The trailer to the latest superhero film dropped at San Diego Comic Con 2018 and inspired the question of "Who is Shazam and why is he in a movie?" The internet had previously spawned some debate about whether or not Shazam! was a remake of a movie starring a genie played by Shaquille O'Neal (this was in fact Shazaam and starred the comedian Sinbad). It seemed that audiences were not too familiar with the superhero that once outshone Superman, and was the focus of the very first superhero film in 1941. Shazam was once known as the original Captain Marvel, published by Fawcett Comics in 1940. His alter ego was Billy Batson, a homeless orphan boy who could, upon uttering the word "Shazam!", transform into a grown man with unlimited powers. Shazam was in fact the name of the 3,000 year old wizard that granted him these abilities, based on the good nature he observed in Billy's conscience. As Shazam, he rivaled Superman for strength, speed, agility, durability, and heroism. Because of legality issues involving Fawcett, Marvel, and DC Comics over the course of Captain Marvel's run, Captain Marvel became known as Shazam after the '70s.
Shazam! is a superhero film that looks at the superhero origin story through the wonder of a child's eyes, and is somewhat of an antithesis to the darker films that DC Studios have been releasing in recent years. It shows what would happen if the wish of every comic fan came true (the sudden gift of superpowers), and the repercussions of it. If given that much extraordinary power, is it anyone's responsibility to be a superhero? It soars into theaters on April 5, 2019, and stars Zachary Levi as Shazam, Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Mark Strong as Doctor Sivana, and Ron Cephas Jones as the Wizard.
20 SHAZAM IS AN ACRONYM
Shazam is more than just a superhero name, and more than an incantation -- it’s also an acronym. Each letter contained in “Shazam” references all of the heightened powers and abilities that Billy Batson will have once he transforms into his namesake.
When Billy utters the phrase “Shazam!”, a lightning bolt strikes him and he metamorphosizes into an adult possessing 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. Thus making him Captain Marvel, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, by the great wizard Shazam due to his selfless nature.
19 HE’S ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL DC SUPERHEROES
When Billy Batson says, “Shazam!”, he acquires the abilities of six immortal heroes. From Solomon, he gains a vast amount of knowledge and intelligence, and an understanding of most known languages and sciences. From Hercules, he gains the strength of a demi-god and can, like Superman, lift trucks, bend steel, and even on occasion move planets. From Atlas he gets stamina, allowing him to survive any physical assault.
From Zeus, he gains the power to resist all magical attacks, and use lightning bolts as weapons. From Achilles, he gains courage and bravery, as well as excellent hand to hand combat skills. And finally from Mercury, he gains superhuman speed, sometimes faster than the speed of light.
18 HE WAS THE FIRST CAPTAIN MARVEL
Prior to Carol Danvers being known as the penultimate Captain Marvel, Shazam had the title. Originally published by Fawcett Comics, Captain Marvel first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 in 1940, and became more popular than even DC’s Superman. It may have been what inspired DC to sue Fawcett for copyright infringement in 1953, insisting the character's superhuman abilities were too similar to be a coincidence.
It wouldn’t be until 1973 when DC purchased all the rights to Captain Marvel and returned it to publication that Captain Marvel would return to comics. Except that by that time Marvel had already developed its own Captain Marvel character, forcing DC to change the name of theirs to something else: Shazam.
17 HE COULD TAKE DOWN SUPERMAN
Despite having a professional working relationship and being members of the Justice League, Superman and Shazam have come to blows before. When an elderly Lex Luthor tried to use a mind controlled Shazam to take out Superman during Kingdom Come, comic fans got to see just how much damage the Big Red Cheese could do to the Big Blue Boys Scout.
Normally, Shazam’s alter ego Billy Batson looks up to Superman, and as Shazam he does possess similar abilities to him. But Superman has always been wary of a boy who gets given extraordinary power without knowing how to use it properly. Therefore, he tries to eliminate conflict by being a mentor to him.
16 HIS MAIN NEMESIS IS DR. SIVANA
The first appearance of Shazam/Captain Marvel also saw the first appearance of his archenemy, Dr. Sivana in Whiz Comics #2. He’s a mad scientist who, after being shunned by his peers for conducting dangerous and unstable experiments, takes his family to Venus until Earth is “ready for his science.”
It’s not explicitly stated why Thaddeus Sivana hates Captain Marvel so much, except for the fact that the superhero was the first to stop him from stealing $50,000 to fund his experiments. He’ll be played by Mark Strong in the Shazam film, who will hopefully spout his famous catchphrase, “Curses! Foiled again!”
