Abu Simbel, Egypt, October 2001
C.C Batson carefully lifted the lid of the ancient sarcophagus, as his wife Marilyn watched in fascination. In all their time as archaeologists, they had never been so excited by any find. Their six-year-old daughter Mary had come with them, although she was not with them now, as she was currently being looked after by other members of the expedition. Billy, Mary's twin brother, had stayed in America because he was recovering from an illness. Normally, the Batsons would not have wanted to go at this time, and travel to the Middle East was currently difficult, but Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, their employer, had been quite insistent.
Inside the sarcophagus was a mummy, wrapped in white linen and decorated with jewels. Placed on top of the mummy's chest was a golden scarab token, which seemed to shimmer and glow with unnatural power.
"Teth-Adam" Marilyn whispered in a tone of awe.
"The scarab," C.C said as a puzzled frown appeared on his face. "How is it able to glow?"
"Maybe it's reflective," Marilyn speculated. "But we've found him. We found Teth-Adam, the Prince of Kahndaq."
Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by the sound of gunfire from outside. The Batsons jumped in surprise, and then a man who was with them in the chamber drew a semi-automatic pistol and said, "You know too much."
He pulled the trigger, and shot C.C in the chest. Marilyn screamed in horror as her husband staggered backward from the bullet impact, and C.C said in a choked voice, "Run!"
For a moment Marilyn was certain that she could not leave her husband to die, but then she heard the high-pitched, terrified screams of a little girl. As a mother, she knew what she had to do. She ran in the direction of Mary's screams, barely avoiding the first bullet that the shooter fired at her. She tried to flee from the shooter, and just before the bullet slammed into her from behind, she thought, At least Billy is safe.
New York City, ten years later
The water quickly grew larger in Billy Batson's eyes and then filled his field of vision. A sense of panic raced through his mind as strong hands forced his face under the water. He struggled hopelessly against his attackers, feeling the automatic, terrified reaction of somebody who was going to drown.
Then, his head was suddenly jerked upwards, and he was free of the water. He blinked the water out of his eyes, and saw Joe and Chris, who were on the football team, and were two of Binder High School's worst bullies, standing on either side of him, still holding him in place.
"Shall we do this again?" Joe asked with sadistic enthusiasm.
Billy knew what Chris would say, as he knew that Joe and Chris never let him get away with having his head dunked in the toilet only once. With his small frame, Billy was an easy target for teenage tormentors.
"Sure," answered Chris.
The two thugs were about to dunk Billy's head in the toilet again when the door to the bathroom suddenly opened, and a strong, confident male voice said, "What's going on, guys."
"Nothing important," answered Joe as he and Chris let Billy go.
Standing in the doorway was Fred Freeman, one of the most popular students at the Binder School, an athlete who excelled at many sports, and Billy's best friend. Fred was tall, athletic, muscular, and confident, everything that Billy wished he could be. Billy had wondered how he, who seemed so weak, could be friends with someone as strong as Fred, but Fred had once said that Billy had courage that he was not aware of himself. Fred seemed to admire that Billy never begged or pleaded with his tormentors, but Billy knew that begging only made things worse when dealing with people like Joe and Chris. He never begged, because he knew that it would be useless.
The two football jocks left, and Billy followed Fred to the cafeteria. Out of all the people he knew at school, Fred was the only one who Billy truly considered to be a close friend. Most people ignored Billy or made fun of him. There were many kids who were good academically and bad socially, or vice versa, but Billy was not only an unpopular kid, he was also a terrible student, who was always tormented by his uncle Ebenezer whenever he got bad grades. He dreaded receiving his report card for the day, and decided that he would not look at it until he showed it to Ebenezer. If his grades were terrible, which they usually were, it would be so much harder to bring the report card home, and Ebenezer always insisted on seeing it as soon as he could. Billy could not delay, and could not trick Ebenezer into believing that the report card would come later. The last time Billy had tried to deceive Ebenezer about when he would receive the report card, Ebenezer had taken Billy's Xbox away for a whole month, with no reprieve.
While Billy had vague memories of a happy childhood before his parents died on their ill-fated archaeological expedition, he had known almost nothing but misery for the last ten years. He lived with his uncle Ebenezer, who cared nothing for Billy and raised him only because of Billy's father, who had been Ebenezer's brother. Ebenezer was a terrible miser, who gave Billy only the basic necessities. The only thing that seemed to matter in Billy's life, according to Ebenezer, was grades. Ebenezer cared a lot about school, and that only added to Billy's hatred of school.
