(Which used to be what he said, not who he was
, but is now his official name.)
You have to understand this before you proceed: comics weren't always just Super Heroes
Look — guys in masks only showed up
around, say, 1936. Super Heroes
only go as far back as Superman
in 1938. Comics about detectives and daredevil pilots had been inherited from the pulps
to great success. No-one
thought costumed heroes would take off like they did. So when National Comics
hit paydirt with their costumed super heroes, the initial reaction of Fawcett Publications
was "Oh boy! We've got to get some of these!
So, they brought in C.C. Beck to do a story about a team of six heroes who all got powers from various legendary figures. When this was pitched, it was decided that, while Cast Speciation
was cool, All Your Powers Combined
just looks better. The hero was to be called Captain Thunder. Except they couldn't get the name. So they called him Captain Marvelous, and then shortened it to Captain Marvel, because it sounds punchier. The character first appeared in "Whiz Comics
" #2 (February, 1940). (#1 was only an ashcan copy, never intended for distribution.)
Little Billy Batson is a homeless orphan who is led by a mysterious stranger into a deserted train station, where a train with no driver leads him to a wizard's lair. There, the wizard gives him the power of six archetypal figures: the wisdom
olomon, the strength
ercules, the stamina
tlas, the power
eus, the courage
chilles, and the speed
ercury, which when put together spell F-L-Y-I-N-G B-R-I-C-K
. To summon
these powers, he must shout the name of the wizard — "SHAZAM!
" — which summons down lightning and transforms him into a superhuman adult with a bright red costume with a freakin' sweet cape
Billy Batson goes on to get a job as a radio announcer (yes, a ten-year-old announcer), but as his Superpowered Alter Ego
, Captain Marvel, fights evil and chaos. He acquired an impressive Rogues Gallery
, including diminutive Mad Scientist
Doctor Sivana, villainous Super Soldier Captain Nazi
, atomic android
Mister Atom, former holder of the Marvel mantle Black Adam
, and others. But he also had a group of staunch allies known as the Marvel Family, who had also (mostly) been gifted by Shazam; his best friend Freddy Freeman became Captain Marvel Junior, and his long-lost sister Mary Bromfield became Mary Marvel (complete with Mini Dress Of Power
). Initially, Mary had her own pantheon of goddesses from which she derived power (including Zephyrus... which was actually a male, but then there aren't many mythological figures whose names start with a "Z"). Later, she switched over to Billy's pantheon. Then there were the Lieutenant Marvels, Uncle Marvel, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and Tawny the Talking Tiger...
This was Captain Marvel's Golden Age
. His own title regularly sold over a million
copies a month (FYI, the best selling comics of today usually top out at around 100,000), Mary and Junior had their own titles when most heroes had to settle for eight-page backups in anthology books. There was even a movie serial. He was arguably the most popular and recognizable Super Hero
of the 1940s
Then there was a problem. On the one hand, there was Captain Marvel, a black-haired all-American feller in a costume with a lot of bright red, who can punch through cars and stop robbers... and on the other hand, there was Superman, a black-haired all-American feller in a costume with a lot of bright red, who... well, you get the idea. Admittedly, this described a lot
of superheroes back then (and even today!), but Marvel had the flaw of selling more
than his inspiration. DC Comics
brought the case to court, and Fawcett fought it out for a while. Eventually, though, the superheroes stopped selling so well
, and Fawcett decided to throw in the towel; they closed down their comics division and moved on.' The final appearance of the character was '"Marvel Family''" #89 (January, 1954). The name "Marvel
", however, would return to haunt DC Comics.
A few years later, The Silver Age of Comic Books
started up, and superheroes became popular again. Fawcett couldn't take advantage of this, because the settlement with DC had specified that they never publish a Captain Marvel comic again, but eventually, DC themselves expressed interest in the character. Fawcett licensed the whole shebang to DC (with the latter eventually buying the rights lock, stock and barrel), and after a couple of tryouts, they put out a new series in 1973. Unfortunately, they couldn't actually call
the series "Captain Marvel", because Marvel Comics
had snapped up the name in the meantime (and created their own character
, and eventually a string of characters, by that name), so they titled it Shazam!
and went ahead. The series, though never a hot seller, did fairly well; the Marvelverse (no relation
) was slotted into DC's Multiverse
as Earth-S, and he occasionally crossed over with DC's other heroes — naturally, the long-debated fight
between Cap and Superman was one of the first. Incidentally, it's rather ambiguous who has the edge since Captain Marvel doesn't have Supes' vision
and breath powers
, but his powers are magic based which is a traditional weakness
And then came Crisis on Infinite Earths
, merging the DC multiverse, including Earth-S, into a single universe. Hilarity Ensued
. The major change is that whereas Billy and Captain Marvel were largely considered two separate people, now Captain Marvel is unambiguously set with Billy's youthful personality. This means to others, this supposedly adult superhero has a personality of a child, albeit guided by the wisdom of Solomon. This has led to awkward situations more than once and when he was forced to reveal his true form to Superman in First Thunder
, the Kryptonian made a bee-line to Shazam to confront him about recruiting a child as his champion. Also, the formation of the Marvel Family was reversed with Mary Marvel, who was the last major addition to arrive outside of Mr. Tawky Tawny in the original stories, usually meeting her brother first, then Jr. arrives later with the Lt. Marvels considered strictly afterthoughts if they are included at all. Black Adam
was also reimagined as walking the line between Anti-Hero
, Token Evil Teammate
, and so on.
