A superhero original gets a major makeover (and a name change)
March 20th, 2012
04:46 PM ET

A superhero original gets a major makeover (and a name change)

There are reboots, and then there are reboots.

With Wednesday's release of "Justice League" #7, the character known since 1941 as Captain Marvel will officially go by the name "Shazam" - a name which many of the uninitiated might have thought was his name for decades.

According to DC Comics' Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, who had a big hand in the recent relaunch of DC Comics characters with "The New 52,", told the New York Post that the name change made sense for a number of reasons, including that, "Shazam is the word most associated with the character." (DC Comics is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN.)

Gone also is the white collar on his cape, which is now more of a cowl, and the famous lightning bolt on his chest now glows.

"His place in the world will be far more rooted in fantasy and magic than it ever was before," Johns told the Post.

"This will be a complete revamping of the character, all the way back to his origins with new powers, and what I’m sure will be changes to his family of supporting characters," said John Barringer of A Comic Book Blog. "This could potentially be one of the biggest changes for a character as a result of the New 52."

The change in Shazam's appearance is potentially significant, as it makes him look a good deal less like Superman than before. In one of the most legendary court cases in comic book history, DC successfully won a lawsuit in 1953 with Captain Marvel's creator, Fawcett Comics, due to those similarities with one of their most popular characters. (At one point in the 1940s, Captain Marvel comics were outselling Superman).

"Captain Marvel was the first character that really refined the superhero formula," said Chris Sims, a senior writer for Comics Alliance. "He's the ultimate wish-fulfillment character. Every kid wants to be a grown-up and be big and strong and have the ability to get whatever they want, and Billy Batson is exactly that. He says a magic word and he doesn't just get super-powers, he turns into an adult that can fly around having all the adventures that kids want to have. And that's what made him a hit."

DC bought Captain Marvel back in the 1970s, but legally could not title any comic books "Captain Marvel," instead calling them "Shazam!" (named after the word young Billy would say to transform into Captain Marvel, as well as the wizard who first gave him his powers). Even the two Saturday morning TV series from that era were called "Shazam."

(Marvel Comics, on the other hand, is under no such restriction, and, for its part, DC's rival company announced the relaunch of their own version of a character named "Captain Marvel" – originally introduced in 1967 – this past weekend at Wondercon.)

DC once again relaunched the character several times from the 1990s until recent years, to varying levels of success.

So, why is this reboot raising eyebrows among some comic book fans?

"He's a sort of comic book relic, who’s eroded less through the years than others and keeps a part of that simpler time intact," said Barringer. "So as you can imagine, any adjustments to the character are carefully watched."

Sims said he has seen a very mixed reaction to this reboot from fans. "I've seen people calling Geoff Johns out for changing the name because he's 'not a true fan,'" he said, adding that there may be "some truth" to the idea that it's a way of DC getting around the legality of using "Captain Marvel."

"Other people are pretty optimistic about it, having Captain Marvel back in such a high-profile book."

Sims said he thinks critics are more upset about the costume change than about the name: "Captain Marvel was originally styled as a big, fun character that was as much a sort of Looney Tunes-style cartoon as he was a superhero," he said.

"There's a great story where his arch-enemy Dr. Sivana tries to blow him up with 'a billion tons of dynamite' and he just sort of flies up in the air like Wile E. Coyote. But since mainstream super-hero comics, and DC in particular, have spent the last 30 years trying to move away from that sense of fun and towards more 'serious' adventures, that doesn't really fit. So from the looks at least, he seems like he's been slightly redesigned to be more menacing."

Barringer believes, despite any uproar over the name and costume changes, that most fans are excited by a character getting reinvented, even if they won't admit it. "Shazam has all the characteristics of being a great classic superhero and his close ties to magic and supporting characters that make up the 'Marvel Family' open the spectrum even wider for all sorts of possibilities. I think the biggest concern is that comics seem to lose a bit of the original characters with every revision they go through, and it’d be a shame to see such a classy and classical character like Shazam deteriorate, even if a little."

Despite any misgivings, the fact that Geoff Johns has breathed new life into Green Lantern and, more recently, Aquaman, means that hardcore comic book readers will likely pick up "Justice League" out of curiosity to see what he has done with Shazam.

"Johns is one of the top creators in comics, if not the top writer, and 'Justice League' is the best-selling comic on the stands right now, and it's the one DC's pushing to get into the hands of the people who weren't necessarily reading comics before," said Sims. "His involvement means that this is a high-profile story, and that for a lot of readers it's going to be the first time they've seen Captain Marvel/Shazam in a long time, and for some it'll be their first exposure to the character. For them, this will be their definitive version of him, at least until the next big change."