The buzzer rang, and Billy went to history class. His current teacher was more interested in expressing his own political opinions and giving out essay assignments than in trying to make history interesting and understandable. Billy had always found history to be boring the way it was taught in school, except when he had a good teacher in his freshman year. He often felt guilty about falling asleep in history class, even though he often could not avoid it. His parents had loved history, and for Billy to show such disdain for it somehow seemed to be an insult to their memory.
Billy reacted with concealed dismay when the teacher gave everyone an assignment to write a seven-page paper about why America entered World War II. Of all the tasks he had to do in school, essay-writing was one of the worst. Billy had never been able to organize his words persuasively in print, and he had always hated writing essays. But he decided not to worry about it; the report card was already giving him enough anxiety.
After the history class was over, Billy and Fred caught up to each other on the way to the cafeteria, and sat down at a table with three of Fred's friends: Katie, Rachel, and Mike. Fred always had lots of friends, who tried to be nice to Billy but never fully included him. It seemed that half the girls in the school wanted to date Fred – and quite a few of them had – while Billy himself had never even found the courage to ask a girl out. Fred was cool, confident, and successful, while Billy seemed to always be weak and miserable.
When Billy sat down at the table, he and Fred were greeted cheerfully by the three other teenagers, who immediately started offering support for his tennis tournament.
"You're going to kick butt in Rochester tomorrow, Fred. We all know that." Mike said in a supportive, cheerful tone.
"Yes," Rachel chimed in. "You are the best tennis player in this school, and you are going to win your tournament."
Katie nodded in agreement, and Fred thanked his three friends for their support.
"And what's been going on with you these days?" Fred asked in a smooth, friendly tone that Billy wished he could emulate.
"More rebellions in the Middle East," Katie said with an unhappy sigh. "After so many terrible wars, wouldn't people learn that there are better ways to solve their problems than violence?"
A nerdy-looking, curly-haired boy who always wore glasses approached the table, holding a Superman comic book. His name was Ian, and he was another friend of Billy's, just not a particularly close friend to him.
"Hey Billy," Ian said brightly. "I found the Superman comic you wanted to see. It's kind of rare, so please be careful with it."
"I will," Billy promised, picking up the comic book and carefully putting it in his backpack. Joe and Chris were sitting with some other football players at a nearby table, flinging rubber bands. Billy knew that they would harm the comic book if they could, and shooting rubber bands at other students did not usually get punished by the school administration, at least not here.
"So, do you like Superman, Billy?" Katie asked.
Like seemingly every good thing in Billy's life, there was a negative side to receiving this comic book. He was looking forward to reading it, and he did really like Superman, but comic books were considered a nerdy thing for teenage boys, and he did not want to be seen as nerdy around these 'cool' kids. But, due to Katie's encouraging and tolerant attitude, he decided to explain it. "I do. I like to imagine that I could fly like Superman, fight crime, and save people from danger."
As he said that, the importance of the comic book vanished completely from his mind as three girls approached the table. Their names were Jessica, Tamara, and Lauren. Tamara Ferguson was the only girl Billy ever had a serious crush on. He'd liked her almost as long as he'd been at the school, but he never really knew how she felt about him. She was currently dating someone else, and Fred had told Billy that Tamara probably knew he liked her. Tamara was not considered one of the prettiest girls in the school, although no one would have said she was ugly. She had brown eyes and shoulder-length black hair, and her face seemed to carry an eternally curious expression. She had some of what many people would consider to be odd interests, as she believed in some paranormal concepts, and it had been said that she was interested in everything except what she was going to be tested on, but Billy did not judge by her by what she was interested in. She was not an effective student either, so she and Billy were in a remedial English class together, and the class had recently discussed and written about Romeo and Juliet. Now the class was moving on to the more academic material that was in the textbook they had.
Billy noticed Jessica and Lauren eyeing Fred as they always did, for it was no secret that both of them had crushes on Fred. Yet Billy was hardly aware of Lauren playfully tossing her head of blond hair and winking at Fred, because Tamara was looking straight at Billy, as if she was about to talk to him in particular.
"Did you bring your copy of our textbook?" Tamara asked Billy. "I left mine at home, and we're supposed to read Chapter 6 before class today."
