Billy Batson, a smiling young man with dark hair and bright black eyes, nodded confidently at his amiable assistant Whitey Murphy as he started a special live broadcast. The famous teen television personality had been a fixture at Station WHIZ for years, and he enjoyed a loyal following among his audience.
“Hi, folks!” he said, opening with his customary greeting as he stood in front of an ornate fountain on a gleaming new complex whose opening had drawn a huge crowd. “This is Billy Batson coming to you live on the grounds of the Hall of Justice on its grand opening to the public! This impressive structure was constructed by the Marvel Family, Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Ibis the Invincible, and other colorful members of the planet’s top super-hero group. It will serve as a headquarters for the team, which has existed for years in an unofficial capacity. It will also be a museum that celebrates heroism in all its forms, but as the world’s mightiest girl Mary Marvel herself can tell you, it’s going to be a lot more than that!”
Billy turned to a beautiful girl with long brown hair who wore a red and gold minidress with matching cape and slippers. It feels a bit odd to be interviewing Mary as if she was just a friend and heroine, he thought, but then again, we can’t let the loyal viewers know that she is really my sister, Mary Batson Bromfield, or that both of us were granted the ability to magically become super-powered Marvels when we speak the magic word Shazam! Of course, that word is the name of the wise old wizard who selected us as his champions, and his acronymic name stands for the ancient elders whose talents we partake of as Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel!
Mary Marvel smiled warmly at the audience as she spoke to the crowd. “First, I’d like to welcome everyone to the Hall of Justice here on the corners of Beck and Binder. This building is meant to be a meeting place for the Squadron of Justice, as Billy mentioned, but we also want it to be a place where ordinary people can come to learn about heroes or bring their problems to our attention. We also want it to be a school, of sorts, where young people with special abilities may learn how to use them under the guidance of more experienced heroes and heroines. I suppose the best way to explain is to just say that this Hall of Justice may be our new base, but it is also a place for you all to meet and interact with those of us who might be in a position to help you in times of trouble! The old annual Marvel Family Round Table, in which we read mail and selected people to help, will now be conducted here with additional help from the other members! Consider this hall a reminder that we are here for all of you!”
As the crowd cheered, whistled, and clapped, Mary blushed slightly and then flew off toward the looming building.
“Folks, Mary Marvel will be just one of the swell heroes awaiting us inside,” said Billy. “While some parts of the building will not be opened to the public, there is a lot to see, and we’ll be showing you as much as we can during this special program.”
As he switched to a commercial for Red O’Reilly’s Garage, he glanced at the large crowd and smiled in recognition. He knew so many of the eager well-wishers that had assembled to see the historic ceremony.
Noticing a bookish boy standing next to a beaming old lady, he thought, There’s Dexter Knox, the boy genius, and his equally amazing grandmother! I could sure go for some of her oatmeal raisin cookies right now!
Spotting a gaunt man with a long white beard and a pointed nose, he thought, Good old Doc Quartz is here, too! He even closed the pharmacy to be here. I should really take my girl Cissie there for one of his burgers this week! He smiled as he noticed the pretty, demure strawberry blonde girl waving to him from the front row.
Near Cissie Sommerley stood two remarkable figures, a dapperly dressed tiger in a green plaid coat and a pretty female feline in a bright blue dress. Mr. Tawny and his new bride Gabby Tabby came, but then he knows my secret and has been a loyal friend for years and years! (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Gabby Tabby first appeared in Captain Marvel: The Infernal Return of Slaughter Slade.]
Billy also saw the charismatic siblings Sunny and Goldie Sparkles, his lovely blonde secretary Joan Jameson, her soldier of fortune brother Jerry, the eccentric Professor Edgewise, the equally eccentric Dr. Thomas Kilowatt of Phonograph Hill, his landlords Pa and Ma Potter, his friend and employer Sterling Morris, Mary’s adoptive parents the wealthy Bromfields, their butler Jives, and Freddy Freeman’s boarding house chums Mrs. Wagoner, mechanic Red O’Reilly, cop Jim Bellows, and salesman Leroy Marx. The exotic European royal Prince Phrogue watched with his characteristically bulging eyes while the two perfect physical specimens Beautia and Magnificus Sivana watched from the rear.
