It’s Golden Age Comics week, just like every other week of my life, so I came ready to crush two things: this article, and the tsunami of poon-vag that follows comic book criticism’s lunar pull. Here are two other things that will be crushed in this article: evil and children’s skulls. But is there really a difference? Let’s ask today’s superhero, Captain Ghost!
Alias “The Chattanooga Ghost,” he was a murderous vigilante with extremely poor judgment at best, and borderline personality disorder at yes, that one, that’s it. He embodied the exterminator archetype in a universe of gentleman tigers and guns that shot laughing rays. Obviously he kicks the most ass since the state of Tennessee outlawed mule-fighting rings.
Our narrator is Billy Batson, the boy who turns into Captain Marvel, A.K.A. Hoagiemouth Superman, but whom you probably know as Shazam. DC recently quit trying to claw the name Captain Marvel back from Marvel, but it’s what he’s called throughout this story, so it’s what I’ll use for consistency. Officially, I choose to do this because his disappointing movie was better than the other Captain Marvel’s disappointing movie. But unofficially, I distrust anyone who vanishes shortly after telling you his real name, and you should too.
Speaking of bodies disappearing:
Every year, MAD magazine founder Bill Gaines used to take his entire company on an all-expenses-paid trip. It’s history’s only instance of your boss inviting you on vacation that doesn’t smell like a crime in progress. Sterling’s anxious to flee town, and take his pet waif with him. Billy is a 13-year-old orphan with his own office at a radio station. What’s he even report on? Which baseball card packs have the most digestible gum?
This child can’t tell his boss no. His 9-to-5 life is the worst parts of being a kid and an adult conjoined. And the tragedy is at any point he could fly away and punch monsters for a living. If Captain Marvel and Billy Batson ever decided one of them had to go, they would unanimously vote Billy out of his own body.
The first place Mr. Morris takes Billy is Lover’s Leap. Holy moley, 1940s comics move fast. We’re still on page 1, and as promised, my hair is standing on end. Billy makes up an excuse to get away, and we meet The Chattanooga Ghost, out hunting perverts and revenuers.
Morris chooses death over exposure, but Captain Marvel saves him, and they agree to pretend he merely lost his footing. Meanwhile, a shaken Ghost flees the truth of what he has uncovered. His panicked flight alarms a nearby couple making love in the old-timey sense of reciting poems but never getting sticky.
Being The Chattanooga Ghost takes a certain kind of insight, and the person under the mask is still young, naive, and soft. But he’s being hunted at the speed of Mercury, and life on the edge is hardening him faster than Mr. Morris watching an orphanage go bankrupt:
This morning he was just a regular crimebuster. Now he’s dangling by his fingertips under a rope bridge while the sum of six demigods hunts him. The Chattanooga Ghost wears white to show he has no shits left to give.
As this story begins to resemble the plot of First Blood, some very important real-life Chattanoogans deliberate pragmatically. One of them is Bill McAllester, President of The Knothole Gang—which I assume to be a loose fraternity of bootleggers threatened by a local crime fighter.
His co-conspirator in Knotholery, Joe Engel, swallows his pride and asks a rival radio station’s reporter for help. Oh sure, that’s how media executives act when nothing suspicious is going on.
This is where it seems like the entire strip is an ad, paid for by the Chattanooga Tourism Board; I recognize the type. So why does it depict The Noog as a place where delusional murderers prowl the state parks and the Scenic City’s most capable men require a child’s help? Maybe investigating The Knothole Gang will explain it…
Okay, The Chattanooga Times Free Press wants you to believe the Gang was merely a wholesome boys’ club devoted to baseball. But does the photo they ran with it look wholesome to you?
The press knows, and they’re scared to say it directly. The deeper I get into this story, the more I think the Chattanooga Ghost was an escapee from some kind of insidious True Detective cult.
And look, it’s easy to find evidence of lunatic conspiracies to hurt children among innocuous material; QAnon’s got 15% of America doing that in a time when fact-checking is the easiest it’s ever been. But if this is just a comic from a more innocent time trying to raise sales in the local newsstands, then on a scale of 1 to crazy, The Chattanooga Ghost is the only Tennessee. But if he is crazy, then why do some pizzerias in Chattanooga have basements? Cui bono? (That’s Latin for “Who likes to bone?”)
Keeping his god-face holstered, Billy free solos Lookout Mountain’s steepest face, desperate to feel alive when he can transform into an invulnerable titan with a breath. Cap’s nickname is actually “Earth’s Mightiest” and it’s only when everyone remembers Billy’s death wish that they sigh “…Mortal.”
