Bizarro Back Issues: Boxing Day With Captain Marvel! (1944)
Christmas has once again come and gone, but before the holidays are over, there's one last celebration we all have to get through before New Year's rolls around and puts a cap on it: Boxing Day! The only problem is that the True Meaning of Boxing Day has been explored in roughly zero movies (as opposed to the True Meaning of Christmas, which has been pretty thoroughly dealt with in about 4,926), so I always just tend to think of it as a wintry celebration of people punching each other in the face.
I always try to celebrate with the most pugilistic comic I can find, and this year, that led me to 1944's Captain Marvel Adventures #35, which promised a boxing match between Billy Batson's alter ego and a soldier, and then went on to become one of the all-time craziest comic books I have ever read.
The story comes courtesy of artist C.C. Beck and an unknown writer, and was titled "Captain Marvel Presents Radar the International Policeman" for reasons that will become apparent. The whole thing was constructed as a sort of comic book equivalent of a TV stealth pilot, introducing readers to a new character and then pointing them to the solo adventures that Fawcett was launching that same month in the pages of Master Comics #50. The thing is, Radar is... Radar is weird as Hell, and considering that he's in the same issue as a story where Cap ventures to a universe made up of planet-sized atoms and tricks Reltih the Reverse Hitler into marrying him (seriously), that's saying something.
Incidentally, Reltih the Reverse Hitler is just like regular Hitler, except a million times bigger and he wants to win the war by marrying a princess. I'll deal with that one in another column.
Anyway, this story begins with Billy Batson taking a trip to Southern Italy to entertain the troops alongside Bob Hope, because what better place for a trouble-prone twelve-year-old than the front lines of World War II? Bob gets a few laughs by comparing the soldiers to toothbrushes because they're going to paste Hitler in the mouth, but when he goes to introduce Dorothy Lamour, he gets an unexpected surprise:
This young man is one Private Pep Pepper, whose unimaginative name doesn't stop him from being popular among his fellow soldiers. Then again, it might just be that he has the gams to pull off a potato sack minidress.
Everyone has a good laugh at Pepper's prank on Bob Hope, except for the also oddly named Major Stuff, who orders Pepper arrested and thrown into the guardhouse. Fortunately for Pepper, Hope and the real Dorothy Lamour are able to talk the Major down, and after the superior officer makes his grumpy exit, Pepper offers to put on a little show of his own to entertain them. And what a show it is! He hoists three men into a human pyramid on his outstretched arms, does a tightrope act over a board with a bunch of swords mounted on it (was that government issue in World War II?) and then follows it all up by shooting an apple off of Billly's head by looking in a mirror...
... and then punking the little sweatshirted urchin to boot.
The only time that his skills falter in the slightest is during a trapeze act where the line snaps and Billy has to SHAZAM up and save him from splintering the floorboards with his face. Even that, though, finds Pepper brushing his shoulders off and cracking wise about it.
The men of the army, on the other hand, have been stirred into a frenzy, and have started demanding a boxing match between their resident strongman and the visiting superhero. This seems like a pretty bad idea, what with the whole "World's Mightiest Mortal" thing, but as Cap is easily swayed by GIs baying for blood, they decide to have a go of it. And surprisingly, he can't lay a fist on Pepper, until the soldier suddenly punches out his commanding officer:
Because he's a spy! And just how did Pepper know he was a spy? Was it some slip-up in his accent? A telltale mannerism? Did he not know who won the '43 World Series?
No, he just read his mind.
Well, that makes perfect wait what?
Oh, of course. His parents were circus people and so he inherited the actual superpowers that all circus people actually have. That explains it.
Of course, that is slightly less satisfactory an explanation when Pep casually mentions that he can see Hitler getting ready to launch a massive torpedo at them from a giant cannon. Because he has Radar Vision.
It probably goes without saying, but this is never explained, not the power and certainly not what the Hell "Radar Vision" is actually supposed to do. I guess he can just see stuff wherever? Like Hitler and Goering dancing with each other in elation that they have destroyed Bob Hope?
Sure, why not.
This raises so many questions about whether or not Pep's been using these abilities all along to help his army pals, but before any of that can really be addressed, Pep finds himself booted out of the army with an honorable discharge and swept off by Captain Marvel to meet up with a mysterious committee on the orders of the Commander In Chief himself:
And that's how they launched Radar, The International Policeman, a super-strong, telepathic circus acrobat with Radar Vision, into his own series. I think of all the goofy stuff that happens in this story, my favorite is Captain Marvel shaking his hand and talking about how he's going to be featured in upcoming issues of Master Comics.
And if you thought I was flipping out about Radar Vision earlier, here's how they presented it in that very issue:
I think four exclamation points might actually be underselling things.
So on this joyous boxing day, may all your punch-outs be the friendly kind, may your eyes possess the power of radar, and may you always be prepared for any emergency.