When Did Shazam and Billy Batson Become the Same Person?

In "When We First Met," we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, "Avengers Assemble!" or the first appearance of Batman's giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man's face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

Today, I feature a question that has been asked so many times of me in the last few months. In fact, a friend of mine messaged me about this while I was writing this article last night. Pretty funny. Anyhow, the question on everyone's mind has been, "When did Billy Batson and Shazam become the same person?" In this instance, of course, we are using Shazam interchangeably with Captain Marvel, which was the name of Earth's Mightiest Mortal up until 2011, when DC officially adopted Shazam as the name of the superhero.

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In 1939's Whiz Comics #2 (by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck), we first met young Billy Batson, who went on a magical journey until he met a powerful wizard who gives Billy the ability to transform into Captain Marvel when Billy says the magic word, "Shazam"...

The text is not explicit at this point as to whether Billy and Captain Marvel are distinct entities, but the fact that Captain Marvel instantly says, "Sire" sure suggests that that is not Billy talking.

Later in the story, Billy explicitly almost says "Captain Marvel and me," which suggests that they are two different entities...

While the initial story was a bit vague on the topic, later stories made it plainly evident that Billy Batson and Captain Marvel were two different beings. Billy switched places with Captain Marvel rather than actually becoming him. This led the series to be a sort of tag team series. Since the two characters were distinct, writers tended to not want to give either one of them short shrift, so most of the adventures spotlighted Billy going on adventures on his own and only turning to Captain Marvel when Billy got into a jam that he couldn't escape.

Their dual lead nature was reflected on a number of comic book covers, like Whiz Comics #22...

There would even be a number of stories that played specifically on the fact that Billy and Captain Marvel were two different people, like the classic tale in Whiz Comics #53 (by Otto Binder, C.C. Beck and Pete Costanza) where Billy and Captain Marvel actually get into a feud...

That was always the hook of the original Captain Marvel stories. You had your Superman analogue in Captain Marvel, but you also had the wish fulfillment aspect of the stories, with the kids reading the comic book being able to self-identify with Billy and his resourcefulness and then his transformation into the Superman-like figure.

As we have noted in the past, Fawcett Comics then eventually stopped publishing Captain Marvel comics in the 1950s because of a lawsuit from National Comics (the then-name of DC). Eventually, DC worked out a deal with Fawcett to license the character from Fawcett and so, in 1973, the characters returned to comics (of course, since Marvel had since released their own Captain Marvel comic book and trademarked the name, DC had to call this new series Shazam)....

This new comic book maintained the traditional set-up of Billy Batson and Captain Marvel switching places and continuing to be two different beings.

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