Aside from Hawkman, Captain Marvel, or Shazam now, has one of the most convoluted histories in comics. Unlike Hawkman though, his superhero origin is pretty straightforward. It’s his real world publishing origins where there’s cause for confusion. My mission with these posts is to give people a crash course in characters, sticking more with the fiction side than non. With that being said, there’s a lot I’m going to be omitting here. Anways, Shazam!
Shazam, as he’s known now (more on that in a minute), is 12 year old Billy Batson. An orphan, he’s one day taken to an abandoned subway station that magically transports him to the Rock of Eternity, home of the wizard Shazam. Many magical artifacts reside in the rock, including the imprisoned seven deadly sins (greed, lust, etc.). The wizard bestows his powers unto Billy. Whenever he utters the wizard’s name, he’ll turn into Shazam. Shazam is an acronym for wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.
Billy has had a few allies over the years, specifically Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr, collectively known as the Marvel Family. Mary was Billy’s twin sister way back when, now his foster sister, who gets her powers by saying Shazam. Jr. is Freddy Freeman, Billy’s friend, whose power comes from saying Captain Marvel. While the Marvel’s have an incredibly long list of villains, two stand chief among them, Doctor Sivana and Black Adam. The former is the prototypical mad scientist while Black Adam is Billy’s predecessor from ancient Egypt. Adam has an a few great stories, particularly in the weekly series, 52.
There’s essentially four incarnations of Captain Marvel. First is the version from Fawcett Publications in 1939. This was where Marvel originally resided. Created by Bill Parker and C. C. Beck, the bulk of Marvel’s adventures took place here on the pages of Whiz Comics. Captain Marvel became the most popular superhero book, out selling National Comics’ own Superman. National (later known as DC) Comics, sued Fawcett in 1941 for copyright infringement. After years of litigation, courts eventually ruled in favor of National. Publication of Captain Marvel immediately halted in 1951, with Fawcett going under in 1953.
Side note: Due to Fawcett no longer supplying Captain Marvel stories in the UK, Mick Anglo created Marvelman/Miracleman. Hence the similarities. But he has his own legal problems.
In 1972 DC licensed the Fawcett characters, printing new adventures for Captain Marvel & Co. During that time however, Marvel Comics copyrighted the title Captain Marvel, as it was unused. DC used the title Shazam for all future titles. This iteration of the character lived on Earth-S. The waters for a Superman/Captain Marvel crossover was tested with Captain Thunder, a Marvel look-a-like. Eventually the big S met with Marvel, though then never fought. Finally, 1985 came and along with it Crisis on Infinite Earths, combining the multiverse in DC into one reality. With this, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. were gone, only Captain Marvel remained.
The third iteration of the character is the one most modern fans are familiar with. Since 1987, DC has tried several times to launch a Shazam ongoing with little success. Typically, he only appeared in mini-series, eventually becoming a part of the Justice Society of America (JSA). In 1991 DC finally purchased the Fawcett characters, allowing them to do what they wished. Three years later, Mary Marvel and Jr were both reintroduced into the DCU. Captain Marvel had a bit to do during Day of Vengeance and Infinite Crisis, taking over for the wizard Shazam.
When the New 52 happened, everything changed, again. DC finally came to terms, calling Captain Marvel Shazam, as that’s what many thought his name was regardless. Geoff Johns told a fantastic story as a backup in Justice League, reintroducing Shazam to the New DCU. This Billy was a thief, and a bit unlikable, but eventually earned fan’s favor.
Captain Marvel has made a few appearances outside of comics, most notably on his own show in 1974 called, you guessed it, Shazam! Aside from this, he’s made numerous appearances on Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice, and DC Animated features Superman/Shazam, Flashpoint and Justice League: War.
Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal, has always been a fun character specifically do to his secret identity. For a 12 year old boy, the world is still pretty black and white. Giving Billy the power to back up his simplistic convictions and sense of justice makes for a good story. Particularly when his fellow superheroes don’t realize he’s just a kid. Easily one of the best stories to feature the character was Kingdom Come, though the new JL story gives it a run for its money.
What’s your favorite Captain Marvel story? Still confused by all this? Comment below!
The big red cheese, ha.