Shazam Family: The True Story | NowThis Nerd

Hi everyone, I’m Moose, and today, we’re talking about the Big Red Cheese Phew! How did the character formerly known as Captain Marvel help make superheroes legal? Why was he picked to star in the first superhero movie ever? And how did his kid sidekick inspire the King of Rock and Roll? All you have to do is say the magic word, Because, holey moley, this is The True Story of the Shazam Family Oh my god! It's crazy, right? and it begins in The Golden Age After the smashing debuts of Superman and Batman, everyone wanted to cash in on the success of National Comics, later known as DC

One such outfit was Fawcett Publications, who started their own comics division in 1939, and debuted their new hero in the pages of ‘Whiz Comics #2’ Why not ‘Whiz Comics #1,’ you ask? Well, it didn’t actually exist Back then, publishers would produce ‘ashcan copies,’ tiny, slapped together runs not for public consumption, as a way of establishing trademarks and copyrights before the competition could beat them to it It’s kind of like Roger Corman’s unreleased ‘Fantastic Four’ movie, just without the heart DOOM

IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME The ashcans were printed under two titles, ‘Flash Comics’ and ‘Thrill Comics,’ and featured a brand new superhero known as Captain Thunder Thunder was a streamlined version of an earlier concept, where six humans were each bestowed a superpower from various mythological figures, The wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, you get the idea Must Use STAMINA OF ATLAS!!! until writer Bill Parker and artist C

C Beck condensed them into a plucky young orphan named Billy Batson, who transformed into a grinning, fully-grown hero with a costume inspired by 19th century European military uniforms What the hell are you wearing? It's all regulation, Michael To get the top right the pants had to be a little snug Unfortunately for Fawcett, their ashcan scheme backfired, Flash, Thrill, and Thunder were all taken, so they hastily rewrote the world bubbles and introduced the world to Captain Marvel

Despite clearly being inspired by Superman, Captain Marvel quickly eclipsed him in sales, which, understandably, made DC a little salty, Do you bleed? so they sued Fawcett for copyright infringement in 1941 After seven years of litigation, the court returned a verdict in favor of DC, but on appeal, Judge Learned Hand overturned the decision He ruled that powers, costumes, and a flowing cape alone weren’t copyrightable, a precedent that paved the way for the entire superhero genre to exist He sent the case back to the lower courts for a new trial, but by 1953, the comic book market was crashing, thanks to the moral panic kicked off by Fredric Wertham’s ‘Seduction of the Innocent,’ and Fawcett didn’t feel like fighting anymore They settled with DC for $400,000 and a promise to never publish Captain Marvel again

But of course, you can’t keep a good hero down, especially when he’s got such a fantastic Family Before the trademark troubles, Fawcett rushed to capitalize on the Captain’s success by introducing a swath of red-suited superheroes in a similar style, starting with the Lieutenant Marvels in 1941, three superfans who all share the name Billy Batson, along with his powers Fat Billy, Tall Billy, and the Southern-born Hill Billy were all well and good, but Fawcett wanted a more traditional teen sidekick to fill that Robin role Enter Freddie Freeman, who was orphaned and nearly killed after an assault from Captain Nazi, and was saved only by Captain Marvel bestowing him with a bit of his power Unlike his Big Red boss, Captain Marvel Jr stays a teen when he transforms from Tiny Tim into his superpowered self, and for him, the magic word isn’t “Shazam,” it’s “Captain Marvel,” which has the unfortunate side effect of rendering Jr

unable to speak his own name In the ‘90s, he was redubbed CM3, but that didn’t stick, and now that the Captain Marvel moniker is gone entirely, he doesn’t really have a name, although he wouldn’t mind being called ‘King Shazam,’ in a reference to his most famous real-life fan, Elvis Presley The King grew up obsessed with Captain Marvel Jr comics, his collection is actually on display at Graceland, and as his career kicked off, he modelled his trademark pompadour hairdo on Freddie’s killer cut Later on, as his inner superhero fully came forth, he incorporated Junior’s skintight jumpsuits and sparkly capes into his onstage persona, as well as his lightning bolt logo, which the King appropriated for his Taking Care of Business iconography

Mary Marvel, on the other hand, was inspired by another real-life singing sensation: Judy Garland When Billy discovers he has a long-lost twin sister, he teams up with Freddy to track down Mary Bromfeld and share the good news They share more than that, too, because her genetic link to Billy allows her to wield the power of Shazam Mary Marvel wasn’t the first female superhero by a long-shot, but she did beat Supergirl to the punch by a cool decade Throughout the years, Mary has been wiped from continuity, powered up by Black Adam and corrupted by Darkseid’s twisted servant, and drastically reimagined as part of DC’s ‘New 52’ reboot

