DC’s latest big screen hero has a pretty easy backstory, but a complicated legacy. Check out everything you need to know about Shazam before seeing the film here!
This month sees the release of DC’s nest superhero film, Shazam. The character was first introduced as Captain Marvel in 1939, and over the years has seen success in comics, tv shows and more. So who is Shazam? Why is he no longer named Captain Marvel? Why is he a kid and an adult? We’ll give ya all the answers here.
Originally named Captain Marvel, the comic book superhero was the alter-ego of Billy Batson, a homeless 12-year-old boy. Billy is taken to an underground throne room by the Wizard Shazam. The Wizard explains to Billy that he needs a successor and that Billy is the best choice. Originally it was said Billy was chosen due to his misfortune of being abandoned when his parents died and his Uncle stole his inheritance. Later on it’s said Billy was given the powers due to his pure heart. The Wizard gives Billy his powers before dying when a rock from above his throne falls on his head.
Billy is able to access his powers by saying the Wizard’s name, Shazam. He then turns into Captain Marvel, and is given the powers of the Gods. Each letter of Shazam represents a God and the powers he receives. S is for the wisdom of Solomon. H is for the strength of Hercules. A is for the stamina of Atlas. Z is for the power of Zeus. A is for the courage of Achilles. M is for the speed of Mercury. Part of his transformation is changing from a child to an adult.
When DC rebooted their entire comic book universe in 2012 they updated the story of Billy Batson significantly. Billy was now an orphan in the foster care system. He meets the Wizard of the Rock of Eternity who is looking for someone to be his champion and take the powers of Shazam. Billy convinces the Wizard to give him the powers stating he isn’t bad, he’s just a good kid who has been brought down by a difficult world. The Wizard gives him the powers, but instead of being known as Captain Marvel when saying the word Shazam, he’s now simply known as Shazam.
The new backstory for Billy Batson sees him living in a foster home that’s full of love. Victor & Rosa Vázquez are the parents of the household with five other children living in the home. There’s the Mary Bromfield, Freddy Freeman, Pedro Peña, Eugene Choi and Darla Dudley. Billy’s foster family becomes an important part of his story as he learns to gain strength from the bond he has with them. His foster siblings were all given superpowers as well to become the Shazam family. This was a twist on the “Marvel Family” which was introduced in the early 1940’s.
Film, TV and Video Games
Shazam has been present in almost every age of media. In the 1940’s there was a 12 part serial film series titled Adventures of Captain Marvel. The series starred Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel and Frank Coghlan Jr. as Billy Batson. The series was the first time a superhero of any kind was depicted in film.
The character would next be seen in a live action TV series which ran from 1974 to 1977 on CBS, with Michael Gray portraying Billy Batson, Jackson Bostwick portraying Captain Marvel in the first season, and John Davey portraying Captain Marvel in the subsequent seasons. Billy travelled the country with a man known as the Mentor, played by Les Tremayne. In place of the Wizard, Billy would seek guidance from the six “immortal elders” aka the Gods Shazam is named for, who appeared in animated form. The character also had his own animated series on NBC from 1981 to 1982, The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!
New Line Cinema held the rights to a film adaptation of the character for years, and those rights tied up the character’s ability to appear in animated series. An animated series was developed for Cartoon Network by Batman: The Animated Series writer Paul Dini and comic book artist Alex Ross, but that project was shelved due to rights issues. When Warner Brothers bought New Line in the early 2000’s the character began appearing in animated series and video games for DC characters.
Over the past 20 years the character has been portrayed in cartoons and video games by Jerry O’Connell, Jeff Bennett, Rob Lowe, Chad Lowe, David Kaye, Jeff Bennett, Brandon Routh and many others. In the upcoming film Billy Batson will be portrayed by Asher Angel with Zach Levi playing Shazam. The film seems to be taking some cues from the characters original origin, but mostly relying on the New 52 origin from the comics, including the inclusion of Billy’s foster family.
Keep following Poor Man’s Spoiler as we continue our Shazam coverage, and be sure to catch the film when it hits theaters April 5th.