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Who is Shazam!?

Alright folks, buckle up because we're about to take a deep dive into the origin story of one of DC Comics' most interesting characters, Shazam. As Shazam! Fury of the Gods hits theaters this Friday, March 17th the folks here at That! Comic Podcast thought it would be best to make sure our listeners had the complete origin story of the OG Captain Marvel. I bet some of you are now thinking, Carol Danvers was once a man? Well, for those of you who didn’t know, Shazam was originally known as Captain Marvel, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the last ronin cover, art for blog post on that comic podcast from Philly

The story of Shazam begins back in the 1930s during the Golden Age of comic books. It was a time when superheroes were just starting to gain popularity, and comic book publishers were churning out new characters left and right. It was in this era that a man by the name of Bill Parker, who worked as an editor for Fawcett Publications, came up with the concept for a new superhero named Captain Marvel..

Captain Marvel 1942
Captain Marvel 1942

Now, Parker wasn't alone in this endeavor. He had the help of artist C.C. Beck, who was tasked with bringing Captain Marvel to life on the page. The two of them worked together to create a character that was unlike anything else that was out there at the time. Captain Marvel was a young boy named Billy Batson who, when he spoke the magic word "Shazam," was transformed into a super-powered adult superhero.

So where did the name "Shazam" come from? Well, that's a bit of a complicated story. See, originally, the character was going to be called "Captain Thunder." However, another publisher had already trademarked that name, so Parker and Beck had to come up with something else. They eventually settled on "Shazam," which was actually an acronym that stood for the six mythical figures who granted Billy Batson his powers - Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.

With the name and concept in place, Parker and Beck began working on the first Captain Marvel story. The character made his debut in Whiz Comics #2 in 1940, and he was an instant hit with readers. Captain Marvel quickly became one of the most popular characters in comics, and Fawcett Publications was soon putting out several different titles featuring the character.

As popular as Captain Marvel was, he was not without his controversies. You see, around the same time that Captain Marvel was gaining popularity, DC Comics (then known as National Comics) had just come out with their own superhero named Superman. And as you can probably imagine, DC wasn't too thrilled with the idea of another superhero publisher encroaching on their territory. DC then sued Fawcett Publications for copyright infringement, claiming that Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman. The lawsuit dragged on for years, with DC claiming that Captain Marvel's powers and appearance were too similar to Superman's.

In the end, DC won the lawsuit, and Fawcett Publications was forced to stop publishing Captain Marvel comics. But that wasn't the end of the story for the character. See, during the time that Fawcett was publishing Captain Marvel comics, other publishers had started to create their own characters with similar powers and abilities. And when Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel, those other publishers saw an opportunity to jump in and take over the character.

The first publisher to take on the character was Charlton Comics, who published a short-lived series featuring Captain Marvel. But it was DC Comics who eventually won the rights to the character. In the early 1970s, DC acquired the rights to Captain Marvel and began publishing their own series featuring the character.

Of course, by this time, Marvel Comics had already established themselves as a major player in the comic book industry. And since they had their own character named Captain Marvel, DC couldn't use the name for their series. So, they renamed the character "Shazam" and began publishing their own Shazam series. And while the character had certainly gone through some changes over the years, the core concept remained the same. He’s a young boy who transforms into a super-powered adult hero by saying the magic word "Shazam."

One of the interesting things about the Shazam character is that he's not just a superhero - he's also a magical figure with ties to ancient mythology. As I mentioned earlier, the six mythical figures who grant Billy Batson his powers are Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. Each of these figures represents a different aspect of the Shazam powers - wisdom, strength, stamina, power, courage, and speed, respectively.

The ties to mythology don't stop there. The character's arch-nemesis, Doctor Sivana, is a mad scientist who seeks to harness the power of the gods for his own nefarious purposes. And in later stories, Shazam himself becomes a god-like figure, taking on the mantle of the Wizard Shazam and guiding new heroes who seek to take on the Shazam powers.

The Shazam character has gone through many changes over the years, both in terms of his powers and his backstory. But no matter how the character has evolved, he has remained a fan favorite. It's not hard to see why. At his core, Shazam is a wish fulfillment fantasy. Who wouldn't want to be able to say a magic word and transform into a super-powered hero?

There's definitely more to the character than just wish fulfillment. Shazam is also a symbol of hope. A hero who, despite facing incredible odds, always manages to come out on top. And in a world where there's so much darkness and negativity, that's a message that's more important than ever.

So, there you have it, the origin story of the Shazam character. It's a story that's had its fair share of ups and downs, but through it all, Shazam has remained a beloved character among comic book fans. And with the recent success of the first Shazam movie, it's clear that the character is just as popular as ever. Who knows what the future holds for Shazam once Shazam 2 hits the theaters this Friday. One thing's for sure though he'll always be a hero that we can look up to and admire.

If you're curious to hear what the crew thought of the original Shazam! Check out the review from our Vol. 1 Back Issues over on Fireside.

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