15 HE’S A KID THAT TURNS INTO AN ADULT INSTANTLY
Ever read comics about incredibly powerful superheroes like Superman and wonder what it would be like to have their abilities, only knowing you’ll never find out because you weren’t born on Krypton? Or maybe that knowing becoming Batman requires years of training? Billy Batson lives every kid’s (and adult’s!) dream of being able to have superpowers the instant he says the magical phrase, “Shazam!”.
When a mysterious wizard saw Billy’s just heart and granted him the ability to become a superhero, he failed to mention that it also gave Billy a superhero physique. With the mind of a child but the body of a man, Billy fought both crime AND the bullies that picked on him at school.
14 HE KNOWS A TALKING TIGER
In the original Shazam comics, a stuffed tiger belonging to Billy magically came to life and took the named Tawky Tawny. Now a humanoid tiger, Tawky wished to live among the humans and be part of civilized society. He wore a nice tweed suit, adopted a dignified demeanor, and took a fancy to martinis.
At first, Tawky was only visible to Shazam and the rest of his family, but he was made real to everyone by Ibis the Invincible. He’s able to change from a “regular” looking sapient tiger to a large, savage sabre-tooth tiger in times of danger. Though he may not be seen in the 2019 film, Shazam’s cape is fastened by two tiger head clasps in homage.
13 HE COULD TAKE ON BATMAN
Though they’re both members of the Justice League, as with Superman, Shazam has had his quarrels with the Caped Crusader as well. Batman is wary of individuals with too much power, never trusting them to make decisions in the best interest of anyone but themselves lest their power be taken away. Like Superman, Batman believes that Billy Batson doesn’t always utilize his extraordinary powers responsibly.
Batman stands little chance against Shazam, being human and blessed with only high intelligence, gadgets, and training. Batman’s only resort is to appeal to the immature nature of Shazam, manifested from his alter ego, who has the maturity of a young boy.
12 HIS MENTOR IS A WIZARD
Originally, Shazam was not the name of the superhero Billy Batson transformed into, but rather the mage that gave him the power to do so. The ancient wizard was named Shazam, and he had observed the orphan boy protecting oppressed children at school, believing him a worthy replacement for him once he passed from this world.
Shazam is 3,000 years old and hails from ancient Egypt, where he used his mystical powers to fight the forces of evil. His true name is Mamaragan, and though he expires soon after giving Billy the power to become a superhero, he is able to be summoned for guidance as a spirit with the lighting of a brazier in Shazam’s lair.
11 THE ROCK WILL BE PART OF THE SHAZAM CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
Though Black Adam is one of Shazam’s greatest nemesis, he won’t be making his appearance in Shazam. Instead, Shazam’s fight with Dr. Sivana will be the focus of the 2019 film, with The Rock starring in his own standalone Black Adam feature in 2020.
Black Adam was the first champion of the wizard Shazam, who acquired his powers in 1200 BC in Egypt. His powers were stripped from him after he murdered the previous ruler of the nation of Kahndaq, forcing him to return in a reincarnated form later. It’s believed that Black Adam was the one that took away Billy Batson’s parents, and why he becomes Shazam’s greatest foe.
10 THE 2019 FILM STARS ZACHARY LEVI
Most people know Zachary Levi from the series Chuck, in which he starred as Chuck Bartowski, a computer geek who downloads critical government secrets into his brain, forcing the CIA to assign agents to protect him at all times. He’s also known as providing the voice of Flynn Ryder in the Disney movie Tangled, and was Fandral in Thor: The Dark World.
Zachary Levi brings jocularity to the role of Billy Batson once he’s transformed into Shazam. He captures the wonder of a child suddenly granted extraordinary power, but not having the experience to use it, much like Tom Hanks in the movie Big, about a wizard in a carnival game that grants a frustrated boy the wish of being turned into an adult.
9 HE WASN’T ALWAYS PUBLISHED BY DC
Shazam first appeared as the superhero Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics #2, published by Fawcett Comics in 1940. At one point, Captain Marvel was even more popular than Superman in the ‘40s. By 1953, however, Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel stories when DC Comics threatened to sue them for copyright infringement, claiming the character was a copy of Superman.
Captain Marvel returned to publication in 1972 when DC purchased the rights to all the characters under the Marvel Family banner. Funnily enough, Marvel Comics now had its own character called Captain Marvel it had unveiled in the years in which the character name wasn’t in use, forcing DC to change the name of its Captain Marvel to Shazam.
8 HE WAS THE FIRST SUPERHERO ON FILM
In 1941, Shazam appeared as Captain Marvel in the first superhero film, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, produced by Republic Pictures. It in, Captain Marvel takes on The Scorpion, a masked criminal that utilizes a giant mechanical scorpion with articulated legs and a giant “eye” that when focused shoots a dangerous ray.
