Fans are getting pretty hyped about the upcoming Shazam film which has so far showcased a light and comedic tone that marks a refreshing change from previous DC films. Shazam stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson and Zachary Levi as his superhero alter ego Shazam in the first modern cinematic outing for the "Big Red Cheese," as the World's Mightiest Mortal has affectionately become known. Newcomers to the characters will have learned from the trailer that young Billy Batson is able to transform into a super-powered adult when he says the word "Shazam" and calls down the power of the mystical wizard whose name he shares.
What isn't immediately evident in the released footage is the fact that Billy and Shazam are not usually alone in their adventures. We are introduced to Billy's adoptive family and some of his closest allies like Freddy Freeman, who is played by It star Jack Dylan Grazer in the upcoming film. Some of these characters eventually share in Shazam's power in various ways that have been redefined over the years by the many reboots and Crises that the DC Universe has faced. But to really learn more about the "Shazam Family" we have to move back to the Golden Age of comics, back before Shazam was called Shazam, and back even before the characters existed at DC Comics. Today we are going to learn everything you need to know about the "Shazam Family" before their inevitable appearance in the developing Shazam franchise.
Inspired by the success of DC Comics' (then known as National Comics) popular heroes like Superman and Batman, Fawcett Publications created its own comic division in 1939. This led writer Bill Parker to develop a team of heroes who were each powered by six mystical deities to star alongside other comic creations. Parker and artist C.C. Beck streamlined the idea into one character named Captain Thunder until copyright issues forced the character to be renamed as Captain Marvel, who first appeared in Whiz Comics #2. DC Comics eventually bought Fawcett Comics and the characters of Captain Marvel after the company shut down its superhero comics division in 1953.
Captain Marvel (as he would be known for the next few decades) would not be alone in his fight against crime, as he was soon joined by the Lieutenant Marvels in 1941's Whiz Comics #21. Billy Batson, who worked as a radio reporter for W.H.I.Z. in New York City (later Fawcett City), was tracked down by three other Billy Batson's from across the US. To avoid confusion, Billy from Brooklyn became Fat Billy, Western Billy became Tall Billy, and Southern Billy became Hill Billy. They soon discovered that all the Billy Batson's could share the power of Shazam when they said the magic word. The three Billys became the Lt. Marvels and appeared mostly during the Fawcett Comics era.
The Lt. Marvels were only the first additions to Fawcett's popular hero, as Captain Marvel Jr. soon joined the team. Freddy Freeman was granted power from Captain Marvel in 1941's Whiz Comics #25, where he wore a blue version of Captain Marvel's costume. About a year later, Mary Bromfeld was granted her own share of the power and became Mary Marvel in Captain Marvel Adventures #18, and the Marvel Family was born. The team would add other members to its extended family over the years, and featured in a number of titles including the aforementioned Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures, as well as Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, Wow Comics, Master Comics, and The Marvel Family.
With the Lt. Marvels, Captain Marvel Jr., and Mary Marvel at his side, Captain Marvel became the first hero to have an entire team that featured his appearance and powers, creating a franchise of characters all the way back in the 40s. DC Comics would replicate this to some extent with the appearances of characters like Superboy and Aqualad, though Marvel moved away from teen heroes after the death of Captain America's sidekick, Bucky. The Marvel Family inspired the creation of pastiches like Marvelman/Miracleman, which took the dynamic of the Marvel Family and twisted it to tell a much darker story than the citizens of Fawcett City were used to seeing.
When Billy Batson yells out the word "Shazam" he is imbued with the powers of the wizard who first granted him his abilities, which at first glance closely resemble the powers of DC's Superman. However, Captain Marvel and the rest of the Marvel Family, are actually granted the power of six "gods" - Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. This mixture of Greek and Roman gods, Titans, demi-gods, and warriors each give the Family a unique trait; the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the great courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Ibac and Sabbac are two DC villains powered in similar ways, though their names are representative of demons and underworld gods.
