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Captain Marvel (DC Comics)

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Background Information

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Captain Marvel
The traditional Captain Marvel, painted by Alex Ross.
Publication information
Publisher Fawcett Comics (1939–1953)
DC Comics (1972–present)
First appearance Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940)
Created by C. C. Beck
Bill Parker
In-story information
Alter ego William Joseph "Billy" Batson
Team affiliations Marvel Family
Justice League
Justice Society of America
Squadron of Justice
Young Justice
Notable aliases Captain Thunder, Shazam, Marvel, Black Billy
Abilities Magically bestowed aspects of various archetypal figures, including:
Super-strength, speed, stamina and courage
Physical and magical invulnerability
Vast wisdom and enhanced intellect
Control over and emission of magic lightning

Captain Marvel, also known as Shazam, is a fictional comic book superhero, originally published by Fawcett Comics and later by DC Comics. Created in 1939 by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, the character first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940). With a premise that taps adolescent fantasy, Captain Marvel is the alter ego of Billy Batson, a youth who works as a radio news reporter and was chosen to be a champion of good by the wizard Shazam. Whenever Billy speaks the wizard's name, he is struck by a magic lightning bolt that transforms him into an adult superhero empowered with the abilities of six archetypal, historical figures. Several friends and family members, most notably Marvel Family cohorts Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr., can share Billy's power and become "Marvels" themselves.

Hailed as "The World's Mightiest Mortal" in his adventures, Captain Marvel was nicknamed "The Big Red Cheese" by arch-villain Doctor Sivana, an epithet later adopted by Captain Marvel's fans. Based on sales, Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero of the 1940s, as his Captain Marvel Adventures comic book series sold more copies than Superman and the other competing books of the time. Captain Marvel was also the first comic book superhero to be adapted to film, in a 1941 Republic Pictures serial titled Adventures of Captain Marvel.

Fawcett ceased publishing Captain Marvel-related comics in 1953, due in part to a copyright infringement suit from DC Comics alleging that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman. In 1972, DC licensed the Marvel Family characters and returned them to publication, acquiring all rights to the characters by 1991. DC has since integrated Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family into their DC Universe, and have attempted to revive the property several times with mixed success.

Because Marvel Comics trademarked their Captain Marvel comic book during the interim between the original Captain Marvel's Fawcett years and DC years, DC has used the trademark Shazam! to promote the property since 1972, instead of the name "Captain Marvel". Consequently, Captain Marvel himself has often been referred to as "Shazam", leading to DC to rename the character as such with their New 52 relaunch in 2012.

Captain Marvel was ranked as the 55th greatest comic book character of all time by Wizard magazine. IGN also ranked Captain Marvel as the 50th greatest comic book hero of all time stating that Captain Marvel will always be an enduring reminder of a simpler time. UGO Networks also placed him as one of the top heroes of entertainment quoting, "At his best, Shazam has always been Superman with a sense of crazy, goofy fun".

Publication history

Development and inspirations

Whiz Comics #2 (Feb. 1940), the first appearance of Captain Marvel. Cover art by C. C. Beck.

After the success of National Comics' new superhero characters Superman and Batman, Fawcett Publications in 1939 started its own comics division. Fawcett recruited writer Bill Parker to create several hero characters for the first title in their line, tentatively titled Flash Comics. Besides penning stories featuring Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher, Golden Arrow, Lance O'Casey, Scoop Smith, and Dan Dare for the new book, Parker also wrote a story about a team of six superheroes, each possessing a special power granted to them by a mythological figure. Fawcett Comics' executive director Ralph Daigh decided it would be best to combine the team of six into one hero who would embody all six powers. Parker responded by creating a character he called "Captain Thunder." Staff artist Charles Clarence "C. C." Beck was recruited to design and illustrate Parker's story, rendering it in a direct, somewhat cartoony style that became his trademark. "When Bill Parker and I went to work on Fawcett’s first comic book in late 1939, we both saw how poorly written and illustrated the superhero comic books were," Beck told an interviewer. "We decided to give our reader a real comic book, drawn in comic-strip style and telling an imaginative story, based not on the hackneyed formulas of the pulp magazine, but going back to the old folk-tales and myths of classic times."

The first issue of the comic book, printed as both Flash Comics #1 and Thrill Comics #1, had a low-print run in the fall of 1939 as an ashcan copy created for advertising and trademark purposes. Shortly after its printing, however, Fawcett found it could not trademark "Captain Thunder," "Flash Comics," or "Thrill Comics," because all three names were already in use. Consequently, the book was renamed Whiz Comics, and Fawcett artist Pete Costanza suggested changing Captain Thunder's name to "Captain Marvelous", which the editors shortened to "Captain Marvel." The word balloons in the story were re-lettered to label the hero of the main story as "Captain Marvel." Whiz Comics #2 ( cover-dated Feb. 1940) was published in late 1939.

Inspirations for Captain Marvel came from a number of sources. His visual appearance was modeled after that of Fred MacMurray, a popular American actor of the period., though comparisons to both Cary Grant and Jack Oakie were made as well. Fawcett Publications' founder, Wilford H. Fawcett, was nicknamed "Captain Billy," which inspired the name "Billy Batson" and Marvel's title as well. Fawcett's earliest magazine was titled Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, which inspired the title Whiz Comics. In addition, Fawcett adapted several of the elements that had made Superman, the first popular comic book superhero, popular (super strength and speed, science-fiction stories, a mild-mannered reporter alter ego), and incorporated them into Captain Marvel. Fawcett's circulation director Roscoe Kent Fawcett recalled telling the staff, "give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10- or 12-year-old boy rather than a man."