The storyline follows Billy Batson on an archeological expedition where The Golden Scorpion is contained in a tomb, but is soon robbed. Billy is the only one who doesn’t disobey the tomb’s warning of an ancient curse, and so the wizard Shazam helps him become Captain Marvel only to protect those that face the curse. When it is no longer a threat, he becomes Billy Batson again forever.
7 HE’S THE YOUNGEST MEMBER OF THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
Occasionally in the ‘70s, when superhero comics were seeing something of a resurgence in popularity, Shazam would make appearances in the Justice League of America series, without being an official member until the late ‘80s when he was inducted by Superman.
In 2013, when Shazam’s origins got changed to greater reflect the mysticism inherent in his narrative, he was inducted into the Justice League by its founding member Cyborg after the events of the Forever Evil series. He’s technically the youngest member of the League since the vast majority of the time, unless he’s fighting crime or saving the world, he’s Billy Batson and just a kid.
6 HE HAD THE FIRST SUPERHERO FAMILY
Before other superhero families became well known, Shazam/Captain Marvel was part of the Marvel Family. Though Billy Batson is the most noted wielder of the powers given to him by the wizard Shazam, there are other members of his family that share the ability. His foster siblings and his biological sister acquired the same super abilities he did.
His brother Freddy Freeman can be seen in the trailer for Shazam, but it’s unknown if he’ll display powers or not. In the comics, he became known as Captain Marvel Jr., and remained in kid form even as he transformed into a superhero. His sister Mary Batson became Mary Marvel, and also remained a child. When DC developed a multiverse, the Marvel Family’s storylines were extended.
5 HE’S BEEN MOSTLY SEEN IN CARTOONS
Until fans heard that Shazam would be getting a new origin movie in 2019, they had to be content watching him in animated versions. In the ‘70s, series geared towards children needed to be educational, which unfortunately at that time didn’t include the at times goofy antics of Shazam. But in 1981, Shazam was part of the Kid Super Power Hour in a series of popular shorts, which suited the blend of action and comedy Shazam comic books were known for.
Most recently, Shazam has made appearances on Justice League Unlimited and one of many Batman animated series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It remains to be seen if after the film comes out he gets his own animated series to continue his adventures.
4 HE’S HAD TWO TV SHOWS
Shazam began his television career as an action-packed Saturday morning special. The series began in 1974 as part of CBS’ Saturday morning line-up, and in 1976 would be a part of The Shazam/Isis hour, which featured the superheroine Isis, the Egyptian goddess reincarnated as a school teacher.
In the series, Billy Batson (Michael Gray) is a teenager who transforms into Captain Marvel (John Davey) by saying “Shazam”. He travels the country in a 1973 Dodge motorhome, looking for injustices to solve, mentored by the spirits of immortal heroes like Hercules and Zeus. Unfortunately, kids’ programming was geared more towards being educational than having action so it was cancelled.
3 HE HAS A WORLD IN THE DC MULTIVERSE
In some ways, the beginning of Captain Marvel/Shazam as a DC character revolved around him having his own universe to inhabit as part of DC’s multiverse. Originally published by Fawcett Comics, DC purchased all the rights to Captain Marvel when Fawcett decided to sell it rather than face copyright infringement due to his similarities to Superman. With the deal they get Captain Marvel as well as the whole Marvel Family.
The Marvel Family lived in a parallel world called “Earth-S”. Eventually, at the time of the famous Crisis on Infinite Earths series, Captain Marvel and is family were fully integrated into the DC Universe.
2 HE HAS A DOPPELGANGER IN BRITAIN
Captain Marvel had a period of time where it wasn’t published in America, but continued on in England for a time with L. Miller and Son, a publishing house that specialized in reprints. With the help of new writers, they simply developed another superhero that was suspiciously similar in appearance to Captain Marvel called Marvelman and kept the adventures coming.
Instead of “Shazam!” being the magical phrase their main antagonist uttered, it was “Kimota!” (Atomik backwards). Even famous British comic writer Alan Moore briefly penned Marvelman in the early ‘80s. In 2009, it was Marvel, and not DC Comics, that obtained the rights to all Marvelman material and characters.
1 A TRILOGY OF SHAZAM FILMS IS PLANNED
The 2019 Shazam film will be the first installment in a planned trilogy of films featuring the titular character. Zachary Levi will portray Shazam, and Asher Angel will be Billy Batson, his alter ego. It will show the origins of the character, how the wizard Shazam gave him his powers, and how he learns to use them to fight crime.
A second film in 2020 will feature Black Adam, one of Shazam’s main enemies, starring The Rock as Black Adam. It will be depict the origins of the character in Ancient Egypt, when the wizard Shazam first entrusted his powers to another. The third film in the trilogy will depict the conflict between Shazam and Black Adam, and has an unknown release date.