The motif of the power of names was established from the very beginning of Captain Marvel’s history, but it would take another 40 years for the Wizard Shazam to be developed beyond the all-knowing God motif.
A story published in World’s Finest #262, eight years after DC had purchased the rights to publish the character, called “The Captain Marvel of 7,000 B.C.” has some very interesting commentary on the nature of magic and mythology (even if the symbolism is a bit heavy-handed at times).
The story begins with a blue-costumed hero who informs Billy “I am – - the first in a line of heroes, Billy. You are one of the latest.” While readers knew that Shazam had been battling evil for “3,000 years,” this was one of the few instances where the lineage of Captain Marvel is addressed and built upon. Furthermore, it enhances the magical elements that distinguish Captain Marvel as more than just a Superman knock-off because it shows that he is part of a long line of heroes. The Champion was a super-hero 9,000 years before Billy Batson. It isn’t as if Clark Kent is part of a long line of Supermen. So, then, it’s somewhat ironic that Superman has maintained a strong legacy while Captain Marvel has struggled for years.
The Champion and Captain Marvel flying at the speed of light, “the two break the barriers of time and space, throwing them into eternity – - at the exact center of all creation . . .” which means they travel to the Rock of Eternity and then travel to the past. Once in the past, they visit the Mountain of the Gods where the Champion gets his powers and Captain Marvel notes “they’re not the gods who give me my powers. They couldn’t be because they aren’t worshipped yet! Besides, Solomon, Hercules, and Achilles won’t be born for thousands of years!”
The six gods are:
Voldar – “master of strength”
Lumium – “patron of wisdom”
Arel – “swift messenger of the deities”
Ribalvei – “most powerful of gods”
Elbiam – “lord of courage”
Marzosh – “god of stamina”
None of these gods are from any particular mythology. In fact, they’ve all been made up for the specific purpose but we won’t learn this until the very last page of the story.
The remainder of the story is buried beneath too many metaphors for its own good, and ends up reading more like the 15th century morality play Everyman than a superhero story, but in that way, it’s a perfect Captain Marvel story. Unlike most Captain Marvel stories that simply invoke the names of Greek gods or Judeo-Christian icons, this story’s very plot is steeped in the mythology of morality play. It’s certainly a very different take on the traditional story, but it just so happens to not be a very interesting one.
Apparently, Evil has returned and it is up to the Champion and his successor to stop it. When the heroes approach Evil, he transforms into three different forms: Sin, Terror, and Wickedness. Furthermore, the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man are Evil’s servants and together, they form a league of evil (or is that Evil?) that seems unstoppable!
Laziness doesn’t put up a fight, but instead he informs our heroes that “Greed and Injustice are at the Temple of Vice! Envy and Hatred have gone to the Hall of Government! And Pride and Selfishness are at the School of Philosophy!” (why Laziness shouts when he’s always so tired is a bit of a mystery, but that’s how everyone talks in Captain Marvel comics – everyone speaks in exclamatory sentences unless they are saying something thoughtful and pensive). Seeing the Seven Deadly Sins . . . wait, excuse me . . . Seven Deadly Enemies of Man connects this story to the very first Captain Marvel story when Billy Batson first finds Shazam’s cave. Now, he face off with the first enemies he met in a metaphorical battle for the salvation of all mankind’s souls. The metaphorical wordplay is all so overdone that it almost leaves one nauseous, but the story will end with an implicitly dark message.
Long story short, Captain Marvel and the Champion defeat Evil at the beginning of time where they just so happen to find a rock to plug a hole in time. Sexual implications aside (after all, sometimes a rock is just a rock and a reality-destroying vortex is sometimes just a hole in time), Captain Marvel has officially helped to build the Rock of Eternity that would later house Shazam and grant him power. Once again, showing the idea of the cyclical nature of creation and destruction that was first established 40 years prior when Billy Batson said “Shazam” for the first time to become a hero and again to kill the wizard.
On the last page, the Champion says his magic word of “Vlarem” (a not-so-subtle anagram for “Marvel”) and is transformed into a boy. Captain Marvel deduces that the boy is a very young Shazam. When Cap returns to the present, Shazam explains, “I was a hero like you – - until the gods who gave me my powers were forgotten by all but me!” It’s meant to be a heartfelt sentiment to show Billy Batson that he is part of a lineage – that he is part of something greater than himself. Instead, it creates a litany of questions regarding continuity and also hints at a very dark philosophy.
In terms of continuity, this ten-page story makes one wonder who gave Shazam his powers in the first place. Was it a wizard named Vlarem who drew his power from the gods who were later forgotten? Also, is “Shazam” his real name? If so, then how did Shazam connect his name with the respective powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury? Furthermore, how did the wizard Shazam maintain his power even after the gods were forgotten?
Of course, these questions are ultimately irrelevant because they’ll never be answered and if they were, it would spoil the fun and the mythology of Captain Marvel. The point is that this story muddies the waters of an origin that was already perfect as it was. A wizard as old as time gives a little boy powers – that’s all that had to be known. With the inclusion of this story to Captain Marvel’s canon, it does nothing but confuse the origin.
But, then there is the far more sinister implication that this story presents.
The wizard Shazam was once the Champion until his gods were forgotten which inherently suggests that one day in the future, the gods who power Captain Marvel will be forgotten as well. It may be thousands of years in the future, but one day, the myths of the past will be completely forgotten and erased from the consciousness of mankind. The story seems to suggest that nothing is permanent, not even the gods themselves.
Except that there is one thing that will always stand the test of time.
Make that Seven things that will always exist.
Yes, even though the gods that powered the Champion were forgotten, the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man will always survive. They will always haunt mankind proving that evil will always exist even when good is dead and forgotten.