In the year plus since Rebirth was rolled out. DC has managed to gain back good favour with its fans. The mistakes of the New 52 have been largely set right, and we can now enjoy the DC books as they should be. The Superman of old returns, “letting the colour fly”. Bringing us one of the strongest interpretations of Lois Lane in years, as well as their young son Jon. Batman has returned more heavily to his detective roots. Providing truly intriguing stories, focusing on Bruce Wayne and Batman’s intelligence, rather than as a power fantasy. Wonder Woman splits her story between the modern tales of gods fighting amongst gods, as well as her early and brighter adventures. All seems right with the DC universe. However, one character seems to be left out. One that would benefit greatly from the new direction DC has taken.
In the landscape of DC Rebirth, alongside such characters of Jon Kent, Damian Wayne, and the Teen Titans. Young Billy Batson could once again find a home.
First appearing in Whiz Comics #2, in 1939. Captain Marvel as he was originally known, competed for space on the racks against Superman himself. Created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck for Fawcett Comics. Young Billy Batson lives on the streets, selling newspapers. Despite his bad situation, he has a cheerful personality, and works hard daily. One day while working outside the subway. He is led down to a mysterious station. Upon boarding the train, he finds himself in an ancient cavern. Statues representing the seven deadly sins to the side, and an old wizard sat alone. The wizard Shazam reveals to Billy that after 3,000 years, he has grown old, and can no longer fight the forces of evil. Explaining to Billy that he has been chosen to take his place, due to him being ‘pure of heart’. The wizard instructs Billy to speak his name, but to say it with purpose. As the word,”Shazam!” leaves his lips, he is granted the power of gods. The wisdom of Soloman. The strength of Hercules. The stamina of Atlas. The power of Zeus. The courage of Achillies, and the speed of Mercury. Billy rises as Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. Captain Marvel!
With Superman, kids could idolise and look up to a superhero they could dream of someday becoming. Captain Marvel however, was the kid who was a hero. Sales of Captain Marvel sored, to the point that his comics at one point out sold the Man of Steel. In 1953 Fawcett stopped its publications of Captain Marvel stories, due to a copyright infringement suit from DC. A black haired, flying strongman was a little on the nose for them. In 1972, DC Comics acquired the rights the Captain Marvel, and thanks to his name, they decided to rename his book, though not the character at the time, Shazam.
“I suppose I feel a lot better about this realm of magic, or mysticism.. Well .. Knowing that you’re guarding the gate.”
Originally sent in his own little universe with the rest of the Fawcett characters, Earth-S. Captain Marvel was largely kept separate from the rest of the DC universe, with the occasional fun cross-over with Superman. However, with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, the worlds were merged. Making both Billy Batson, and Captain Marvel a part of the mainstream DC Universe. Joining the Justice League and becoming as much a part of DC continuity as the likes of Green Lantern or Aquaman. Captain Marvel appeared in multiple story lines, both in and out of continuity. Even playing a major part in the highly celebrated Elseworld story Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. Fans of DC animated shows, also know the character from Young Justice (2010 – 2013), Justice League Unlimited (2004 – 2006), and Justice League Action (2016). It’s hard to refer to him as an unknown or obscure character.
In 2011, DC launched the New 52. Renaming the character Shazam, and modernising the character. Instead of the fun and kind-hearted kid, who worked hard and thought of other. We meet the jaded, sarcastic and brash Billy. Acting kind in front of potential foster parents, only to show his true colours once the door closes. After being fostered by the Vasquezes into a house with other foster children, his origin remains largely the same. Being transported to a strange cave from a train cart, and meeting the wizard Shazam. However, when Shazam scans his heart, he pushes him back and refers to him as an “impure soul”. Billy stands up to the wizard, asking him how long he has been looking for a pure good person. When he responds with “A very long time”, Billy scoffs telling him that there is no such thing.
“People are Horrible. They disappoint you. They let you down. I’ve spent my life learning that. Good people get swallowed up. They get taken advantage of. They disappear. Trust me. It doesn’t matter how good you try to be. Everyone else is going to drag you down with them. You’re searching for something that doesn’t really exist.”
Sensing his life about to end, Shazam gives Billy the power anyway, needing there to be a champion. Black Adam has already returned, and the Earth needs defending.
This change to Billy’s character largely reflects the New 52. A darker, more ‘realistic’ direction for the characters and the universe. While he received a few issues of the Justice League book to tell his origin (which did become its own trade paperback). Shazam never had his own solo series. He became a member of the Justice League, part of an ensemble cast who rarely gained the spotlight.
With Rebirth, light and love were returned to the DC universe. Room was made for lighter characters. Brighter adventures alongside the dark. In this new world, why can’t the Shazam of old return? Despite appearing on the back cover of DC Rebirth’s one-shot, neither Shazam or Billy have made an appearance.
There was once a time, where the adventures of Superman and Shazam brought joy. Tales of a young boy and the Man of Steel fighting side by side. Judd Winick’s First Thunder comes to mind. With Rebirth, it’s time to bring those days back. Imagine stories where Billy teams up with Jon and Damian. Superboy and Robin respectively. How fun would it be to see the kind-hearted kids, Jon and Billy, play off the harsh Damian. Only for Billy to speak the words “Shazam”, and put Damian in his place?
Captain Marvel or Shazam, however you refer to him. Billy Batson has a place in this world, and it’s time the thunder strikes again.