Thursday, September 11, 2008

The creep and the cheese

"Everywhere I go, that big lump of muscle is worshiped! And I, the greatest mind the world has ever known, get only scorn and sneers!"

Sorry, Sivana. That's the way of it. You are a creepy little bald guy. No one cares about your big brain. Or about that wonderful laboratory of yours. The Big Red Cheese, as you call him, has Hollywood good looks. And rippling pecs. And skintight leotards. Your every plot is doomed to go astray. Curses! Foiled again!

Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana appeared in the comics as Captain Marvel's archenemy at about the time I first became aware of comic books. Throughout the 40s, while my pals read Superman, I was a loyal fan of the Big Red Cheese. There was something hometowny about Marvel, something -- well -- cheesy, something more fitting for pokey Chattanooga than for a northern metropolis. And I liked the fact that his real-life self was Billy Batson, boy reporter. Say the magic word -- Shazam! -- and whoa! look at that chin! those powerful fists! those legs like tree trunks! Even Sivana's luscious daughter Beautia had a crush.

But, really, it was Sivana, the mad scientist, who was the attraction. I had my Gilbert chemistry set in the basement, and if it wasn't quite Sivana's elaborately-outfitted lab, I could still stir up a stink bomb or two. My pathetic experiments usually ended in pffft! and fizzle, but I was a smart enough kid to grasp that real science was more deeply interesting than any comic fantasy. With my skinny little legs, it was clear that I was never going to be a red-caped World's Mightiest Mortal, and no Beautia crushes were in prospect. But I had my test tubes, and bottles of assorted chemicals, and a sense that science would somehow be part of my future. Mad little creep that he was, that's what I learned from Doctor Sivana. Heh! heh! heh!