As Billy resumed his broadcast, he mused, Holy moley! It sure is nice to see so many good friends here today. It is funny how almost all of us first met back during World War II, but we haven’t aged naturally since we were trapped in suspended animation for so many years, thanks to Dr. Sivana’s Suspendium trap of 1953! (*) A big gathering like this would be a perfect opportunity for another attack, but Sivana himself is in jail now, and his son Thaddeus Jr. has reformed. (*) I’m not sure where Georgia is, but she can’t do much harm here, since we have some extra protection guarding the whole place today!
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The World’s Wickedest Plan,” Shazam #1 (February, 1973) and DC Universe: Crisis Over Earth-S.]
Billy was referring to an elite group of six collectively known as the Lieutenant Marvels and the Lieutenant Mary Marvels. These special individuals were either named Billy Batson or Mary Batson, and through a special magical gesture on the part of the wizard Shazam, these six could gain their own versions of the Marvels’ power by speaking his name under certain circumstances in the presence of their mentors.
Cool Billy, Tall Billy, Hill Billy, Posh Mary, Mary Belle, and Valley Mary all agreed to patrol the skies above to shield us from a repeat of the Suspendium trap or any other attempt to spoil things by some of our old foes like Sivana, the Black Adam Family, Captain Nazi, Mister Mind, or the Black Rat!
Meanwhile, within the impressive citadel, several members of Shazam’s Squadron of Justice were assembled within a secured area dedicated to trophies and crime-fighting activities.
A handsome dark-haired youngster in a blue and gold costume gazed around the room, smiling proudly. This is a grand day! thought Captain Marvel Junior. I wish my grandfathers could have lived to see it, but then again, I suppose it was their tragic deaths that brought about the heroic births of both me and my brother Kit. It took Captain Marvel’s imparting his power to me whenever I say his name that saved my life after Captain Nazi killed my grandfather and left me crippled. And it was a heavenly boon that gave Kit the ability to materialize at will and summon legendary figures from history or myth as Kid Eternity. It is funny how when Kit says his heroic name, Eternity, his powers activate just like I change from Freddy Freeman, newsstand operator and journalism student, to Captain Marvel Junior.
Seeing the other members of the Squadron of Justice mingling around the room, Junior noticed with a smile that Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel had just walked in to join them.
“Billy finished the broadcast,” explained Captain Marvel as he and his sister were greeted by the other heroes.
Spy Smasher, alias Jack Armstrong Jr., was a rugged-looking young man in a green costume complete with a goggled hood and red cape. He was, in fact, the second man to use the name since the balding blond man next to him had originated the role decades earlier.
Alan Armstrong smiled at his nephew Jack with pride and said, “You know your Aunt Eve would have been here, but crowds still make her a bit nervous. Otherwise, she is doing fine. Our vacation did her a world of good!” Alan referred to the fact that he and his wife, Eve Colby Armstrong, had taken a prolonged vacation after suffering through various traumas not limited to Eve’s mental illness and subsequent recovery or his own decision to retire from the heroic life after learning that his long-missing brother had, in fact, died but had left behind a son named Jack. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Spy Smasher: From the Ashes.]
“I’m so glad to hear that she’s doing better,” said Jack. “You’ve both been great to me, and my sisters, too.”
Alan clapped him on the back and said, “And you make a terrific Spy Smasher! You handle the new Gyrosub like an ace! Don’t worry, though, I have no plans to ever resume the role. This Virginian can’t wait to see the Old Dominion once more!”
“Jack’s doing just fine,” said an athletic man in a red, white, and blue costume. “He’s making us old war horses look bad!”
“Minute Man’s being too kind,” said Spy Smasher.
“Minute Man’s being a wise guy, like always!” said a grinning Alan Armstrong as his old friend Jack Weston broke into laughter.
Jack Weston was a diner owner from out west, but he had spent much of his time as the patriotic one man army called Minute Man fighting in defense of his country. He had allowed neither the horrors of combat nor the trauma of losing decades due to Sivana’s Suspendium trap break his good-natured spirit.
Ibis the Invincible held hands with his beloved wife, the Princess Taia, as they chatted with another equally attractive couple, Jim and Susan Barr. The Barrs wore the gravity-defying helmets and colorful costumes they had made world-famous in their roles as Bulletman and Bulletgirl.
“Ibis, what do you think of the place?” said Jim. “I’m pretty impressed, myself! If I’d had a lab like the ones here when I was a frail police scientist in 1940, I might have discovered the anti-crime formula that turned us into super-humans much earlier than I did.”
