Are you worried that when DC’s “Shazam!” comes out April 5 that you won’t be conversational about him? Take heart! Here are nine fun facts to know and tell about Shazam:
1. As the internet keeps reminding us, Shazam was called Captain Marvel when he debuted in late 1939. The star of Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” movie is the ninth comic book character to use that handle.
2. The reason there have been so many Captain Marvels is that the original was sued out of business by Superman. Seriously, when Fawcett Comics debuted their dark-haired, flying strongman with a reporter as his alter ego, the company that owned the Man of Steel (now known as DC Comics) filed a copyright-infringement lawsuit. Fawcett later folded.
3. Billy Batson was and is the character’s alter ego, a tweenage orphan who was judged by the 3,000-year-old wizard Shazam to be worthy of being his champion. Billy could call down magic lightning (“BOOM!”) to transform him into the adult, superpowered Captain Marvel by saying the wizard’s name. In his first story, he also became a roving radio reporter for station WHIZ.
4. After Fawcett called it quits, the name “Captain Marvel” slipped into public domain, and ended up being trademarked by Marvel Comics in 1967. Ironically, DC Comics bought the copyright to the original Captain Marvel, but were too late for the trademark. Marvel had it. The result was that they were allowed to publish the original Captain Marvel, but couldn’t use his name on a cover or title a comic book with it. So DC opted to publish a book titled “Shazam!” with the original character still called Captain Marvel on the inside. In 2011, they gave up and just renamed the character “Shazam.”
5. Another of the original Captain Marvel’s greatest achievements is that he beat Superman to the silver screen, with the “Adventures of Captain Marvel” movie serial in 1941. It was followed by “Batman” (1943), “Captain America” (1944) and “Superman” (1948). “Adventures of Captain Marvel” is still considered one of the best movie serials ever made.
6. Elvis Presley was such a fan that he modeled some of his stage jumpsuits on Captain Marvel Jr.’s costume. Elvis’ “Taking Care of Business” logo is a modified version of Captain Marvel Jr.’s magic lightning.
7. The U.K. had its own version of the original Captain Marvel in the 1950s. L. Miller Sons had been reprinting Fawcett’s Captain Marvel material overseas when it got a cease-and-desist order from DC after it won the court battle. Instead of quitting, it made its own version, where a young reporter named Michael Moran could transform into the atomic-powered Marvelman by saying the magic word “Kimota” (“atomic” backwards, sort of).
8. Marvelman was revived in the 1980s with writer Alan Moore (“Watchmen”), in a disturbing, subversive take on the concept. When it was reprinted by Eclipse Comics in the U.S., the name was changed to Miracleman to avoid problems with Marvel. Ironically, Marvel later bought the rights, and is reprinting the book as Miracleman, although obviously it could call him Marvelman if it wanted to.
9. Many Shazam comics are well worth reading. The 1940s reprints are clean, lighthearted fun. Various reboots over the decades, such as the ’90s “Power of Shazam” series by writer/artist Jerry Ordway, still maintain much of the strip’s core appeal. The current “Shazam!” title is written by Geoff Johns, former chief creative officer at DC Comics, and a writer/producer on DC’s TV and film content.