‘Shazam!’ ka-booms into theaters this weekend, and the advanced buzz is that Warner Brothers has another solid superhero epic on its hands. Director David F. Sandberg, and stars Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Mark Strong are bringing this whimsical superman-boy to a new generation of fans.
But before checking it out in theaters, here are ten facts that you might not have known about the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel.
Oh right… that.
Might as well start there…
1. The Whole “Shazam”/”Captain Marvel” Thing
The character now known as Shazam started out as Captain Marvel and his exploits were published by Fawcett Comics starting in 1939. Due to a copyright lawsuit from DC Comics, which claimed that this character was a ripoff of Superman, Fawcett stopped publishing ‘Captain Marvel’ and all related books in 1953, because by that time, superhero comics had plummeted in popularity. The character didn’t appear in a new comic for two decades.
Small publisher M.F. Enterprises published the adventures of a very different Captain Marvel, an android that could separate parts of his body by yelling “Split!” He only made a few appearances in 1966-67, until Marvel introduced their Captain Marvel in 1967 and claimed sole ownership of the name. In fact, they pretty much claimed exclusive use of the word “Marvel” in all matters pertaining to comics.
In 1972, DC bought the rights to Fawcett’s Captain Marvel and related characters and reintroduced them, however, due to Marvel’s copyright, DC couldn’t use that name to sell the character, his comics or merchandising. They had to label everything as ‘Shazam!’ instead, even the Saturday morning TV series.
Thanks to the Saturday morning show, DC licensed the hell out of the character, with everything bearing the name “Shazam,” which led the majority of people to think that was his name. (It was a real “Frankenstein/Frankenstein’s Monster” situation.)
In 2011, with plans underway for a film universe, DC decided that since they were rebooting their entire comic line with the New 52, why not clear up any further confusion and just drop “Captain Marvel” entirely and call this character “Shazam!” since everyone thought that was his name to begin with? That also wouldn’t cause any beef with Marvel, who have their own ‘Captain Marvel’ movie in the works.
Unfortunately, the name change didn’t clear up that much confusion. In fact, it may have just added more.
2. He Was The First Superhero On Film
Superman was the first comic book superhero, but he didn’t appear in live action on the big screen until 1948. Captain Marvel beat him– and all other superheroes– to the punch, by starring in his own movie serial in 1941. ‘The Adventures of Captain Marvel’ starred Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel and Frank Coghlan, Jr. as Billy Batson. This serial put Tyler on a wire flying rig to impressively replicate his powers from the comics. Strangely, in the later ‘Superman’ serials, the creators opted to depict that hero’s flying sequences by switching the film to animation.
3. His Visual Appearance Was Inspired By A Real Actor
Artist C.C. Beck drew Captain Marvel’s face to look like that of actor Fred MacMurray, who, by 1939, had appeared in over 20 movies. MacMurray would gain greater fame in the late ’50s-’60s in family classics like ‘The Shaggy Dog’, ‘The Absent-Minded Professor’, and ‘Son of Flubber’, and on the classic sitcom ‘My Three Sons’, which ran for twelve years.
On a similar note, the character Uncle Dudley’s visual appearance and speech pattern were modelled after those of W.C. Fields.
4. He Invented This Super Family Game, Son
Robin was the first sidekick, but Fawcett Comics was the first publisher to establish an entire family around its star. Years before Supergirl, Captain Marvel palled around with Captain Marvel Jr. (Freddy Freeman), a young friend who was able to replicate the Captain’s powers, and Mary Marvel, Billy Batson’s long-lost twin sister, who also gained similar powers. There were even the Lieutenant Marvels, three other boys from different backgrounds, who also shared the name Billy Batson, who could become Fat Marvel, Tall Marvel, and Hillbilly Marvel. Fawcett even published the adventures of ‘Hoppy the Marvel Bunny’.
In more recent years, DC introduced a modern version of the Shazam! Family, comprised of Billy’s fellow foster kids, Freddy, Mary, Eugene Choi, Darla Dudley, and Pedro Peña, who all appear in the upcoming movie. (From my understanding, Mary is no longer Billy’s long-lost twin sister.)
5. His Best Friend Is A Tiger And One Of His Worst Enemies Was A Worm
Mr. Tawky Tawny was a humanoid talking tiger who left the jungles of India and decided to integrate into polite human society. He often wears a tweed jacket and enjoys stamp collecting. With Captain Marvel’s help, he got a job as a tour guide at the local museum. In the ‘Flashpoint’ storyline, he was retooled into… basically, Battle Cat from ‘Masters of the Universe’.
One of Captain Marvel’s worst enemies, and founder of the Monster Society of Evil, was the alien Mr. Mind who looked like a cartoon-y worm, wearing glasses, and who spoke through an old-timey radio box. For his crimes, Mr. Mind was executed in a teenie-tiny electric chair and his body was stuffed and placed on display at Tawky Tawny’s museum. (It’s comics. He got better and has returned repeatedly since.)
6. The King Connection
Sidekick Captain Marvel Jr. was reportedly Elvis’ favorite superhero and it’s even believed that The King based his rhinestone jumpsuits on Jr.’s costume, including the fan collars and capes. In the futuristic 1996 miniseries, ‘Kingdom Come’, artist Alex Ross gave a futuristic version of Jr. the new name King Marvel and purposefully redesigned him to look like Elvis in one of those glitzy Vegas-era jumpsuits.
