If you were collecting comics in the 70s, you no doubt
remember the excitement surrounding Superman
Vs. Spider-Man, an unprecedented collaborative
effort between industry rivals DC and Marvel that even in
the era of Détente made the Apollo-Soyuz mission
seem like small beer.
vsshazamNo doubt DC hoped for a similar impact with Superman
Vs. Shazam, but it wasn't nearly the same. For one
thing, the DC/Fawcett feud had already been over for 20+
years at this point, and "Shazam"
was by now well-established as a DC property. Furthermore,
anyone who did remember the decades-earlier competition
between Captain Marvel and Superman would
be put off by the very title; everyone knows that guy in
the red suit isn't "Shazam!" You couldn't even
claim the pairing was "history-making" since the
two had met -- and fought -- two years earlier in the pages
of Justice League of America #137. Nonetheless,
house ads touted the book as "The Battle Nearly
Four Decades In the Making!"
The cover, by Rich Buckler and Dick
Giordano, showed the World's Mightiest Mortal and
the Man of Steel locked in combat in outer space, with two
Earths heading for collision. The heroes are turned at awkward
angles for a fistfight, presumably to display enough of
their respective costumes to be recognizable to all. Swooping
in behind them are Supergirl and Mary
Writer Gerry Conway provides the script, while Buckler
and Giordano do their best Neal
Adams impersonation on the art chores. The
plot concerns a mad, Martian scientist named Karmang,
whose forbidden (but it must be admitted, successful) experiments
in achieving immortality a thousand-thousand years ago resulted
in the deaths of billions of his fellow Martians.
Now, far be it from me to judge a guy by his appearance,
but somebody at the lab probably should have guessed Karmang
was bad news when he showed up for work wearing earrings
made out of eyeballs. Anyway, things went very wrong, although
it may be inaccurate to say "billions died," because
they seem to have hung around in semi-alive, wraith-like
form to torment their killer for all these eons.
Karmang has a plan to return these lost souls to life,
but it will require a tremendous amount of energy, which
he hopes to generate by crashing Earth-S
(home of Captain Marvel) and Earth-1 into each other. To
assist him, he recruits Cap's old enemy Black Adam
and the Quarrmer, a.k.a "The
The two have been chosen for their ability to duplicate
the powers of the two titular heroes, and with some help
from Karmang's magic (oh yeah, he's a sorceror, too...or
something) they become dead ringers for Cap and Supes.
Cut to Metropolis. After rescuing a stadium full of people
from a goofy new villan, Superman is surprised to encounter
Captain Marvel (actually Black Adam) on Earth-1. He's even
more surprised when Cap greets him with an I-beam to the
Superman struggles with "Cap" half-heartedly,
trying to figure out what's got into the guy, and sends
out a super-sonic distress call to Supergirl for help. Struggling
at close quarters, "Cap" zaps Superman in the
eyes with a gizmo devised by Karmang, which clouds Superman's
mind with unreasoning rage. He flies off in search of Captain
Marvel with murder in mind, and a confused Supergirl close
On Earth-S we go through pretty much the same scenario
as Captain Marvel leaves the scene of a bridge rescue only
to be sucker-punched by "Superman" (actually the
Quarrmer). He too gets the rage-inducing gizmo flashed in
his eyes and takes off for Earth-1 to settle accounts with
Superman. Mary Marvel follows him.
The two soon cross paths on Earth-1 and Superman gives
Cap a warm greeting.
As the heroes tear into each other over Metropolis, Supergirl
pulls Mary Marvel aside for a conference and they realize
someone, somewhere is exerting some sort of mind control
over the men. They correctly deduce that the fight was started
by imposters, and soon determine the most likely candidates
are Black Adam and the Quarrmer. Meanwhile, the two in question
are installing and activating devices on each Earth which
will ultimately bring the worlds together in a galactic
Supes and Cap continue their fight over Niagara Falls (knocking
out the power station there and plunging part of the East
Coast into blackout) and keep at it til they've crossed
the U.S. Over the desert, Air Force fighter jets try to
take them both out with air-to-air missiles, with predictable
Meanwhile, Mary and Kara have tracked down the Quarrmer
and Black Adam. The Quarrmer gives up without a fight and
spills the whole plan. Black Adam is far scrappier, but
gets beaten anyway. In a neat touch, Kara finds him robbing
an Egyptian pyramid; having realized most things from his
own Earth-S also exist on Earth-1, Black Adam has decided
to steal the Earth-1 version of the powerful "Ibistick"
that on his world is wielded by the magician/hero Ibis
(apparently there is no Ibis on Earth-1). Kara snatches
it from him, however, and uses its magic to change him into
his mortal form of Teth Adam. Fight over.
By now, the battle is turning against Captain Marvel, who
is considering pulling out the big guns and using his magic
lightning against Superman.
Years later, a brainwashed Captain Marvel would use this
tactic against Superman in Mark Waid and
Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, but here
he's talked out of it by the wizard Shazam. Instead, Superman
crashes into Cap headlong and for a moment thinks he's killed
him. Shazam appears to Superman and says no, Cap is not
dead, and now that you two have knocked the rage out of
your heads, it's time to save two worlds.
Going on the information gained from the Quarmmer, Kara
and Mary attack Karmang on Mars while the men track down
his deadly devices. Karmang has booby-trapped the instruments
so that any tampering with either device will result in
the destruction of the Earth on which it resides, by upsetting
that Earth's magnetic field. Superman, has a plan, however:
Yes, that's right, Superman will save the world by spinning
around it really fast. There must have been something in
the air back in 1978, because this is how he would save
Lois Lane, California and New Jersey in "Superman:
The Movie." And thus "spinning around the Earth"
becomes Superman's version of "reversing the polarity,"
that all-pupose answer to everything. "Darn it, Superman,
won't anything take these gravy stains out?" "Don't
worry, a quick spin around the Earth should handle it!"
Anyway, it works. Earth's magnetic field is reinforced
and Cap smashes the device to scrap. The process is repeated
on Earth-S and all is well.
Back on Mars, the girls activate a device which Karmang
says will send them all to limbo, but Kara and Mary take
off at super-speed, leaving Karmang to face limbo -- and
those angry spirits -- alone.
There's some nice art in this book, with the double-page
spreads of the heroes fighting over Niagara Falls and western
deserts. There's also the occasional neat touch like the
inclusion of the Ibistick, but overall this is an underwhelming
book and probably not what most fans were hoping for. Typically
for this sort of story, it's never really settled which
hero is stronger, and it's hard to root for either one given
that they're not in their right minds. Also, while some
of the visuals are cool, it's kind of dull to have the two
supposed stars of the book reduced to trading punches for
most of 72 pages while their female relatives do most of
the talking and interacting, and all of the thinking. Along
the way, Conway throws in a subplot where Mary develops
a crush on Superman (based entirely on how he looks), apparently
to set up a "humorous" denouement. It doesn't
There must be something to the idea however, as this wouldn't
be the last time a fight between the characters was arranged
to drive sales, or in the case of the Justice League cartoon,
ratings. But deep down, we know they're really the best
of friends. Right, guys? Right? Uh...guys?