Early this month, DC Comics released the movie Shazam!, a movie about a boy named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who receives the power to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) when he calls out ‘Shazam’ after being deemed worthy by an ancient wizard of the same name. Batson struggles to learn his powers while Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong)– a man who was found unworthy by the wizard– grows in strength and plots to steal Batson’s power. All of this makes for a wonderful movie, but what’s even more interesting is the history behind the hero now known as Shazam.
In 1939, a little company called Fawcett Comics printed the book Whiz Comics #2, where young orphan Billy Batson gained the power to transform into the hero Captain Marvel when he shouts the word ‘Shazam’ after wandering into an abandoned subway station and encountering the wizard Shazam. It introduced the villain Dr. Sivana, the Lex Luther to his
Superman and one of his longest-running enemies. It was undoubtedly the most popular comic book of the time, outselling even Superman.
Captain Marvel was king of the Golden Age of Comics. Captain Marvel received his own comic line in 1941, reaching sales of 1.3 million comics a month, the highest sales of the time and still one of the best comic sales of all time. He even became the first comic book superhero to have their own movie- Adventures of Captain Marvel(1941). Oh, how the mighty would fall.
1941 was the beginning of the end for Fawcett Comic’s prize hero. That year National Comics(now DC) sued them, saying that Captain Marvel was a copyright infringement of Superman. Fawcett lost, ended its production of Captain Marvel in 1951, and went under in 1953.
In 1972, DC Comics had obtained the rights to all of the Captain Marvel characters and started printing comics of Billy Batson under the name Shazam!, as Marvel Comics created and copyrighted their character, Captain Marvel A.K.A. Mar-Vell, in 1967. Shazam never did quite as well as he did in the Golden Age of comics, receiving lackluster reception and was shuffled into various multiple-hero comic series. He received the occasional mini-series comic and a kid’s show or two in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but Shazam never really regained his former glory.
Now, he may have finally had his triumphant return with Shazam! To avoid any issues with Marvel, Shazam is given a variety of nicknames instead of an official superhero name. Asher Angel as Billy Batson is delightfully comedic with just the right amount of angst for a frequent runaway foster child. Mark Strong’s Dr. Silvana positively oozes a cold, sinister aura, and Zach Levi’s Shazam provides all the quips to break the tension. There’s even an easy avenue for a sequel; the wizard mentions that there was another with Shazam’s power one before that turned evil– Black Adam, Shazam’s other archenemy.
Overall, Shazam! is a must-see. The movie itself is great, and it is the start of a new chapter in the long history of this incredible hero.