7. The Mandela Effect
The name “Shazam” or “Shazaam” is one of the most famous examples of The Mandela Effect, a weird, but real hive mind phenomenon where many people, sometimes millions, imagine the same thing and are convinced that it is real when it’s not. The Mandela Effect takes its name from political activist Nelson Mandela who was finally freed after 27 years in prison in South Africa for opposing Apartheid. When he was released, it made worldwide news, but millions swore up and down that they remembered him dying years earlier, while still in prison, and the nonstop press coverage that accompanied it. Except that never happened.
An unknown number of people also believe that there was an early ’90s family movie called ‘Shazam!’ or ‘Shazaam’ starring comedian Sinbad as a genie. There isn’t. Most likely, they are misremembering the Shaquille O’Neal genie movie ‘Kazaam!’, although they will swear up and down that they aren’t, and that they remember both ‘Kazaam!’ and the nonexistent ‘Shazaam!’.
College Humor poked fun at this by supposedly “finding” lost footage from ‘Shazaam!’, and posting a video, in which Sinbad himself starred. It’s easy to think this is real because Sinbad hasn’t aged a day. (Maybe he really is magic!) But the sly wink is that the short clip is filled with other Mandela Effect Easter Eggs, like a Monopoly game that shows Old Uncle Pennybags wearing a monocle (he doesn’t) and fake newspaper clippings touting that Mandella had died.
But if you just watched the video without looking for such Easter Eggs, you could easily believe that this really is an unearth copy of ‘Shazam’/’Shazaan’.
This probably doesn’t help:
In 1967, Hanna Barbera released a Saturday morning cartoon, ‘Shazzan’, which was about– yep!– a genie. It’s a fairly obscure show that has rarely been re-aired, but it may have been enough to add to the confusion.
8. Teen Beat
Though it may be seen as incredibly inappropriate in these politically charged times, one particular storyline from the ‘JSA’ comic was actually pretty clever– heck, even cute– when it was published around 2000. As Captain Marvel, Billy joins the Justice Society of America, but never divulged his secret identity to them. Things got complicated when the teenager inside developed a very noticeable crush on his teenage teammate Stargirl. Noticing his infatuation, the older male JSA members confronted him, believing he was a potential pedophile.
Once his true identity was revealed, the controversy was squashed. Although Courtney had a crush on muscular adult Captain Marvel, she eventually realized she was too old for young Billy. Ironic, huh?
9. Meet Captain Thunder
By 1974, DC had acquired Captain Marvel and the rest of the Fawcett roster, but they were sequestered to the parallel world, Earth-S.
In ‘Superman’ #276, writer Elliot S! Maggin and penciller Curt Swan pitted the Man of Steel against the Mightiest Mortal, Captain… uh, Thunder? This was an extremely thinly-veiled pastiche of Captain Marvel, complete with a young alter ego, named Willie Fawcett. Unlike Captain Marvel, Willie gained his powers from Native American deities, whose initials spelled out “T.H.U.N.D.E.R.”
In 1982, Roy Thomas, Don Newton, and Jerry Ordway pitched a new version of Captain Thunder, with this version being African American. They kept the alias Willie Fawcett. At the time, Captain Marvel and company still lived on Earth-S, and Captain Thunder was envisioned as his Earth-1 counterpart.
This version was never used, possibly because ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ was already in the works, with plans to eliminate all parallel universes, meaning that the original Captain Marvel would soon be living among the other DC heroes anyway.
10. Meet Marvelman/Miracleman
In the ’40s and ’50s, British publisher L. Miller & Son, Ltd. reprinted Fawcett comics in black and white for the English audience. When Fawcett decided to cease publishing its superhero comics after DC’s lawsuit, L. Miller & Son decided to keep going, by introducing a replacement, Marvelman a.k.a. Mickey Morton. Rather than magic, Mickey’s powers were based on “science” and he transformed using the
magic scientific word “Kimota!” (“Atomik” backward.) Captain Marvel Jr./Freddy Freeman and Mary Marvel/Mary Batson were replaced by Kid Marvelman/Dicky Dauntless and Young Marvelman/Johnny Bates. (Yep, Mary was replaced by a boy!) These stories emulated the simple kid-friendly tales from Fawcett and continued until 1962.
In 1982, in the pages of The UK’s ‘Warrior’ magazine, a heady and dark modern take on ‘Marvelman’ was introduced, written by Alan Moore. These stories were reprinted in America by Eclipse Comics. Soon after this ‘Marvelman’ series began, Marvel Comics stepped in, and the strip and its star were renamed ‘Miracleman’.
Moore’s take on the characters was incredibly dark and violent, and explored many of the philosophical and political concepts he would later examine in works such as ”Watchmen’, and served as inspiration for numerous others including ‘Kingdom Come’ and ‘The Boys’.
In perhaps the strip’s most infamous sequence, onetime Kid Miracleman, now a demented adult, goes on a brutal killing spree, destroying most of London and killing its population with his bare hands.
Neil Gaiman succeeded Moore as writer but the series ended when US publisher Eclipse Comics went out of business. Other publishers, including Marvel, have attempted to revive ‘Miracleman’, but copyright issues keep getting in the way. Reportedly, Marvel has cleared those up and will resume publishing reprints in 2019. There are also plans to have Gaiman return to continue his storyline from the 1980s.
‘Shazam!’ opens in theaters on April 5.