The success of Man of Steel could keep Shazam from own film. The Marvel joint cinematic universe project set DC, and parent company Warner Bros., in a race for one of their own. Outside of the stand-alone Dark Knight trilogy, there has been no real success; with launches centered on first Superman Returns, then Green Lantern, falling short. In the wake of Man of Steel‘s success, however, the Justice League hunt is back on. Batman and Wonder Woman are already spoken for, courtesy of the Man of Steel sequel; but that leaves other top tier members (including The Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and – of course – another turn for Green Lantern) waiting in the wings. Unless regulated to a cameo or background character appearance, Shazam/ Captain Marvel will likely be a lower priority add to any future Justice League project, and not a candidate for a big screen showcase film.
About Shazam/ Captain Marvel:
Captain Marvel, also known as Shazam, is a fictional superhero created in 1939 by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker. Originally published by Fawcett Comics and later by DC Comics, he first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940) with a premise that taps adolescent fantasy.
Shazam is the alter ego of Billy Batson, who works as a radio news reporter and was chosen to be a champion of good by an ancient wizard (also named Shazam). Whenever Billy speaks the word “Shazam!”, he is struck by a magic lightning bolt that transforms him into an adult superhero empowered with the abilities of six archetypal, historical figures. Several friends and family members, most notably Marvel Family/Shazam Family cohorts Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. can share Billy’s power and become “Marvels” themselves.
Hailed as “the world’s mightiest mortal” in his adventures, Captain Marvel/Shazam was nicknamed “The Big Red Cheese” by arch-villain Doctor Sivana, an epithet later adopted by Captain Marvel’s fans. Based on sales, Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero of the 1940s. His Captain Marvel Adventures comic book series sold more copies than Superman and other competing books of the time. Captain Marvel was also the first comic book superhero to be adapted into film, in a 1941 Republic Pictures serial titled Adventures of Captain Marvel.
Inspiration for Captain Marvel came from a number of sources. His visual appearance was modeled after that of Fred MacMurray, a popular American actor of the period, though comparisons to both Cary Grant and Jack Oakie were made, as well. Fawcett Publications’ founder, Wilford H. Fawcett, was nicknamed “Captain Billy,” which inspired the name “Billy Batson” and Marvel’s title, as well. Fawcett’s earliest magazine was titled Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, which inspired the title Whiz Comics. In addition, Fawcett took several of the elements that had made Superman the first popular comic book superhero (super-strength and speed, science-fiction stories, a mild-mannered reporter alter ego) and incorporated them into Captain Marvel. Fawcett’s circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett recalled telling the staff, “Give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10- or 12-year-old boy rather than a man.”
As a result, Captain Marvel was given a 12-year-old boy named Billy Batson as his alter ego. In the story of his origin printed in Whiz Comics #2, Billy, a homeless newsboy, is led by a mysterious stranger to a secret subway tunnel. An odd subway car with no visible driver takes them to an underground tunnel with seven statues depicting the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness and Injustice): the lair of the wizard Shazam. The wizard shows that he has observed the hardship of Billy’s life, and grants him the power to become the adult superhero Captain Marvel, just before a stone suspended above Shazam’s head crushes him. His ghost says he will give advice when a brazier is lighted.
In order to transform into Captain Marvel, Billy must speak the wizard’s name, an acronym for the six legendary figures who agreed to grant aspects of themselves to a willing subject: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Speaking the word produces a bolt of magic lightning which transforms Billy into Captain Marvel. Speaking the word again reverses the transformation with another bolt of lightning.
Further complicating matters, is the long, rocky relationship between the two properties. DC Comics originally believed the market was not big enough for both Superman and Captain Marvel, and has since had some difficulty in having the two share the spotlight.
Superman vs Captain Marvel:
Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel-related comics in 1953, partly because of a copyright infringement suit from DC Comics, alleging that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman. In 1972, DC licensed the Marvel Family characters and returned them to publication, acquiring all rights to the characters by 1991. DC has since integrated Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family into their DC Universe, and have attempted to revive the property several times with mixed success.
When superhero comics became popular again in the mid-1960s in what is now called the “Silver Age of Comic Books,” Fawcett was unable to revive Captain Marvel, having agreed never to publish the character again (as part of settlement of the lawsuit). Carmine Infantino, publisher of DC Comics, licensed the characters from Fawcett in 1972, and DC began planning a revival. Because Marvel Comics had by this time established Captain Marvel as a comic book trademark, DC published their book under the name Shazam!. Since then, that title has become so linked to Captain Marvel that many people have taken to identifying the character as “Shazam” instead of his actual name. DC has since renamed the character during their New 52 relaunch in 2012.
