The superhero Shazam is one of the oldest and most beloved comic book characters to ever exist. Spurred on by the success of Superman, Fawcett Comics tasked Bill Parker and C.C. Beck to create their own version of the character. Shazam, then known as Captain Marvel, debuted in 1939 and proved to be even more popular than Superman himself! Perhaps it was the whimsical nature of the character, or the fact that they fed off of childhood wish fulfillment by giving him the secret identity of a young boy. Whatever the reason, Shazam became a comic book institution throughout the 1940s.
Unfortunately, the success was not destined to last. Seeing the company’s success, National Publications, the precursor to DC Comics, sued Fawcett for copyright infringement and essentially put them out of business. The character sat in limbo for years until DC finally brushed him off in the '70s. He has been rewritten, renamed, and reimagined many times over the years, and as a result, Shazam has some dark secrets hidden away from the public. Now that Shazam! is filming, it has never been a better time to look into the past and share everything that has been covered up over the years.
15 HIS SIDEKICK WAS A RACIST CARICATURE
Fawcett may have produced one of the most popular superheroes, but that doesn’t mean the creators can be considered progressive by any means. Interested in adding a valet into the quickly growing Marvel Family, the character Steamboat was added to the mix in 1941’s America’s Greatest Comics #3. Unfortunately, Steamboat was an incredibly offensive caricature of African-Americans.
Not only was he depicted as Billy Batson’s cowardly servant, but he was drawn in a racially stereotyped style and spoke in an offensive stereotypical dialect. For some reason the character wouldn’t go away, so it took an actual protest by an organization of diverse students to finally get Fawcett to retire Steamboat in 1945. Looking back, it was an embarrassing time for the publisher and the industry as a whole.
14 BLACK ADAM WAS BRUTALLY MURDERED
Believe it or not, Black Adam didn’t play that big of a role in the Golden Age Captain Marvel stories. That’s because he died a terrible death in his first appearance. In The Marvel Family # 1 from 1945, it was explained to Billy and his friends that before Captain Marvel, the Wizard had given his power to another champion, one who would be corrupted by the power.
After returning from his banishment, the Marvel Family fought Black Adam until the villain was tricked into repeating the word that would transform him back to his human form. Considering he was originally from Ancient Egypt, as soon as he transformed back, his age caught up with him and he aged 5,000 years in a matter of seconds. He became nothing but a desiccated skeleton and wasn’t seen again.
13 CAPTAIN MARVEL SERIAL WAS ORIGINALLY SUPERMAN
The 1941 serial Adventures of Captain Marvel has the distinction of being the first big screen adaptation of a superhero. The film came about after Republic Pictures tried and failed to secure the licensing rights to Superman. At the time, Paramount Pictures had already secured a deal to create the famous Superman animated cartoon from Fleischer Studios.
Republic had already finished the script for the proposed Superman feature, but managed to rework the story to insert the original superhero Copperhead instead. This ultimately led to the creation of the 1940 Mysterious Doctor Satan serial. Republic, still wanting a licensed superhero film, approached Fawcett about Captain Marvel and the rest was history. Superman wouldn’t show up on the big screen until 1948, seven years after Captain Marvel.
12 SHAZAM WAS LITERALLY FROZEN IN TIME
After the final ruling in the lawsuit that put National Comics Publications and Superman against Fawcett and Captain Marvel, Fawcett decided to stop publishing the character. From 1953 to 1973, no new Captain Marvel stories were produced, until DC Comics decided to license the character from Fawcett. There was even an intricate in-story explanation as to why there had been no new comics for 20 years.
DC’s comic Shazam explained that Doctor Sivana had managed to freeze the Marvel Family in suspended animation during some previous encounter. The villain had also been accidentally frozen with his arch-nemesis until they were all thawed out from the sphere of Suspendium they were trapped in. Things then went on as if nothing happened, but it was a great way to explain the whimsical throwback nature of the characters.