We’ll get to that in a minute, because the family tree doesn’t stop there As the series grew more whimsical, Fawcett introduced increasingly distant family members like Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and Uncle Marvel, a non-powered hanger on who cons his way into the family, but always finds an excuse when the time comes to tackle evil Now, I don’t know if we’re gonna see any cartoon rabbits clashing with Henry Cavill anytime soon, because the Marvel family, like the Big Red Cheese himself, is an inherently corny concept, which is one of the reasons it took awhile for Captain Marvel to make it in The Modern Age It’s hard to overstate how popular Captain Marvel was in the ‘40s, he seems like a quaint relic today, but back then, he was the hero to beat, selling over 14 million comics in 1944 alone He even beat all of his costumed counterparts to the screen, in the very first superhero movie ever: ‘The Adventures of Captain Marvel,’ a high-water mark for serial cinema, that put early outings from Batman and Captain America to shame Sadly, Cap’s popularity took a massive hit during his legal limbo of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and even when DC licensed the character from Fawcett and introduced him into their universe in 1972, things just weren’t the same, not even his name

Since Marvel Comics gleefully pounced on the trademark with their own Kree captain in 1967, DC could only market the character as ‘Shazam!’ He was still called Captain Marvel on the page, but from then on, all licensed properties were forced to use the magic word, like in his ‘70s TV show Shazam! The series took some liberties with the concept, replacing the ancient wizard with a slightly-less ancient mentor named, well, Mentor, who drove Billy Batson around the country in a rockin’ RV As far as the Captain himself, well, the costume was fairly decent, and in flight, he rivals only Pumaman for his graceful soaring through the sky Pumaman, he flies like a moron! He has the power to rear project major cities! Meanwhile, in the comics, Marvel and his family appeared in adventures set in their own cheery corner of the DC Universe, until the Crisis united all the worlds into a single Earth, where Shazam was strictly a solo act at least until Jerry Ordway introduced Freddie and Mary into the mainstream canon with his incredible 1994 graphic novel ‘The Power of Shazam

’ Meanwhile, DC kept trying to simplify the Captain Marvel mess, like in 2006, when they decided that the fam needed a grim and gritty makeover, so they let Freddy Freeman take the Shazam moniker, killed off the wizard Shazam and replaced him with Billy, who was subsequently renamed… Marvel… As you can imagine, that didn’t exactly quell the confusion, so in 2011 they just said ‘screw it’ and rebooted the whole thing from scratch As part of the ‘New 52’ initiative, we were re-introduced to Billy Batson, Jerk! only this time, instead of being a lonely orphan who somehow finagled a job as a radio host, he’s part of a foster family in Philly He’s also kind of a jerk this time around, a sullen, cynical brat who the system has utterly failed Man, sorry about that! Billy isn’t the purehearted protector that the Wizard hoped for, but he’ll have to do, and when he speaks the magic word, he becomes… Shazam! That’s right, DC finally put an end to nearly a century of copyright confusion, and while it’s sad to see the original Captain Marvel give up the fight, the Distinguished Competition needed to pick their battles in the face of Disney dominance, lest we have two onscreen Captains Marvel in a single year On the bright side, Billy’s foster siblings quickly become the newly-christened Shazam family, with Freddy re-envisioned as a blonde Artful Dodger type who’d rather score some bucks and beers than stop evil, and Mary taking on a more motherly role

On top of that, the fam adds three new faces, each with their own special gift There’s Pedro, Billy’s overweight foster brother who becomes a super strong powerhouse, and Eugene, the geekiest member of the bunch, who gains the power of talking to technology when he transforms And of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the dashing Darla, the smallest member of the bunch who is bestowed super speed that leaves her Shazam siblings in the dust Sure, it’s a bit silly, even if they’re certainly more down to Earth than Hoppy and Hill Billy, Shazam! Hahaha! Sorry, sorry The guy just cracks me up! but Shazam and his family aren’t supposed to be realistic They’re the ultimate childhood power fantasy, what little kids dream of when they picture themselves as superheroes Captain Marvel was born from an idealized, 1940s world of wonder and whimsy, he still embodies the hope and optimism of the golden age almost 80 years later, and his brand new Shazam Family is poised perfectly to share the magic with a new of generation fans

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