Baseball has an unusual relationship with the rest of popular culture. There are more baseball movies than basically any other kind of sports movie (with the exception of boxing, which is very easy to stage), Charlie Brown’s ineptness on the mound lasted fifty years, and almost every TV series ends up having at least one casual mention of the game at point or another.
But with this, sometimes popular culture about baseball can get, well… weird. Bizarre!
This is part of a series about those times. Sometimes it’ll be short stories (like that old tale about 2044 baseball), other times comic books, occasionally a movie clip or advertisement. No matter what, it’ll be weird, it probably won’t be very good, and I’ll give it far more attention than it really deserves.
So, for the first edition of BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE (I’ll consider the 2044 baseball story as something of a prologue), I bring to you this:
Captain Marvel. Playing baseball. On the planet Mars. In a story that is about how Captain Marvel taught the Martians baseball. Fittingly, this has been set to go up on a Saturday morning. More underneath the jump.
First, a primer: Captain Marvel (created by C.C. Beck) is one of the oldest superheroes in existence, an icon of the “Golden Age” of superheroes (the late 30s and 1940s) who, at one point, outsold all others, even Superman. Published by Fawcett Comics, he is usually a young boy named Billy Batson, but after meeting a wizard named Shazam he acquired the ability to turn into Captain Marvel, a Supermanesque hero who could draw upon the power of mythological figures and fight injustice. To do so, he merely must say the words: “SHAZAM!” Then, boom, he becomes Captain Marvel. It generally was more kiddy then the other superheroes, but that was something of his appeal.
As an aside, though, Captain Marvel has a bit of a tangled legal history, getting sued to oblivion by DC Comics near the end of the Golden Age for essentially being a Superman clone. After that, basically everything having to do with him languished until, eventually, DC Comics (the same company that had sued him to oblivion) acquired the rights to him. During those decades, though, there was the slight problem that Marvel Comics had gotten a trademark on their own character named Captain Marvel, a trademark they own to this day. Long story short, as a result DC Comics/Warner Brothers has the rights to Captain Marvel and all his friends, but can’t actually publish any comic books or make any movies that have “Captain Marvel” in the title (they can call him that in the book, just not on the cover or in other advertising). So, usually, they call him the “Power of Shazam!” or even just “Shazam!”, despite the fact that isn’t his name, but rather his mentor and magic word.
Anyway, to the story. You are probably wondering how one could find this (legally) online for free, since the Captain Marvel character, Shazam, etc. are the property of DC Comics. Well, you see, while DC Comics got the rights to Captain Marvel and the rest of Fawcett’s characters, they never renewed the actual copyright on many of the actual issues of the old comics Fawcett created. As a result, much like the tale of Rockets Rigby, the story is in the public domain (huzzah!), the story of “Captain Marvel Plays Baseball on Mars” from America’s Greatest Comics #8 It can be found here, on a site which hosts old comic books that have fallen into the public domain due to negligence, legal loopholes (there are some comics in there that are in public domain due to the fact they put the copyright notice on the wrong page, for example) and just plain age. This story was published in Summer, 1943.
Our tale begins in Fawcett City, where kid radio reporter Billy Batson is given an assignment for the WHIZ station: to cover a series between the Giants and Dodgers!
I do, however, have to wonder why Billy is so excited. Oh, yes, it is a Major League ballgame he’ll be covering, but 1943 wasn’t a particularly good year for the Dodgers or Giants. The Dodgers finished third, which isn’t as good as it seems when you consider that that left them 23.5 games back of the league champion Cardinals. The Giants were even worse, finishing dead last and near 50 games back of St. Louis. However, hey, it’s a rivalry game, and Billy is just a kid, so I guess we’ll cut him some slack. Besides, for all we know, it might be Opening Day. And everyone loves Opening Day.
So, presumably after an off-screen “SHAZAM!” and a short flight later, Billy finds himself in Brooklyn. In a subway station near DeKalb Avenue, in fact. And he’s a bit lost.
Of course, these days poor Billy could have just used a smart phone and went to Google Maps (the Official Giver-Of-Directions of Major League Baseball) to find his way. But he had no such luck back in 1943, and, in his Billy Batson form, he lacked the Wisdom of Solomon to figure out how the subway system works. Thankfully, a conductor gives him directions, but once he finds the train, he discovers that a Dodger and Giant fan that are already at each other’s throats. Why, yes, Billy, it doesn’t look like a subway train, it looks almost like, like…
A rocketship! From a subway! Hey, this was back from before comic books even pretended to make sense. But, in perhaps the one great moment of inspiration in this story, the reaction of the two New York baseball fans is this:
This is genuinely funny and true to life. If I was on my way to a ballgame and got abducted by aliens, I would be quite angry about missing the game. Well, that and the fact that I’d been abducted by aliens, that I would have confirmed that we were not alone in the universe, but that I was doomed to never tell anybody about it, and that even if I did, nobody would ever believe me. But, mostly, I’d be angry about the fact I was going to miss the game.