As a result, Captain Marvel was given a twelve-year-old boy named Billy Batson as his alter ego. In the origin story printed in Whiz Comics #2, Billy, a homeless newsboy, is led by a mysterious stranger to a secret subway tunnel. An odd subway car with no visible driver takes them past Seven statues depicting the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness and Injustice) to the lair of the wizard Shazam, who grants Billy the power to become the adult superhero Captain Marvel and shows him his life, after which a stone above Shazam's head crushes him, although his ghost says he will give advice when a brazier is lighted. In order to transform into Captain Marvel, Billy must speak the wizard's name, an acronym for the six various legendary figures who had agreed to grant aspects of themselves to a willing subject: 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. Speaking the word produces a bolt of magic lightning which transforms Billy into Captain Marvel; speaking the word again reverses the transformation with another bolt of lightning.

Captain Marvel wore a bright red costume with gold trim and a yellow lightning bolt insignia on the chest. The body suit originally included a partial bib front, but was changed to a one-piece skintight suit within a year. In 1994, the DC Comics version of the costume had the partial bib restored. The costume also included a white-collared cape trimmed with gold flower symbols, usually asymmetrically thrown over the left shoulder and held around his neck by a gold cord. The cape came from the ceremonial cape worn by the British nobility, photographs of which appeared in newspapers in the 1930s.

In addition to introducing the main character and his alter ego, Captain Marvel's first adventure in Whiz Comics #2 also introduced his archenemy, the evil Doctor Sivana, and found Billy Batson talking his way into a job as an on-air radio reporter. Captain Marvel was an instant success, with Whiz Comics #2 selling over 500,000 copies. By 1941, he had his own solo series, Captain Marvel Adventures, while continuing to appear in Whiz Comics as well. He also made periodic appearances in other Fawcett books, including Master Comics.

Fawcett years: The Marvel Family, allies, and enemies

Through his adventures, Captain Marvel soon gained a host of enemies. His most frequent foe was Doctor Sivana, a mad scientist who was determined to rule the world, yet was thwarted by Captain Marvel at every turn. He had two non-evil children, the beautiful Beautia, who loved Captain Marvel, and the superstrong Magnificus. Sivana's evil children, Georgia and Sivana, Jr., were later introduced to the comics, and they resembled their father both physically and mentally. Marvel's other villains included Adolf Hitler's champion Captain Nazi, an older Egyptian renegade Marvel called Black Adam (whose sole Golden Age appearance was in Marvel Family #1), an evil magic-powered brute named Ibac, who gained powers from historical villains, and an artificially intelligent nuclear-powered robot called Mister Atom. The most notorious Captain Marvel villains, however, were the nefarious Mister Mind and his Monster Society of Evil, which recruited several of Marvel's previous adversaries. The "Monster Society of Evil" story arc ran as a twenty-five chapter serial in Captain Marvel Adventures #22–46 (March 1943 – May 1945), with Mister Mind eventually revealed to be a highly intelligent yet tiny worm from another planet. The Monster Society was the first criminal group in comics with members from past stories, including Sivana, Ibac, and Captain Nazi, along with new foes, like Herkimer the crocodile man and a multi-headed Hydra. Even Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were members, along with other Nazis. The Society tried many plans, firstly trying to use Captain Nazi to steal magic fortune-telling pearls, using a film to intimidate the world, and even trying to use a giant cannon to blow holes in countries. Mr. Mind is eventually executed in the electric chair for 186,744 murders at the end of the arc, but would be reintroduced decades later in DC Comics' Shazam! #2.

In the early 1940s, Captain Marvel also gained allies in the Marvel Family, a collective of superheroes with powers and/or costumes similar to Captain Marvel's. (By comparison, Superman spin-off character Superboy first appeared in 1944, while Supergirl first appeared in 1959). Whiz Comics #21 (September 1941) marked the debut of the Lieutenant Marvels, the alter egos of three other boys (all also named Billy Batson) who found that, by saying "Shazam!" in unison, they too could become Marvels. In Whiz Comics #25 (December 1941), a friend named Freddy Freeman, mortally wounded by an attack from Captain Nazi, was given the power to become teenage boy superhero Captain Marvel, Jr., with a distinctive gold on blue version of the Marvel costume. A year later in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 1942), Billy and Freddy met Billy's long-lost twin sister Mary Bromfield, who discovered she could, by saying the magic word "Shazam," become the teenaged superheroine Mary Marvel, although the pre- Crisis Mary Marvel got her power from "goddesses."

Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel, Jr., were featured as a team in a new comic series entitled The Marvel Family. This was published alongside the other Captain Marvel-related titles, which now included Wow Comics featuring Mary, Master Comics featuring Junior, and both Mary Marvel Comics and Captain Marvel Jr. Comics. Non-super-powered Marvels such as the "lovable con artist" Uncle Marvel and his niece, Freckles Marvel, also sometimes joined the other Marvels on their adventures. A funny animal spin-off, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, was created in 1942 for Fawcett's Funny Animals comics, and later given a series of his own.

As with other superheroes, Captain Marvel had a number of non-powered friends and associates as well. These included Mr. Morris, Billy's employer at WHIZ radio; Joan Jameson, Billy's secretary (and one of the few people to know his secret identity); Beautia Sivana, Dr. Sivana's good-natured adult daughter who had a crush on Captain Marvel and only periodically joined forces with her father (and usually by force); and Dexter Knox, an intelligent young scientist who was a friend of Billy's friends. The most prolific of Captain Marvel's supporting characters at Fawcett was Mister Tawky Tawny, an anthropomorphic tiger who'd been fed a serum that allowed him to learn to speak and stand upright.