Captain Marvel’s adventures have contributed a number of elements to both comic book culture and pop culture in general. The most notable contribution is the regular use of Superman and Captain Marvel as adversaries in Modern Age comic book stories. The two are often portrayed as equally matched and, while Marvel does not possess Superman’s heat vision, x-ray vision or breath powers, the magic-based nature of his own powers are a weakness for Superman.
The National Comics/Fawcett Comics rivalry was parodied in “Superduperman,” a satirical comic book story by Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood in the fourth issue of Mad (April/May 1953). In the parody, inspired by the Fawcett/DC legal battles, Superduperman, endowed with muscles on muscles, does battle with Captain Marbles, a Captain Marvel caricature. Marbles’ magic word is “SHAZOOM”, which stands for Strength, Health, Aptitude, Zeal, Ox (power of), Ox (power of another), and Money. In contrast to Captain Marvel’s perceived innocence and goodness, Marbles is greedy and money-grubbing, and a master criminal. Superduperman defeats Marbles by tricking him into hitting himself.
While publishing its Shazam! revival in the 1970s, DC Comics published a story in Superman #276 (June 1974) featuring a battle between the Man of Steel and a thinly disguised version of Captain Marvel called Captain Thunder, a reference to the character’s original name. He apparently battles against a Monster League, who cast a spell to make him evil, but Superman helps him break free. Two years later, Justice League of America #135–137 presented a story arc which featured the heroes of Earth-1, Earth-2, and Earth-S teaming together against their enemies. It is in this story that Superman and Captain Marvel first meet, albeit briefly. King Kull has caused Superman to go mad using red kryptonite, meaning he and Marvel battle, but Marvel restores his mind to normal with lightning.
Notable later Superman/Captain Marvel battles in DC Comics include All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58 (1978), All-Star Squadron #36–37 (1984), and Superman vol. 2, #102 (1995). The Superman/Captain Marvel battle depicted in Kingdom Come #4 (1996) serves as the climax of that miniseries, with Marvel having been brainwashed by Lex Luthor and Mister Mind to turn against the other heroes. The “Clash” episode of the DC-based animated TV series Justice League Unlimited, which includes Captain Marvel as a guest character, features a Superman/Captain Marvel fight as its centerpiece. By contrast, the depiction of the pair’s first meeting in the Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder miniseries establishes them as firm friends and allies to the point of Superman volunteering to be Billy’s mentor when he learns the boy’s true age.
Shazam’s prospects, post Man of Steel:
During a recent interview, director Peter Segal noted: “The thing is, Shazam has always lived this tortured life going against Superman. This dates back to the 1930s. Because Captain Marvel had similar powers to Superman, the DC folks back then sued what was the most popular comic book on the stands at that time. Years later, they bought it and it became a DC property but, as long as Superman stays hot in the market place, there seems like a little bit of a crossover between the two characters. After Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” it seemed like there was a moment in time where Shazam was going to see the light of day. That’s when you heard those stories. Now that Superman is being invigorated and going up against Batman, I think it’s difficult for DC to figure out how to launch this character in the wake of Superman’s resurgence.”
When the treatment was considered kid-friendly, by comparison, he responded “Well, it wasn’t. I was working with Geoff Johns. At its core, it’s a lot like Superman. There’s this boy trapped inside of a superhero’s body. He’s still a boy inside, so there’s this opportunity to play a lot of humor with the action. Originally, Stan Lee brought me “Fantastic Four” a number of years for that very reason. I always have the question when people bring me superhero properties, “Why me?” With Stan, he said, “It’s because there’s a sense of humor within all Marvel characters.” These characters are flawed and, within those flaws, there is humor. When Toby Emmerich came to me with Shazam, it was because of those same reasons. To draw from that humor and to mix it with great action and pathos. I’ve always loved Shazam, but I don’t know if it’s going to see the light of day anytime soon.”
Whatever WB/ DC does about any kind of Shazam treatment, it seems clear that “The Big Blue Boyscout” will continue to take precedence over “The Big Red Cheese.” Even if Shazam were to be shoehorned in to the current Superman franchise, or the eventual Justice League project (allowing WB/ DC to avoid a stand-alone film – à la Wonder Woman), the powers-that-be would still have to figure out how to have them share a plot or screen time. DC may have never gotten past its insecurities over Captain Marvel, where Superman is concerned.
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