Captain Marvel smiled broadly as a jovial old man with plump cheeks and a portly belly stepped forward and cleared his throat in a rather self-important manner. He wore a red and gold costume much like that of Captain Marvel himself.
“My esteemed colleagues, my very dear friends, it is with the utmost pride that I welcome you here this day,” he said. “I am full of pleasure at the sight of so many brave and noble souls gathered together in one place!”
“Uncle Marvel loves an audience, bless his heart!” whispered Mary Marvel.
Captain Marvel Junior nodded and said, “Uncle Dudley is so proud of being accepted as a Marvel, even though we know he doesn’t really have any super-powers!”
“I wonder why Freckles is late,” said Mary. “She loves to hear Unc use his ten-dollar words, as she calls them!”
Mary was thinking of yet another adopted Marvel. While Mary, Billy, and their friend Freddy all accepted Uncle Dudley as a sort of adopted uncle, he did have a real blood relation. Dudley’s real niece Mary Francis “Freckles” Dudley was a rowdy tomboy with freckles, pigtails, and a brave heart. She used to dress up like Mary Marvel, and as Freckles Marvel she would help the world’s mightiest girl from time to time with her own brand of unique spirit and spunk.
“If she’s coming, I pity poor Rob Butler,” said Junior. “She used to have a real crush on him when he was Pinky the Whiz Kid!”
Mary grinned as she said, “Yes, the poor dear! I hope she doesn’t chase him too much today!”
Even though he was logically concerned about Cherry Wade and his father, Rob overheard the nearby whispers, and he gulped with annoyance. Freckles was a nice kid, but she used to drive me crazy! he mused. I can’t deal with her puppy love crush today.
“While many of us first joined together under the name of the Crime Crusaders Club, and others were known as the Squadron of Justice, our team-ups were unofficial even when we established a communications system in the ’50s!” continued Uncle Marvel. “We vowed to form a more permanent union after emerging from the Suspendium trap in the ’70s, and yet, like many good intentions, our efforts were met with infrequent success. We fought the good fight several times, even on other Earths, but it was not until this day that we solidified our status as a true Squadron of Justice with a base of operations and a fully functional support staff!”
Uncle Marvel gestured to where a shiny man made entirely of metal stood almost bashfully in one corner. A tiny metal dog yipped merrily at his metal master’s feet. “Timmy Tinkle and his loyal pet Fido have agreed to leave WHIZ to work here as a full-time staff dedicated to making our operations run smoothly — to run like clockwork, if our cherished friend will allow me the liberty of the expression!” he said.
Timmy seemed to grin broadly, although his metallic expression did not change in truth. “I’m happy to be here,” he said. “We won’t let you down!”
As the group resumed their mingling, Spy Smasher noticed a strange display among the other trophies. “What is that?” he asked, pointing to a calendar page dated November, 1953. The calendar looked completely normal, except for the fact that there was a blank square where the date of November 14th should have been.
Captain Marvel came over to the young hero and said, “Jack, that calendar was made by Mary. She’s very artistic. It represents an unsolved mystery in the lives of the Marvel Family. You see, Mary, Junior, and I lost that day. We have no idea what happened to it or to us. We simply went from November 13th to November 15th! Mary called it ‘The Mystery of the Missing Day.’ We’ve never solved it. Even our mentor, the old wizard, could only tell us that it was a riddle that was not ready to be resolved!”
“And yet,” said Ibis the Invincible, “surely the proximity of that missing day to the day on which Dr. Sivana swooped down like some metal bird of prey and ensnared us within his infernal Suspendium trap carries some fatal import.”
“We’ve always thought so, too,” said Junior. “We were fine on the 13th. Then we found ourselves on the morning of November 15th when the mayor planned to honor us. We all went to the ceremony and got caught for twenty years!”
Pinky the Whiz Kid suddenly asked, “Why didn’t anyone try to rescue you all? I mean, surely Shazam could have done something!”
“We asked him that as well, and he said that he was unable to interfere,” said Captain Marvel. “I think, as sad as he was to lose us for a time, his magical Historama suggested that preserving so many of us so we’d be around to stop future threats was worth it in the end. He always looks at the biggest of the big pictures!”
Captain Marvel remembered his own questioning of the wise wizard shortly after he and his friends had freed themselves from Sivana’s trap in February of 1973.
February 28, 1973:
The world’s mightiest mortal had approached the throne upon the Rock of Eternity, and he had summoned the spirit of the ancient wizard Shazam by lighting a brazier. As the venerable and beneficent old champion had appeared with his long white beard, kindly wise eyes, and long blue robe, Captain Marvel had swallowed hard. He had felt oddly hesitant about questioning his mentor.
“Great sir, I wondered… that is… holy moley… I’m sorry to stammer so! I don’t mean to suggest that I doubt you or anything, but why didn’t you rescue us from the Suspendium?” he had asked.
