NPR's Glen Weldon recounts the history of the Marvel Family, and wonders why Captain Marvel, whose comics once out-sold Superman's, isn't more popular.
"He's what other superheroes would be if they, like him, had skipped the '60s altogether," Weldon writes, "when superheroes began to develop personalities and -- as rapidly followed -- neuroses. He's what other superheroes would look like, if they weren't so heavily encumbered by the years of backstory and tortured exegesis that we middle-aged comic book fans eagerly pore over like Talmudic scholars.
"No wonder the theology of his origin doesn't scan, and he sports a mysterious, quasi-military title, and that he's friends with talking tigers. Captain Marvel is what Billy Batson -- and kids like him, if they still exist -- imagine, when they image a superhero."
Weldon sees promise, though, in the all-ages Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which jettisons continuity and modern-superhero seriousness in favor of an attitude more closely akin to, "Lighten up, nerds, comics should be fun. Hey, look! A bunny in a cape!"