Atop this climb, a man promises to show Billy a ghost if he accompanies him to a second location. This kid’s entire life is just blindly following strangers to isolated areas, and he didn’t stop once it got him the best set of superpowers out there. Or, as his therapist put it, “Not once in my professional career have I said the victim deserved it. Nevertheless…”
Twenty minutes later, the guy is still laughing at how naive the orphans who quit grade school are. It will be the last laugh his heart ever musters. He meets The Chattanooga Ghost’s stare, and sees his own capacity for evil gazing back at him.
No longer is The Ghost shocked by the depth of man’s depravity. He stands at its bottom, where God Himself recoils from the twisted sinews of his heart.
Did you think the crushing was metaphorical? Evildoers—and thereby evil—will be literally crushed! Captain Ghost’s identity is ethereal; his methods are rock-solid. His weapon of choice is the boulder, and that makes him king of Rock City:
Now 90% of Captain Marvel’s battles are with Dr. Sivana or Mr. Mind, so it’s a pardonable assumption that anyone under a certain height is evil in the Fawcett Comics universe. But if achondroplasia didn’t exist, The Ghost would devise it anyway to continue heroically killing children.
Soon, even this fiction will fall away. True annihilators know that to make an evil omelette, you have to break a few baby Hitlers.
I get it, TCG. I, too, worked in branded content, and nothing will make you want to crush a child’s skull faster than post-deadline feedback from the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, saying your comic book story lacks robust detail about the tachymeter factory (now-closed). But you can’t blame one stupid boy reporter for your time in the Knothole.
Billy is the only boy in the world who gets more naive the more it tries to kill him. He’s deteriorated to where he can’t even tell what’s real. Look at this:
This guy trips over a statue of an innocent stalked through nature by a murderous lone wolf and doesn’t blink at the symbolism. Read the signs, you young fool! Go back to the city proper!
YES! The Chattanooga Ghost crushes Billy under one ton of rock for every year he’s been alive, and laughs about it. An hour ago he was terrified he’d contributed to a pedarast’s death. Did he kill a dog or something in between scenes?
Did he just log his first murder? I have no idea what the rules are for hunting orphans in Tennessee. I just know this rocks so hard. He killed a Kryptonian-class magic user his first day on the job, and he already has a war journal.
Ha ha ha! Look how proud he is! “And what have you done today, you big, red cheese? Beaten up a Venusian inchworm?”
His day could not be going better! The guy he has a crush on just witnessed his greatest triumph! They’re going to team up!
What? No, no it can’t go this way! A failure in his own hero’s eyes! Buddy is…crushed.
He vows to amend his ways: Never again will he belittle anyone for having a developmental condition! And he will only murder people he can strongly suspect have committed crimes. Alas, his life is a warning, not an example. Billy returns home to mock him on mass media.
But was Captain Ghost so wrong? Or was the Rockgate conspiracy real? Remember, Billy is our only source for this story! Let me show you how this trip began—and remember, this entire story is told over the radio from Billy’s perspective. Let me just give it a light edit, because nobody needs racism in their staturism:
That’s how Billy Batson: Racist thinks his unprovoked aggression in the train station unfolded; an impossible caricature of a human being was delighted to be treated as a subaltern by a child too stupid to realize he’s being trafficked across state lines.
Even Mr. Sterling Morris, currently in the middle of several federal crimes, is aghast. In a time before Xbox Live, people didn’t know a junior-high boy is the most atomically racist form of a human being. Billy is an unreliable narrator who rewrites history in his favor.
Now here’s how that meeting of crime fighters actually went:
It’s not Captain Ghost’s fault that he was created for violence in a world of wonder. Initially a gentle soul, enraged by crimes against children, obsessed with killing criminals to the point where he sees them among normal people just living life. His arch-enemy has dwarfism and he uncovers a conspi—
Wait a second.
Hey, Google: how approximate are the Charlton and Fawcett earths in DC’s multiverse?
Oh my God.
Picture the ultimate vigilante stalking a world in freefall, born for this. Now transplant him to a childproof Earth. What would that look like?
Now look. Look:
I understand now. Buddy isn’t trapped in the Golden Age with Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel is trapped in the Fawcett Universe with Rorschach.
Brendan wrote a comic book about a Golden-Age mad scientist turning men into babies long before researching this article. He’s also working on a Golden Age podcast, so prepare whatever anti-crushing measures you deem appropriate.