Forgive me if I start by stating the obvious, but there something quite archetypal and mythic about Captain Marvel. Obviously because his powers derive from some pretty mythic figures themselves. Add to this a halcyon fantasy of empowerment and sometimes catharsis for both young and old alike. The young reader crying ‘Shazam!’ in their heart becomes the heroic adult they have always wanted to be. The older reader resides a while with their courageous inner child, perhaps alongside an idealized, and far mightier version of their adult self. The lasting truth is a straightforward one. The power of the gods in the hands and the heart of a child can and will overcome any adversary.
For many, myself included, the appeal of this particular character lies in that quaint and seemingly naive ‘gee whiz mista!’ way of perceiving the world. This is generally found in the various Shazam! comics that since the 1940s have been released in one form or another. With the recent announcement of a Shazam! live action movie seemingly unrelated to the potentially dark and gritty DC cinematic universe, it looks like this will be a convention that will continue to endure well beyond the character’s 75th year. Like the ineffable clarity of zen, and just as revitalizing and redemptive. This ambience serves as welcome relief from titles that aim for realistic portrayals of what appears to be an increasingly unattractive world. Earth 5, the setting for The Day That Never Was, perfectly encapsulates this having been previously described as a ‘kinder, simpler world.’ in Superman Beyond 3D. Another appeal and plausible convention of the character under DC, at least until the reimagining found in the New 52, was the way in which this (Big Red) cheese-y quality would permeate out from the character. Nowhere more was this obvious than when he encountered other more gritty and existential characters either as allies or foes.
Beyond the simple narrative of The Day That Never Was, which some might view as throwaway or trite, this interaction of opposites is the underlying crux of Thunderworld. Uncomplicated moral lessons inhabit almost every page, played out without being overly pedantic or patronising. The power of friendship alongside inner beauty and intelligence’s triumph over shallow, hollow aesthetics for example. At the tale’s climax selfishness proves to be it’s own worst enemy. The lack of honour among thieves scuppers Dr. Sivana’s master plan far more effectively than Earth’s Mightiest Mortal ever could. For the esoterically minded reader we have the supposed dichotomy between science and magic. This being perfectly played out through the physical and verbal sparring between Sivana and The Wizard’s champion. The Rock of Eternity and Sivana’s artificial doppelganger feeding off the original also exemplifies this.
By the end of the issue Captain Marvel and his extensive family of sidekicks, having faced off against their standard cast of foes, scoff at and shrug off a potential multiversal incursion. An incursion that seemed to break, corrupt and ultimately doom the heroes of other worlds. Importantly for the first time we have a Multiversity title that ends with an outright obvious happy ending. Accentuating this is the use of deliberate goofy humor which in itself can be thought of as characteristic of Shazam! comics. The issue’s opening monologue seems to evoke the introductory soliloquy found in Society of Superheroes. However the somber tone is almost immediately dispersed by the narrator as we discover the speaker to be the Wizard merely practicing his omniscient narrator voice. Also as with many stories using these characters there are several humorous instances of tricking people into uttering magic words.
Until now one could be forgiven for thinking that Grant had in fact abandoned his largely positive worldview altogether. That being said after three superficially bleak issues and an ambiguous nonlinear tale, Thunderworld could well signify a turnaround in the potential narrative structure of forthcoming issues. This of course is no accident or coincidence, serving as the merest hint of the planning and purpose Morrison has infused the series with. Also this would seem to fit my hypothesis about the series documenting the Multiverse’s growing self-awareness and empowerment in an effort to defend itself against the threat of the Gentry. Several times it appears the characters seem to address the reader directly, as if utterly aware of the comics role as an interdimensional communication device much in the same way Captain Atom did in Pax Americana.
In addition to being part of the overall Multiversity fractal/hypersigil, Thunderworld further ties into its immediate predecessor in at least two ways. Firstly there is the use of a time loop or mobius trip as the linchpin of the story. Of course the mutability and nonlinear nature of time is a trope used quite often by Morrison, but here immediately evokes Pax Americana. Pax Americana’s Algorithm 8 motif is also evoked in the creation of Sivanaday, the eighth day of the week that inevitably only lasts? You guessed it, eight hours in total.
Though it goes without saying that each artistic team is equally as well a thought out and perfect match to the issue they handle on Multiversity, Cameron Stewart and Nathan Fairbairn really capture the accompanying visual conventions of quaint retro simplicity so intrinsic to the adventures of Billy Batson. Once again in a few short pages Morrison and his cohorts manage to create or, in this case, portray pre-existing characters in a manner that makes us feel as if we have always known them. In almost every aspect The Day That Never Was is as straightforward as Pax Americana was complex but is equally as rewarding. Furthermore it’s intrinsic simplicity means it could serve as an accessible introduction to not only Multiversity, but also the Shazam! mythos at large with its utilization of key elements and conventions of that title.
Next up in the series we have the Multiversity Guidebook. Many may feel that a companion piece of minutiae may not be deserving of review or analysis. However, I have another Interlude up my sleeve that may serve to argue the contrary and contribute towards a holistic appreciation of the series as a whole.