The members of the Marvel Family often teamed up with the other Fawcett superheroes, who included Ibis the Invincible, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Spy Smasher, Minute-Man, and Mr. Scarlet and Pinky. Among the many artists and writers who worked on the Marvel Family stories alongside C. C. Beck and main writer Otto Binder were Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Mac Raboy, Pete Costanza, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Marc Swayze.

Marvelman (and Miracleman)

In the 1950s, a small British publisher, L. Miller and Son, published a number of black-and-white reprints of American comic books, including the Captain Marvel series. With the outcome of the National v. Fawcett lawsuit, L. Miller and Son found their supply of Captain Marvel material abruptly cut off. They requested the help of a British comic writer, Mick Anglo, who created a thinly disguised version of the superhero called Marvelman. Captain Marvel, Jr., was adapted to create Young Marvelman, while Mary Marvel had her gender changed to create the male Kid Marvelman. The magic word "Shazam!" was replaced with "Kimota ("Atomik" spelled backwards). The new characters took over the numbering of the original Captain Marvel's United Kingdom series with issue number #25.

Marvelman ceased publication in 1963, but was revived in 1982 by writer Alan Moore in the pages of Warrior Magazine. Beginning in 1985, Moore's black-and-white serialized adventures were reprinted in colour by Eclipse Comics under the new title Miracleman (as Marvel Comics now existed and objected to the use of "Marvel" in the title), and continued publication in the United States after Warrior's demise. Within the metatextual storyline of the comic series itself, it was noted that Marvelman's creation was based upon Captain Marvel comics, by both Alan Moore and later Marvelman/Miracleman writer Neil Gaiman. In 2009, Marvel Comics obtained the rights to the original 1950s Marvelman characters and stories.

The M. F. Enterprises Captain Marvel

In 1966, M. F. Enterprises produced their own Captain Marvel: an android superhero from another planet whose main characteristic was the ability to split his body into several parts, each of which could move on its own. He triggered the separation by shouting "Split!" and reassembled himself by shouting "Xam!" He had a young human ward named Billy Baxton. This Captain Marvel, who did not last long, was credited in the comic as being "based on a character created by Carl Burgos."

DC Comics' Shazam! revival

When superhero comics became popular again in the mid-1960s in what is now called the Silver Age of Comic Books, Fawcett was unable to revive Captain Marvel, having agreed never to publish the character again in order to settle the lawsuit. Carmine Infantino, publisher of DC Comics, licensed the characters from Fawcett in 1972, and DC began planning a revival. Because Marvel Comics had by this time established Captain Marvel as a comic book trademark, DC published their book under the name Shazam! Since then, that title has become so linked to Captain Marvel that many people have taken to identifying the character as "Shazam" instead of his actual name.

The Shazam! comic series began with Shazam #1, dated February 1973. It contained both new stories and reprints from the 1940s and 1950s. The first story attempted to explain the Marvel Family's absence by stating that they, Dr. Sivana, Sivana's children, and most of the supporting cast had been accidentally trapped in suspended animation for twenty years when the Sivanas attempted to put the Marvels into suspended animation, until finally breaking free when the Suspendium globe moved towards the Sun.

Dennis O'Neil was the primary writer of the book; his role was later taken over by writers Elliot S. Maggin and E. Nelson Bridwell. C. C. Beck drew stories for the first ten issues of the book before quitting due to creative differences; Bob Oksner and Fawcett alumnus Kurt Schaffenberger were among the later artists of the title.

With DC's Multiverse concept in effect during this time, it was stated that the revived Marvel Family and related characters lived within the DC Universe on the parallel world of "Earth-S". While the series began with a great deal of fanfare, the book had a lackluster reception. The creators themselves had misgivings; Beck said, "As an illustrator I could, in the old days, make a good story better by bringing it to life with drawings. But I couldn't bring the new [Captain Marvel] stories to life no matter how hard I tried." Shazam! was heavily rewritten as of issue #34 (April 1978), with Bridwell providing more realistic stories, accompanied by similar art, the first issue by Alan Weiss and Joe Rubinstein, and thereafter by Don Newton, a longtime fan of the character, and Schaffenberger. Nevertheless, the next issue was the last one, though the feature was kept alive in a back-up position in the Dollar Comics formatted run of World's Finest Comics (from #253, October/November 1978, to #282, August 1982, skipping only #271, which featured a full-length origin of the Superman-Batman team story). Schaffenberger left the feature after #259, and the inking credit subsequently varied. When WFC reverted to the standard 36 pages, leftover Shazam! material saw publication in Adventure Comics (#491-492, September–October 1982); the remaining eleven issues of that run contained reprints, Shazam! represented by mostly Fawcett era stories (left out of an all Legion of Super-Heroes #500, and the final #503, where two features were doubled up to complete their respective story arcs). All-New Collectors' Edition #C-58 (April 1978) featured a "Superman vs. Shazam!" story by writer Gerry Conway and artists Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano. With their 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series, DC fully integrated the characters into the DC Universe. Prior to Crisis, the characters appeared a few times as guest stars in the Justice League of America series (vol. 1).

Captain Marvel in the late 1980s

The first post-Crisis appearance of Captain Marvel was in the 1986 Legends miniseries. In 1987, Captain Marvel appeared as a member of the Justice League in Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis' relaunch of that title. That same year (spinning-off from Legends), he was also given his own miniseries titled Shazam! The New Beginning. With this four-issue miniseries, writers Roy and Dann Thomas and artist Tom Mandrake attempted to re-launch the Captain Marvel mythos and bring the wizard Shazam, Dr. Sivana, Uncle Dudley, and Black Adam into the modern DC Universe with an altered origin story.

