Shazam! introduces the DC Extended Universe’s newest superhero, but what are his powers and how does his origin story compare to the comics? Created by writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck, the character now known as Shazam debuted in Fawcett Comics’ Whiz Comics #2 in February 1940. His creation was inspired by the success of DC Comics’ Superman but in his 1940s heyday, the red-clad superhero originally known as Captain Marvel was more popular and outsold the comics starring the Man of Steel.
Shazam is a pure wish fulfillment character. His hook is that a young boy named Billy Batson can simply say a magic word – “SHAZAM!” – and he is transformed by a magic bolt of lightning into the World’s Mightest Mortal, who possesses the combined powers of six mythical gods and heroes. Unlike characters like Superman and Batman, who were adults at the peak of their abilities, Shazam enabled the power fantasy of children to magically become heroes themselves. Shazam also fights evil alongside the Shazam Family (formerly known as the Marvel Family), where his Billy’s sister Mary and his friends like Freddy Freeman also could transform into heroes with similar powers and became his teammates, which broadened the character’s appeal.
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Shazam’s publishing history is complicated. A long legal dispute with DC led to the character’s cancellation and the bankruptcy of Fawcett Comics. As the rights to Shazam/Captain Marvel languished, rival publisher Marvel Comics assumed the copyright and created their own character in the 1960s named Captain Marvel – which eventually led to the Marvel Studios blockbuster feature film Captain Marvel. In the 1970s, DC began publishing comics about the original Captain Marvel under the title Shazam. For decades, both Marvel and DC claimed a hero named Captain Marvel until DC permanently renamed their hero Shazam in 2012.
But now that the World’s Mightest Mortal is starring in his own feature film directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), here’s what you need to know about how the movie changes his comic book origins, and what Shazam’s superpowers are:
- This Page: Shazam’s Comic Book Origin And Movie Changes
- Page 2: Shazam’s Powers Explained
Billy Batson’s Origin Story As Shazam In The Comics
The basic details in Whiz Comics #2 of how Billy Batson gained superpowers and became a champion for good have remained intact for almost 80 years. Billy, a 12-year-old orphan, is lured into an abandoned subway station where a magical subway car transported him to the Rock of Eternity, the magical lair of an ancient wizard named Shazam. By speaking Shazam’s name, a bolt of magic lightning transformed Billy into Captain Marvel, a superpowered adult in a red suit, yellow boots, and a white and gold cape, with a lightning symbol on his chest. Captain Marvel was charged with a mission to fight as a champion for good by the wizard, who promptly died (but eventually returned). Whiz Comics #2 also introduced Captain Marvel’s evil arch-enemy Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who will also oppose Billy in the Shazam! feature film, where he will be played by Mark Strong.
One of the aspects of Captain Marvel that made him unique was that he was no lone caped crusader – he soon spawned an entire family of similarly attired and powered heroes, the Marvel Family, which included his sister Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Uncle Marvel, etc. Billy’s origin story would also receive a few tweaks a few decades later: the 1987 miniseries Shazam! The New Beginning turned Dr. Sivana into his uncle and the 1994 Power of Shazam! graphic novel introduced Billy’s dead archeologist parents. Both of these soft reboots tied Shazam’s need for Billy to become a superhero to the emergence of Black Adam, the wizard’s original champion who turned evil. Dwayne Johnson was cast as Black Adam in the DCEU years ago and he is still expected to headline his own film starring the “Anti-Hero” before someday meeting Shazam in a movie.
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In 2012, Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank rebooted Shazam for DC Comics’ New 52 era: Billy is now a troubled 15-year-old full of attitude who comes to live in a group home in Philadelphia. When Dr. Sivana unleashes Black Adam, the ancient Wizard Shazam begins abducting people to find someone “pure of heart” who could be his champion. Shazam finds Billy by also bringing him via magical subway car to the Rock of Eternity, but the orphan convinces the wizard that perfectly good people don’t really exist. Desperate, Shazam decides the potential to be good is enough and gives Billy his powers, transforming him into the magical superhero now called Shazam, before the wizard died.
Billy quickly confides his new alter ego to Freddy Freeman, his roommate in the group home, and they exploit the benefits of Billy being in an adult superhero’s body before Black Adam attacks Shazam. The superhero not only had to battle Black Adam but also the Seven Deadly Sins, which Adam had unleashed on Philadelphia. Shazam did so by bestowing his powers on the other children in his group home – Freddy, Mary Bromfield, Pedro Peña, Eugene Choi, and Darla Dudley – turning them into the Shazam Family.