Shazam had looked at the greatest mortal hero the world had ever known, and he sighed heavily. “My son, you and your fellow Marvels have ever been more to me than merely my champions — you have been my children!” he said. “Although my existence both materially and ethereally has spanned eons, no period ever passed so slowly for me as did the twenty years you were separated from me within the Suspendium! I mourned for you all, and yet I also realized that you would all be needed in the years to come! In order to preserve you and your noble allies for perils yet to come, including a cosmic crisis that loomed faintly in the future, I allowed you to sleep that brief but terribly long sleep! I knew that for all of you, it would seem as though only a few seconds had passed, and I also knew the moment you would awaken! Thus, though it grieved me, I allowed history to unfold in its relentless course! As it has been, so shall it be!”
Captain Marvel nodded and then said, “Thank you, kind sir! I should have known you knew best! I mean you, always have!”
Unknown to Captain Marvel, Shazam had also thought, And yet, my son, infernal forces worked to cut off the dire date of the trap from any interference. It was at that moment that I mystically secured the entirety of your slumber, so no force could do anything to harm you or prevent your predestined awakening!
Back in 1987, an alarm echoed, and the heroes rushed to a sophisticated computer system.
“Holy moley! The Mount Malobar Observatory scanners say a huge meteor is headed for the Moon!” cried Captain Marvel. “C’mon, Mary, Junior! We’d better handle this threat in space while the rest of you continue our celebration!”
As all the Marvels minus Uncle Marvel flew into space, Bulletgirl smiled appreciatively. “Who needs a Squadron when the Marvels are around? Of course, having this headquarters and its trouble-alert computer makes it easier to know exactly when something bad is happening!”
“And like we all decided back in 1973,” added Minute Man, “by pooling our resources, we’ll be able to prevent things like Sivana’s Suspendium trap from catching us all off-guard again!”
Alan Armstrong spoke up. “The curious thing is that I had actually been thinking that we should make the Squadron a more official and regular thing on the very morning of the trap itself!”
“How strange Fate may be!” said Ibis the Invincible. “I had the same idea that dire morning!”
Brian Butler frowned as he listened. “I felt that way, too. The detective in me doesn’t believe that could have been pure chance!”
The heroes prepared to sit down to a meal when a strange apparition appeared before them.
She was a tall, lovely woman with very short black hair and bangs. She wore a simple outfit consisting of green shorts, a short-sleeved white blouse, and high-heeled green boots; added to this were several utility belts crisscrossing her hips and shoulders, each belt seeming to be full of mysterious items.
Bulletgirl frowned as she posed with her hands on her hips. “How’d she get in here? The tourists all left hours ago!”
“No magic was involved,” said Ibis. “I would have felt it if such forces were in play!”
Bulletman rubbed his chin and said, “Fascinating! She just appeared! No teleportation was used, or the headquarter’s security system would have reacted!”
The pretty woman raised one hand in placation. “I’m no threat!” she said. “I’m here to alert you all to a peril beyond imagination! I am Steffi Swift. My great-grandfather was known to some of you. He was Dr. Mark Swift, known as the Chrononaut!”
“Of course!” said Bulletman. “You’re a time traveler! I should have taken that means of entry into account when I designed the security system!”
“Steffi, Miss Swift, I knew your ancestor Mark,” said Alan. “I also knew of his late teacher, Rooney Kent, though I never met him. Their work in time-travel studies was groundbreaking! I met him in the nineteenth century, of all places! (*) How was or is or will he be?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Challenge of Shazam, Chapter 13: Left in the Dark Again.]
“I have no time to chat,” Steffi Swift said abruptly. “From my own base in the future, I have detected certain ominous signs. There is a major time crisis occurring, and only you heroes may prevent disaster!”
Mister Scarlet said, “OK, what can we do to help?” He added inwardly, Maybe some action will get Dad’s mind off Cherry!
“The Marvels have spoken to you of their mysterious missing day,” said Steffi. “I have come to reveal the secret of that date and to enlist you all in a crusade to prevent the Marvels from being removed from time itself by a would-be tyrant who sought to destroy them so he could reign as the king of time itself!”
“You just missed them!” said Minute Man. “They went into space!”
“I deliberately lured them away with a false report of danger in space, because knowing their selfless natures, they would wish to join you in what will prove to be a deadly quest to prevent a terrible wrong from occurring!” explained Steffi. “Had they been here, they would have rushed bravely into a threat designed to remove them from time itself. You will all have a better chance of success if you act without their knowledge or presence.
“If my family is in jeopardy, I want to help!” said Uncle Marvel. “What exactly is this mysterious threat?”
“In the year one million A.D., an aggressive criminal named Zotan was banished from the utopian society of the future to the year 1953,” explained Steffi. “He swiftly used his own knowledge of future science to take over the mountain kingdom of Javania. From that base he tried to use the mental weapons of the future to conquer the past by mentally enslaving everyone, and then to use ancient warriors to invade his own future era. He was stopped by the Marvels!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Marvel Family Battles the King of All Time,” The Marvel Family #88 (October, 1953).]