As Barringer put it, "[Johns] has a clever way of combing a character's history over into a fresh take, adapting new ideas out of old ones. I’d imagine there is no holds barred for his vision. We’ll have to wait and see if lighting strikes again though."

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Filed under: Comic Longbox
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Cap. Marvel Fan

    This is total and utter CRAP ! The new DC 52 SUCKS !

    March 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  2. Ray Ayyelos

    Hah, he looks like a Sith Inquisitor!

    March 21, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  3. "..for the times, they are a' changin'..."

    Nothing lasts forever, not even comic book heroes. Besides, this change makes the older Captain Marvel appearances more valuable. This is a new Captain Marvel "Shazam" for a new audience. Let Captain Marvel be the cherished memory that he is, part of the past, like your youth. "Shazam" is his successor.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  4. Andrew555

    Geoff Johns can suck deez...deez NUTS. I always thought his stories were overblown and melodramatic and that he just didn't get it. With this, he proved it. There was nothing wrong with Captain Marvel. He was one of the purest characters, and I liked him just the way he was.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  5. Alex Gessong

    Actually, in this picture "Shazam" looks kind of like Marvel's "Adam Warlock." Maybe we've arrived at The Gilded Age of Comics.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  6. ComicAreLame

    Get a life people or you will never lose your virginity !!

    March 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Steve Trevor

      I lost mine to Wonder Woman! 🙂

      March 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  7. Melvin Ksuzak

    Although my love of comics followed me through college and into adulthood, It's been almost five years since I bought my last comic (I'm 43 now). For years I kept up with DC comics, through Crisis (The Original and only true one!), Watchmen, Zero Hour, Emperor Joker and Infinite Crisis, 52 etc. I watched Barry Allen and Supergirl die, learned about heroism and integrity from Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Diana Prince. I even snuck a few peaks at Final Crisis and the death of Darkseid. With the reboot and the new 52 I have realized that the day is done for me. What was a passion has been turned into a business, and to be honest I really don't care "Who lives and who dies". It seems to me they reboot every 2 or 3 years now waiting for a winning formula, and have forgotten that what really sells comics is great storytelling. Now it is just a business and the world is poorer for it. Melvin

    March 21, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  8. Shawn

    No thanks. I'll just read my old Captain Marvel comics. This is a travesty. At least they brought back Barry Allen as The Flash. I boycotted DC for years for that stupid decision.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • T

      Wally West made a better Flash, I started reading Flash comics when Wally took up the lead.

      March 22, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  9. JR

    I've given up. After nearly 30 years of being a DC fan, the "new 52" has caused me to drop them completely. It feels and looks like Marvel's stuff now. This is just another part of the mess they have created.

    March 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  10. David D

    C.C. Beck is probably rolling over in his grave.

    March 21, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  11. David D

    DC has rebooted, i.e., messed up, its characters far too many times now. That's it for me, I won't waste any more money on their comic books, but at least I have my memories of the original characters the way they were and the way they are supposed to be. As for Mr "Shazam", what a nice Spectre-Doctor Strange-Conan hybrid he's going to be...and oh good grief, what's that sticking up in the picture? Hopfully its a knee, so does that means he'll be wearing SHORTS? Sigh. Goodbye, DC.

    March 21, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  12. toonah

    Let's have a round of applause for Geoff Johns, singlehandedly ruining DC Comics.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • David D

      *clap*clap*clap*...*cough*

      March 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Duder

      Ruined? Hardly. I don't think Johns is a great writer, but he treats the various projects he works on with great care and thought. From his initial JSA run to his first Flash run. Plus Hawkman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and his best run – Action Comics with Gary Frank.

      But this revamp, like all the new 52 revamps, is an attempt to evolve. The folks in charge have realized old fans from the 80s/90s can't be the target audience anymore. Which means older concepts like Captain Marvel have to evolve to get a second wind.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
      • toonah

        I understand the need to keep stories interesting and the desire to attract new readers, but The New 52 is a slap in the face to every fan. It invalidates their entire emotional investment in the DC Universe.

