Did someone say…’Shazam’?

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Tyrades! by Danny Tyree

Saint Nick wasn’t the only man in a red suit that magical Christmas season 50 years ago.

On Saturday December 23, 1972, I walked from my house to Sharp’s Drive-In Market and splurged on four 20-cent comic books.

One of my selections was heavily influenced by an ad appearing in DC Comics: “Coming in December…DC’s Christmas gift to you! Shazam is coming!”

I could scarcely wait to rush home and open my copy of “Shazam!” #1. Unfortunately, my gut reaction upon seeing the interior artwork was, “What’s this cartoony junk???” You see, I had recently sworn off “kiddie” comics. But “Shazam!” grew on me. By the second issue, it was my favorite title.

“Shazam!” #1 featured the triumphal return of “the original Captain Marvel” and his extended family. Introduced in Fawcett’s “Whiz Comics” #2 (cover-dated February 1940), Captain Marvel was the alter ego of boy reporter Billy Batson. By speaking the magic word “Shazam!,” Billy summoned a mystical bolt of lightning and transformed into a costumed adult super-hero who saved the world from countless threats.

During the 1940s (what comics aficionados refer to as the Golden Age of Comics), Captain Marvel appeared in his own 12-chapter Republic movie serial and even outsold Superman on the newsstands.

But “the world’s mightiest mortal” went into limbo in 1953 because of (a) the declining popularity of super-heroes and (b) a long-running lawsuit in which DC accused the good captain of being a rip-off of Superman.

That’s why “Shazam!” was such a big deal in 1972, bringing Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel Family back to a nostalgia-crazed world after almost 20 years. (The comic had to be named “Shazam!” after the magic word and the wizard who gave it to Billy, because in the ensuing decades rival Marvel Comics had trademarked the name Captain Marvel and introduced the first of a series of heroes bearing that name. Countless fans over the past half-century have gotten the book title and hero name confused, so DC officially changed the hero’s name to Shazam circa 2012.)

Still…even though the revival spawned a fondly remembered live-action CBS Saturday morning program and a 1981 NBC animated version, the Big Red Cheese (as arch-villain Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana dubbed him) never matched his former glory.

(When I was writing for “Comics Buyer’s Guide” magazine in 1987, I received a letter from Captain Marvel co-creator C.C. Beck, lamenting that the modern handlers had made the character either too silly or too grim, rarely capturing the delicate balance of whimsy and suspense that marked the original incarnation.)

I’m glad DC keeps going back to the drawing board, trying to let the do-gooder live up to his potential. My family enjoyed the 2019 movie and looks forward to next year’s sequel, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods.”

I hope that this Christmas some lucky child finds Shazam! graphic novels or a DVD of the aforementioned movie under the tree.

We still need to believe in the triumph of good over evil.

We still need some good, clean fun.

And we sometimes need to comfort ourselves with the fantasy that one magic word could endow us with the strength to solve all our problems.

I heard rumors that the concept has even reached the White House, whose current occupant perhaps read the 1940s adventures of Captain Marvel.

“With one magic word…fourscore and seven years ago…”

Copyright 2022 Danny Tyree, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at [email protected] and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”

Controversial author Harlan Ellison once described the work of Danny Tyree as "wonkily extrapolative" and said Tyree's mind "works like a demented cuckoo clock."

Ellison was speaking primarily of Tyree’s 1983-2000 stint on the "Dan T’s Inferno" column for “Comics Buyer’s Guide” hobby magazine, but the description would also fit his weekly "Tyree’s Tyrades" column for mainstream newspapers.

Inspired by Dave Barry, Al "Li'l Abner" Capp, Lewis Grizzard, David Letterman, and "Saturday Night Live," "Tyree's Tyrades" has been taking a humorous look at politics and popular culture since 1998.

Tyree has written on topics as varied as Rent-A-Friend.com, the Lincoln bicentennial, "Woodstock At 40," worm ranching, the Vatican conference on extraterrestrials, violent video games, synthetic meat, the decline of soap operas, robotic soldiers, the nation's first marijuana café, Sen. Joe Wilson’s "You lie!" outburst at President Obama, Internet addiction, "Is marriage obsolete?," electronic cigarettes, 8-minute sermons, early puberty, the Civil War sesquicentennial, Arizona's immigration law, the 50th anniversary of the Andy Griffith Show, armed teachers, "Are women smarter than men?," Archie Andrews' proposal to Veronica, 2012 and the Mayan calendar, ACLU school lawsuits, cutbacks at ABC News, and the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon.

Tyree generated a particular buzz on the Internet with his column spoofing real-life Christian nudist camps.

Most of the editors carrying "Tyree’s Tyrades" keep it firmly in place on the opinion page, but the column is very versatile. It can also anchor the lifestyles section or float throughout the paper.

Nancy Brewer, assistant editor of the "Lawrence County (TN) Advocate" says she "really appreciates" what Tyree contributes to the paper. Tyree has appeared in Tennesee newspapers continuously since 1998.

Tyree is a lifelong small-town southerner. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in Mass Communications. In addition to writing the weekly "Tyree’s Tyrades," he writes freelance articles for MegaBucks Marketing of Elkhart, Indiana.

Tyree wears many hats (but still falls back on that lame comb-over). He is a warehousing and communications specialist for his hometown farmers cooperative, a church deacon, a comic book collector, a husband (wife Melissa is a college biology teacher), and a late-in-life father. (Six-year-old son Gideon frequently pops up in the columns.)

Bringing the formerly self-syndicated "Tyree's Tyrades" to Cagle Cartoons is part of Tyree's mid-life crisis master plan. Look for things to get even crazier if you use his columns.