Inside the DC SHAZAM! Reboot

A more classic version of the character, complete with a "new name" is central to DC's approach to revitalizing Shazam! We've got the details...

The Captain from DC Comics SHAZAM! #1 (art by Dan Mora)
Photo: DC

SHAZAM! is back. Well, really, he never left. DC has made the character and much of his supporting cast a regular presence in the comics over the last few years, bolstered in no small part by the success of his first big screen outing in 2018 (unfortunately, this year’s fun Shazam! Fury of the Gods sank without a trace at the box office). But most of the classic character’s comics adventures in recent years have felt like something of a mirror of his live action ones, a sensible decision for a publisher that’s trying to position its characters for broad audiences, but Shazam hasn’t really felt quite as much like, well, his old self in recent years. 

But that’s all changed with Mark Waid and Dan Mora’s SHAZAM! #1 from DC. If ever there was a perfect example of an entry-level comic book adventure for folks who have been meaning to get a sense of why the character has endured for nearly as long as Superman, it’s this one. Without dismissing any of the elements that have been the staple of the character since his reinvention during DC’s New 52 era, Waid and Mora bring a little whimsy and fun back to his adventures, as well as an unofficial “new name” to tie things even more closely to his history.

Waid, who is currently thriving with Mora on another “back-to-basics” DC book with Batman/Superman: World’s Finest (watch this space for more on that soon) describes finally taking on a Shazam series as “a bucket list item,” had been jotting down concepts for the series for quite some time when editor Paul Kaminski suggested that the pair should take this on. 

“I can’t believe how faithful Dan is to the spirit and look of the character,” Waid tells me during an episode of our DC Standom podcast. “He has a way of being able to draw anything from any period in DC history and make it look contemporary and modern. That is the secret of all of this. He is the secret sauce.”

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As for what makes a Shazam story a Shazam story, Waid cites “the general tongue in cheek nature and being unafraid to commit to the whimsy of it and the fact that it can be a funny book as well, as we will see in upcoming issues coming up a very startling and shocking book, too….But the secret really is just settling back into the basic concept. A kid says a magic word, becomes a superhero, there’s a talking Tiger, and there’s gods and magic. I understand why so many people in the past 20 or 30 years have been afraid of leaning into that because nothing in the comics market suggests that there is a place for this…. I understand why people feel that way. But I felt like it was time to roll the dice and if I’m going to do it, fully commit.”

Part of that back-to-basics approach involves, not exactly renaming the character, but restoring a certain honorific that has been missing for the last decade. What movie fans might not realize is that the character now known as Shazam is actually the original character to be called Captain Marvel, and that was his name for the first 70 or so years of his existence (even though any title he starred in, and any merchandise featuring him, bore the name “Shazam”). To make a very long story as short as we possibly can, it’s a combination of the fact that DC had sued Shazam’s original publishers practically out of existence in the 1950s and that by the time DC resurrected him in the 1970s, they were understandably hesitant to call any new title by their biggest competitor’s name. 

But having him share his name with the word Billy says to gain super powers has been a pretty awkward contrivance at best. So with SHAZAM! #1, he’s also known as “The Captain,” with an amusing in-story reason alluded to, but really, it’s much catchier this way, and it’s one more element from the classic character that everyone is happy to see return.

“I just was very uncomfortable with him being called Shazam, because then he can’t say his own name out loud,” Waid says. “And if he can, you’ve set up a situation by which sometimes the magic word works and sometimes it doesn’t, which to me that takes all the magic out of the concept and out of the word. It’s not a magic word anymore. Obviously, the original name, Captain Marvel is off the table. Another name we bandied about, Captain Thunder, is also off the table because of other trademarks from other companies. This was our compromise. And is it a little generic? Yes. But if anybody has any better ideas that are legally sound, I’m all ears. [But] The Captain works just fine. It’s like Doctor Who. He doesn’t call himself Doctor Who, he’s just The Doctor.”

As for what’s up next in the series, Waid is promising that we’ll see The Captain interacting with some villains from other corners of the DC Universe rather than his traditional rogues’ gallery at first. 

“When I started World’s Finest, I made a giant wish list of all the characters in the DC Universe that I would love to touch upon in [that book]. Some of them were sillier than others and some of them were a little more whimsical than others. It’s kind of hard to fit that might into World’s Finest as we’re setting it up now. But I went through the list and there’s so many characters that I can play with…Tattooed Man is not much of a menace for Superman and Batman, but hey, that might be a good Shazam story. So going through the list, there’s so many characters that I can play with. We’ve got Gorilla City coming up in Issue three. We have Garguax, the Emperor of the Moon from Doom Patrol showing up in an issue…. The Captain has an interesting rogues gallery, and we’ll get to Mr. Mind [and] we’ll get to Sivana. But right now I’m really interested in …some characters that we don’t normally see him fight.”

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SHAZAM! #1 is now on sale everywhere from DC Comics, with new issues being published monthly. You can listen to our full interview with Mark Waid about SHAZAM! and Batman/Superman: World’s Finest right here: