I could have this all wrong, but I think when Captain Marvel said the word “Shazam,” there was a thunder clap, a bright bolt of lightning and Billy Batson mysteriously emerged from a cloud wearing a red suit and a cape.
He chased a giant scorpion around. And he could fly.
At least that’s how I remember the one episode of the 1941 Captain Marvel serial when it was showing as a prelude to the real Saturday matinee at the Rex Theater in Rapid City.
I was 9. We were visiting relatives after a long ride in a rattletrap 1936 Ford from Wessington Springs where we lived.
As a treat our grandpa Charlie gave us kids each 12 cents to see a movie. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but I do remember the 15-minute long Captain Marvel serial that was shown before it started.
I don’t recall which episode it was, but I’ll never forgot Captain Marvel and that gigantic scorpion.
In each episode, Captain Marvel would find himself in some sort of terrible difficulty for which there appeared to be no escape from a horrible death in the claws or jaws of the scorpion.
That chapter of the serial would end, and the next week at the Rex Theater, kids would return for another afternoon movie, and for 12 cents they were also treated to the next serial chapter to find out if Captain Marvel had outsmarted the scorpion.
Of course, we were only briefly visiting Rapid City where my dad was applying for a carpenter’s job during the construction of the Rapid City Army Air Base, now Ellsworth Air Force Base.
After that weekend visit, we climbed back in the old car and, munching grandma’s sandwiches and cookies, trundled back to our real life in Wessington Springs, where I imagine no one had ever heard of Captain Marvel.
Wessington Springs’ Rialto Theater didn’t subscribe to the Captain Marvel serial, so that Rapid City episode was the only one I would ever in my life see. I was heartbroken. I have always wondered if Captain Marvel had wiggled his way out of the predicament I had left him in.
But just this week, Cinema Eight brought Captain Marvel to Brookings in the movie, “Shazam.” So after all these years I was pleased to learn that Captain Marvel was still among us.
Unfortunately, my Captain Marvel story doesn’t end there.
Another Captain Marvel film is out. It’s entitled Captain Marvel.
Except this Captain Marvel isn’t Billy Batson in red underwear flying around and uttering the magic word Shazam, which is shorthand as he calls on the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Archilles and the speed of Mercury.
Now, a pretty lady in very much briefer red underwear has assumed Captain Marvel’s name, rank and serial number. She’s the one now appealing to those six immortals to help her out of a rather sticky intergalactic kerfluffle, I suppose.
So that wonderful day in 1941 when I first met Captain Marvel in the Rex Theater in Rapid City continues to confound me.
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