A/N: I'm a Captain Marvel fan. No, not that one. The first one. Shazam and all that. And I'm not in the least bit ashamed to admit it. He's one of the longest standing superheroes and for all that he's an obvious Superman expy, he was a flying brick before Superman was a flying brick! More than that, he's somewhat more timeless. He's a kid trying to do good, the ultimate wish-fulfilment superhero. He's based on magic, not technobabble and the ideals he upholds are not bound up in stars and stripes. And his costume is leaps and bounds better than Superman's ever has been and ever will be. So there.
And thus, here follows a random retelling of the origin story for no other reason than the idea has been keeping me awake at nights.
Words have power. They shape the universe. They give meaning to the swirling cosmos. They are our anchor in understanding.
This, I know to be true. I was born when language was young. The words that first came to my lips were crude and instinctive things, suited for threats and desires and little else. But even then, names were potent. To name something is to take its image and make it your own, to take the first step to truly knowing it. And in knowledge, we gain the power to transform the world.
While still a child, I learned the importance of changing the world, and the responsibilities that came with it. I also learned of the danger of the unknowable. For there have always been things hiding in the shadows. Monsters that fear the light find succour in ignorance and grow fat upon its spoils. Tyrants who know much subdue those who know little. And worst, those who distrust the knowledge of others and seek to drag all down into darkness.
Such enemies of man must be fought. Sometimes though, it takes more than courage and understanding to drive them back. Some demons are too strong to fall before will alone. This was beaten into me as I struggled to protect those around me. In my travels, I came to realise that there were powers in the world that could help me. If I could tap them, I could be a true champion against the darkness. But they were ephemeral things, carefree and careless, as often the cause of disaster as they might be the solution to it. I could not simply reach out to them. I needed to call them to me, to garner their blessing for my cause.
So I created a word.
From the names of the earth and the sky, the sun and sea, and the thunder and the lightning, I made a word that called their power into me. From the earth, I took endurance. In the sky, I found sagacity. From the sun, I drew power. From the sea, I learned true might. The thunder taught me courage. And the lighting granted me swiftness.
With these six blessings, I became more powerful than any monster. I became a champion, a fire to hold the nightmares at bay. With the speed of the lightning, I could circle the world, journeying from tribe to tribe, freeing them to learn as men rather than cower like beasts. Centuries passed and I watched humanity stumble towards civilisation. I did not play the fire bringer. They did not need me to. It was enough that I triumphed over the embodiments of savagery and the twisted offspring that evil thoughts bred with magic. I was strong and eternally young, invincible, the mightiest of mortals.
I was a marvel.
Yet as the centuries became millennia, I began to feel age catching up with me. Swift as I was, I could not outrun the passage of time. Even the strongest cannot hold to physical existence forever. The universe tends towards destruction and ordered forms can only stand against the tide for so long. I grew weary and I knew that I needed to find a new champion to take up my cause.
In the heart of a great empire, I found a man with a noble and just heart who I thought worthy of the powers I commanded. In his hands I felt sure the world would be safe. He would guard it as I had guarded it, until it came time for him to pass the mantle to his own chosen successor.
To that end, I set about remaking my word. Language had grown and branched, becoming ever more varied. The old names had become lost beneath the new and the meaning of my name was lost with them. How could I give something that had no meaning for he who was to receive it? The answer lay with the gods. From the seeds of ideas, they had grown tall and strong and into them, civilisation had poured all the wild magics of old. So from those my successor revered I chose the six who best embodied the forces he would need at his command. With the fundamentals of their names, I crafted the new word and bequeathed it to noble Teth Adam.
It was the worst mistake I could have made.
At first I believed my trust had been rewarded. 'Mighty' Adam proved a most capable warrior and the enemies of man fell before him. His people revered him as the Thunder King and praised him for his triumphs. Perhaps that was why it went wrong. For as time passed, his noble heart grew rotten and his thoughts turned from the monsters and looked increasingly to his fellow men. Perhaps at first it was the desire to be a better protector that drove him to conquest. I fear though that he had always equated the duties of the champion with the rights of a god. He took it upon himself to seize everything that stood beneath the sky, his pride and ambition matched only by the fury he visited upon those who defied him.
I had erred and at an unforgivable cost to those I had sworn to keep from harm. The champion had become all the terrors that he should have fought against. In an effort to put things right, I summoned all my strength and openly challenged him. Our set the sky ablaze and brought mountains to dust. I had experience as my ally but his will was impossible to overcome. Even when I hurled him to the ground, the thunder and lightning falling around us like blinding rain, he refused to surrender. He would have fought forever and we would have destroyed all that had been built.
With no choice, I drew upon every last shred of knowledge and understanding at my command and banished the fallen champion to the farthest star in the sky. There, I prayed, he would be contained where he could bring no further disaster upon the Earth. And exhausted, weakened, sick with the horrors my foolishness had unleashed, I too fled from the mortal plane. I threw myself into the winds of time and sought refuge at the point of creation, the rock on which all things stand.
In this cave, I came to rest. Preserved imperfectly within this perfect moment, I let time slip past and watched the world spin on. Mankind grew and spread, creating and destroying, forever learning, though not always remembering. The enemies' powers ebbed and flowed and I did what little I could to forestall their ambitions. I longed to pass the burden to another but I could no longer trust myself to choose wisely. I had unleashed catastrophe once; I would not do so again.
Five thousand years, I sat at the Rock of Eternity. Now my strength is all but gone and my magic can no longer reach as far as it needs to. There is no other way. If I am to truly atone and perform the duty I laid out for myself so very long ago, I must choose a new champion.
When I chose Teth Adam, I chose him for his nobility. But it was a nobility that had never been tested, a spirit fresh and clean, untroubled by torment or failure. That was my mistake. I have meditated on it for as long as I have huddled in this cold, silent place and this is the understanding I have reached: Adam broke because he knew only a world where compassion and hope were easy. If I am to find a truly worthy soul, I must find the heart that beats strong and sure even when the very jaws of despair have closed around it. I must find innocence that has been tempered in the fire and kindness that sees no borders.
I believe have found that heart, that soul. A boy, huddled in the dark, forsaken and alone. A child who gives the little he has to those he barely knows simply because he sees that they are in need. Who holds to the hope of tomorrow simply because he can look up and see the towers reaching to the sky and know what mankind can achieve.
I put my faith in this boy. I have remade my word yet again I have taken the names that have meaning to him and drawn the magic together once more. Solomon for wisdom. Hercules for strength. Atlas for stamina. Zeus for power. Achilles for courage. Mercury for speed. These are the blessings I shall visit upon him. With them, he shall become the champion I am no longer capable of being. In his hands, I place the fate of the world.
And as he stands before me, frightened and unsure of himself, pleading that he is too weak to protect others, I know in my head and my heart and my bones that this time, this time I have chosen wisely. The certainty is as the sun on my brow. With a new lightness, I draw my power to me one last time. As I do, I remember the first time I did so and smile, feeling the magics rising around me as a host of old friends, their faces turned back to me after so long turned away. Billy Batson stares up as I cast the word into him and in his eyes, I see the reflection of hope rewarded.
This boy – he will be a marvel.