Although Shazam will make his big screen debut next month for DC, Captain Marvel originally belonged to Fawcett Comics. Created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck in 1939, the character debuted in Whiz Comics #2. Although the similarities between the Big Red Cheese and a certain Man of Steel were unmistakable - seriously, DC sued Fawcett - both heroes wound up at the same publisher eventually. DC won their court case, but Fawcett was closing up shop anyway, although DC didn’t choose to claim Captain Marvel until the ‘70s. However, by then it was too late for him to go by that moniker.
By that point, Marvel had created a Captain Marvel of their own, Mar-Vell, who took up the mantle before Carol Danvers. Having trademarked the name, DC chose to call Billy Batson’s magic word, “Shazam.” The writers were allowed to continue to use the name within the confines of the story, but could not allow it to grace comic covers. So, Captain Marvel retained his superhero identity, but the title of the comic did not. Herein lies the confusion of two Captain Marvels, who in a fascinating coincidence, are now hitting theaters within a month of each other. In more recent years, Captain Marvel has come to be known simply as Shazam.
Captain Marvel may be influenced by Superman, but over time, the characters have diverged quite a bit. He even has his own superhero family and a host of animal sidekicks. Really, Captain Marvel is like no other hero in DC Comics. Let’s explore his magical physiology and see what really sets him apart.
Here are the 20 Craziest Things About Shazam’s Anatomy.
There’s a reason why Shazam! star Zachary Levi has stated that the movie is “Big meets Superman.” Billy Batson was an orphaned young boy prior to the major upgrade that he received from Shazam. Luckily, the wizard saw something special in Billy and chose to grant him great powers. Even when Billy utters the magic word that transforms him into a superhero, he’s still just a kid in a grown man’s body.
Billy may have been an orphan, but he eventually gained the ability to share his impressive power set with his long lost sister Mary, as well as his friend Freddy Freeman. This laid the foundation for the Marvel Family, although there would be several more members to come.
Billy may be a kid, but that doesn’t mean that he was recruited to the Teen Titans. Nope, he was a member of the Justice League, making him the youngest hero to ever join the team. Like most comic characters, his actual age depends on what you’re reading, but he’s typically somewhere between eight and thirteen, still making him significantly younger than the rest of the League.
Finding a team where a young boy housed in the body of a grown up superhero could fit in was always going to be a challenge. Even after his true age was revealed, both Batman and Superman felt that it’d be best if they kept an eye on him - although they each had their own reasons for doing so.
Here’s a twist: Shazam is actually an acronym. It stands for the six immortal elders from which Captain Marvel derives his powers: 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.
So, when Billy says, “Shazam!,” it’s not just his version of “Open sesame.” The word not only transforms him into the superhero Captain Marvel, Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, but also stands for all of the abilities that he was granted. He may have gone by the name Shazam eventually, but that name was originally reserved for the wizard who imbued Billy with these powers in the first place. After watching Billy’s heroic behavior, the mage deemed him worthy of such a gift.
Captain Marvel hasn’t always been an easy fit for the DC Universe. Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t originally created for it, but either way, Billy didn't always make sense within the confines of regular DC continuity. Thanks to ‘80s mega event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, that’s exactly where Captain Marvel wound up. Prior to that though, the Shazam Family existed in the parallel universe of Earth-S - no one strained too many muscles coming up with that name.
Many years later, DC reintroduced the multiverse and Captain Marvel once again hailed from somewhere else, Earth-5, aka Thunderworld. Well, a version of him, because there was still a different hero, who went by Shazam, on Earth One. The multiverse has always been a very confusing place.
This is a topic that has been explored both in the comics and the cartoons. Captain Marvel and Superman have similar power sets - remember that whole lawsuit thing - so there has always been a question of who would emerge victorious in a fight. Supes may have seniority, but Billy’s got something pretty important as well: magic. The Man of Steel has few vulnerabilities, but that’s definitely one of them.
The two heroes have squared off more than once over the years, but much like the battles between Superman and the Dark Knight, the outcome has been dependent on the writer. There are, of course, no definitive answers about who would win in a fight between two fictional characters - although it is a comic book debate for the ages.
As earlier stated, Shazam is a match for Superman and not only because his powers are based in magic. He’s also unbelievably strong, which makes sense, considering he has the strength of Hercules. Shazam is quite literally blessed with the powers of a god, and more than one at that. In fact, the strength of Golden Age Captain Marvel was seemingly unlimited. The guy could actually move stars and planets!