Mary Bromfeld was one of the first female spin-offs of a popular male character, appearing a good decade before Supergirl, who was also created by Mary Marvel co-creator Otto Binder. In the original Fawcett Comics version, the character was revealed to be Billy Batson's long lost twin sister and eventually started going by Mary Batson in her civilian identity. By the New 52, however, she is no longer Billy Batson's biological sister. Prior to 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, Mary Marvel derived her powers from a different set of goddesses - Selene, Hippolyta, Artemis, Zephyrus, Aphrodite, and Minerva.
When Freddy Freeman first took on the powers of Captain Marvel Jr. after getting paralyzed, he was given a portion of Captain Marvel's own power. Whereas Captain Marvel would cry out "Shazam" to gain powers from the wizard Shazam and the elder gods, Jr. had to speak the name of his power progenitor - Captain Marvel. This led to the problem of introducing himself, as his magical word was a part of his name and would cause him to revert to Freddy Freeman at inopportune moments. This led to creative ways to name himself, such as CMJ or CM3, and King Shazam more recently in the New 52, though that name hasn't really stuck.
The early Marvel Family was rounded out with a final human member who became known as Uncle Marvel. Uncle Marvel was initially a con artist who pretended to be Mary and Billy's Uncle Dudley, though he was later rebooted as a blood uncle of Billy Batson. While he never received any powers from the wizard Shazam or Captain Marvel, he would still suit up in his homemade Marvel costume and go on adventures with the team as the manager of the Marvel Family. Uncle Marvel was obviously there for comedic effect, but he also proved to be the heart of the Marvel Family and managed to survive a few reboots. Sadly, he has largely disappeared from the current DC Universe.
Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana debuted alongside Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics#2 and has remained a constant foe of the World's Mightiest Mortal over the years. The slightly different New 52 version of the character will be appearing in the live-action Shazam film, but it's the Golden Age Dr. Sivana that was the real threat to the Marvel Family. While his oldest children Beautia and Magnificus rarely fight against the Marvels (Beautia has an unrequited crush on Captain Marvel), his other children Thaddeus Jr. and Georgia work with their father to take down the Marvels. Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart's Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures later reimagined the Sivana children as magically superpowered villains.
Obviously, any group of characters who have been around for over 75 years will have amassed a pretty large supporting cast. The Marvel Family is no different, with a number of non-powered heroes who routinely assist the Marvel Family in their adventures. Uncle Marvel is technically a part of the Marvel Family, but his adoptive niece Mary Dudley often suits up in her own homemade Marvel costume as Freckles Marvel to help out Mary Marvel. "Muscles" McGinnis started out on the wrong side of the law, but after facing off against Captain Marvel he vowed to go straight and became an undercover cop. And that's just the human allies...
This sounds a bit like the series was jumping the shark, but this was just part of what made Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family so unique. They existed in a world that could easily include a magical talking tiger named Mr. Tawky Tawny. Not impressed by the name alone? Well, it gets better. As Mr. Tawky Tawny wanted to live among civilization, he chose to dress in a tweed suit to fit in with humanity and was quite often the most refined member of the team. Later iterations of Mr. Tawky Tawny changed the character's origin a few times, from an animated stuffed doll to a magical shape-shifter to a generic tiger at the zoo that Billy Batson liked to feed.
A talking humanoid tiger wasn't even the oddest animal-related associate of the Marvel Family. That honor goes to Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, who mostly existed in his own corner of Fawcett Publications along with the rest of Fawcett's Funny Animals. Hoppy is a pink bunny who wished he could be strong and was a big fan of Captain Marvel. One day, Hoppy shouts the magic word "Shazam" on a lark, and is surprised to find himself granted the same powers as his hero. He became Hoppy the Marvel Bunny and worked with the Marvel Family on a few occasions. Hoppy's powers are derived from a different set of deities - Salamander, Hogules, Antlers, Zebreus, Abalone, and Monkury.
Following a lengthy legal battle with DC Comics over the similarities between Captain Marvel and Superman, Fawcett Comics closed its doors in 1953. This left the Marvel Family and the other characters of Fawcett City unprotected. The characters eventually found a home at DC Comics in 1972 through a licensing deal, but the name "Captain Marvel" was no longer available. Marvel Comics took advantage of the lapse in trademarks on the name to release their own version of Captain Marvel in 1967, which they promptly trademarked and have been legally using for years, forcing all of DC's Captain Marvel properties to be released under the banner of Shazam.
