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Captain Marvel: The Man Who Inherited Pittsburgh

on Mon, 10/06/2014 - 00:00

In June 1938, the world effectively changed with the introduction of the first comic book superhero, Superman. The tale of an invincible human-looking alien fighting evildoers on planet Earth struck a nerve within teenage America, starting a craze that led to Batman, Captain America and many other icons of popular culture. Comic books began to flourish thanks to the superhero genre, and every publisher needed its own “Superman” in order to cash in on the phenomenon.

For Fawcett Comics, that fictional champion was Captain Marvel. First introduced in Whiz Comics #2, twelve-year-old Billy Batson is granted the ability to transform himself into an adult superhero with the utterance of a single word, Shazam! The word is an acronym for the powers that Captain Marvel possesses—the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury—and the adventures of both Billy Batson and Captain Marvel rivaled that of even the original Superman during the early years of the 1940s.

Like all superheroes, Captain Marvel faced his fair share of supervillains, such as Doctor Sivana, Ibac and Mister Atom, as well as having a number of fellow cohorts that included Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. In September 1944, however, it was a solo Billy Batson that made his way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and squared off against purely human-based thuggery and greed when he became entangled in the life of the elderly Josh Dovey and his cat Caesar.

More importantly, Billy Batson discovered that Dovey was more than an old man content on tilling his garden but also—as the title of the narrative declares—“The Man Who Inherited Pittsburgh.”

Unlike Superman, the alter ego of Captain Marvel is well known to the population-at-large but it is an unannounced Billy Batson who arrives in the Steel City via an Ohio River steamboat in 1944. When Mayor Cornelius D. Scully fails to meet him at the wharf, young Billy makes his way to City Hall to find the Mayor in a heated argument with Flintrock Dovey, who has purchased the land in Slum Corners on which his older brother Josh now lives.

The Mayor pleads with Flintrock to reconsider his plans to evict Josh Dovey from the premises, but to no avail. Hearing of the impending plight of the eldest Dovey, Billy Batson decides to help the old man and visits him in the small piece of paradise he has carved for himself within the slums of Pittsburgh.

It turns out that Josh Dovey is a fan of Captain Marvel, and shows Billy Batson the newspaper clippings he has saved that chronicle the superhero’s career. While removing the memorabilia from a shelf, a single sheet of paper falls into the hands of Billy that was given to the great-great-great grandfather of Dovey by William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Before Batson has a chance to read it, however, Flintrock and a pair of goons arrive to both evict Josh and tear down his small shack of a home.

Uttering the word “Shazam!,” Billy Batson transforms into Captain Marvel, and although he is able to prevent the thugs from causing any physical harm to Josh Dovey, he is powerless against the legal paperwork brandished by Flintrock. The house is thus destroyed, and Billy finds temporary lodging for Josh at the William Penn Hotel.

As part of his visit to the Steel City, Billy Batson agreed to an interview on radio station KDKA. When it is time for him to make his opening remarks, however, he accidentally pulls out of his pocket the document from William Penn instead of his prepared notes.

“Folks, according to this ancient deed, William Penn left the city of Pittsburgh entirely to the family of Josh Dovey,” Billy tells his audience. “Everything in the city belongs to him!” A hearing is immediately called at the Allegheny Court House, and the judges agree that the deed is legitimate and that Josh Dovey owns the city of Pittsburgh.

While this may have been unexpected news to Josh Dovey and the residents of the Steel City, it was a not a surprise to Flintrock Dovey. In fact, his entire motivation behind purchasing the land that his older brother called home and then evicting him was to find the document signed by William Penn so that he himself could claim Pittsburgh. Faced with the revelation that Josh Dovey is the rightful heir to the city, Flintrock now decides to murder his brother so that the inheritance in turn will fall to him.

Accompanied by his two goons, Flintrock goes to the William Penn Hotel to complete his dastardly plan but is thwarted by Captain Marvel. It turns out, however, that Flintrock’s real agenda was to kidnap Josh Dovey’s beloved cat Caesar while Captain America was busy fighting his thugs. A note subsequently left by Flintrock tells Josh to meet him at Forbes Field or else Caesar will die.

Despite being warned of the dangers involved in meeting his younger brother, Josh is intent on going to Forbes Field nonetheless. Billy Batson decides to follow him, but is unsuspectingly knocked unconscious by one of Flintrock’s thugs. Upon arriving at his destination, meanwhile, Josh is forced onto the rooftop of the baseball stadium and thrown over the side on the orders of Flintrock.

Fortunately, Billy Batson recovers from his injuries just in time to transform into Captain Marvel and rescue Josh Dovey from his plight. The thugs fail to put up a fight afterwards, fainting instead at the mere sight of Captain Marvel. In a final moment of forgiveness, Josh decides not to press charges against his brother while also relinquishing his claims on the Steel City.

“And so, folks, Pittsburgh doesn’t belong to Josh Dovey anymore,” Billy Batson explains over the radio. “Josh has his cat back and they’re living in a new tin shelter back at Slum Corners, the only part of Pittsburgh to which Josh kept the deed!”

Like many superheroes of the Golden Age of Comic Books, Captain Marvel didn’t just tangle with supervillains but also faced everyday human criminals while likewise standing up for the “little guy.” Issue 39 of Captain Marvel Adventures is a prime example as young Billy Batson refuses to turn a blind eye on the fate of Josh Dovey, rescuing him from his older brother and making his visit to the Steel City a memorable one in the process.

Anthony Letizia

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