The most notable change that Thomas, Giffen, and DeMatteis introduced into the Captain Marvel mythos was that the personality of young Billy Batson is retained when he transforms into the Captain; this change would remain for most future uses of the character as justification for his sunny, Golden-Age personality in the darker modern-day comic book world instead of the Golden Age depiction which tended to treat Captain Marvel and Billy as two separate personalities.

This revised version of Captain Marvel also appeared in one story-arc featured in the short-lived anthology Action Comics Weekly #623–626 (October 25, 1988 – November 15, 1988). At the end of the arc, it was announced that this would lead to a new Shazam! ongoing series, which failed to materialize.

The Power of Shazam!

DC finally purchased the rights to all of the Fawcett Comics characters in 1991. In 1994, due to the unpopular revision of the character from 1987's Shazam: The New Beginning miniseries, Captain Marvel was retconned again and given a revised origin in The Power of Shazam!, a painted graphic novel written and illustrated by Jerry Ordway. This story became Captain Marvel's official DC Universe origin story (with his appearances in Legends and Justice League still counting as part of this continuity).

Ordway's story more closely followed Captain Marvel's Fawcett origins, with only slight additions and changes. For example, in this version of the origin, it is Black Adam (in his non-powered form of Theo Adam) who killed Billy Batson's parents, and the "mysterious stranger" who leads Billy to the subway tunnel with statues of the Sins and the wizard Shazam is revealed to be the ghost of his father. The graphic novel was a critically acclaimed success, leading to a Power of Shazam! ongoing series which ran from 1995 to 1999. That series reintroduced the Marvel Family and many of their allies and enemies into the modern day DC Universe.

Marvel also appeared in Mark Waid and Alex Ross' critically acclaimed 1996 alternate universe Elseworlds Kingdom Come miniseries. Set twenty years in the future, Kingdom Come features a brainwashed Captain Marvel playing a major role in the story as a mind-controlled pawn of an elderly Lex Luthor. Being one of the most powerful beings on Earth, his mere presence unnerves many of those around him and, brainwashed, he even sets out to cause what could lead to the end of the world. However, Marvel ultimately sacrifices himself as an act of redemption and, as a figure of martyrdom, becomes the symbol of a new world order.

In 2000, Captain Marvel starred in an oversized special graphic novel, Shazam! Power of Hope, written by Paul Dini and painted by Alex Ross.

Early-mid-2000s: JSA, 52, and more

Since the cancellation of the Power of Shazam! title in 1999, the Marvel Family have made appearances in a number of other DC comic books. Black Adam became a main character in Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer's JSA series, which depicted the latest adventures of the Justice Society of America. Captain Marvel also appeared regularly in JSA in 2003 and 2004. He also appeared in Frank Miller's graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the sequel to Miller's highly-acclaimed graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. The Superman/Shazam: First Thunder mini-series, written by Judd Winick with art by Josh Middleton, and published between September 2005 and March 2006, depicted the first post-Crisis meeting between Superman and Captain Marvel.

The Marvel Family played an integral part in DC's 2005/2006 Infinite Crisis crossover, which began DC's efforts to retool the Shazam! franchise. In the Day of Vengeance miniseries, which preceded the Infinite Crisis event, the wizard Shazam is killed by the Spectre, and Captain Marvel assumes the wizard's place in the Rock of Eternity which is rebuilt by the Shadowpact, although he has trouble with the Sins imprisoned there as he hears their voices. The Marvel Family made a handful of guest appearances in the year-long weekly maxi-series 52, which featured Black Adam as one of its main characters and introduced Adam's "Black Marvel Family", consisting of Adam himself, his wife Isis, and her brother Osiris, and Sobek. The series chronicled Adam's attempts to reform after falling in love with Isis, only to launch the DC universe into World War III after she and Osiris are killed. The Marvel Family also appeared frequently in the 12-issue bimonthly painted Justice maxi-series by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Doug Braithwaite, published from 2005 to 2007.

The Trials of Shazam!

The Trials of Shazam!, a 12-issue maxi-series written by Judd Winick and illustrated by Howard Porter for the first eight issues and by Mauro Cascioli for the remaining four, was published from 2006 to 2008. The series redefined the Shazam! property with a stronger focus on magic and mysticism. Trials of Shazam! featured Captain Marvel, now with a white costume and long white hair, taking over the role of the wizard Shazam under the name Marvel, while Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel lose their powers. A powerless Freddy Freeman is then drafted to prove himself worthy to each of the six gods represented by the "Shazam" acronym so that he can become their new champion and herald under the name Shazam, although a witch named Sabina attempts to take the power herself.

In the pages of the 2007–2008 Countdown to Final Crisis limited series, Black Adam gives the powerless Mary Batson his powers, turning her into a more aggressive super-powered figure less upstanding than the old Mary Marvel. By the end of the series, as well as in DC's 2008–2009 Final Crisis limited series, the now black-costumed Mary Marvel, possessed by the evil New God Desaad, becomes a villain, joining forces with Superman villain Darkseid and fighting both Supergirl and Freddy Freeman/Shazam, who turns her back using his lightning.

A three-issue arc in Justice Society of America (vol. 3) undid much of the Trials of Shazam! changes. Issues 23 through 25 of Justice Society featured Black Adam and a resurrected Isis taking over the Rock of Eternity and robbing Billy Batson of his Marvel powers. Billy calls the Justice Society to intervene, while Adam and Isis enlist the evil Mary Marvel to turn Billy into an evil Marvel as well. By the end of the story arc, Adam realizes that Isis and the evil Batson siblings are out of control, and gives up his power to resurrect the wizard Shazam. The angry wizard promptly takes back his powers from the others, threatening to also deal with Freddy Freeman/Shazam, who is absent from the story.

