The Untold Truth Of Shazam!

The Untold Truth Of Shazam!
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    From the lawsuit that took him out of comics, to his journey to being one of the most highly
    anticipated movie heroes of this decade, here's the untold truth of Captain Ma -- er, Shazam!
    After his debut in 1938, Superman was a huge success.
    So successful, in fact, that he had inspired a massive boom for the brand-new superhero
    genre, including a huge wave of imitators and ripoffs.
    Dozens of new titles hoped to create the next Superman, but Fawcett Publications was one
    publisher that actually managed to do it.
    In 1940, writer Bill Parker and artist C.C.
    Beck introduced the world to Captain Marvel, a character who had all of Superman's powers,
    but with two key differences.
    First, Captain Marvel's origins were drawn from a more magical, mythological source than
    the sci-fi explanations behind Superman's power.
    Second, and far more importantly, his mild-mannered secret identity was a kid.
    Billy Batson, a homeless child was chosen by the wizard Shazam.
    With a single magic word, he could transform into an adult who wielded the powers of six
    mythological heroes, turning him into the World's Mightiest Mortal.
    "Say my name."
    "Shazam!"
    In other words, every kid who wished they were Superman could now read the adventures
    of a kid who could become Superman whenever he wanted.
    With that idea, Captain Marvel was an instant success.
    If you've got a good memory for trivia, you might already know that Billy Batson and his
    magical alter-ego made their debuts in the very first issue of Whiz Comics, but did you
    know that was actually Whiz Comics #2?
    That might seem confusing, but that's only because it is.
    Before debuting a new title, publishers would often create "ashcan" editions, cheap, low-quality
    versions with low print runs that they could use as proof-of-concept to attract potential
    advertisers and secure a copyright.
    They'd done the same with Parker and Beck's new character, then called Captain Thunder,
    but still hadn't settled on a title, publishing it as both Thrill Comics and Flash Comics.
    By the time they got to publication, they'd decided to go with Whiz.
    Since they'd already published the story in the ashcan, Whiz started at #2… even though
    they'd technically printed it twice already.
    Superman might've been the original, but as the '40s went on, Captain Marvel quickly became
    the most popular superhero of the decade by outselling Superman and Action Comics.
    According to the Museum of Comic Book Advertising, Captain Marvel Adventures would eventually
    hit a high point of 1.3 million sales per month.
    That's an impressive figure under any circumstances, but consider that over the course of those
    same years, Captain Marvel and his sidekicks were also appearing in Whiz Comics, Wow Comics,
    Master Comics, Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, and The Marvel Family.
    In fact, he was so popular that Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, a rabbit version of Captain
    Marvel created for Fawcett's line of funny-animal comics, was headlining two titles every month.
    For comparison, Superman and Batman each had three, and one of them was World's Finest
    Comics, the series they appeared in together.
    If you ever go back and read any Captain Marvel comics from the '40s, it's not difficult to
    figure out the secret of their success: they're actually good.
    While a lot of Golden Age creators struggled with figuring out the rules of the new medium
    and the superhero genre, the Captain Marvel stories presented fun, straightforward, and
    well-structured adventures.
    C.C.
    Beck's art had always been fantastic, but the arrival of writer Otto Binder was the
    final ingredient needed to make Captain Marvel great.
    Binder and Beck would become the team most identified with the character, and in 1943,
    they created what is generally considered to be one of the most important stories of
    the Golden Age: "The Monster Society of Evil."
    "Meet the Monster Society of Evil.
    The vilest villains of Fawcett City united.
    Together, we'll conquer the universe!"
    It was an epic story that ran through a full 25 issues of Captain Marvel Adventures, the
    first long-form, multi-part superhero story in comics.
    It was also the first story to feature a villainous super-team made up of pre-existing villains
    who united to take down the heroes, paving the way for the modern-day event comic.
    As you might've already guessed, National Comics, the company that would later become
    DC, was not happy about Captain Marvel outselling Superman.
    So unhappy, in fact, that they filed a lawsuit against Fawcett that made it to court in 1948,
    alleging that they'd violated the copyright on Superman by ripping him off for their own
    character.
    Unfortunately for Fawcett, that actually is what happened.
    "I idolized you.
    I wanted to be you.
    Whenever I was out there facing the bad guys, I'd think 'what would Superman do?'"
    In a much later interview, Roscoe Fawcett would recall telling his staff "Give me a
    Superman."
    Even beyond that, the similarities were impossible to ignore.
    Superman didn't have the market cornered on super-strength and invulnerability, but the
    cover to Whiz #2 featured Shazam tossing a car, much like Superman on the cover of Action
    Comics #1.
    In 1954, the courts ruled against Fawcett, and they lost the rights to continue publishing
    Captain Marvel stories.
    After the infamous lawsuit, Captain Marvel's adventures ended, and while he wouldn't be
    seen on the comics page again for almost two decades, a character that was selling over
    a million copies a month doesn't just vanish from pop culture.
    Plenty of readers had fond memories of the character, and plenty of publishers were eager
    to recreate that level of success.
    In the United Kingdom, a publisher called L. Miller and Son drafted artist Mick Anglo
    to create an unofficial continuation of the series.