Shazam’s Origin Story In The Movie
The Shazam! movie closely follows the origin established by Johns and Frank’s New 52 comics: Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 15-year-old orphan in Philadelphia who comes to live in a group home run by Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vazquez (Marta Milans). Also living in the home are foster kids Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), who becomes Billy’s roommate, Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman).
Billy is rebellious and plots to run away from the home, but after he saves Freddy from school bullies, Billy runs into the subway where he’s magically transported to the Rock of Eternity – the source of all magic in the world. There, the ancient Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who is the last of the seven members of the Council of Wizards and is seeking a champion to pass his powers to, has chosen Billy to be his champion and say his name. Despite Billy mocking the name “Shazam”, the boy is transformed into the adult superhero version of himself played by Zachary Levi. Shazam’s mission is to battle Thaddeus Sivana, who unleashes the Seven Deadly Sins upon the world (the statues that once contained the evil sins in the Rock of Eternity are seen smashed in the trailer when Shazam recruits Billy).
In the original Fawcett comics, Captain Marvel actually switches places with Billy Batson after transformation and is a different person. The British comics series Marvelman, a.k.a. Miracleman in the United States, written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman explored this body-switching concept in disturbing detail. However, in the 1980s, DC Comics Captain Marvel/Shazam was rebooted to be Billy Batson in his perfect adult body. The Shazam! movie also follows suit so that Zachary Levi’s superhero is the idealized adult version of Asher Angel’s Billy, with a nod to the classic Tom Hanks film Big.
Page 2 of 2: Shazam’s Powers Explained
Shazam’s Powers Explained
Shazam’s awesome superpowers are magical in nature and he accesses them by saying the name “Shazam!”, which transforms Billy Batson into his adult alter ego via mystical lightning. Shazam’s powers are derived from six “immortal elders” who also lend the first initials of their names to the anagram “SHAZAM”. Although his abilities bear many similarities to Superman, as they are both super strong, super fast, and able to fly, Shazam has several powers the Man of Steel lacks:
- Solomon grants Shazam his wisdom. In the comics, the wisdom of Solomon gives Billy access to scholarly knowledge as well as the ability to translate foreign languages and other benefits of mental acuity. Shazam can also use Solomon’s wisdom to hypnotize people. It remains to be seen how much of Solomon’s wisdom Billy will utilize in the film – but he certainly realizes that with his adult body, he’s able to buy beer.
- Hercules grants Shazam his sheer physical strength. In the comics, Shazam is known as the World’s Mightiest Mortal and his strength is on a par with Superman’s. In the film, we know Shazam is strong enough to catch a falling bus but it’s very likely his might far exceeds even that impressive feat.
- Atlas grants Shazam his stamina. Shazam is impervious to most forms of physical injury and possesses superhuman endurance. The Shazam! trailer clearly establishes that bullets bounce off of him the same way they do Superman.
- Zeus grants Shazam his power, specifically the power of lightning. Shazam is a magical superhero and can summon the mystical lightning of the king of the Greek gods as an offensive weapon (or to charge people’s cell phones). He can use the lightning to transform back and forth from Billy Batson and in the comics, he can also transfer his power to others using Zeus’ lightning.
- Achilles grants Shazam his courage in battle as well as his fighting skills. Shazam faces monsters and magical menaces without fear, although in the film, Shazam is also really a 15-year-old boy and he has to overcome his fears to access the courage of Achilles.
- Mercury grants Shazam his speed and the ability to fly. Shazam can move at superhuman speeds both on foot and flying through the air. In the comics, Shazam can fly at the speed of light; it remains to be seen how fast the movie’s Shazam can fly (and whether Superman will need to race him someday like he did the Flash in Justice League).
However, Shazam is much more than a magical version of Superman and, in the comics, he has performed many other amazing feats. For instance, the wisdom of Solomon grants him clairvoyance of when danger is present and lets him see through illusions and even through evil schemes. Shazam had “Marvel Breath”, which could either be freeze breath or fire breath. Because he possesses the Wizard Shazam’s magic, he can also cast spells (he once conjured a ping pong table for Justice League headquarters). Shazam can also use the lightning to teleport, either to the Rock of Eternity or elsewhere, if he chooses not to fly. It remains to be seen whether Billy will wield any of these other powers in Shazam!
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