Pitchgiving 2021, part 10: Justice Society 2: Marvelous

We start slice of life. We follow Billy Batson on a typical day as a young orphan. At one point, he daydreams, as he touches an invitation, embossed, fancy, old-fashioned, from the Justice Society inviting Captain Marvel to attend. After school, he talks with whichever of the other orphans it makes sense to bring along, mostly because I love Adam Brody, I’d make it Freddy. They start, as kids, discussing the opportunity/responsibility of being called by the Justice Society, then walk past a tree, and out of the other side stroll their superhero counterparts, continuing the conversation seamlessly.

Billy’s reluctant, but Freddy is excited, that these are the big leagues, and this isn’t like Mary hanging out with those Justice Losers, the society have been around for ages- and the old Shazam was one of them, there’s a legacy here.

We cut to the Justice Society’s hall, now returned to its former glory. Shazam strolls in, and before any of them can say anything else asks why they called his predecessor the Big Red Cheese. One of the old-timers explains, “Chuck was a kid in a man’s body, just as naïve as you’d imagine that would be. Smart, you know, wisdom of Solomon and all, but without the life experience. He spent a good ten years emulating heroes from radio serials, catch-phrases and all, squinting so he’d look like the old Fleischer heroes. I remember one time he pulled Power Girl out of the way of a falling building and she kissed him, and he turned beet red for a week; he was as red as his suit.”

Shazam, growing concerned, asks about references to him in the past tense. “Like I said. Chuck was a kid. He spent years transformed, because that was what the world needed. Then we lost half our team, dumped into the modern era, we know now, but back then… we thought they were gone. It broke him. For the first time in years he changed back. And he was still just a kid, a kid who could not handle that kind of personal tragedy; I wouldn’t be playing straight with you if I said any of us handled it well. And half of it was that we needed him, sure, but the other was he was too damned scared to change back, to have to face that world as an innocent little kid. Anyways, he decided to grow up. He still helped us, time and again, when the needs got big enough. But he got married. Think he had a couple girls. Been a long time since he said the magic word, kid. I imagine that’s why the wizard chose himself another champion. And it’s been too long since the Justice Society had a Captain Marvel knocking around.”

Billy frowns. He doesn’t like that name. He prefers “Shazam.”

Which leads to murmuring. “Like the Shaquille O’Neal genie movie?” One asks, while another says, “That was Kazaam.” And another asks if it’s like the app for recognizing a song.

Mister Terrific butts in. We’ll use this as an excuse to introduce at least the characters he mentions, with a title in the bottom of the screen for them when he mentions them. “Give the kid a break. We can’t all be named after a roller coaster (Wildcat), a 1970s prog-rock band (Flash), European folklore (Sandman), a semi-precious stone (Obsidian), or another semi-precious stone (Jade), or a color and a semi-random light-emitting object (Green Lantern). Or taking a vague descriptor and a quaintly old-fashioned gendered label (Power Girl), I guess we could suggest he go by Lightning Lad.” Stargirl makes a disapproving face (and we get to label her, too).

“I do like the rhyme-scheme of Mister Terrific,” Shazam says, “even if it does make you sound like a pro wrestler.”

“Oh yeah!” Terrific bellows in his best Macho Man voice; if Slim Jim are willing to pony up for the product placement, it would go here. Shazam says they’re all a bunch of lunatics, aren’t they, to which Terrific, again in his best Macho Man, says, “Oh yeah!” One of the ones who would have been around in the 80s asks if he’s doing Kool Aid Man. One that wasn’t, says they aren’t familiar with that superhero.

Terrific and Stargirl (because I still like the idea of the pair of them as a couple- plus I like them passing the torch of the wide-eyed POV character on to Shazam for this one) give him the tour. Terrific tells them the Society is just that, a society, one meant to last generations, carrying on the group’s ideals and legacies. The Hawks, for example, aren’t the same as the ones who were part of the team with his predecessor; they’re a pair of star-crossed lovers who reincarnate, find one another, die tragically and heroically, then reincarnate all over again- like if Romeo and Juliet could fly and had a penchant for smashing monsters with magic hammers. How even though Atom’s retired, he and his daughter, the current Black Canary, are always willing to lend a hand should anyone need it. Shazam asks how often they end up needing to call in all the reserves (with a hint that he has a few he can call in- oh yeah, for 3 we’re definitely calling in all the Marvels, er, Shazams).