So after a few comics and a brief membership spot in the Justice League of America
, Captain Marvel became part of the wider DC Continuity. Whenever they needed a Superman-level fighter who was immune to kryptonite or magic, particularly when Superman is being mind-controlled or a similar emergency, he was there. Whenever Wonder Woman
needed to hit someone we didn't care about, he was there. Whenever villains needed someone hokey to fight, thus proving they were a Superstitious And Cowardly Lot, he was there. His standard shtick was to represent the sunny, old-timey virtues of Golden Age
comics in the darkness of The Dark Age of Comic Books
. On the other hand, despite the stereotype set by those fights, DC Comics also published First Thunder
to show that Superman and Captain Marvel actually get along well in the same Universe: Superman appreciates having an ally with equivalent powers to help him fight supernatural foes that could otherwise lay out him with a shrug, and Billy values having the greatest of the superheroes as a mentor to help him through his double life's rough spots.
Starting in 2005, though, the franchise hit a rough patch. The characters were constantly getting retooled, such as having Captain Marvel take the Wizard's place as "Marvel" and Freddy Freeman taking Billy's place as a hero named
Shazam, apparently to get around the fact that I Am Not Shazam
. Many of these retools were Darker and Edgier
, the most infamous instance probably being "Evil Mary Marvel" in Countdown to Final Crisis
. There was a bright spot, though, in that Black Adam was one of the leading characters in the acclaimed series 52
, gaining Morality Pets
in the form of Isis and Osiris. (They were both killed by the end of the event, but hey, this is comic books, Death Is Cheap
At the same time, a more traditional Alternate Continuity
take on the Marvel Family came in Jeff Smith's Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil
; this was much-better received, and in 2008, an ongoing series in the same continuity premiered, Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!
It was assumed, but not confirmed, that this is set on Earth-5, the post-Infinite Crisis
version of Earth-S.
Eventually, Captain Marvel's history was wiped clean by DC's New 52
reboot. He re-debuted in backup stories in Justice League
, with these stories focusing on the magical aspect rather than straight superheroics. Oh, and DC said "heck with it" and properly changed his name from "Captain Marvel" to "Shazam".
A live-action Shazam
movie is currently in the works as part of the DC Cinematic Universe
, though it has been stated to have a Lighter and Softer
tone than Man of Steel
and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
. The movie will be written by Jack the Giant Slayer
scribe Darren Lemke, and will feature Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
as Black Adam
.Film Live-Action TVVideo GamesWestern Animation
- Spoofed in the 1979 film J-Men Forever (consisting of Gag Dub Republic Film Serial clips) with Billy Batchit, who becomes 'The Caped Madman' by uttering the magic word "SH-BOOM!" which enables Billy to "take on all the vices of a J-Man of the Secret Service: S for Sneaky, H for Hateful, B for Bigotted, O for Obnoxious, another O for Double-Obnoxious, and M for Mean!"
- Similarly spoofed in a classic issue of MAD, where Superduperman got into a fight with him, with "Billy Spafon" becoming "Captain Marbles" by saying the magic word "Shazoom!": Strength, Health, Aptitude, Zeal, Ox, power of, Ox, power of another, Money!
- DC Comics themselves had a character called Captain Thunder, a Captain Marvel Expy (real name Willie Fawcett) with an origin based on Native American spirits and the magic word "Thunder!" (Tornado, Hare, Uncas, Nature, Diamond, Eagle and Ram) who teamed up with Superman before Earth-S made its debut.
- The Dandy parodied the character with the spoof superhero "Bananaman", who was summoned when his Billy Batson expy ate a banana.
- Issue 8 of Sonic the Hedgehog had a plot where Dr. Robotnik builds a number of superhero robots based on non-Archie properties. One of them was "Captain Mar-bot", who says "Shazham!". Sonic defeats it with ease.
- In Alan Moore's Supreme run, which turned the title into a Homage to Silver Age Supermen, "Mightyman" is the Captain Marvel Captain Ersatz.
- After the copyright lawsuit shut down the original American Captain Marvel, the comics' British publisher created their own Captain Ersatz Marvelman, whose comic strip ran for many more years. In the 1980s, it was revived in Darker and Edgier style by Alan Moore as Miracleman, helping to set the agenda for The Dark Age of Comic Books.
Shazam/Captain Marvel provides examples of:
Oh, and by the way, HE WAS NOT SHAZAM.
...but he is now.