Uncle Marvel snapped his fingers and said, “I remember being told about him. He was a dangerous man, but he was no match for my family!”
“As a time traveler, he has an advantage over many other criminals,” said Steffi Swift. “He has the time and the knowledge to choose the best moment at which to attack his foes. He knew from history that they would be trapped from November 15th, 1953, to February 28th, 1973. However, as an ambitious criminal who wanted to be king of time, he wasn’t satisfied with being safe from them for only twenty years. He decided to destroy them while they were in suspended animation, but he was unable to reach them. Shazam had shielded them from any possible attack during their time in the trap. So Zotan decided to stop them from entering the trap and kill them on the day they were originally caught, but again he was unable to do so. Certain infernal forces blocked any effort to alter the Marvels’ history on the date of November 15th.
“The irony was that evil forces wanted them to be caught and managed to seal that date from chronal manipulation, while Shazam wanted to safeguard them once they were in the trap so they would be freed as history showed they would be. Zotan realized the best he could do was to strike the day before the Marvels went into the Suspendium trap! He managed to do exactly that. Now, my own studies of time travel indicate that this day is the only moment in history from which any attempt to stop Zotan may be made. I have come to send you back to November 14th, 1953, so you may stop Zotan from removing the Marvels from history. If you succeed, they will only lose one so-called missing day, and they will enter the trap on the 15th as destiny dictates. They will emerge in 1973, and Zotan’s plan will have failed! I could not alert them to the threat, because, if they go back to 1953, they will be drawn directly into the trap he already has used on their 1953 selves!”
“OK, so if Zotan did something to them on November 14th that temporarily removed them from time, we can assume that explains their missing day,” said Bulletgirl. “However, doesn’t history prove that they were freed? I mean, we all went into Sivana’s trap with them.”
Steffi Swift shook her head dismissively. “History happened that way, but history may be changed at any second,” she said. “You must let me take you back to 1953, and you must stop Zotan!”
“Wait!” said Minute Man. “We know what we did on that date. I don’t think I was even in the country for most of the 13th and the 14th. I almost didn’t make it to the ceremony itself, so how could I or any of us have fought this Zotan on that date?”
“The Minute Man of 1953 didn’t fight Zotan,” replied Steffi. “As you said, he was on a plane during part of that time. It is the Minute Man of 1987 that must combat him in 1953.”
“Wait,” added Pinky. “I once read a story in which a guy tried to go back in time to a point in his own life, but he turned into a ghost when he reached the past. He could watch his younger self, but he couldn’t do anything else!”
“That is how time travel works in some alternate universes, but not in this one,” explained Steffi Swift. “Dr. Sivana himself has managed to disrupt Captain Marvel’s origin in various ways on more than one occasion via time travel. However, to avoid creating any time-and-space disruptions, it is important that none of you make contact with your earlier selves. I also don’t want anyone who was not born before 1953 to join us!”
“Man, I guess that lets me out!” said Pinky.
Jack Armstrong, Jr. said, “Me, too. Alan, I guess you need to be Spy Smasher again for this case!”
Alan nodded and said, “I’ll do it, son.”
Steffi looked over at Rob Butler, the current Mister Scarlet, and said, “Will you also return to your original identity for this mission? ”
My old costume is on display here, thought Rob. A case like this might just help get Dad’s mind off of Cherry! Aloud he said, “Sure. A slightly more mature Whiz Kid is yours for the asking!”
Brian Butler nodded silently. “I’ll be Mister Scarlet again as well, for all the good it will do,” he said.
“Excellent!” said Steffi. “Ibis, Taia, the Bullets, Alan, Minute Man, the original Mister Scarlet, and the original Pinky will accompany me to 1953. I will instruct you more precisely on the way!”
“And what of me?” asked Uncle Marvel.
“You should remain here,” said Steffi. “A senior hero such as yourself might be needed for back-up!”
The portly old man smiled broadly and said, “Yes, of course! Logical, girl — very logical!”
“Where, exactly, is your time machine?” asked the second Pinky. “Is it a car like in that movie?”
“I am the machine,” said Steffi, “or, to be precise, the micro-filament gear I wear will transport me and all in my vicinity to our desired destination of November 14th, 1953!”
“Pinky, you and Jack can hold down things here along with Uncle Marvel,” said Rob.
Steffi Swift spread her arms, and the selected heroes gathered around her in a circle. As a bright light swallowed them up and blocked them from the view of the second Spy Smasher and Uncle Marvel, the second Pinky the Whiz Kid made a sudden rash decision. She darted forward and dived directly into the rapidly fading light. In a blink of an eye, they were gone.
Uncle Marvel frowned as he looked over at Spy Smasher. “We can’t let my family know what has transpired here. They would indeed rush into peril. Perhaps we might summon some of our fellow crime-fighters like Sunbeam, Lance O’Casey, Mighty Isis, and Golden Arrow to stand by in case we need them!”
Spy Smasher nodded and said, “I have a feeling that if the original Squadron of Justice can’t handle this crisis, no one else will be of much help!”