Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years

Image of Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years
Release Date: 
May 11, 2015
DC Comics
Reviewed by: 

“Another perfect volume in DC’s Celebration series.”

Captain Marvel exists out of time. Born in the mythological realm and sent to newsprint by a wizard who resides in an unground lair, he ruled newsstands during the forties. In his prime he outsold them all including Superman. By all indications titles featuring The Big Red Cheese and members of his family were second only to Walt Disney Comics and Stories as the bestselling comic books of the Golden Age.

Those who followed his adventures numbered in the millions. No matter who you were there was a Captain Marvel title for you. Kids and their fathers loved the Cap himself. Their sisters and daughters read Mary Marvel. Those who enjoyed funny animal titles had Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. Anyone who was obsessed with World War II stories had Captain Marvel Jr.

Every one of these memorable characters is featured in this new collection.

Then he disappeared. Declining readership and an everpresent lawsuit over copyright infringement led his publisher, Fawcett Publications, to cancel all their superhero comic titles in 1953.

Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years brings Captain Marvel back in all his glory. From the brightly glowing colors of his first appearances to the near realism of the modern era, this collection is the perfect encapsulation of what makes Captain Marvel among the greatest to ever appear on a four-color page.

Seeing the success that The Man of Steel was having on newsstands publishers all over New York raced to create the next four color sensation. Almost every one of the competition quickly fell by the wayside. With the introduction of Billy Batson and his alter-ego Captain Marvel Fawcett Publications knocked it out of the park.

Superman was science fiction. The roots of his development lay in a pulp-era mentality. The two teens who came up with Clark Kent were well-versed in the science fiction of the day. Kal-El came from another planet. His powers were the result of his alien physiology.

Captain Marvel, created by writer Bill Parker and drawn by C. C. Beck, was something else. In the very first panel of the first Captain Marvel strip Billy Batson appears as a 12-year-old paperboy.

This is a down-to-earth, easily relatable image. There are no exploding planets, no spaceships. Just a lone little figure dwarfed by the immense, dark entrance to a subway tunnel. Two panels later we learn he is homeless and sleeps in that very subway tunnel. A stranger offers him a way out. Being a different time in our nation’s history, Batson follows him. 

Any kid in America could relate to this story. Whether they were indeed homeless or super-rich, all kids feel alone. As the story advances the dialogue is simple and direct. The colors are simple, bright. This was a world easily understood.

As much as the art and narrative structure contribute to the world of Captain Marvel, it is important to recognize his deep connection to the mythology of western civilization. His powers came from a recognizable source, a wizard. A story-telling trope that carries through centuries from King Arthur to Harry Potter.

Those sources bear names that any six grader or bible student would have heard of:  Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. This is the type of storytelling that gave Joseph Campbell ideas as he fell asleep every night. 

During the creation of Captain Marvel the artist C. C. Beck made a decision to keep the style rooted in a strict, comic world. Fans immediately bought into the art, the concept and the character. 

As the Marvel Family increased other artists were naturally brought in. This collection features Mac Raboy’s art for Captain Marvel Jr., still among the greatest ever seen on a comic page.

What bound so much of the original Captain Marvel together was the writing of Otto Binder. His imagination ran wild as issue after issued featured Cap in battle with Mr. Mind or Dr. Sivana, two of the most power-obsessed creations in comic history.  

In 1972 DC Comics, the company that once sued Fawcett over similarities between Cap and Superman, obtained the rights to the character. They faced an uphill battle as the character had been out of the public eye for decades. More troubling was the fact that they didn’t have rights to the name of the character.

Taking the word that brings down a bolt of lightning and transforms Billy Batson into Captain Marvel and moving it to the tile was a brilliant move. In one bold swoop the world was introduced to Shazam!

Long-time fans were finally able to see Superman and Captain Marvel square off. This collection features six classic stories from that rebuilding era. The pages feature notable art by Silver Age greats such as Curt Swan, Nick Cardy, and Murphy Anderson.

Still, DC struggled to reinvent the character. In 1994 writer Jerry Ordway finally found an effective way to bring not only Captain Marvel but many of his family into the established DC Universe.

The stories from this second period fully capture the original humor and wonder while losing nothing. Captain Marvel now enters into modern times. Ordway returned to what made the character great in the forties and built on his existing mythology by reintroducing Black Adam and others. Fans start to really appreciate Captain Marvel.

In the final section of this compilation writers and artists such as Peter Krause, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Jeff Smith bring Captain Marvel to life in some of the most fascinating stories of the last 20 years.

This is the best chance ever to discover what makes Captain Marvel great. Another perfect volume in DC’s Celebration series.