Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sivanaday ...
There's a new day come-a calling, it's the one day of the week when evil Dr Sivana can defeat Captain Marvel. The 'synthetic' day is the result of the Sivanas of many worlds combining rare time-bending element Suspendium to alter fundamental forces as first step towards joint rule of the Multiverse.
And where did they get this idea? From a comic book, the Society of Super-Heroes, one of the chapters of Grant Morrison's Multiversity project, of which this is the latest.
And possibly greatest. I flat-out adore this comic, which takes us to Thunderworld - that's pretty much Earth S to us old-timers - where Captain Marvel is the World's Mightiest Mortal. And yes, that's Captain Marvel, wizard and protege alike get to keep their own names. Alongside Cap are Mary Marvel - clad in the white costume from Jerry Ordway's superb Power of Shazam series, Captain Marvel Jr., Uncle Marvel, the Lts Marvel and Tawky Tawny. On the other side are Sivana's kids Magnificus, Georgia and Thaddeus Jr, souped up after saying one magic word ... Sivana (Mag's sister Beautia isn't around, presumably because three is the magic number when it comes to taking on the prime Marvel Family). Also on hand are the Monster Society of Evil, big as life and twice as ugly.
While Multiversity motivates this adventure - titled, old-school style, Captain Marvel and the Day That Never Was - I pretty much forgot that. I was having such a good time with a classical Marvel Family story that I was 11 again, discovering the magic of CC Beck's creation for the first time. Sure, some of the alternate Sivanas are a tad creepy - I'm looking at you, Dr Saw-vana, and then running away - but so far as the Big Red Cheese and chums are concerned, there's no updating in the approach here, not a whiff of cynicism. Captain Marvel is appalled when he sees the type of thing that happens in the SOS comic, and instantly allows it to wash over him like a quick, nasty rain shower. If anything as nasty as that enters his world, well, he'll kick it right out again, with the power of the wizard, sheer goodness and a smile.
The inclusion of Suspendium made me smile - that was the device used in the Seventies Shazam #1 to explain the decades-long absence from the comics landscape of Billy and co after DC sued Fawcett over Captain Marvel's supposed similarities to Superman. I also grinned at Mary Marvel's choice of reading.
Illustrator Cameron Stewart and colourist Nathan Fairbairn could not be more suited to this story. Stewart's compositions draw the eye in, while his open, clean linework is perfect for the Marvel Family and transformed Sivana siblings. There's not a panel that doesn't invite wide-eyed appreciation, even as Stewart's storytelling skills work with Morrison's absorbing script to propel you through the story.
I love the classic, unfussy Captain Marvel design, especially the crinkly eyes and snub nose. There's a lovely grace with which he soars through the air, an elegance shared by Mary and Jr, which follows through into their fighting styles. The sheer joy of the Marvel Family is back for the first time in decades.
And a big part of the visual appeal is Fairbairn's well-chosen, superbly applied, unashamedly bright colours. The red, blue and white of the Marvel Family uniforms blaze off the page, daring us not to fall in love with these delightful heroes. Cooler tones surround Sivana, while a transdimensional subway tunnel trip is sheer psychedelia, a paradise of pop art. I could show it, but it's such a wondrous moment in the narrative that it's best to discover it for yourself.
Steve Wands' lettering looks good throughout, but is never better than in the opening narrative, when the friendly, forceful font evokes classic Marvel Family adventures.
In a book of nothing but excellent images, this panel is an absolute standout: the sense of crazy motion, the trick with the word balloon, the planes of colour - it could be used as a visual calling card by all three artists.
Other pleasures include Georgia's rubbish attempts at seducing Jr; a new take on the Rock of Eternity; and Sivana's crumpled magic lightning. The only off-note is Saw-vana's closing threat around Mary Marvel, which is incredibly at odds with the prevailing tone - no doubt deliberately so, but I'd rather it weren't there.
Thunderworld Adventures being part of a big old Grant Morrison storyline, there's likely a rich subtext, arcane references and Easter eggs aplenty. I'm afraid I missed them all, if such there be - I simply wallowed in a smart, funny, charming Marvel Family tale. Chances are this is the only time Morrison, Stewart, Fairbairn and Wands will team up for a Shazam story - I'm so glad we got this one.