"I did," Billy said, very pleased that Tamara had gone to him, rather than one of the other students in their class. He pulled the textbook out of his backpack, and held it out, vaguely aware that he was holding it over a large, open cup of green-tinted soda. Tamara was reaching for the book when Billy was terribly started by a sudden, stinging pain on his cheek. He dropped the book involuntarily, and it hit the soda, spilling green liquid everywhere. The soda soaked into the pages, and flowed all over the table. Billy quickly lifted the book, but it was clearly ruined and soggy. Then he picked up a rubber band that had landed on his knee, and felt an overwhelming surge of anger when he saw Joe and the other football players laughing discreetly.
"I'm sorry," Billy said desperately. "I'm very sorry about dropping the book." He felt horribly embarrassed about having this happen the one time that Tamara came to him for help, and he wanted to explain what the bullies had done, but he was afraid that it would sound like a made-up excuse.
"It's all right," Tamara said, trying to be friendly and cheerful. "Just an accident."
"Tamara, your sleeve," Jessica said, pointing to a green blemish on Tamara's left sleeve.
Tamara took a napkin from the table and started cleaning off her sleeve, and smiled slightly at Billy, which would have pleased him had he not known that she was simply trying not to act angry at him for having spilled soda on her.
"I know someone in your class who should have a copy of the book," Lauren said to Tamara. "She's sitting right over there." She pointed to a group of girls who were clustered around a table in the cafeteria. Sometimes, Lauren seemed completely oblivious to Billy's obvious crush on Tamara, even though Billy was sure that if Tamara knew, she would have told her two best friends. But maybe Lauren was doing this to save Tamara from an awkward situation where she would have to either turn down Billy's offer of a book and potentially hurt him or use a damaged textbook. It if was Lauren's suggestion and not Tamara's, it could be easier on Billy.
Billy was disappointed, but he understood, when Tamara and her friends walked away in the direction that Lauren had indicated. While Tamara did not seem to be offended by Billy's mistake, Billy was still embarrassed about it, and unconsciously tried to avoid talking to her when they had their class together after lunch.
When Billy got his report card from the school administration just before he went home, he did not look at it, so that it would be easier for him to show it to Ebenezer. The last time he had received a bad report card, he had been terrified to show it to Ebenezer, which made the agony of it even worse.
Just as Billy had expected, Ebenezer instantly demanded to see the report card when Billy got home. Billy nervously handed it over. Ebenezer straightened his glasses and read the report card without commenting or pausing.
When Ebenezer was done, he glared at Billy angrily and exclaimed, "Another D average? Since your parents died on their foolish expedition, I have given you the food from my table and paid for your ridiculously expensive textbooks. And what have you done in return, Billy? You've continued to be an irresponsible failure. I used to think that you could get into a decent college, and learn how to support yourself in the world, but what have you done? And you aren't even going to try getting a job because you say the economy is too bad? Tell me why I should continue spending my hard-earned money on someone as worthless as you?"
Billy felt a terrible anger building up in him as he thought of how unfair this was. He was frightened by Ebenezer's harsh and demeaning words, but more than that, he hated Ebenezer, who had stolen Billy's trust fund, and made Billy fight for everything of any monetary value that he needed. What made this even worse was that Ebenezer was a millionaire, but he lived like he was lower middle-class. He had so much more money than he used or needed, yet he agonized over small purchases.
"I know why you should keep spending money on me," Billy said, his anger giving him courage. "It's because this is not your money. My parents left me enough money to provide for all my needs, but you took it for yourself. You stole my trust fund, Ebenezer, and now you treat me like this?"
Ebenezer's face darkened, his sudden anger giving way to something worse. "That is a very serious accusation, Billy. I will not have people saying such things to me in my own home."
"Even if they're true?" Billy asked, speaking before he considered the consequences of what he was saying.
"Enough!" Ebenezer shouted, and then said in a tone that was quieter, but no less angry, he said, "Get out. Take your clothes and whatever else you can carry on your back. I made a mistake by taking you in at all, and I should have realized long ago that you are going nowhere in life. Go! Don't come back to my apartment!"
With a feeling of abject despair, Billy went to his room to gather what things he could. He took his schoolbooks, his relatively primitive cell phone, his clothes, and a few other books. He left his obsolete, refurbished Xbox behind, knowing it was too heavy for him to carry. The old Xbox was nothing compared to the Xbox 360s, Wiis, and PlayStation 3s that everyone else at school, including Fred, seemed to have, but it had meant so much to Billy when he had saved up enough money to buy the discounted console from GameStop. Video games were the one thing that he truly enjoyed and succeeded at. He still took a few of the game discs that he had for the Xbox, although he did not know what he could do with them.