Much like Superman, Shazam eventually became so strong that writers had to find a way to power him down a bit. Even still, he remains one of DC’s toughest heroes. For a time, Captain Marvel even had a move called the “atomic punch”, although this has understandably fallen out of favor since WWII.
The wisdom of Solomon gives Captain Marvel incredible intelligence, experience beyond his years and near unlimited knowledge. It also means that he can speak any language. This applies not only to the dialects of Earth, but alien languages as well. He can even speak in tongues long forgotten, which comes in pretty handy when one time travels - as superheroes so often do.
This power is incredibly useful, as it enables Shazam to communicate with pretty much anyone. Interestingly, this talent doesn’t just apply to human beings either. Captain Marvel is also capable of communicating with animals. Just imagine how it would feel if instead of constantly wondering what your dog might be thinking about, you actually knew what was on his mind?
This is a power that Captain Marvel hasn’t utilized all that much over the years. During the character’s early days, he would teleport back and forth to the Rock of Eternity to meet up with the wizard Shazam. However, the ability did not seem to work outside of that purpose.
In more recent years though, Shazam’s power set was significantly altered. The aftermath of Darkseid War left many heroes changed and he was no exception. In fact, Shazam’s gifts were granted by an entirely different pantheon of gods - yet somehow their initials still managed to spell out Shazam. One power he gained outright was the ability to teleport, although it’s still not one that he uses all that often.
We can discuss the similarities between the Big Red Cheese and the Man of Steel all day long, but here’s another one: both could not fly in their earliest appearances, despite the fact that flight later became a well known ability of each character. Originally, Superman could famously only “leap tall buildings in a single bound” and the same was true of Captain Marvel.
Similar though they may have been, Captain Marvel actually beat Superman to the skies, gaining the ability to take flight several issues after his introduction. It took Supes a few years before he left those on the ground wondering whether they happened to be looking at a bird or a plane overhead.
When DC began publishing Shazam comics, Captain Marvel had been long absent from comic stands. Due to DC’s lawsuit, Fawcett was forced to drop Captain Marvel in 1953 - the company actually stopped publishing superhero comics in general at that time. However, DC did not begin licensing the character until 1972. They chose to keep the previous Fawcett publications as canon, meaning Captain Marvel had been gone for about twenty years.
As previously mentioned, DC established that the hero’s prior adventures had taken place on Earth-S, but his long absence still needed to be explained. Well, it turned out that Captain Marvel’s arch nemesis, Doctor Sivana, had kept him in suspended animation during that entire time.
Lightning has always been a vital part of Captain Marvel’s power set. From the beginning, the magic word “Shazam” would transform Billy Batson into Captain Marvel through a lightning bolt. He had even been seen summoning that bolt to use offensively, as he did when he used it to strike Superman in Kingdom Come.
This ability was later greatly expanded upon - Captain Marvel's powers have been altered countless times from his days at Fawcett to Crisis to the New 52. Shazam could eventually focus and control the lightning to a much greater degree. He could actually shoot lightning bolts from his body, aiming them at anyone or anything he chooses. From what the movie trailer has shown thus far, it seems that this ability will be a part of Billy’s power set when Shazam! hits theaters next month.
Although Zachary Levi is bringing Captain Marvel to the big screen, he is not the first actor to portray the character in a live-action setting. There was a 1941 film serial titled, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. It starred Tom Tyler in the titular role and was the first time that a superhero was depicted in film. That’s right, he beat out the Man of Steel.
That’s not all though. As pictured above, there was a Shazam! television show that ran on CBS from 1974-1977, with Jackson Bostwick - and later John Davey - playing the hero. Captain Marvel also appeared in a couple of live-action Hanna Barbara comedy specials after the show went off the air, with Garrett Craig in the role.
The fact that Captain Marvel was kind of a Superman knockoff didn’t stop England from creating a hero who was suspiciously similar to him. Marvelman’s adventures ran from 1954-1963 and that was it, at least until the title was resurrected by Alan Moore in the early ‘80s.
Marvelman became one of Moore’s most important works, a precursor to his most famous deconstruction of the superhero genre, Watchmen. If you know the hero better as Miracleman, that’s the result of another legal battle. Marvel objected to the character’s given name and the publisher was forced to change it. The book is considered one of Moore’s finest stories and it all stemmed from a hero who was originally little more than a pale facsimile of Captain Marvel.
