it’s about time I took some action in return.”
She laughed as flames rose around her and the smell of brimstone filled the chamber.
“Come in!” called Mary in response to the knock at her door. “It’s open!”
The door opened, and a head poked in. “Mary? Oh, hi. Is Mary Brom — Mary?!” Billy Batson stood in stunned disbelief. “What happened to you? You look like your hair got caught in a blender!”
“Oh, just come in and close the door! It’s supposed to look like this, or kind of like it. I haven’t gotten the knack for drying it properly yet. It was so much simpler when we just used a towel and a set of curlers.”
“Hey, don’t look at me, sis. I just towel-dry it, and I’m ready to go.” Billy came in and flopped down on Mary’s bed. “So how do you like it so far?”
“It’s pretty cool, aside from the paper-thin walls here in the dorm. You can hear anything through them, including some stuff I’d rather never hear again.”
“I’ll just bet you do.” Billy grinned, then, picking up on Mary’s hint, continued. “What about the other business? Decide what you’re going to do about that yet?”
“No change, bro. For now, I’m really a full-time student. Now, let’s go grab some dinner. Your meal is on me tonight, OK?”
Dinner at the university dining hall was nothing to get excited about, Billy Batson decided. The only memorable thing about it was the attention he received when another student from New York recognized him from his WHIZ-TV broadcasts. A few minutes spent signing autographs, then he and Mary were on their way.
“Look, I really should get back. I’m glad to see you’ve settled in here, sis. Even if your hair does look kind of weird.”
“I’m glad you came out, Billy. I’ve missed you and Freddy.” Mary gave her brother a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“He’ll be out soon, I’m sure. Umm, look, is there someplace where I could get a little privacy?”
Knowing what her brother had in mind, Mary had already been steering him toward a service alley between two campus buildings. “On a Saturday night, this part of the campus is pretty quiet.”
“Well, I hope nobody investigates too closely when they hear a clap of thunder. Shazam!”
The sky seemed to split apart as a bolt of lightning speared down from the Rock of Eternity, and Billy Batson was transformed into the world’s mightiest mortal, Captain Marvel.
“Cap! You changed the uniform!” Mary exclaimed.
“Actually, this was the original look. After seeing some of the heroes from the other worlds, I decided that the skintight look doesn’t suit me anymore.” He looked down at himself at the bright red, old military-style, button-up tunic, with the loose, billowing sleeves. His gold-trimmed white cape hung loosely over one shoulder, tucked through the golden cord that encircled his neck. “You like it?”
“Very sharp, brother. Take care of yourself, OK?”
“OK, sis. See you soon.” He flung his hands to the air and seemed to follow them straight up, the speed of Mercury propelling him high into the sky.
Mary turned toward her dorm but had only gone a few steps when an impulse hit her. Hearing music from a fraternity house across the quad, she decided that it was time to see what the appeal of all the college parties was.
Elsewhere, a gloating voice chortled, “Perfect! Go ahead, Mary — join the party. I have somebody I’d like you to meet.”