Hanging around is a character related to someone wearing a costume similar to the Al Pratt Atom/Damage. The idea, here, is that Ray Palmer was the 2nd Atom, after Al, learning from him first as a physics student, before taking after him as a hero. It was Ray who pioneered the Atom’s shrinking gimmick, though. After the disruption of the Justice Society, Ray would work with Pratt’s grandson, who became Atom Smasher, as well as his son, the original Damage, as a mentor. While Damage died in the line of duty, it was always believed he had a son, and that son eventually emerges, and is here, largely in the background as we start. He is named David Reid. He focuses his powers through a lance, but he’s also had military training, rising to the position of Lance Corporal. He’s also got a glowing eye and a robot arm; so I’m not hiding the pea, here, David Reid will eventually become Magog over the course of the next two movies, even if right now he largely hasn’t adopted the Egyptian theming quite as much (it’s a process, owing to his near-death that led to his cybernetics)

I think there are already factions forming. Terrific plays coy, because Stargirl is there… because she’s leaning towards the more extremist faction, while he feels more constrained because he’s one of the leaders, towards the more compassionate side. But the tensions are palpable, and when David asks her to spar, she gladly joins him for some pretty brutal combat, also freeing Terrific to be candid with Shazam.

“To be honest, I’m glad you’re here. The old Marvel, he, they talk about him like he was the best of us. Our moral compass, that ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ thing wasn’t just marketing copy, he knew the right thing to do, not just for him, but for all of us. He was Superman, before he ever came to the planet.”

“And why do you need that? Isn’t Superman enough?”

“Lot of these people remember a world without a Superman- and I’m not just talking that siesta he took. The big blue boyscout’s a fine example for younger, less jaded recruits, but the old timers, or the hard-cases? He’s too ideal. When you’ve got that much power, you can spare some to show mercy. When you’re just an old kickboxer past his prime,”

“I heard that,” Wildcat grumbles.

“The reason we need you more than ever, is we’ve taken a lot of hits lately. Guy out there with the robot arm? Lost it a week ago. We were lucky he’s on loan from the Army; they had an in with LexCorp. on some experimental bionics. Some of ours have fared a hell of a lot worse. Some among us, they’re starting to wonder if the best defense isn’t a good offense. Might work to a point in basketball, but you start applying that to vigilante work and you’re attacking citizens before they commit a crime, you’re shooting people because you think they’re guilty, not because you have no other choice.” Terrific is tense enough he unconsciously calls those little floating balls to him.

Shazam is amused. “Phantasm, right?” Billy asks.

Terrific is puzzled. “I’ve heard of a fan-gasm before…”

“I don’t believe I want to know the context of that.”

Suddenly the lights go out. Terrific says it’ll only be a moment before they turn over to the solar-back-ups. They get power for a moment before it blacks out again. Terrific says the back-up batteries should kick on in a moment. Red emergency lights come on, and warnings start going off, as the Hall of Justice’s residents start chattering excited. Green Lantern starts barking orders, getting them to assemble into their emergency teams.  Terrific pulls Shazam aside and asks how he is with radiation. He says he got a sunburn once putting out fires in Brazil. He assigns Shazam to go with Power Girl, who will take point. There’s something wrong with the city’s nuclear plant.

Next Terrific starts talking to Green Lantern. He tells him they lost solar because the entire city has been covered by a canopy of fast-growing trees, showing him video of his surveillance being overgrown from several points across the city. Blotting out the sun is causing panic, so their first order of business is to cut down the trees, or at least arrest their growth. Green Lantern admits that he can’t handle that, because his magic doesn’t work on wood. Terrific is flabbergasted. “So a child with a miniature baseball bat is your kryptonite?” Green Lantern explains he could still stop the child directly. “Okay, but if he were wearing armor he whittled with a tiny little child pocket knife, then you would be powerless to stop him?” Green Lantern tries to pantomime as he explains he could pick up two cars, and try to pick up the child with them, like chopsticks. Terrific interrupts, “But if I got you some real sawblades, you could put those in some lantern contraption to then indirectly effect the wood, right? Flash. Stop by a hardware store.”

“Done,” Jay Garrick says, as a stack of sawblades appear next to him.

Terrific assigns Jay to lead the rest of their forces on clean up, crowd control, etc., just making sure things don’t get worse, and that Terrific will be on overwatch, just as soon as Jay gets the trees cleared enough for him to actually see anything.