        March 26, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • David D

      My feeling is that these are not revamps, they are basically re-writes...just as with the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, and other changes that have been done every so often, characters' histories are being changed considerably. DC has already introduced the multiple Earths concept in the past, so instead of starting over, why not leave the current DC Universe as it was, and then start over with publication of tales based upon a different Earth? That way, if this experiment fails, it would not be so hard to go back an pick up where you left off in the old Universe? Instead , DC is leaving us with a very confusing new reality where this happened, but this did not happen, this hero was a member of this group, then he/she wasn't a member...if you wanted to just "revamp", change the costumes, or some of the hero names, if you must... but to just indifferently disregard past history and stories that have been chronicled by the greats including Kirby, Giordano, Aparo, Adams, CC Beck, etc, is just wrong, wrong, wrong. If you don't want to write about Captain Marvel anymore, fine...do something that puts him and his "family" out of the picture a while...you can introduce your new "Shazam" character, without ignoring what has gone on before, but you shouldnt just erase Capt Marvel and replace him with Shazam. I do not believe times have changed so much that such a drastic maneuver as "the New 52" is necessary, and I do believe this kind of thing is doing a grave disservice to the readers as well as the artists and writers that have established the history of DC.

      March 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  13. Arch

    Here's the only thing....could we all agree that not every single comic book superhero has to be "gritty" or "darker" or "edgier" or whatever other adjective they want to use? Honestly, it's ok if some characters aren't appealing to angry adolescents.

    March 21, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • David D

      Amen.

      March 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Reba

      You are absolutely correct about that. I was just thinking that exact same thing –
      why always "angry" or "darker"? Do they think that makes it more serious or adult?

      April 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  14. John

    So Shaq modeled for this?

    March 21, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  15. Skeptacular

    As long as Talky Tawny is sacrosanct, all will be fine. Mr. Mind too.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:07 am |
    • David D

      At this rate, Tawny will probably be "reimaged" as an angry adamantium-clawed mutant named TawnyTooth....sigh.

      March 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
      • HamsterDancer

        LMAO! So true!
        Doesn't even look like Dr. Sivana can call our hero "the big red cheese" anymore.

        March 21, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  16. Jim Kilburn

    I was three years old when Captain Marvel hit the news stands. I could not read but I knew who he was and Dad bought me the comic book. I looked at the pictures over and over and went around with Mom's towels on my back shouting SHAZAM!!!! If it nain't broke don't fix it. I also bought Superman and on the school yard the augument was who would beat the man in blue or the man in red. With the new CM you guessed it the man in blue. In the serial movies versions at least Captain Marvel appeared to fly and Superman had to be drawn.

    March 21, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  17. damo12345

    Nope, it won't take. Silly silly article.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  18. TMajor

    Yet another great marketing newsletter! Do you actually cover Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, etc? Of course not. They aren't owned by Time-Warner.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • tophercnn

      Hey thanks for reading.

      Just wanted to point out GeekOut writes about comics from all companies:
      http://geekout.blogs.cnn.com/category/comic-longbox/new-comic-wednesday/

      If you think we are missing something let us know we would love to read and write about them.

      Again thanks for reading!

      March 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  19. Robert

    It's all in the writing. If this new Shazam is weak he'll get forgotten. If written well people will welcome it. Perhaps through clenched teeth but welcomed.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  20. Gomer

    Shazam!

    March 20, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • David D

      Gaw-aw-lee!

      March 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  21. Partial_M

    As a huge comic book fanboy, I don't mind the name change. The article is correct that most people already think that's his name. Plus if anyone should have a Captain Marvel it should be Marvel. Mar-Vel does not do it. The costume change doesn't bother me, either; but I do want to see more art before rendering full judgement.

    But, I am a bit concerned about the gritty/angry look of this art. Understand, I want them to make "The Big Red Cheese" fit into the modern, more realistic world of current comic stories; but at the same time the innocence of Billy Batson is what makes him a classic. He may have the Wisdom of Solomon, but he still sees the world through the eyes of a child.

    Even in stories where he's not the main character or even the "bad guy" (like the fantastic Kingdom Come – read it if you have not, whether you like comics or not), Billy has that innocence. It's as fundamental to the character as Captain America's fighting spirit, Batman's drive for justice, Spidey's desire to be responsible or Superman's selfless heroism. I trust Johns, though, and look forward to seeing his take on this much-maligned character.

    March 20, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Fan-boy 69

      I agree with you whole heartly. Billy's innocence is what made Captain Marvel who he was, and with a whole new origin I don't how Billy will be. But I gotta tell you Kingdom Come Captain Marvel was a bad ASS.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  22. KajinPL

    SHAZAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *echos outs*

    March 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm |