To me comics have always had an element of magic to them. They change me. They transport me. They inspire me. Comics have been my constant since I was a very young child when my grandfather gave them to me for helping him with his job, which basically was me riding around with him all day Saturday while he checked on his various businesses and properties. When my family moved and then moved again and then again I always had my comics. No matter where my family ended up or where my father’s job took us I always had my heroes. As I grew and grew a little more to the point I was an awkwardly chubby preteen comics became my escape from many less then stellar days at school. I knew that when I got home and opened my long boxes that I would be taken away to other worlds, worlds full of brightly costumed heroes defeating deranged villains or mad scientists. I spent hours alongside my costumed heroes and even today there are certain books that I simply adore because of how much they meant to me when my life was less then the best.
One of these comics is DC Comics Presents Annual #4: Superman and Shazam. I can still remember my excitement when I first saw this issue on the spinner rack, yes a spinner rack, of the supermarket. I quickly checked my pockets and luckily I had enough allowance left to cover the $1.25. Yes it was a little pricey, which makes me laugh today, but it was extra sized and it had one of my favorite heroes in it, the big red cheese himself, Captain Marvel. Okay, it also had two Supermen, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Jr. But the draw for me was Captain Marvel. I’m not sure when I became such a fan of Captain Marvel since in 1984 he was an obscure hero. His Golden Age Fawcett adventures had ended decades before I was born. I’d thankfully never read his first DC revival at that point but he had appeared in a few issues of the Justice League of America and I just fell in love with the concept. It was a dream of mine that with a single word I could go from being myself at the time to the epitome of a superhero.
DC Comics Presents was one of my favorite DC comics in 1984. It’s not so much that I was a huge Superman fan, since Batman had always appealed to me more. What I loved about DC Comics Presents was that every month Superman was teamed up with another hero from the DC universe and those were the heroes that drew me to the book since many of the guest heroes were B and C list heroes and I loved those obscure heroes. I still have all of those issues in a long box that has somehow survived college, post college moves, graduate school, my first marriage, two houses and now my three year old who thinks Superman is the coolest. One of my prizes from that long box is DC Comics Presents Annual #4.
I’ve read DC Comics Presents Annual #4 more times then I can count. It is everything a DC Comic should be. It has a larger then life plot that involves Earth 1, Earth 2, and Earth S (this is pre-Crisis people). Our story begins with longtime Captain Marvel foe Dr. Sivana plaguing the Superman of Earth 1 in a giant robot; it’s the ‘80s so there had to be a giant robot. In his defeat Sivana devises a plan that when next Billy Batson calls out “Shazam!” he will siphon off all of the good qualities of Soloman, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury leaving Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family with the undesirable leftovers. Sivana easily defeats the Marvel Family and decides that to conquer the multiverse he needs to defeat Superman, only rather then returning to Earth 1 he travels to Earth 2 to take on the Golden Age Superman, who is a little bit weaker then his Earth 1 counterpart and as he lashes him to an asteroid made out of Kryptonite he travels to Earth 1 to defeat that worlds Superman. Of course as the issue unfolds from there as Captain Marvel overcomes Colonel Sivana’s (yes, he promoted himself) manipulation of SHAZAM! and regains his powers. He and the two Supermen team up and defeat Sivana and save the Multiverse.
Yes the plot is a classic cliché of a comic story but it was and still is so much fun to read. It’s also a creation of comic royalty as DC Comics Presents Annual #4 was brought to us by three legends of the industry, Roy Thomas, Julius Schwartz, and Gil Kane. Roy Thomas is probably best known for his time at Marvel where he was Stan Lee’s protégé and went on to write just about every Marvel property but most notably a classic Avengers run with John Buscema. In the ‘80s Thomas found himself at DC where he wrote many comics for them but my favorite has always been the All Star Squadron. Not only was Julius Schwartz was one of the principle creators of the DC Silver Age he also became the long serving Editor in Chief of DC Comics and ushered them into the modern age. Then there is Gil Kane, one of the greatest artists ever to grace the page of a comic. He drew thousands of books during his life but is probably most notable for his help in creating Hal Jordan and providing art for Green Lantern for most of the Silver Age. Marvel fans will also recognize him for the art on the classic Amazing Spider-Man #121 & #122 AKA the Night Gwen Stacy Died. You will also hopefully see his name along with Roy Thomas on the credits of the upcoming Netflix Iron Fist series, as they are the creators of that character. Now I’ll be honest, I didn’t know these men’s resumes when I first read this issue but as I have become more knowledgeable of my comic history my awe for this issue has only grown.
If you’re looking for some classic comics to read do yourself a favor and pick up DC Comics Presents Annual #4. Not only is it a great read but also an epitome of Pre-Crisis Multiverse DC comics and a great Superman story. It is also a creation of some of comic’s most legendary creators. If you like where Superman is today then take a chance on his classic adventures and if you miss Captain Marvel and are still waiting for his Rebirth then this is an issue for you. So take a walk down memory lane and enjoy yourself as you do.