Billy and Mary Batson made a brief appearance during DC's 2009–2010 Blackest Night saga in a one-shot special, The Power of Shazam! #48. The siblings watch the rampage of the once-dead Osiris, now revived as an undead Black Lantern, on the internet from their apartment. In 2011, DC published a one-shot Shazam! story written by Eric Wallace, in which the still-powerless Billy and Mary help Freddy/Shazam in a battle with the demoness Blaze. Freddy would eventually have his powers stolen by Osiris in Titans #32 the same year.

The New 52 relaunch

In 2011, DC Comics relaunched their entire comic book lineup, creating the New 52 lineup of series. One of these relaunched series, Justice League, began featuring a Shazam! back-up story with issue #7 in March 2012. The feature, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank, introduces Billy Batson and his supporting cast into the new DC Universe. As part of the redesign, Captain Marvel received a new costume designed by Frank with a long cloak and a hood, and Johns noted that the character's place in the world will be "far more rooted in fantasy and magic than it ever was before." The character was also officially renamed "Shazam" at this time.

In this new series, Billy Batson is depicted as an arrogant and troubled fifteen-year-old foster child living in Philadelphia who has already gone through several foster homes and is unaware of the fate awaiting him as he is placed in his last potential foster home. After he moves in, his new foster parents and foster siblings - among them revised versions of Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman - attempt to integrate him into their lives.

Dr. Sivana, obsessed with the legend of the ancient magical warrior Black Adam, finds his tomb and opens it, freeing the vengeful and violent warrior. This event draws the attention of the Wizard (who is unnamed in this version and is depicted as Australian Aboriginal Elder instead of Caucasian), the last of a council of beings who controlled magic from the fortress known as the Rock of Eternity until all but he were killed by Black Adam. The Wizard begins abducting people one by one via magic and bringing them to the Rock of Eternity to assess them for the job of inheriting his powers, only to dismiss each of them for not being pure of heart.

The Wizard then summons Billy to the Rock of Eternity as his last candidate, but upon meeting him sees how rotten a child he is and dismisses him as well until Billy argues that perfectly good people "really don't exist" and that the Wizard may never find what he's looking for. Agreeing with Billy - and aware that he is dying - the Wizard sees that Billy has the potential to be good and passes on his powers to the boy by asking him to speak the magic word "Shazam" with "good intentions" as merely saying the word has no effect. After saying the magic word, Billy is struck by a bolt of lightning which transforms him into Shazam, a super-powered being possessing super-strength and flight. The Wizard then passes away and transports Shazam back to Earth, where Billy reveals his new secret to Freddy and the two scheme to help citizens in danger in exchange for profit.

Powers and abilities

When Billy Batson says the magic word "Shazam!" and transforms into Captain Marvel, he is granted the following powers:

S for the Wisdom of Solomon As Captain Marvel, Billy has instant access to a vast amount of scholarly knowledge, including most known languages and sciences. He has exceptional photographic recall and mental acuity allowing him to read and decipher hieroglyphics, recall everything he has ever learned and solve long mathematical equations. He also has a great understanding of divine phenomena in the mortal world. The wisdom of Solomon also provides him with counsel and advice in times of need. In early Captain Marvel stories, Solomon's power also gave Marvel the ability to hypnotize people. (Solomon is the only figure in the list not taken from Greco-Roman mythology.)
H for the Strength of Hercules Hercules' power grants Captain Marvel immense superhuman strength, making him one of DC Comics' strongest characters; he is able to easily bend steel, punch through walls, and lift massive objects, (including whole continents like South America). In the comics, this strength has evolved in parallel to that of Superman.
A for the Stamina of Atlas Using Atlas' stamina, Captain Marvel can withstand and survive most types of extreme physical assaults, and heal from them. Additionally, he does not need to eat, sleep, or breathe and can survive unaided in space when in Captain Marvel form. Pre-Crisis, it was implied in some stories to give him invulnerability.
Z for the Power of Zeus Zeus' power, besides fueling the magic thunderbolt that transforms Captain Marvel, also enhances Marvel's other physical and mental abilities, and grants him resistance against all magic spells and attacks. Marvel can use the lightning bolt as a weapon by dodging it and allowing it to strike an opponent or target. The magic lightning has several uses, such as creating apparatus, restoring damage done to Marvel, and acting as fuel for magic spells. If Billy is poisoned, for example, transforming will enable him to survive. Pre-Crisis, it was claimed in some stories to give him invulnerabilty. It can also turn other Marvels back by striking them. It aids interdimensional travel at the Rock of Eternity.
A for the Courage of Achilles This aspect gives Captain Marvel the courage of Achilles, giving him bravery and in one story it is claimed to give him fighting skills. In the Trials of Shazam! mini-series, this was changed to Achilles' near invulnerability. It also aids Captain Marvel's mental fortitude against most mental attacks.
M for the Speed of Mercury By channeling Mercury's speed, Captain Marvel can move at superhuman speeds and fly, although in older comics he could only leap great distances. This also gives Marvel the ability to fly to the Rock of Eternity by flying faster than the speed of light.

Repeating the word "Shazam!" transforms Captain Marvel back into Billy. In Whiz Comics #11, Billy is shown to be able to summon up a ghostly version of Captain Marvel by whispering the word, and in other stories the spirit of Captain Marvel was shown talking to Billy. Captain Marvel shares his powers with Marvel Family members Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. In pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths stories, this had no detrimental effect on the heroes' abilities, while in DC's Power of Shazam series and irregularly afterward, the Shazam power was shown to be a finite source which would be divided in half or into thirds depending upon how many Marvels were in active super-powered form at one time.

