10 Reasons Shazam Comics Have Aged Badly

Shazam, the hero originally known as Captain Marvel, was the most popular comic book character of the 1940s. Unfortunately, DC Comics launched a frivolous lawsuit alleging that Captain Marvel ripped off Superman and forced his publishers into bankruptcy. As a result, the world’s most powerful mortal always felt frozen in time.

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While Superman was in continuous print and even included Captain Marvel’s best writers, resulting in the most successful period in its publishing history, the Big Red Cheese didn’t have that luxury. Comic book fans should definitely check out the classic stories of this seminal character, but there are some elements of the Shazam legend that just wouldn’t work today.

10/10 Billy Batson started out as a “street brat”

Shazam is holding Billy Batson

Captain Marvel was co-created by artist CC Beck and writer Bill Parker on the pages of 1939 Whizz Comics Vol. 1 #2, which introduced Billy Batson as a homeless orphan. This was based on the “street urchin” archetype, which was somewhat anchored in early 20th-century reality.

Today’s readers may find this uncomfortable, however, as we now expect a civilized society to have a welfare system that can keep at least 12-year-olds from living on the streets. DC Comics attempted to modernize that riff by bringing Billy into the care system, which unfortunately comes with his own baggage.

9/10 Then Billy Batson was being led down the tube by a stranger

Billy Batson with his mouth closed

In the next installment of Billy’s origin story, a strange man guides him through the Fawcett City subway system. Readers with modern-day fears of child thieves and predatory pedophiles can expect this scenario to produce a more heinous outcome.

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Luckily, in Captain Marvel’s world, this leads to the moment when Billy Batson is super-powered. Jerry Ordways Power of Shazam! ’90s reboot established that this “stranger” was the ghost of Billy’s father. The year is now 2019 Shazam The film even used the audience’s hysteria about child molesters for a cheeky gag.

8/10 History majors have every right to be angry with Shazam

The wizard Shazam gives Billy powers

As Captain Marvel’s origins unfold, the Stranger leads Billy on a magical train that leads him to the Wizard, whose name is an acronym for seven mythical figures: S for Solomon, H for Hercules, A for Atlas, Z for Zeus, A for Achilles and M for Mercury, which adds up to “Shazam!”.

But what is the logic behind the fact that six of the mythical characters are Graeco-Roman and one is from the Old Testament? Why the mixture of Greek and Roman names? Apparently, audiences in the 1940s were much more tolerant of logical contradictions in superhero comics. Or maybe they just didn’t take fantasies about flying men too seriously.

7/10 Of course, The Wizard Shazam has been whitewashed

The wizard Shazam sits on a throne

Billy Batson transforms into Captain Marvel by uttering the name of the Egyptian wizard (Shazam) that gave him his powers. Except that the depiction of the Golden Age wizard expressly fitted the White European form, which was reflected in both the coloring and the line drawing itself.

Perhaps this follows the Hollywood tradition of white actors playing African and Middle Eastern characters. Outside of the theater, one could argue that cast should not be restricted by race or gender. Comic artists now have the freedom to draw characters however they please, so it’s difficult to justify this case of whitewashing. Fortunately, recent comics have solved the problem.

6/10 Holy incestuous subtext, Batman!

Mary Marvel on the cover of New Champion of SHAZAM 1 by Doc Shaner

Billy Batson was soon joined by his sister Mary, who also gained superpowers by saying the words “Shazam.” Mary and Billy were separated when they were orphaned, although that doesn’t exactly excuse the incestuous subtext in their relationship. Captain and Mary Marvel often flirted with each other, and Billy even invited his sister to be the third wheel on a date.

In fact, Alan Moore turned it down Dawn of the Superheroes Crossover event notoriously planned to canonize Batson family incest. To be fair to the creators of the Golden Age, modern readers are simply more apt to pick up on sexual connotations where none were intended.

5/10 Billy Batson is a minor with an adult job

Billy Batson Senior Journalism

Technically DC Comics’ Complaint was not entirely unfounded. Captain Marvel highlighted several key elements of Superman mythology, including the overall design of his costume. Meanwhile, in a blatant attempt to revive Clark Kent’s calling as a journalist, underage Billy Batson was hired as a radio news anchor.

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It’s hard to say if children were ever employed as radio news anchors, but that certainly couldn’t happen with modern labor laws. Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s youngest Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures #1, which starred the entire Marvel family, proudly embraced this set-up and hinted that this kind of absurdity is what matters Shazam! so magical.

4/10 Shazam’s use of real-world villains was a bit reductive

Captain Marvel stands alongside Bulletman and Captain Nazi

Comic book superheroes have a tradition of battling real-life characters. For example, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created a short strip where the Man of Steel had Hitler imprisoned just as Joe Simon and Jack Kirby imagined Captain America by having him smack Hitler in the face.

However, these examples occurred before America entered World War II, when criticism of the Nazi regime was a radical and arguably necessary step. In contrast, Captain Marvel’s post-war use of real-life characters like Hitler, Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo as supervillains could be viewed as reducing real-life atrocities to childish cartoons.

3/10 Sexualizing the Marvel family is pretty scary

Jerry Ordway Shazam Flies

A key element of the Captain Marvel mythos is that young Billy Batson transforms into a superhuman with perfect intelligence and physique. So it’s understandable that Billy’s superhuman alter ego, the Big Red Cheese, became the object of desire.

It is also consistent that Mary’s transformations would have a similar effect on her. All accounts aside, the personalities of underage Billy and Mary still have a great deal of control over their “adult” counterparts. Whenever the Marvels are treated as sex objects, there’s an undeniable creepiness that even more modern comics couldn’t avoid.

2/10 Georgia Sivana’s motivation was quite regressive

Magnificus, Jr, Georgia and Beautia Sivana from the Shazam comics

Captain Marvel’s nemesis, Doctor Sivana, was the classic mad scientist, except he had a family by his side. In the Golden Age of Captain Marvel comics, it was widely suggested that Sivana and his children, Sivana Jr. and Georgia, were evil because they annoyed their “ugly” appearance.

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This point is made clear by the fact that Sivana’s eldest children, Beautia and Magnificus, were on the side of good and were portrayed as being quite handsome. But the most regressive thing is that young Georgia Sivana’s main motivation for hating the Marvel Family is that she’s jealous of Mary Marvel’s looks while her father and brother are concerned about world domination.

1/10 Like his contemporaries, Captain Marvel focused on white-collar crime

Fawcett's Captain Marvel helps a warship avoid mines.

In 1938, Superman was introduced as a champion of the oppressed, focused on fighting corrupt capitalists and politicians. However, as he was absorbed into the corporate machine, he switched to taking on more “acceptable” criminals who were working-class delinquents such as bank robbers. This became the model for most superheroes, including Captain Marvel, who used his incredible powers to preserve the status quo and his hierarchy of power.

As social activism has become more mainstream in recent years, the tradition of using superheroes to amplify inequality seems to be over for good. But without the benefit of hindsight, it’s impossible to tell if Captain Marvel and his contemporaries are truly addressing the injustices of the present.

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