There has been a superhero revolution in recent years. Marvel kicked it off with 2008’s Iron Man and has since expanded out into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man cleared the path for Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and several team ensemble movies.
The DC universe, owned by Warner Bros., has tried to get their share of the market in recent years too. Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman have been met with varying levels of acclaim, but the truth is that DC has yet to take a deep dive outside their comfort zone. That may be coming soon.
Warner Bros. has begun production on Shazam! (see page 8), a superhero movie about a Superman-esque goody-goody that relies on a wizard’s magic. We took a look at DC’s Shazam! and put together a list of things we know, including an odd sidekick and the latest news on casting.
Who is Shazam?
While he may be lesser known among the current movie-going crowd, Shazam is one of the more prominent superheroes of the mid-20th century. Although the last Shazam! movie came nearly 75 years ago, the hero has maintained his status as one of the important players in DC Comics. The story goes that a young boy named Billy Batson says that phrase, “Shazam!” and becomes a crime-fighting superhero with a Boy Scout-like temperament that would make even Superman roll his eyes.
This power was given to Billy by the wizard Shazam, and he was made to be the champion of good and protector of Fawcett City. Like so many of his hero counterparts, Billy’s parents were killed tragically when he was just a young boy. Also like other superheroes, there was a live-action Shazam television show that ran on CBS in the 1970s.
“Shazam!” actually means something in the history of the character. It’s actually an anagram. Uttering the phrase gives Billy the wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and the speed of Mercury.
The original Captain Marvel
Older fans that are more familiar with the story of Shazam will remember him as Captain Marvel. But for reasons that may be obvious to Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, but less clear to those that pay less attention to fringe superheroes from the 1940s, DC simply cannot refer to their red tights-wearing hero as Captain Marvel.
Fawcett, publishers of the original Captain Marvel/Shazam comics, stopped making them in the ‘50s. In the ‘60s, Marvel Comics trademarked the name Captain Marvel for their own Kree alien superhero. That meant when DC licensed the Fawcett characters in 1972, they had the Fawcett named Captain Marvel, but couldn’t call the comic Captain Marvel, so they used his transformation cry “Shazam!” for the title.
Incidentally, while DC’s Shazam! is scheduled to hit theaters in 2019, Marvel will be releasing Captain Marvel (starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson) in the same year. Not to be too confusing, of course. The DC hero is merely Shazam at this point and has been known as such for quite some time.
The creation of Shazam (then known as Captain Marvel) came about in the late 1930s, when Fawcett Comics was trying to compete with the likes of Superman and Batman. The Big Red Cheese, as he has become known, was their answer. This spawned a radio show and a 1941 movie, making Captain Marvel/Shazam one of the most popular characters in the very early stages of the superhero era.
Although, it was painfully obvious to most observers that the character was nothing but a creative ripoff of Superman. The backstories were different enough, but their goody two-shoes, perfect in every way demeanor made the two heroes difficult to differentiate.
National Comics (now known as DC) took Fawcett Comics to court in the late 1940s. While the initial ruling was in favor of Fawcett, National came through with the victory on appeal in 1951. The end result was Fawcett ending production of the comics in 1953, and the character would sit idle until DC purchased the rights in 1970.
Who is directing the movie?
David F. Sandberg is set to direct the movie, which is an interesting choice. His directorial debut was 2017’s Annabelle: Creation, a well-received horror film about the evil doll Annabelle. Given that Sandberg has only directed short films otherwise – often other horror films – there isn’t a ton of information to help us set our expectations.
The big attraction for me with that character is the fact that every kid dreams of being Superman, right? I mean I certainly did, and (Billy Batson) is a kid that gets that chance. He gets to become the superhero. So it’ll be big with superpowers in a way. In terms of what people can expect, I think this will be one of the more fun or lighthearted movies so far in the DC universe. It certainly will be a departure.
Given his clear understanding of the character, we’re willing to give him a chance — even if Sandberg did make a name for himself doing low-budget horror movies.
Who is the main bad guy?
Traditionally, Black Adam is the main villain of Shazam!. Although plenty of others have been featured, including Doctor Sivana and Mister Mind, Black Adam is the most intriguing for many fans — including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has been campaigning to play the character for years.
“A complex psychology, motivated by a badass dominance with a devlish charm. This’ll be fun,” said Johnson back in 2014.
At the time, New Line Cinema president Toby Emmerich added: “You look at these comic book characters and they have this certain swag and charisma that Dwayne carries with him wherever he is so that’s why this always made sense.”
The problem? Johnson is a big enough star that DC has actually promised him a solo film of his own. That means that Black Adam almost certainly won’t be appearing in any serious role in Shazam!. So for now, we’re left to contemplate who it might be.
How Shazam! will fit into the DC Universe
While Shazam does have copious history with other DC heroes, such as Superman and Batman, don’t expect that any of those will actually show up in his movie. Still, Shazam! is part of the DC Extended Universe, and it has actually been rumored or in the works for quite a long time. Going all the way back to the early 2000s, when New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. merged, there were high-profile names attached to the project. That includes veteran director Peter Segal (Get Smart), who eventually dropped out.
As for current updates, there isn’t a lot to tell. Sandberg, when asked about casting, said that those decisions would hopefully be coming soon. Indeed, some audition tapes for young Billy have hit the internet, and it’s interesting to say the least.
When asked about his relationship to the character, the director had this to say:
To be honest, it was not a superhero I grew up with either. When I grew up in Sweden, there wasn’t a lot of Shazam around. So it’s someone who I’ve learned to love later in life as well, so I can relate to [people who are] new to Shazam. I think [it] might be a good thing that I’m doing it, because I know what you need to learn.
Who is that weird sidekick?
Taking to Instagram on Sept. 1, 2017, Sandberg posted a picture featuring (among other items seen) several stacked Coke cans, Shazam, and his talking tiger sidekick, Tawky Tawny. There was no commentary left other than Sandberg noting “Day 5.” But in the world of social media, everything means something. Could this be Sandberg teasing Tawky Tawny as the sidekick in the movie?
Originally a normal tiger, Mr. Tawny was given a serum that allowed him to develop the ability to speak. In other adaptations, he is originally a man that was changed into a tiger. He is often the voice of wisdom for Shazam.
Could this be DC’s attempt at recreating the success of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy? The idea of Tawky Tawny appearing on the big screen with Shazam sounds somewhat ridiculous, but a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper whose best friend was a tree — well, that sounded equally ridiculous to a lot of movie-goers.
Only time will tell if Shazam and his sidekick can be properly adapted for a modern audience.
First image from set
Filming for the movie began in Jan. 2018. Sandberg shared the above image on his Instagram account in celebration, with the caption “Let’s go!” followed by a lightning bolt emoji.
Additional reporting by Becca Bleznak.
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