Power Girl manages to get the power plant shut down; to make it slightly more dramatic, she’s exposed to enough nuclear radiation she passes out (her Kryptonian physiology will eventually convert the radiation to energy, she’s just temporarily overwhelmed), and Shazam has to carry her out. Terrific tests him to see if it’s done any damage- which, it had, but not so much that he’s worried.

Green Lantern gets the trees trimmed back, only to discover that the wood from them is alive, and starts attacking the citizens (think the brooms in Fantasia). Green Lantern’s team is in danger of being overrun, until Jay’s team arrive, and they’re able to handle the fighting.

However, there seem to be positive impacts of the growth, too; a cancer ward in the local hospital is overgrown with a rare plant specimen originally from the depths of the Amazon (and thusfar undiscovered by man). It halts the spread of the patients’ cancer, even puts some of them into remission. I think there’s a lush field outside of the hospital, on which Woodrue has the grass selectively brown to write a note, explaining he is a plant elemental and wants to help, even if his powers are… difficult to acclimiate to.

Terrific asks Specter and Dr. Fate to consult. They confirm that Woodrue isn’t a god, nor is he a true plant elemental like the Swamp Thing. He’s kind of an artificial version. Where Swamp Thing taps into the Green, and is both empowered by and entrusted as an emissary for all plantlife, and by extension, essentially the entire planet, Woodrue has basically hacked into and corrupted this power. Terrific asks if they can get Swamp Thing to help. Fate says they’ve been trying, but Justice League Dark seem to be indisposed at the moment, the Swamp Thing included, but he’ll keep trying to raise him.

Terrific puts out an offer to Woodrue, to help him with his outreach, to help channel his knowledge and skill into solutions for the greater good. Woodrue rebuffs the offer. This proves a fracture point. Magog, Power Girl and Stargirl want to deal with Woodrue now, when he’s clearly learning the ropes of nearly infinite power- that a wait and see approach may well leave them all exposed to a power they can’t stop. Battle lines get drawn, but Terrific maneuvers for all of them to slow down- that he’s taking a trust but verify approach to Woodrue- basically assuming that he is up to something, but that they need to understand what, so they can know how to stop him without losing all the benefits he brings. It’s a speech from Shazam that gets them all to agree to give Terrific space to let his plan play out.

Solomon Grundy gets reanimated. This largely distracts the Society, while forcing them to work together to stop him. It looks like Terrific is being naïve, but he secretly consults with Fate to confirm that Grundy’s revival was down to Woodrue’s dark magics, and that he’s getting stronger- really, they both are- that Woodrue made this new Grundy even stronger. Fate and Terrific together prove Woodrue’s plot, that he tainted the drinking water with algae, itself a relatively benign thing. But everyone in the city drinking tap water, showering, etc., now has that algae growing invasively inside of them. His goal is to make them into an extension of the Green, a power source that can’t be removed by the plant realm, and also functions like taking the entire city hostage, to prevent heroes from interfering with him, too. By the end of the day, his spell will be complete, and irreversible.

Even as the citizens laud Woodrue for the benefits his plants have given the city, the Society is forced to wage a very public assault on his citadel. Some of the first people to have come into contact with Woodrue (in particular patients from the cancer ward) have basically become plant/human hybrids, and savagely attack the society, proving to have some light, Swamp Thing-esque abilities.

The Society fight their way to the heart of the citadel. I think the movie ends, basically, with Terrific executing Woodrue. At the time he tells Power Girl the line was always stopping Woodrue without killing him if possible, and he didn’t see any other possible way, so he did what he had to. He admits in a mid-credits scene to Courtney that he really can’t be sure it was the right call, or whether he did it to preserve the Justice Society. She says she’s not sure that would be such a bad thing- but he recognizes the truth- that if he’s forced to compromise himself to keep the Society whole, it’s already in peril. I imagine Woodrue’s ‘death’ is pretty cool, Terrific injecting him with slightly-larger than nano scale versions of his orbs, that shred him from the inside out.

“He isn’t dead,” we hear in Swamp Thing’s rasp even before we cut away from black to see him standing where Woodrue ‘died.’ “Woodrue has become like me, no longer a physicial being, but a consciousness. I am sustained by the Green, at the behest of the Parliament of Trees. Woodrue is a contagion, a pollution, stealing strength from the plants around him. He has redoubts, wherever there is an attack on the natural; oil spills, dumped chemicals, radioactive waste. There I cannot follow; there he is safe.” “Not from us,” Power Girl says. She’s standing in front of Magog and Stargirl. Her eyes glow red when she says, “You tell us where this infection is and we’ll burn it out.” We cut to black.

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