Billy left the house, and wandered over to the nearest subway station, sitting despairingly on a bench, and staying there for hours as the sun set. He had often dreamed of running away from Ebenezer, but the reality of leaving was so much worse. It seemed like he had nowhere to go. Fred and his grandfather were leaving tonight to go Fred's tennis tournament in Rochester. Billy had no other relatives in the city, and no other friends who would take him in.
He knew that there was one person who could help him: Theo Templeton, a colleague and friend of Billy's parents, who was now a teacher at a community college. He had been with them on their last ill-fated expedition, but he had not been there when they were murdered, because they had sent him back to the nearest city to purchase supplies. Theo had always been kind to Billy, and would give him a place to stay for as long as he needed it, but Billy did not want to take advantage of him, because Theo would help Billy out of guilt for being the survivor of the expedition that killed Billy's parents, who were Theo's good friends. It felt terribly wrong to Billy to take advantage of anything related to that horrible tragedy.
Billy knew that he should take a train to the Borough of Manhattan Community College, as Theo would feel even worse if he found out that Billy had been living out on the streets by himself, but Billy did not feel ready to do that. He didn't even consider going into foster care; the very idea of being processed and handed over to a couple who would take care of him because they received a check every month was frightening to Billy. He saw that as being treated like he was less than human, and the only good thing about Ebenezer was that despite his hatred, he always treated Billy as an individual, and a human being. And, Billy had heard terrible stories about the foster system from other students at Binder High School who were in foster care. He knew that some foster parents and social workers were good, but not all of them were, and he had no desire to become part of the foster care system.
He wandered off into an abandoned area of the subway, knowing that he shouldn't be going there, but not really caring. Like any native-born New Yorker, Billy was accustomed to avoiding the danger of crime, although the neighborhood he lived in was fairly safe, owing to Ebenezer's pathological fear of burglars. But right now, Billy didn't really care much if somebody tried to kill him. He had nothing, and it seemed that the only thing he was good at was playing video games, which would not enable him to succeed in life. He had no idea of what he wanted to do, having only imagined the future as being composed of more misery.
When Billy saw a mysterious cloaked male figure moving deeper into the abandoned tunnels, he knew he shouldn't follow the man, and knew how dangerous it could be, but that didn't matter to him. Something looked vaguely familiar about the man, and Billy felt something unexplainable urging him forward.
Old electrical lights came on as the man drifted deeper into the tunnels. Everything seemed spooky and unsettling to Billy, but he did not turn back. The cloaked figure vanished into a narrow gap in a wall that was so heavily shadowed Billy would not have seen it otherwise. Billy followed him through, and then emerged in a cavern, which was illuminated by the light of torches that glowed much brighter than any torch logically should.
Billy was in a cave tunnel, which led to a roughly circular area, and his eyes widened in shock as he saw what was before him. An old man who had white hair and a long white beard, looking like Father Time himself, sat in a gilded throne, beneath a massive, pyramid-shaped block of stone that hung from the ceiling by a slender thread. The old man held a large blue crystal ball between his hands, and looked away from it to turn towards Billy.
Surrounding the old man were a huge variety of ancient artifacts. Some of them looked like they were Greek, Egyptian, or Mesopotamian, but the most surprising thing about them was that many of them were glowing with inexplicable light. This place seemed inherently magical, and Billy had some difficulty believing that any of this was real.
Billy's attention was drawn by a line of seven statues arranged along the left wall. They were made of red granite, and flames blazed in front of each. They depicted grotesque, vicious-looking demonic figures, and seemed to be somehow alive. Billy walked towards them, but stopped when the old man spoke.
"Be careful there, Billy Batson. The Seven Deadly Sins are not to be trifled with."
"The Seven Deadly Sins?" Billy asked. Somehow it did not seem strange that the old man knew Billy's name.
"Yes," answered the old man. "These are not mere representations, but actual demons that I captured thousands of years ago."
When a surprised expression crossed Billy's face, the old man said, "Forgive my manners. I am Shazam, and I have been watching over this city to seek out a new champion of the gods. I believe that you are the right person. Speak my name, and you shall have the power."
Billy hardly believed this, but he desperately wanted it to be true. Not expecting to work, he said, "Shazam?"
A lightning bolt passed through the ceiling and slammed into Billy, coursing through every inch of his body. Terrible pain shot through him as the lightning seemed to set him on fire.