“It was hard enough for this girl to lure you out of the lab as it was!” said Susan. “Had you really had a bigger lab, I might have ended up as a slightly stunning old maid!”
Taia watched them though long lashes expertly coated with heavy mascara. She was a radiant woman, and she had a loving heart as well. She was devoted to her prince, and he returned the sentiment. Still, both of them enjoyed being with their friends.
“Not even the Ibistick itself could conjure up such a wonderful place!” declared Ibis. “We shall face the perils of the coming days with steady hearts, thanks to the citadel we have created!” He referred to the magic wand that enabled him to work his magic. He had been a royal in ancient Egypt, but treachery had left him little choice but to place himself into a sleep to follow his injured beloved Taia through the centuries into the dark days of World War II, where both had awakened to renew their love and to fight menaces both occult and mundane in nature.
The final trio within the trophy room were marked by decidedly somber expressions. Brian Butler was a lawyer turned police commissioner. He had also originated the role of the swashbuckling Mister Scarlet, with his adopted son Rob Butler serving as his sidekick, Pinky the Whiz Kid. Now Rob wore the red costume of Mister Scarlet, and Brian’s orphaned ward Melanie Garde was the second Pinky. (*) Melanie was a perky blonde teenager in a pink minidress and pleated skirt. She was not normally so serious in demeanor, but she knew how troubled Brian and Rob Butler were on this otherwise happy day.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Mister Scarlet: Scarlet Woman.]
Brian was a graying man with a mustache who still possessed the build of an athlete. He had suffered a leg injury that still slowed him down a bit, but he looked every inch the hero in his old costume. “I don’t know why I let you two talk me into pulling this union suit out of storage. I’m certainly not Mister Scarlet these days, nor do I wish to be!” he had said earlier.
Rob Butler was a young man who worked as a writer for the WHIZ television series Mr. Clue, and he was very comfortable in his role as the new Mister Scarlet and the senior partner to the irrepressible Pinky, but he was devoted to his father, and he felt the older man’s pain deeply. “Dad, you can’t blame yourself!” whispered Rob. “If anyone is to blame, it is Dr. Sivana. What happened to Wade was just one more tragedy caused by the world’s wickedest scientist and his Suspendium trap!”
Brian gripped his adoptive son’s shoulder and managed a thin smile. “Thanks, Rob. I suppose what makes me so angry is that I feel so helpless! Cherry Wade stood by us all those years as my secretary — as the love of my life — and then one senseless day robbed us of everything we’d shared!”
Pinky the Whiz Kid took his hand and looked up at the man who had become a second father to her after her real father’s murder. “I’ve heard of Cherry Wade! She must have been… must be great! What happened to her?” she asked.
“She didn’t attend the ceremony honoring the Marvels in 1953, and so she wasn’t among the crowd that was trapped with us all in the Suspendium!” explained Brian. “She aged normally while you and I remained in suspended animation up in orbit because of Sivana’s trap. When we broke free in 1973, nearly twenty years later, we were all still the same age as we had been in 1953. It was just as if we closed our eyes in 1953 and opened them seconds later to find twenty years had passed! She was older, and while she had loyally managed my business affairs in our absence so that we emerged wealthy and financially secure after all those years I’d worked as a struggling lawyer, she also felt that she couldn’t continue our relationship! She insisted her age would come between us. I pleaded with her, but nothing would change her mind!”
Rob softly added, “Cherry moved to California, and we just learned today that she’s critically ill! She’s seventy now, and I guess it is natural, if painful to us both.”
“We had a fight a couple of days before the 1953 ceremony,” said Brian. “She was planning to come with us. She knew all about our secret identities, you see. I blame myself for everything that’s happened to her since then. ”
Pinky listened intently as tears filled her eyes. I knew things never quite clicked between Brian and Roz, she thought, referring to Roz Doyle, the female assistant commissioner. (*) But I didn’t suspect that he was still in love with Cherry Wade! It’s so romantic, and so sad!
[(*) Editor’s note: See Mister Scarlet: The Life or Death Lottery.]
A serious-looking, pretty woman sat bent over a weird monitoring device and double-checked her data.
I’m right! she thought. This is the only time action may be taken. Perhaps I should say this is the only proper time action may be taken. The course of events of the Heroic Age will be decided this day, and my own actions may decide far too much for my own comfort.
Standing up and strapping a series of belts around her body, she said, “1987, here I come!”