With one magic word, Shazam has become one of the greatest superheroes in history. Billy Batson was imbued with the power of the wizard Shazam when he spoke that one magic word, Shazam! A fierce lightning strike would transform Billy into the World’s Mightiest Mortal. He first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (1939) and was created by Bill Parker and C. C. Beck. Shazam took the world of comics by storm and became the most popular character on the stands. Captain Marvel (as he was then known) and his magic word even outsold Superman much to DC Comics’ chagrin.
The world of Shazam became so popular that Fawcett Comics, began to spread the wealth. Plenty of heroes were granted the power of Shazam along with Billy and many became legends in their own right.
Tasting success with Shazam, Fawcett tried its luck with the spin off character Captain Marvel Jr. While Billy Batson was a kid who transformed into a super man, Freddy Freeman was a kid who transformed into a super kid. One of the utterly fascinating historical aspects of Captain Marvel Jr. is that Junior’s adventures were always a bit more adult and sophisticated than his “older brother’s” adventures. This probably had a great deal to do with the art of Mac Raboy, one of the greatest artists of the Golden Age.
Even Captain Marvel Jr.’s origin is dark. Freddy Freeman and his grandpa were attacked by a villain known as Captain Nazi (listen, when your name is Captain Nazi, you’re a villain, no questions asked). Grandpa Freeman was killed and Freddy was gravely injured. To save Freddy’s life, Billy gifted the dying boy with a portion of his Shazam powers. Now, when Freddy spoke the name Captain Marvel, he was transformed into Captain Marvel Junior. There was a definite Dickensian feel to Freddy, who was essentially a homeless newsboy who needed a crutch to walk. But in the ultimate bit of wish fulfillment, when Freddy spoke the name of his hero, he became the World’s Mightiest Boy. Captain Marvel Jr. and his adventures remain absolute highlights of the Golden Age.
Captain Marvel Jr. was so influential that he was Elvis Presley’s favorite super hero. In fact, Elvis patterned some of his stage costumes after Junior’s suit. When DC purchased the Fawcett pantheon, Freddy came along and became an important hero in the DCU. Over the years, Freddy served as a member of the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, and Young Justice. Since the New 52, Freddy is still around in his distinctive blue suit, but now, the young lad transforms into a blond haired Shazam Junior…or King Shazam…they haven’t gotten around to re-naming all these characters yet.
Long before Supergirl there was Mary Bromfeld, the first female derivative of a male superhero (and who was perhaps not coincidentally also co-created by Otto Binder). But like Supergirl, Mary Marvel was not limited by the fact she shared a power set and costume with a male counterpart. After she was introduced in 1942, Mary became a great hero on her own both in her own book, in multiple anthology titles, in the pages of The Marvel Family with her brothers.
Mary was the long lost twin sister of Billy Batson. Of course, Billy grew up without any knowledge he had a sister, but when the long separated siblings met, Mary inadvertently says Shazam! and transforms into Mary Marvel, the World’s Mightiest Girl. Where Captain Marvel’s adventures were whimsical and Jr.’s adventures were somewhat edgy and realistic, Mary’s adventures upped the gentleness quotient, creating light fantasy yarns that are as dreamlike as they are precious. Her origins have been updated over the years and it seems unlikely that she is a blood relative of Billy’s in the current comics).
And then there are the three younger Shazam siblings, all of whom were introduced in Flashpoint in 2011…
Geoff Johns and Gary Frank introduced a trio of new Shazam wielders. Joining Billy, Mary, and Freddy, Eugene, lives in the same foster home with the original three Shazam wielders. Eugene is the intellect of the group, he is dedicated to his studies and often gets into trouble for sassing his teachers. When he says Shazam, Eugene transforms into a silver clad Marvel and has the gift of technopathy, the ability to control machines.
Another of the foster siblings, Pedro is a fiercely loyal young man who transforms into a green clad superhero when he says Shazam. Pedro is imbued with much more physical strength than his Shazam siblings.
The youngest member of the Shazam family, Darla transforms into a purple costumed hero. Darla is the fastest of the Marvels and has some of the same precocious tendencies as the almost forgotten Freckles Marvel. With her siblings Eugene and Pedro, Darla has brought the Shazam family into a new age.
