The eighth novel by New York journalist/now New York Post editor Hamill (Loving Women, 1989; the memoir A Drinking Life, 1994, etc.) finds him as readable as ever. In postwar working-class Brooklyn, Irish Catholic Michael Devlin, 11, is obsessed with comics, worships Captain Marvel, and wonders why shouting SHAZAM! doesn't turn him into a superhero. His naivetÇ is crucial to the story, it turns out, since this slice-of-life tale metamorphoses at the finish completely and unexpectedly into fantasy. Michael and two friends are in Mr. Greenberg's candy store when psychopathic bully Frankie McCarthy, 17, comes in, beats up friendly ``Mister G,'' and drops the cash register onto the owner's head, putting him into a coma. Although Michael is a witness, the code of the Irish goes against being a squealer. As his widowed mother Kathleen reminds him, Judas was the world's worst informer. Frankie is detained by the police and lets Michael know that he'll get his face carved up if he turns rat. For good measure, Michael is beaten up by Frankie's gang, the Falcons, who break his leg. After he's released from the hospital, he's attacked again, along with Kathleen. She still won't let Michael rat on Frankie, but she plans to move to Bay Ridge. Meantime, Michael has become the goy who works on the Jewish sabbath for a very poor rabbi. While the rabbi teaches him Yiddish in return for Michael's correcting his own English, the two become richly involved in the career of Jackie Robinson, the first black player to crack the majors. The rabbi also tells Michael about Rabbi Loew's golem, the Captain Marvel of the Jews. When Michael hears that Frankie McCarthy has got a pistol and intends to kill him, he decides to summon up a superhero of his own. A slow-moving opening, with Hamill as earnestly humorless as ever, but the time-warp element and terrific descriptions will appeal to many.