11 THE WIZARD HAS HIS OWN SECRET ORIGIN
The wizard who gave Billy Batson his powers is known as Shazam, but several stories have revealed that there is more to him than we originally thought. It turns out that he was originally named Shazamo before one of the gods who powered him went bad. The last letter stood for Oggar, who eventually became an enemy of Captain Marvel in the Golden Age of Comics.
In 1980, a story was told about the wizard’s true origin story. Back in ancient Canaan, he was a simple shepherd before becoming a champion of the gods by speaking the word VLAREM! In the New 52, his origins were changed again and his true name is revealed to be Mamaragan, who lived 9,000 years prior to the modern day.
10 THE ORIGINAL CAPTAIN MARVEL WAS FIRED
Long before Zachary Levi was cast to play Shazam, Jackson Bostwick played the character on the Shazam! television series that ran from 1974 to 1976. After the first season, Bostwick only portrayed the character for two more episodes before he was suddenly fired and replaced by John Davey. The producers had accused him of holding out for higher pay after he didn’t show up for filming, so the production company let him go.
The thing was, though, that Bostwick performed his own stunts on the show and had actually been injured on the set the day before. He reported that he was seeing a doctor for a medical examination when he was reprimanded for missing the shoot. Bostwick successfully sued Filmation Associates, who were then forced to pay him the remainder of his contract.
9 PUBLISHING SHAZAM WAS A CONSTANT BATTLE
Most fans know that Fawcett’s initial run on Captain Marvel comics ended with a lawsuit settlement in 1953, but it actually wasn’t that simple. National Comics Publication initially filed the lawsuit in 1941, just two years after the character first showed up. After seven years of litigation, the two companies finally went to trial in 1948.
In the meantime, Fawcett continued to publish Captain Marvel and saw great success. The initial 1951 verdict of the trial even ruled in favor of Fawcett because it was determined that DC had actually abandoned the Superman copyright several years ago. However, the decision was appealed and DC won. Seeing the sale of comics falling since the end of World War II, Fawcett finally decided to settle because the fight wasn’t worth it anymore.
8 CAPTAIN MARVEL HAD ITS OWN COPYCATS
Captain Marvel may have been a copy of Superman, but the World’s Mightiest Mortal also had some imitators of his own. A small British publisher named L. Miller and Son had made a killing in the 1950s with reprints of old Captain Marvel stories. When Fawcett stopped publication following its lawsuit, L. Miller and Son hired Mick Anglo to create Marvelman, who was basically the same character. He uses his own magic word and has a whole family of superheroes. Alan Moore later famously reinvented Marvelman in the 1980s.
In 1966, M.F. Enterprises created an android superhero named Captain Marvel, who had a lot of similarities with his more famous counterpart. He would shout phrases to separate his body parts and had a friend named Billy Baxton. This Captain Marvel fought characters with some familiar names, like Elasticman, Dr. Fate, Professor Doom, and The Bat.
7 SHAZAM’S EVIL COUNTERPART IS LEX LUTHOR
During the 2014 event series Forever Evil, it was revealed that the Earth-3 counterpart of Lex Luthor also has incredible powers similar to that of Shazam. As the only superhero of the universe he comes from, Alexander Luthor, Sr. is held hostage by the Crime Syndicate, who know too well how powerful he has become.
He is finally freed and calls upon his amazing powers, just like Billy Batson does. However, instead of using the familiar word SHAZAM, he shouts MAZAHS (Shazam backwards) instead. This word transforms him into a super powerful maniac who has the ability to absorb the energies of others and murders several villains. His rampage finally comes to an end when the real Lex Luthor gets the better of his duplicate.
6 DC REJECTED MANY CHARACTER REVIVALS
The comic book revival of Captain Marvel was a complicated matter. Many creators had tried to launch a new series, but DC Comics rejected them all. Roy Thomas attempted to launch a series with a punk-style Mary Marvel and an African-American Freddy Freeman in the 1980s, but DC said no. John Byrne also pitched a new Captain Marvel series, but it never happened. Jerry Ordway finally got the job with Power of Shazam! in the 1990s, though that didn’t stop the failed Captain Marvel pitches.