So anyway, a “SHAZAM!” later, Captain Marvel is on the scene. First, the great Wisdom of Solomon tells him to use the Strength of Hercules when the conductor refuses to give him any answers. Big mistake.
But don’t worry kids, Captain Marvel is just wasting his time (just like the headless conductor says after he lost his head). Why, headless conductor then throws Cap and the kids (who don’t seem to be able to connect the disappearance of Billy Batson and appearance of Captain Marvel in any way) into the back of the rocket and locks the door. You would think a Superman-level powerhouse could break through a door, but, hey, it was 40s. Comic Books made even less sense then than they do now. Oh, by the way, when they get pushed into the back of the rocket, the conductor does so with three hands. You’ll see why later. Anyway, in a few hours, they end up at Mars.
“Millions of miles” is a bit of a understatement, Bill. On April 22, 1943 (if, as we guessed earlier, it is opening day), Mars was 1.661 Astronomic Units from Earth. That’s over 154 million miles. Not even Giancarlo Stanton can hit a ball that far. But, again, comics!
So the boys are taken to a Martian lab, where we see all the Martians have multiple arms. Also, apparently science is wrong and Mars is a perfect Earth-like planet and not a cold-as-hell, dead, near-Oxygenless sphere. Although, again, to be fair this was decades before NASA and the Soviet space program started sending probes there to prove that it was, indeed, a cold-as-hell, dead, near-Oxygenless sphere. Also, it’s a 1940s kids comic book. After getting zapped, the kids are suddenly able to understand the Martians, and the conductor reveals himself to be a creepy-looking guy.
His name is Dr. Fzzphz (the Martians, apparently, dislike vowels). And he wants to know what the relationship between adults and children are like on Earth. It turns out that the Stqstas, a word which means “child” or “sandswimmer”. It turns out that actually it means both: the Stqstas are children that swim in sand, and are led by a female general named Hddy. After capturing Billy/Captain Marvel, she explains some things.
On Mars, she says, (prepare to shut the remnants of your brain off for the rest of the story) the children rule the elders, as opposed to on Earth, where it is vice-versa. A rather simplistic generalization for both instances. I’m sure all children on Earth would agree that the old people are in charge, while all the adults would claim the kids are in charge. Anyway, Fzzphz’s elders have tried to take over by growing those extra arms and such, so Hddy’s kids are revolting. So they attack Fzzphz’s fortress with… little metal baseballs.
But wait, it turns out that the balls aren’t actually baseballs, but rather time-release weapons that release “submission gas”. How can the four-armed Martians get rid of the balls in time to avoid getting gassed?
Now that I think about it, wouldn’t the lower gravity on Mars mean that the ball could travel much farther? Would this mean that, in the distant future when mankind colonizes Mars, that the stadiums will be much bigger, or the ball made out of a much denser material? Get to work on this, scientists, global warming and world hunger can wait, we must know how we will play baseball on Mars!
Anyway, the elders are victorious, it is revealed the Hddy is actually 21 (an adult!), and the kids get some spankings (seriously) then the Martians have a good victory dinner. But, alas, with the war over and the the Elders once again having forced their children into slavery, the reasons for Billy and the other kids to be there no longer exists. So, back to Earth they go, having left the Martians the gift of baseball (albeit only as a way to fight off baseball-shaped gas weapons). But wait! The two young ballfans have decided to stick around and teach the Martians the great American game:
By the way, I don’t know how much having four arms would help with baseball. After all, the rules mention that each fielder can use a glove, not “gloves.” Although they could use their hands to make barehanded catches, I guess. In addition, all of the rules are written with a two-handed person in mind, so presumably there would problems with that. However, they probably could get some advantage by having four arms holding the bat, meaning twice as many muscles. Assuming, of course, they figure out a way to swing without all of those arms getting in the way of each other. That could be difficult.
Not like anybody cares. I know I don’t beyond bizarre curiosity.
Do you know a weird piece of baseball in pop culture (no matter how lowbrow, highbrow or middlebrow)? Let me know, until then, feel free to look at:
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS OF BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE:
Prologue: “Rockets on the Mound” (1954 short story about baseball in the year 2044)