For a while there, Captain Marvel had freeze breath, likely for no other reason than the fact that the Man of Steel did. However, it’s been a few decades and that ability seems to be all but forgotten. As mentioned previously, “Darkseid War” majorly altered Shazam’s powers. He may not have gotten his Marvel breath back, but he did get an ability that Superman does not have: the power to breathe fire.
Remember that new pantheon of gods we mentioned? The H in “Shazam” now stood for a Martian god named H’ronmeer. Through him, Shazam was granted the power to summon fire, which means more than dragon breath. He can also shoot the fire from his hands.
The wizard Shazam is the mage who granted Captain Marvel his amazing powers. However, at one point, the student wound up becoming the teacher. During The Trials of Shazam, Billy took some time off from being a superhero. He retired completely, instead stepping into the role of the wizard Shazam. Because Cap stepped down, Freddy Freeman lost his powers and during his quest to regain them, he took on the name Shazam.
Notably, this was the first time that DC really attempted to change the hero’s name from Captain Marvel to Shazam. It didn’t stick at that point, but eventually Shazam’s name would match the title of his comic - which makes a lot more sense.
John Constantine is one tricky guy and anyone who knows him would tell you that it’s unwise to make a deal with the mage, especially if you don’t quite understand the terms. It was an interesting idea to pair the jaded magician with the naive Billy Batson and Constantine fully took advantage of Shazam’s innocence. During “Trinity War,” he pulled a major bait and switch on poor Billy.
Of course, Constantine thought that he was stealing Billy’s powers for a solid reason: to spare the world the darkness and pain that Shazam would cause it. He swapped their voices, granting himself the power to utter Billy’s magic word. Constantine quickly learned that despite Billy’s youth, handling Shazam’s godlike powers isn’t easy and it wasn’t long before the hero reclaimed what had been taken from him.
There are plenty of comic characters who stole their looks from popular stars. The Ultimate version of Nick Fury was famously modeled after Samuel L. Jackson, an interesting case that went on to become life imitating art. John Constantine owes his signature look to Sting and The Crow’s Eric Draven was sort of a composite of Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy and Iggy Pop.
Captain Marvel’s original appearance was based on a popular actor of the time, Fred MacMurray. Artist C.C. Beck stated, “Captain Marvel himself was based on the actor Fred MacMurray, who was known as a pretty down-to-earth guy.” From his wavy hair to very visible cleft in his chin, the actor's influence is obvious once you know that he was the basis for the character.
Being powered by a literal pantheon of gods has a pretty huge upside. As earlier stated, the “M” in Shazam stands for the speed of Mercury, so being fast has never been much of an issue for Captain Marvel. Teleportation wasn’t the only way that he has been able to travel to and from the Rock of Eternity over the years. He could also get there by flying faster than the speed of light - at least pre-Crisis Captain Marvel could.
Shazam may not soar to quite the same heights as Superman or be able to beat the Flash in a race, but Captain Marvel is most definitely much faster than the rest of us. He is Earth's Mightiest Mortal after all.
Billy Batson is human, so he ages like the rest of us mere mortals. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, is ageless. Billy can grow into an adult, but the hero that he transforms into either doesn’t age at all or does so at such a decelerated rate that’s it’s imperceptible to the human eye. Perhaps we can chalk it up to the stamina of Atlas.
Black Adam, who is sort of the dark mirror image of Shazam, is literally thousands of years old. In human form, he would expire immediately at this point, but with his powers, he continues to maintain his youthful appearance. Captain Marvel may be forever young, but the wizard Shazam, who has access to the same powers, has looked ancient from day one.
Taking on the role of a superhero is an exciting, but difficult task. Suddenly, you’re under a ridiculous amount of scrutiny from fans who are often losing their minds over nothing. Brie Larson had to endure comments about Captain Marvel’s lack of a permanent smile plastered to her face and Zachary Levi was left to deal with people bemoaning his lack of a superhero physique.
When early Shazam! photos surfaced, some were quick to complain that he appeared to be wearing fake muscles under his costume. Levi squashed these rumors, revealing his intense training plan since being cast in the DC film. He was hitting the gym 5-6 times a week and consuming between 3,000-4,000 calories a day. He explained, “I immediately put on about 24 pounds and then we carved that down in about half."