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Shazam: Captain Marvel Fights the Man of Steel

on Mon, 10/13/2014 - 00:00

According to popular myth, Joe Magarac was a man made out of steel, born within a mountain of ore, who would appear at crucial moments to protect steelworkers in the Pittsburgh region. Magarac was first mentioned in a 1931 magazine article that related the folklore of Steel City immigrants. A combination of the “patron saint of steelworkers” and Paul Bunyan, Joe Magarac was even immortalized in a stained glass mural above the entrance to the 300 Sixth Avenue Building, a reminder of Pittsburgh’s past that still oversees its present and future.

The exact fate of Magarac is unknown, having either allowed himself to be melted down in order to build a new steel mill or quietly awaiting for the return of the industry within the walls of an abandoned factory.

In August 1977, Joe Magarac arose once again from the molten steel lava contained within a large ladle at a Pittsburgh steel mill. Instead of protecting workers, however, this particular Magarac’s mission was to destroy all of the factories in the area, and he might very well have succeeded if it wasn’t for the intervention of Captain Marvel.

The legendary superhero—who first appeared in 1940 courtesy of Fawcett Comics and resurrected by DC Comics in 1972—visited Pittsburgh in the mid-1940s but made a return visit to the Steel City almost 35 years later. It was not the real Joe Magarac that he fought on this occasion, however, but a robotic creation of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana designed to assist in the archvillain’s ongoing quest for world domination.

Although Captain Marvel is an adult superhero, his real identity is that of a twelve-year-old boy named Billy Batson who can transform himself into his alter ego with the utterance of a single word, Shazam! Batson works as a commentator for radio station WHIZ, and his duties as a reporter are what brings him to Pittsburgh in the thirtieth issue storyline of Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal, entitled “Captain Marvel Fights the Man of Steel.”

Billy and his Uncle Dudley are driving past the last standing Block House of the original Fort Pitt when they overhear a police call that Doctor Sivana has been spotted in the area. The pair investigate the sighting and discover that Sivana has stolen a single issue of Action Comics—depicting the adventures of Superman—from a warehouse. While reading the magazine in his lair, Sivana decides to create his own “Man of Steel” to fight and defeat Captain Marvel.

Billy Batson’s current radio assignment, meanwhile, takes him to a Pittsburgh steel mill. During a tour of the facility, Doctor Sivana is spotted dumping some unknown element into a boiling cauldron of liquid steel. Billy immediately transforms into Captain Marvel, but Sivana escapes when the superhero is forced to rescue a steelworker who has been thrown over a railing by the evil villain.

Captain Marvel has no time to follow Sivana afterwards because the legendary Joe Magarac emerges from a nearby ladle at that exact moment. Captain Marvel is unaware of the folklore surrounding Magarac, so the steelworker fills him in on the details of the Pittsburgh version of Paul Bunyan. Unfortunately it is not the real Joe Magarac who has arisen from the liquid metal, but a robotic creation of Doctor Sivana, with modified steel that gives him added strength and the mission of destroying all of the mills in the area.

Although Captain Marvel is able to defeat Joe Magarac, Doctor Sivana is far from thwarted. After telling his robotic creation the secret of Captain Marvel’s real identity, Sivana sends Magarac back to the factory, where the steel manifestation sneaks up on Billy Batson and constructs a metal gag to silence the boy. Lacking the strength to remove the device from his mouth on his own, Batson is able to antagonize his opponent into hitting him had enough to dislodge it nonetheless.

Free to speak again, Billy quickly utters the word “Shazam!” and again becomes Captain Marvel. Instead of just punching Joe Magarac through the roof of the steel mill—as he did the first time they met—this time Captain Marvel smashes Magarac hard enough to crumble him into a mound of rubble.

Unfortunately Doctor Sivana isn’t finished yet, as he has also manufactured a full menagerie of steel creatures, including a donkey, rhinoceros, tiger and elephant. Realizing he is outnumbered, Captain Marvel takes to the air and crisscrosses the country in a matter of seconds, summoning Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and his three “lieutenants”—Fat Marvel, Tall Marvel and Hill Marvel—to Pittsburgh.

During her journey, Mary Marvel flies past the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning and admires the “42-story schoolhouse.” Once assembled, the metal animals are no match for the full Marvel Family.

Doctor Sivana is still not ready to surrender, however, and unleashes his final creation—a robotic Superman that is literally made of steel. Captain Marvel tells his colleagues that he must face this particular Superman alone, and an epic battle takes place over the skies of Pittsburgh. The outcome is left unknown until “Superman,” who has been outfitted with a homing device programmed to lead him to Doctor Sivana, arrives at the villain’s lair and proclaims that Captain Marvel is dead.

As Sivana rejoices, the outer metal shell of Superman is stripped away to reveal Captain Marvel inside. The superhero had used the disguise and homing device to locate Sivana, who is then dutifully sent to prison for his long list of crimes.

In the end, Captain Marvel watches from Mellon Square as Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. and the three additional Marvels take to the air one last time and return to their homes. Pittsburgh is safe once again, the legend of Joe Magarac secure and the question of whether Captain Marvel really is the “World’s Mightiest Mortal” answered with the defeat of a literal Man of Steel.

Anthony Letizia

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