When the Captain Marvel characters were licensed in 1972, it was under the unusual circumstances of trademark issues which had plagued the character and companies since the creation of Fawcett's greatest hero. That meant that DC could only use the character under the Shazam title, yet in the comics, Billy Batson's alter ego was still known as Captain Marvel. And while the characters were appearing in DC Comics, they weren't integrated as well as they are these days. Prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series in 1985, the Marvel Family existed in their own parallel universe known as Earth-S with the other Fawcett characters, before joining with the other DC heroes on New Earth after the events of the Crisis.
Captain Marvel was no stranger to live action adaptations, having appeared in the 12-part film serial Adventures of Captain Marvel from Republic Pictures, which actually gives Captain Marvel the honor of being the first comic book superhero brought to life on film. The character was also adapted into a television series called Shazam! that aired on CBS from 1974 to 1977, though the premise of the series was a bit different than what comic fans were used to seeing. Then, in 1981, the Marvel Family starred in their own animated series called The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! that aired alongside a series called Hero High. The animated series only lasted for 12 episodes but remains a fan-favorite.
Long-time Shazam villain and occasional anti-hero, Black Adam even created his own version of the Marvel Family in the 2006 weekly event known as 52. Black Adam falls in love with Adrianna Tomaz and gifts her a magical amulet that gives her the power of the goddess Isis. Black Adam then shared his own power with her young brother, who became Osiris. The Black Marvel Family even came complete with its own talking animal! Sobek was a talking mutated alligator created by Dr. Sivana and rescued by the family, though Sobek would later trick the young Osiris and devour him, kicking off events that would lead to the deaths of the rest of Black Adam's family.
The DC Universe saw a number of Crises over the years, with the 2006 Infinite Crisis event causing massive changes to the Shazam characters. The wizard that granted them their powers died, and Billy Batson was forced to take his place as the keeper of the magical Rock of Eternity. Batson's new responsibility as the keeper known as Marvel left the role of Captain Marvel vacant, which the now depowered Freddy Freeman sought to fill. To become worthy of the power of Shazam, Freeman was forced to go through trials from the various gods that gave their abilities to Captain Marvel, which resulted in Freeman becoming the new World's Mightiest Mortal, officially going by Shazam for the first time.
When Shazam passed away and Billy Batson ascended to become the new guardian of the Rock of Eternity, both Mary Marvel and CM3 lost their powers. This resulted in a traumatic fall for Mary, which left her in a coma for a short time before she ended up on the streets. Prior to the Final Crisis event, Black Adam re-powered Mary with his powers, and she became a darker Mary Marvel. Newly powered but still recovering from her earlier fall, Mary was then easily manipulated by the New God Darkseid and then possessed by the torturous Desaad as they attempted to turn Earth into a New Apokolips. Freddy Freeman, having earned the title of Shazam, managed to save Mary Marvel, though she was de-powered once again.
During the Flashpoint event that saw Barry Allen/Flash make a crucial change to the timeline that altered the DC Universe, fans were introduced to a brand new version of Shazam. This version called back to the original idea from creator Bill Parker, which featured a hero known as Captain Thunder. In the Flashpoint timeline, six children combine by saying the magic word "Shazam," becoming the powerful hero known as Captain Thunder. The alternate timeline didn't survive long, but the children who formed Captain Thunder would carry over to the resultant timeline known as the New 52, which would launch a brand new chapter in the story of Shazam.
Billy Batson and Shazam were introduced by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank in the recurring Justice League backup story. Much of his origin would remain the same, though it was chronologically updated and placed Billy Batson into a foster home filled with familiar faces. Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfeld were both foster children of the Vázquez family, along with the other children from the Flashpoint universe. Billy eventually shared the powers of Shazam with his foster siblings, once again giving Freddy and Mary their abilities. This time, however, the new members of the Shazam Family received altered powers - Eugene Choi gained technopathy, Pedro Peña became super strong, and Darla Dudley gained super speed.
The New 52 version of the Shazamily will appear in the upcoming Shazam film, which hits theaters on April 5.