In "Follow the Path," I spotlight changes made to comic book characters that are based on outside media, as well as characters who entirely came from outside media. I’m sure you can think of other examples, so feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to suggest some other examples for future installments.
Today, we look at how the Shazam! comic book series from the 1970s tried to adapt itself to fit the then-popular Shazam! TV series.
The highly anticipated Shazam! series from DC Comics debuted in 1973. This was the return of the original Captain Marvel in new stories for the first time in twenty years, with the series' original artist, C.C. Beck, along for the ride.
Very quickly, though, it became apparent that there were some major problems with the series. First of all, one of the reasons why Fawcett stopped doing superhero comic books in the early 1950s was because sales were down a lot on their superhero books. The sales had gone low enough that they figured that it just no longer made financial sense to fight the lawsuit that they were dealing with with National Comics (DC) over Captain Marvel supposedly infringing on Superman's copyright. So the company just settled with National and ceased publishing new superhero comics. In other words, even twenty years earlier, sales weren't doing great on Captain Marvel comics, so to pick-up 20 years later wasn't necessarily like they were picking up from the series at the height of its popularity.
Secondly, the whole 20 years deal also meant that for a whole generation (or two, even!) of comic book fans, they didn't even know who Captain Marvel really was anymore.
Thirdly, the decision to keep the stories essentially stuck in the past and then have a very modern writer in Denny O'Neil write the book was a curious choice.
Whatever the reasoning, the book did not exactly launch off the shelves.
However, a year after the comic book debuted, Filmation also debuted a Shazam! TV series and that series was very popular...
The concept of the show was that young Billy Batson would travel the country in a mobile home with an older man named Mentor...
When they were in trouble, Billy would say his magic word, "Shazam!" and turn into Captain Marvel.
The show was a big hit and ran for three seasons of new episodes and continued in re-runs for a while after that (it was soon paired with a female riff on the Captain Marvel concept called Isis).
Since the show was such a success, it was only logical for DC to think, "Hey, maybe we should adapt the premise of our comic book to match the TV series?" And so that's precisely what they did...