As he was transformed by magic lightning, Captain Marvel was shown in several stories to be susceptible to both high-powered magic, which can weaken or de-power him, and to significantly high voltages of electricity which can revert him back to Billy Batson form. Likewise, lightning could transform Billy to Captain Marvel. The modern version of Captain Marvel is also vulnerable in the fact that he possesses the immature personality of a teenager. In one story it is shown that if the Elders strike their name from the list Captain Marvel loses his powers. If Shazam is incapitated he could not send down the lightning, though later it was shown Zeus could send it down also. It was claimed in some stories that he was invulnerable to every force in the universe, including shrinking rays.

The white-clad "Marvel" version of the character from the Trials of Shazam! series also commands the various magical abilities once owned by the wizard Shazam. However, Marvel was required to remain on the Rock of Eternity and could only be away from the Rock for twenty-four hours at a time.

Other versions

A significant number of "Alternate" depictions of Captain Marvel have appeared in DC publications since the 1970s.

Captain Thunder (1974)

In Superman #276 (June 1974), Superman found himself at odds with "Captain Thunder", a superhero displaced from another Earth and another time. Thunder had been tricked by his archenemies in the Monster League of Evil into doing evil by a magic spell, and Thunder therefore was made to do battle with Superman. Captain Thunder, whose name was derived from Captain Marvel's original moniker, was a thinly veiled pastiche of Marvel; down to his similar costume, his young alter ego named "Willie Fawcett" (a reference to the publisher of the original Captain Marvel stories, Fawcett Comics), and a magic word ("Thunder!") which was an acronym for seven entities and their respective powers. He got his power from rubbing a magic belt buckle with a thunder symbol on it and saying "Thunder." He got his powers from Tornado (power), Hare (speed), Uncas (bravery), Nature (wisdom), Diamond (toughness), Eagle (flight), and Ram (tenacity). Superman held him while he used his wisdom to escape the effects of the spell.

At the time of Superman #276, DC had been publishing Shazam! comics for two years, but had kept that universe separate from those of its other publications. The real Captain Marvel would finally meet Superman in Justice League of America #137, two years later (although he met Lex Luthor in Shazam! #15, November/December 1974).

Captain Thunder (1982)

In the early 1980s, a proposal for an updated Captain Marvel was submitted to DC by Roy Thomas, Don Newton, and Jerry Ordway. This version of the character, to be an inhabitant of DC's main Earth-One universe rather than the Fawcett-based Earth-S universe, would have featured an African-American version of Billy Batson, who spoke the magic word "Shazam!" to become Captain Thunder, Earth-One's Mightiest Mortal. This alternate version of the character was never used.

Captain Thunder (2011): Flashpoint

The 2011 Flashpoint miniseries featured an alternate timeline accidentally created by the Flash, who then helped the heroes of this timeline to restore history. One of those heroes is Captain Thunder - an alternate version of Captain Marvel who has six alter-egos rather than one and a scarred face due to a fight with Wonder Woman, who in this timeline is a villain.

The six children - (collectively known as "S.H.A.Z.A.M") - each possess one of the six attributes of the power of Shazam and must say the magic word together to become Captain Thunder. The six children consist of an Asian-American boy named Eugene Choi who possesses the wisdom of Solomon; an overweight Latino boy named Pedro Peña who possesses the strength of Hercules; Mary Batson, who possesses the stamina of Atlas; Freddy Freeman, who possesses the power of Zeus; Billy Batson, who possesses the courage of Achilles; and an African-American girl named Darla Dudley that possesses the speed of Mercury. Pedro's pet tiger Tawny also transforms into a more powerful version of himself due to the magic lightning in a similar manner to He-Man's pet Battle Cat.

The six children later transform into Captain Thunder to help Flash and his allies in stopping the war between Aquaman's Atlantean army and Wonder Woman's Amazonian forces. Captain Thunder briefly fights Wonder Woman to a draw before being transformed back into the six children by Flash's accomplice Enchantress, who is revealed to be a traitor. Before the kids can reform Captain Thunder again, Billy is stabbed by the Amazon Penthesileia and killed.

After the conclusion of the Flashpoint miniseries, the three new children from the Flashpoint timeline - Eugene, Pedro, and Darla – were incorporated into the DC Universe via the Shazam back-up strip in Justice League, appearing as Billy, Mary, and Freddy's foster siblings.

Elseworld's Finest

In the alternate universe Elseworlds book Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl (1998), Captain Marvel is depicted as a bald African American man.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again

In the dark alternate future shown in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Captain Marvel is now visibly aged, with receding white hair and glasses, and is being blackmailed by Lex Luthor into working for him or Luthor will kill the captured Mary Marvel. During an alien attack on Metropolis, Marvel is trapped underneath a collapsing building with no way out, and admits that Billy Batson — here clearly defined as a separate person from Marvel, rather than simply transforming into him — died eight years ago of unspecified health problems, with the result that, when he next speaks his word, he will cease to exist like any dream that no longer has anyone to remember it. His last words to Wonder Woman are to give everyone his best, noting that it was nice existing, before he calls down his thunder and destroys himself.

Kingdom Come

The graphic novel Kingdom Come depicts a possible future of the DC characters. In this version, Billy Batson is now grown up, but the human hostility towards superheroes has caused him unease and he has not been Captain Marvel for several years. Instead he becomes a brainwashed servant of Lex Luthor. Luthor uses Mister Mind's offspring to keep Batson in check and bend him to his will. Nevertheless, Batson's potential as a being powerful enough to rival Superman causes many others to react in fear and unease when he mingles with them, unsure whether it is Batson (whose adult appearance is identical to his Captain Marvel form) or Marvel that serves Luthor. Events finally cause him to change back into Captain Marvel and he unleashes a force that could destroy the world. When the authorities try to stop it by dropping a nuclear bomb, Captain Marvel, spurred by Superman, triggers his lightning to sacrifice himself and destroy the bomb while it is still airborne. The bomb's fallout kills a large number of heroes, but does cool the war-like attitudes of the survivors. Superman uses Marvel's cape as the symbol of a new world order in which humans and superhumans will now live in harmony.