Following the events of Infinite Crisis, Alex Ross pitched Say My Name...Shazam as a new series that depicted the Marvel Family a few years later. Another pitch brought together Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Gail Simone on a three-feature series covering Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and Mary Marvel. Both would have been interesting ideas, but it was never meant to be.
5 SHAZAM HAS MORE THAN ONE PANTHEON
The magic word Shazam is an acronym that is made up of different gods which give Billy Batson his powers. Traditionally, each letter represents a god from the Greco-Roman pantheon, like Zeus and Mercury. However, that is not always the case because the gods who have powered Shazam have changed a few times over the years.
In The Trials of Shazam! Billy Batson takes over the role of the Wizard and Freddy Freeman becomes the new Captain Marvel. Over the course of his journey to gain his power, he learns that these gods of magic are different from the gods of Olympus. During the storyline “Darkseid War,” Billy’s connection to his traditional pantheon is severed following the death of Darkseid. As a result, the Wizard has to find him a new group of gods to take his powers from.
4 MARY MARVEL DIED ONCE
Mary Marvel has gone on many of her own adventures, independent of her brother Billy Batson. She has joined several different versions of the Justice League, gone solo, and become a supervillain, but one of her most bizarre adventures involved Mary, Linda Danvers, and a demon searching for the Earth Born Angel in Mexico during Peter David’s Supergirl series.
During a confrontation with a group of enemy hellspawn, Mary took a Hell-Spawn Dagger in the chest and actually died. Linda was left alone to deal with the threat, but after everything was said and done, she saved the world at the expense of her own life. The Angel of Fire Twilight was able to bring both heroes back to life, giving everyone a happy ending. Things could have been very tragic for the Marvel Family.
3 CAPTAIN THUNDER WAS THE ORIGINAL CAPTAIN MARVEL
Sometimes old, unused ideas have their way of making it back into publication. During the 2011 reality-warping event known as Flashpoint, Shazam was transformed into a new hero named Captain Thunder. While it seemed like an original idea, the character was actually based on the original pitch that Bill Parker envisioned before he created Captain Marvel.
In his original idea, there were going to be six superheroes who were given a unique character by a different mythological figure. Fawcett editorial suggested that Parker combine the characters into one superhero, which he called Captain Thunder. Unfortunately, that name was already in use at the time, so the name Captain Marvelous was suggested. Editorial then shortened the name to Marvel, and the rest was history... at least until his name was changed again.
2 JUSTICE SOCIETY THOUGHT HE WAS A PREDATOR
When Captain Marvel joined the Justice Society of America back in the early aughts, he met someone his own age in fellow teenager Stargirl. The two quickly became friends, and it slowly turned into something more romantic. The problem, though, was that he looked like a full grown man in his superhero identity instead of the age appropriate kid he actually was.
At the time, the other members of the JSA didn’t know about his true identity, so they thought he was taking advantage of a teenager. It got to the point where several heroes actually confronted him about the nature of his relationship with Stargirl. Things were incredibly awkward right up until Billy Batson finally revealed who he really was to the rest of the team.
1 BILLY BATSON DID BLACKFACE
The ‘30s and ‘40s were a different time, because apparently no one had much to say about racist jokes and stereotypes. Thankfully, we know better now. If you thought Fawcett was being racist with its depiction of Captain Marvel’s valet Steamboat, you’ll be shocked to discover what Billy Batson managed to do back in the Golden Age.
In Whiz Comics #12 from 1941, Billy Batson did the unthinkable when he dressed up in blackface to get onboard a ship filled with refugees. Not only that, he used a racist dialect in order to fool someone to make him believe that he was a black man. You have to wonder how anyone would allow a child, who is also a superhero, to do something so offensive. Then again, white people were pretty oblivious about that stuff back then.