    The character was renamed Marvelman, and the magic word was changed to "Kimota."
    Since the British printings of Captain Marvel had ended at #24, Marvelman picked up at #25.
    It ran from 1954 to 1963, but in 1982, the strip was revived in the pages of Warrior.
    It was rebooted in a much darker direction by Alan Moore and Gary Leach, and served to
    pave the way for later Moore projects like Watchmen.
    In 1972, DC publisher Carmine Infantino decided that Captain Marvel had been absent long enough.
    With that, DC licensed the characters from Fawcett, and began publishing all-new adventures
    of "the original Captain Marvel" in the pages of Shazam!
    The first issue was drawn by C.C.
    Beck, and featured Otto Binder, who had left DC in 1969 to focus on sci-fi novels, as a
    character in the first issue.
    The series would run for 35 issues, bringing the Marvel Family to a new generation of readers
    and incorporating them into the DC Multiverse.
    Readers weren't just reintroduced to the good guys, though.
    In Shazam #28, Black Adam returned, an evil version of Captain Marvel who had made his
    only appearance 32 years earlier.
    While he lost that first fight, he'd go on to become one of DC's most prominent villains,
    and an occasional hero.
    When DC revived Captain Marvel in 1972, it was in a series called Shazam, and by 1974,
    they'd been prohibited from referring to their lead character as "Captain Marvel" on the
    cover at all.
    The reason?
    An upstart superhero publisher called Marvel Comics had snatched up the copyright on that
    name for a new character they'd introduced in 1967.
    Their Captain Marvel was a spacefaring soldier of the Kree race named Mar-Vell who had come
    to Earth on a mission of conquest and decided to become a cosmic hero instead.
    In an interesting twist, Mar-Vell was revamped in 1969 with a new red costume with a big
    yellow insignia on the chest and a young sidekick, Rick Jones, with whom he switched bodies in
    a flash of light whenever a hero was needed.
    Of course, there would be other versions of Captain Marvel that Marvel Comics would make,
    including one that might be a bit more familiar to movie-going audiences.
    Needless to say, the fact that both DC and Marvel were publishing superheroes named "Captain
    Marvel" caused no end of confusion.
    Eventually, when the DC Universe was rebooted with the "New 52" in 2011, Billy Batson's
    alter ego was rechristened as Shazam.
    When they revived Captain Marvel in the 1970s, DC licensed the character from Fawcett Publications.
    In 1991, however, DC made the Shazam Family a permanent part of their universe, acquiring
    the rights to the character outright.
    At the same time, veteran creator Jerry Ordway was assigned to reboot the character yet again
    in the pages of a fully-painted graphic novel called The Power of Shazam!
    In addition to re-telling Billy Batson's origin, this story also tied him more closely to Black
    Adam, who had his own civilian identity: Theo Adam, a greedy archaeologist who murdered
    Billy's parents while on a dig.
    Released in 1994, The Power of Shazam was an unqualified success, and led to the launch
    of a monthly title of the same name the next year.
    Ordway would write and provide covers for the series, and draw a fair bit of it, too.
    With nearly fifty issues published, it was, and is, the longest-running Shazam series
    since 1954.
    After the DC Universe was rebooted for "The New 52," Shazam started appearing as a backup
    story in the pages of Justice League.
    In addition to a new costume and a new origin for Dr. Sivana, this version of Billy Batson
    wasn't quite the wholesome, good-natured kid he'd been in the past.
    Instead, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank reimagined him as far more bitter and cynical than readers
    had seen before.
    The idea was that his initial suspicion and self-interest would give way to a genuine
    heroism and an affection for his adopted family.
    There was one other big twist, though.
    In the pages of Flashpoint, the universe-ending event that led to the New 52 reboot, readers
    got a glimpse of a version of Shazam who had split his powers among six kids.
    This in itself wasn't a completely new idea, Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman had been turned
    into Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. respectively the same way, as had a few other characters
    all the way back in the Golden Age.
    This time, though, Billy decided to split his powers not just with Mary and Freddy,
    but with his foster siblings Darla, Pedro, and Eugene.
    The result is a whole team of heroes with a much more diverse cast than previous versions
    of the Shazam Family, who will all be appearing alongside each other in the pages of the next
    Shazam title.
    It also feels a little reminiscent of a very different superheroic captain:
    "With their five powers combined, they summon Earth's greatest champion, Captain Planet.
    Go Planet!"
    Way back in 1941, Captain Marvel made his big screen debut in a Republic Pictures serial,
    beating Max Fleischer's animated Superman cartoons to the theater by six months and
    predating a live-action Superman serial by seven years.
    Now, in 2019, Billy Batson returns to the movies in Shazam.
    With Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Zachary Levi as Shazam, and Mark Strong as Dr. Sivana,
    the film sticks pretty close to the 2012 version of the hero.
    Weirdly enough, while Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has been attached to the project longer than
    nearly anyone else, he doesn't appear in Shazam.
    He's been cast as Black Adam in DC's cinematic universe, but Warner Bros. has announced that
    they'll be featuring the character in a solo film before he crosses paths with his old
    nemesis.
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