52 and Earth-5

In the final issue of the maxi-series 52 (#52, May 2, 2007), a new Multiverse is revealed, originally consisting of 52 identical realities. Among the parallel realities shown is one designated Earth-5. As a result of Marvel Family foe Mister Mind "eating" aspects of this reality, it takes on visual aspects similar to the pre-Crisis Earth-S, including the Marvel Family characters.

The Earth-5 Captain Marvel and Billy Batson appeared in the Final Crisis: Superman Beyond miniseries, assisting Superman. The miniseries established that these versions of Captain Marvel and Billy are two separate beings and that Billy is a reporter for WHIZ Media, rather than a radio broadcaster. The Earth-5 Captain Marvel re-appeared in Final Crisis #7 along with an army of Supermen from across the Multiverse to prevent its destruction by Darkseid.

Justice League: Generation Lost

A female version of Captain Marvel named Shazam is shown as a member of an alternate-future Justice League in Justice League: Generation Lost. Little is revealed about her other than the fact that her civilian name is Sahar Shazeen, and she is shown wielding a pair of swords when in battle. She and her teammates are ultimately killed by an army of OMACs.

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

A second Captain Marvel mini-series, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, written and illustrated by Jeff Smith (creator of Bone), was published in four 48-page installments between February and July 2007. Smith's Shazam! miniseries, in the works since 2003, is a more traditional take on the character, which updates and reimagines Captain Marvel's origin. Smith's story features a younger looking Billy Batson and Captain Marvel as separate personalities, as they were in the pre-1985 stories, and features a prepubescent Mary Marvel as Captain Marvel's sidekick instead of the traditional teenaged or adult version. Dr. Sivana is Attorney General of the United States, and Mister Mind looks more like a snake than a caterpillar.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!

An all-ages Captain Marvel comic, Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!, debuted in July 2008 under DC's Johnny DC youth-oriented imprint and was published monthly through December 2010. Following the lead and continuity of Smith's version, it was initially written and drawn by Mike Kunkel, creator of Herobear. Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, of Tiny Titans, took over as writers with issue #5, with Byron Vaughns as main artist until issue #13, when Mike Norton assumed his place for the rest of the series. Kunkel's version returns to the modern concept of having Captain Marvel retain Billy's personality, and also introduces new versions of Black Adam (whose alter ego, Theo Adam, is a child like Billy Batson in this version), King Kull, the Arson Fiend, and Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel, Jr.

Supporting cast

Captain Marvel often fights evil as a member of a superhero team known as the Marvel Family, made up of himself and several other heroes: the wizard Shazam, who empowers the team; Captain Marvel's sister Mary Marvel; and Marvel's protégé, Captain Marvel, Jr. Before the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series, the Marvel Family also included part-time members such as Mary's non-powered friend "Uncle" Dudley (Uncle Marvel), Dudley's non-powered niece Freckles Marvel, a team of protégés (all of whose alter egos are named "Billy Batson") known as the Lieutenant Marvels, and the funny-animal pink rabbit version of Captain Marvel, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

Through his adventures, Captain Marvel gained an extensive rogues gallery, the most notable of whom include the evil mad scientist Doctor Sivana (and, pre-Crisis, the Sivana Family); Shazam's corrupted previous champion Black Adam, who has powers from Egyptian Gods; Adolf Hitler's champion Captain Nazi; and the mind-controlling worm, Mister Mind, and his Monster Society of Evil. Other Marvel Family foes include the evil robot Mister Atom; the "World's Mightiest Immortal" Oggar, a god with magic powers and former pupil of Shazam with cloven hooves and member of the Pantheon, who was banished for an attempted rebellion; and Ibac and Sabbac, demon-powered supervillains who transform by saying magic words made up of beings who give them power as Captain Marvel does.

The Marvel Family's non-powered allies include Dr. Sivana's good-natured adult offspring, Beautia and Magnificus Sivana; Mister "Tawky" Tawny the talking tiger; WHIZ radio president and Billy's employer Sterling Morris; Billy's girlfriend Cissie Sommerly; Billy's school principal Miss Wormwood; and Mary's adoptive parents Nick and Nora Bromfield.

Collected editions

The character's appearances have been collected into individual volumes:

  • Shazam! From the Forties to the Seventies (1977, Harmony Books, ISBN 0-517-53127-5). Hardcover collection reprinting thirty-seven Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel, and Marvel Family stories from the original Fawcett comics and DC's 1970s Shazam! series. Stories by Bill Parker, Otto Binder, and others; art by C.C. Beck, Marc Swayze, Mac Rayboy, Kurt Shaffenberger, and others. Forward by E. Nelson Bridewell.
  • The Monster Society of Evil: Deluxe Limited Collector's Edition (1989, American Nostalgia Library, ISBN 0-948248-07-6). Compiled and designed by Mike Higgs. Reprints the entire "Monster Society of Evil" story arc that ran for two years in Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46 (1943–1945), where Captain Marvel meets Mister Mind and his Monster Society of Evil. This oversized, slipcased hardcover book was strictly limited to 3,000 numbered copies.
  • The Shazam! Archives, Volumes 1–4 (1992, ISBN 1-56389-053-4; 1998, ISBN 1-56389-521-8; 2002, ISBN 1-56389-832-2; 2005, ISBN 1-4012-0160-1). Hardcover volumes reprinting Captain Marvel's adventures from his earliest Fawcett appearances in titles such as Whiz Comics, Master Comics, and Captain Marvel Adventures from 1940 to 1942. Stories by Bill Parker, Ed Herron, and others; art by C.C. Beck, Pete Costanza, Mac Raboy, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, George Tuska, and others.
  • The Shazam! Family Archives Volume 1 (2006, ISBN 1-4012-0779-0). This spin-off volume features the adventures of Captain Marvel, Jr., from Master Comics #23-32 and Captain Marvel, Jr. #1, as well as the origin of Mary Marvel from Captain Marvel Adventures #18. Stories by various writers; art by Mac Raboy, Al Carreno, Marc Swayze, and C.C. Beck.
  • Shazam! and the Shazam Family! Annual No. 1 (2002). An 80-Page Giant style squarebound paperback collection reprinting several Golden Age Marvel Family adventures from Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 1942), Captain Marvel, Jr. #12 (October 1943), and The Marvel Family #1 (December 1945) and #10 (April 1947), including the first appearances of Mary Marvel and Black Adam. Stories by Otto Binder; art by C.C. Beck, Pete Costanza, Mac Rayboy, Marc Swayze, Bud Thompson, and Jack Binder.
  • Showcase Presents: Shazam! Volume 1 (2006, ISBN 1-4012-1089-9). A 500-page trade paperback featuring black-and-white reprints of stories from the 1970s Shazam! ongoing series, collecting only the new material that was published (and not the Golden Age reprints) in issues #1-33. Written by Dennis O'Neill, E. Nelson Bridwell, and Elliott Maggin; art by C.C. Beck, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dave Cockrum, Dick Giordano, and others.
  • Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told (2008, ISBN 1-4012-1674-9). A compilation featuring Captain Marvel stories collected from the Fawcett publications Whiz Comics #2; Captain Marvel Adventures #1, 137, 148; The Marvel Family #21, 85; and the DC publications Shazam! #1, 14; DC Comics Presents Annual #3; Superman #276; L.E.G.I.O.N. '91 #31; The Power of Shazam! #33; and Adventures in the DC Universe #15.

Cultural impact

Captain Marvel vs. Superman in fiction

Captain Marvel's adventures have contributed a number of elements to both comic book culture and pop culture in general. The most notable of these is the regular use of Superman and Captain Marvel as adversaries in Modern Age comic book stories. The two are often portrayed as equally-matched, and while Marvel does not possess Superman's vision or breath powers, the magic-based nature of his own powers is a weakness for Superman.

The National Comics/Fawcett Comics rivalry was parodied in " Superduperman," a satirical comic book story by Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood in the fourth issue of Mad (April/May 1953). In the parody, inspired by the Fawcett/DC legal battles, Superduperman, endowed with muscles on muscles, does battle with Captain Marbles, a Captain Marvel caricature. Marbles' magic word is "SHAZOOM", which stands for Strength, Health, Aptitude, Zeal, Ox—power of, Ox—power of another, and Money. In contrast to Captain Marvel's perceived innocence and goodness, Marbles was greedy and money-grubbing, and a master criminal. Superduperman defeats Marbles by tricking him into hitting himself.

While publishing its Shazam! revival in the 1970s, DC Comics published a story in Superman #276 (June 1974) featuring a battle between the Man of Steel and a thinly disguised version of Captain Marvel called Captain Thunder, a reference to the character's original name. He apparently battled against a monster league. Two years later, Justice League of America #135-137 featured a story arc which featured the heroes of Earth-1, Earth-2, and Earth-S teaming together against their enemies. It was in this story that Superman and Captain Marvel first met, albeit briefly. King Kull has caused Superman to go mad using red kryptonite, meaning he and Marvel battle, but Marvel restores his mind to normal with lightning. In Shazam! #30 (1977), Dr. Sivana creates several steel creatures to destroy Pittsburgh's steel mills, after getting the idea from reading an issue of Action Comics. He finally creates a Superman robot made of a super-steel to destroy Captain Marvel. They both hit each other at the same moment, and the Superman is destroyed.

Notable later Superman/Captain Marvel battles in DC Comics include All-New Collectors' Edition #C-58 (1978), All-Star Squadron #36-37 (1984), and Superman vol. 2, #102 (1995). The Superman/Captain Marvel battle depicted in Kingdom Come #4 (1996) served as the climax of that miniseries, with Marvel having been brainwashed by Lex Luthor and Mister Mind to turn against the other heroes. The "Clash" episode of the DC-based animated TV series Justice League Unlimited, which included Captain Marvel as a guest character, featured a Superman/Captain Marvel fight as its centerpiece. By contrast, the depiction of the pair's first meeting in the Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder miniseries establishes them as firm friends and allies to the point of Superman volunteering to be Billy's mentor when he learns the boy's true age.

Captain Marvel in popular culture

In pop culture, Billy Batson/Captain Marvel's magic word, "Shazam!", became a popular exclamation from the 1940s on, often used in place of an expletive. The most notable user of the word "Shazam!" in this form was Gomer Pyle, a character from the 1960s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show and later Gomer Pyle USMC. Foxxy Cleopatra from the 2002 film Austin Powers in Goldmember is also fond of the word.

In the 2002 film adaptation of Spider-Man, Peter Parker tries a variety of catchphrases/magic words - among them "Shazam!" - in an attempt to activate his new-found web shooting abilities. For many years, Phoenix Suns play-by-play announcer Al McCoy has said "Shazam!" when a Phoenix Sun player makes a three-point field goal, and acknowledged that it came from Captain Marvel comics.

The Academy of Comic Book Arts named its Shazam Award in honour of the character.

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