Bizarro Back Issues: Captain Marvel and the Peace Ray (1946)
So yeah. That happened.
Oh, relax. Despite the unfortunate modern-day subtext of that panel, the crook here only means it in the sense of generally harming. Point is, I’ve been reading through a lot of Golden Age Captain Marvel Adventures comics lately, and if I’ve learned nothing, it’s that Billy Batson and his super-heroic alter ego face even stranger situations than the average Golden Age hero, and that’s saying something. Being stranded in a future of super-evolved ladybugs, having Zeus throw sub-standard lightning bolts at them from Mount Olympus, late-night visits from bondage-minded crooks — things get pretty weird for those guys. And while the panel above (from CMA #50) might be the best to take out of context, the real kookiness hit eight issues later with a story of Dr. Sivana’s Peace Ray.Released on April 12, 1946, the daring three-part story of “Captain Marvel and the Peace Ra”y came out at a time when the character was at the absolute peak of his popularity. Not only did Captain Marvel Adventures boast the highest circulation of any comic book, it was such a hit that Fawcett was putting out a 48-page issue every other week to meet the demand.
And with good reason. Even at the frantic pace that they were churning out stories, Otto Binder and C.C. Beck were putting out some of the greatest comics of the Golden Age, and arguably some of the best all-ages stories ever printed. Judging just by Binder’s contributions to the Superman family in the Silver Age and the team’s return to (sadly short-lived) greatness with the legitimately awesome Fatman: The Human Flying Saucer, their Captain Marvel work was easily 20 years ahead of its time. Heck, Fawcett had even headed off the parental concerns that would lead to the rise of the Comics Code in the ’50s by having each issue carry an approval from an “Editorial Advisory Board,” including “Famous Aviator” Major Al Williams and an educator of gifted children with the decidedly villain-sounding name of “Professor H. W. Zorbaugh.“
And in CMA #58, Major Williams and the Probably Diabolical Professor Z approved a story all about the insidious dangers of peace.
Specifically, the artificially induced feelings of peace, brotherhood and charity engineered by Dr. Sivana through his latest invention, the “Glad Hand.” Not only is the name of the device a pretty great pun, but the very idea of a joy buzzer that spreads actual joy is a pretty solid high concept for a super-hero story. Unfortunately, despite the hopes of the lovely Beautia — which is right up there with “Patience” for names that are pretty tough for a young girl to live up to — he intends to use peace… for eeeeevil!
The first test comes when Sivana is assaulted by the vicious mobster Butcher Bane, who intends to collect on a debt Sivana owes him for “a crime job,” through the time-honored method of shooting him in the face. One jolt from the Glad Hand later, though, and Butcher’s so elated that… uh…
It meant a different thing back then!
Suffice to say that Butcher was really just having some fun with the tyke in question, and that Sivana’s Glad Hand turned him from a ferocious killer into what I think is properly called a “big galoot” with no side effects. With his invention a proven success, Sivana tries to shake hands with Captain Marvel himself — as a pacifist Captain Marvel won’t be spending his time punching out mad scientists with the Strength of Hercules — but Cap refuses, because he doesn’t trust Sivana and “never will!”
Thus, we have the first moral of the story: Forgiveness is way overrated.
Since he’s not able to get Captain Marvel, Sivana goes to Plan B: Gathering up all the local mob bosses (because he has them all in his rolodex from previous crime jobs), Glad Handing them into signing their gangs over to his control and making him…
Crime Chief of the Whole City! Also, you can have your kryptonites, I’ll take a hero who can be laid low by the brutal application of soup.
Now that Sivana has taken control of the city’s criminal underworld, there are a lot of places you might be expecting this story to go. He could consolidate his grip on the city’s crime jobs and build an illegal empire. He could take the manpower he just acquired and go for all-out war on Billy Batson.
Or, since this is a Golden Age Captain Marvel comic, he could try to win over a handful of street urchins with some fancy talkin’…
…and then fly to Venus on a rocketship.
From what I’ve read of Captain Marvel Adventures, going to Venus is pretty much Sivana’s signature move. In fact, in CMA #52 — in which Captain Marvel fights a giant who lives in another dimension to keep him from waking up because the entire universe exists because he’s dreaming it, and I swear that is what actually happens in that comic — Sivana heads off to Venus and somehow manages to come back with his full-grown son, Sivana Jr.
And just to clarify, no. There are no human women on Venus.
This time around, he Glad Hands Billy and takes him along for the next phase of his plan: Dropping him into a mechanical language tutor that teaches him how to speak the language of the Venusian Lizard People (because of course there are Venusian Lizard People), while removing his knowledge of the English Language!
As a result, even when Billy manages to escape the deadly scourge of pacifism…
…he can only get out the Venusian equivalent.
Two things to note about this panel: First of all, the idea that “SHAZAM” is actually a word that actually exists in the English language. Second, and I hate to say this, but I’m a little disappointed that the magic word SHAZOOGLE did not prompt a lightning bolt cast down from nine Venusian gods that would turn him into a giant Venusian Lizard Man Captain Marvel. That would’ve been the best.
But no, instead regular ol’ Captain Marvel shows up and, after a trip back through the language machine to get his Venusian swapped out for English, he’s back in action. And it’s a good thing, too, because Sivana has used a gigantic interplanetary Peace Ray to make the entirety of humanity docile enough that he can take over:
In fact, from the looks of things, he’s rendered the population so docile that they’re totally okay with dressing in what appears to be Thomas Jefferson cosplay while they act as his interior decorators.
With Captain Marvel freed from his Venusiaphasia, however, it’s only a matter of time before he finds out what’s up, and brother, he wants his country back!
And so, with a little bit of interplanetary travel between panels, Cap makes it back to Earth and drops the hammer on Sivana. Now he can go on to the other stories in this issue, where he fights sentient trees and a gorilla scientist, secure in the knowledge that the threats of peace and taxation have been ended forever.
So remember, impressionable kids of 1946: If you ever stop feeling hatred and anger to your fellow man, it’s probably the plot of an evil scientist. Most likely Professor H.W. Zorbaugh.