As played out in DC’s Countdown, Mary has been through the obligatory grim and gritty self-realization grinder that long-standing comic book characters must face to become supposedly hip in a cynical modern world. Unfortunately, she has emerged from that grinder into the dark side (pun absolutely intended). She is now, according to her, “driven” (Countdown#3).
Her definition of “driven,” however, is neither good nor nice. It’s basically evil. It’s where morals, responsibilities, rules, laws and conduct have no jurisdiction. They are driven over by reckless action and lack of thought. This new Mary Marvel is no longer pleasant.
Fortunately, I can find solace in the Good Ol’ Mary Marvel of “Pandora’s Box,” published in Wow Comics #43 (May, 1946). That is the Mary Marvel that I find appealing (in a good, clean, wholesome way, for those filthy minds out there that require clarification).
As “Pandora’s Box” opens, it’s a lively afternoon at the city train station where unclaimed baggage is being auctioned to the highest bidders. Big spender Sam Snead bids five bucks for a wrapped package and wins! He quickly heads home with the package, hoping it’s filled with gold. However, he’s not paying attention to his surroundings on a busy city street, and he steps into the path of an oncoming truck.
Fortunately, Mary Batson is just a few feet away, and with the uttering of a single word, “Shazam!” she is spectacularly transformed into Mary Marvel, and Snead is instantly saved. Being the nice girl that she is, Mary offers to fly Snead to his home. Snead, being more greedy than grateful, can’t get home soon enough.
At his apartment, he unwraps the package and Mary immediately notices the words inscribed on the ornately designed outer casing: Pandora’s Box. Mary’s a smart, conscientious girl. She knows the box’s notorious legend, and she feels Snead shouldn’t open it. However, Snead is certain the words were just being painted on for amusement. He wishes for gold inside and lifts the lid. Sure enough, just as he hoped, it’s filled with gold!
Mary is flabbergasted by this turn of events, and is even more dumbfounded when she sees on the inside of the wrapper a note written to her! The package had been sent to her attention but had somehow languished at the train station! Mary tells Snead the box should be in her possession, but he will have none of that, and he throws Mary Marvel out of his apartment–locking the door behind him.
Unfortunately, a masked thief outside Snead’s apartment has overheard of the discovery of gold. He climbs through the window, stabs Snead with a knife, and steals the box! Mary hears Snead’s wounded cry and bursts in only to have Snead die in her arms. She then captures the murderous thief and turns him over to the authorities, but not before the box is discovered by another potential victim–a young boy playing cowboy.
The boy hopes that the box contains toy guns, as he is envious that the other kids in the neighborhood have guns to play with and he does not. Par for this story’s course, he lifts the lid and there are nothing but guns and rifles inside. Mary Marvel arrives on the scene and realizes that the guns are real, and when they start firing in all directions, the boy is scared straight at Mary’s behest.
As the boy assures Mary he’ll never mess with firearms again, a hobo comes along and steals the box. Once again, Mary must look for it. In the park, the hobo wishes he had food to eat, and when he lifts the lid, sure enough, there’s plenty of good food inside! The hobo feasts, and soon becomes ill. Mary sees his agony and flies him (and the box) to a hospital. After the hobo has been attended to, Mary realizes that Pandora’s Box feeds off man’s seven deadly sins. Sam Snead and the thief were greedy, the young boy was envious, and the hobo was gluttonous. She realizes the box must be destroyed as soon as possible.
At that moment, Mary accidentally stumbles over an old man in a wheelchair. He is outraged by Mary’s unintentional action, and he starts calling all young people “whippersnappers.” Mary pleads to the old man not to become angry because that will kick the box’s powers into gear. The old man protests, bellowing he can be angry all he wants–and he wishes that a gorilla would pop out of the box to eat Mary up.
The gorilla emerges and begins to terrorize the doctors and nurses in the hospital, including the old man in the wheelchair. Mary eventually subdues the gorilla. The old man apologies for his behavior and promises Mary that he will learn to control his temper. She is grateful but knows there is no more time to waste. She draws Pandora’s Box close to her, speaks the magic word, “Shazam!” and a powerful lightning bolt drops from the heavens, changing Mary Marvel to Mary Batson and destroying the box!
Far from Mary’s eyes, Shazam, the wizard, looks on in satisfaction. He knew all along that Mary would be capable of ridding the world of the evil box, which is why he sent it to her. (No mention is made in the story of his mistake in scrawling her contact info on the inside of the package wrapping–just what kind of mail service do they have at the Rock of Eternity?)
Shazam voices his approval of Mary to the legendary Greek and Roman figures whose names form the acronym that is his own name.
Now that is how Mary Marvel should be handled–and she had been, for many, many years. Sadly, not so much lately.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the new, “driven” Mary Marvel (I won’t even bother to tell you what she calls herself in Countdown#1, other than it’s lifted from All-Star Batman and Robin–and it make a sad situation that much sadder).
Mary Marvel has joined an ever-growing line-up of troubled superheroes. I can hear her ex-colleagues calling out in disbelief, “What’s happened to you, Mary? You used to be a nice girl!”
“Not anymore,” comes the stark, disturbing reply, “I’m driven!”
Maybe now she’ll get her own comic; maybe she’ll kick it off by killing some people; maybe it’ll last only six unrewarding issues; maybe she’ll become the next Eclipso and wander the DC Universe with malicious intentions for a while.
Maybe the downward spiral will never cease.
It’s a pathetic reflection of our lives and times that the Mary Marvel we followed in Countdown (and subsequently in Final Crisis #3, which was sad enough to make me cry) is the one we seemingly deserve, and that the Mary Marvel of 1946 is the one we need.
Once upon a time, Mary Marvel really was a good girl. She was meant to be a good girl.
Innocence has gone to Hell.