Mary and Junior weren’t the first heroes to share the power of Shazam with Billy Batson. A year before the creation of Junior, three other Marvels said that one magic word. And between you and me, they were wonderfully silly. In the first appearance of the three Lieutenants, Billy Batson meets three other young men who share the name Billy Batson. One of them is from Brooklyn and calls himself Fat Billy, the second is from the South and calls himself Hill Billy, and the third is from the West and calls himself Tall Billy. I think ol’ Fat Billy kinda got the short end of that Marvel stick.
Anyway, since they are all named Billy Batson, when the three new Billys say Shazam, they transform into Fat Marvel, Hill Marvel, and Tall Marvel. Golden Age logic, kids, Golden Age logic. Billy and the Lieutenants teamed up periodically throughout the 40s but Fat, Hill, and Tall all take a back seat once Junior and Mary make the scene.
Uncle Marvel was a con man and fraud named Dudley H. Dudley who pretended to be the long lost uncle of Mary Batson. When he discovers the Shazam secrets, the old scalawag pretends he too has Shazam powers and becomes Uncle Marvel. The other Marvels think Dudley a lovable old coot and allow the pretense.
As silly as it all sounds, Uncle Marvel became a full-fledged (albeit unpowered) member of the Marvel Family and even defeated Black Adam! It was Dudley that got Black Adam to say Shazam in his first appearance, a trick that caused the ancient Black Adam to transform into dust. So, hell yeah, Uncle Marvel single handily defeated the Shazam Family’s most deadly enemy. Not bad for an old swindler.
Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny
So yeah, this was a thing. In 1942, funny animals were incredibly popular, so when Fawcett entered the genre with the title Fawcett’s Funny Animals, it made sense to mash up the Shazam concept with a wascally wabbit. Granted the power of Shazam by the Wizard Bunny, Hoppy’s adventures follow the same formula as the other Shazam Family titles, with the character needing to say the word “Shazam” to transform. Of course, Hoppy’s magic word is a different acronym than the Captain’s, the letters standing for Salamander, Hogules, Antlers, Zebreus, Abalone, and Monkury.
The character returned many times over the decades since his heyday, appearing in a number of DC Universe stories. His first modern appearance was in DC Comics Presents #34 (1981) where he meets the Shazam Family for the “first” time and helps Superman defeat the classic Shazam villains Mr. Mind and Killer Kull. And guys, you know it gives you the warm and fuzzies that there’s a Shazam rabbit. You know it does.
Niece of Uncle Dudley, Mary Dudley threatened to expose her humbug uncle if he didn’t make the freckled Mary her own Marvel costume and let her become Freckles Marvel. Like Uncle Dudley, Freckles was generally played for comic relief, but the precocious Freckles could knock someone out with her mean right cross. I just hope she had a dermatologist on call so Freckles Marvel didn’t become Basal Cell Marvel.
Right around the time that DC purchased the Shazam Family, an almost Captain Marvel took on DC’s flagship hero. Captain Thunder was actually Willy Fawcett (see what they did there?), who transformed (complete with the sound effect Sha-Boom!) into Captain Thunder when Willy rubbed a magic belt buckle given to him by an indigenous medicine man. After battling a group consisting of a Frankenstein’s monster, a mummy, a wolf man, and Dracula (because awesome), Willy was inflicted with a mystical amnesia. This all leads to a clash with Superman who helps the doppelganger hero regain his memory. And then the legit Shazam became a thing at DC and so that was the end of Captain Thunder. But hey, Thunder totally counts even though he was only created so Superman could prove he is stronger than the recently purchased Shazam.
A Shazam wielder as part of the Legion of Super-Heroes is just the most marvelous piece of genius, like, ever. CeCe Beck (named after Shazam’s creator) is from the planet Binderaan (named after Mary Marvel and Supergirl co-creator Otto Binder). She is given the power of Shazam by an aged Billy Batson, who, in the 30th century, resembles the old wizard Shazam. When CeCe says the words Captain Marvel, she transforms into Thunder.
Sadly, Thunder only has a handful of appearances, but with DC’s recent revival of the Legion, your humble writer would love to see CeCe bring the power of Shazam into the next century.
Like CeCe, Tanist was given the power of Shazam by an aged Billy Batson. A resident of the planet Mercury, Tanist is severely injured and his mother murdered after he and his mom discover a mystical entrance to the Rock of Eternity. Billy revives Tanist with that one magic word and the Shazam legend continues a million years from now.