Shazam! was a blast. The superhero movie, featuring the original Captain Marvel, tells the tale of young Billy Batson, who encounters ancient Wizard Shazam, who deems him worthy of being granted a host of superhuman powers.
With one magic word, he transforms into Captain Marvel, although legally, it seems we can’t call him that, and the reason goes way back to the golden age of comics.
Captain Marvel was owned by Fawcett Comics and was created to capture the market that Superman had tapped into. He did so well he started outselling Kal-El at one point, but eventually, DC had enough and sued Fawcett eventually leading to the comic’s cancellation. Then DC bought the rights to Captain Marvel and tried to launch the character in a new series in 1972, however, Marvel stepped in and insisted the comic could not be published as Captain Marvel, as they had launched their own Captain Marvel in the late ’60s. DC called the comic Shazam instead to get around the problem.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel reprints had become very popular, and after Fawcett quit the business, creator Mick Anglo continued to repackage the good captain with a new spin. Thus in 1954 was born Marvelman. Who was really Captain Marvel. Can you see the problem here already?
Marvelman ran till 1961. After Anglo fell out with his publisher, he continued the strip under another new name, Captain Miracle, but with comics being imported into the UK from America, the black and white adventures from Anglo could no longer compete, and the publisher eventually went under. The character lay quiet till the birth of UK anthology magazine Warrior in 1982, where up-and-coming writer Alan Moore revived the hero with a dark and gritty update.
Marvelman was a huge success along with Moore’s other strips, including V For Vendetta, but Marvel soon got wind of the series and issued a warning that Warrior could not print the series. A legal battle ensued, Warrior ceased publication entirely, and Moore’s work was never completed.
Eventually, in a weird turn of events, Marvelman would be reprinted, by Eclipse comics in the States, who commissioned Moore to finish the story. To avoid getting sued by Marvel, the title was changed to Miracleman.
After Moore’s run of 16 issues, Neil Gaiman took over the writing to further the story, but Eclipse went under too, leaving the story once again unfinished.
More legal issues continued, including fights over rights to the character between Gaimen, Moore and Todd McFarlane, who had bought the rights to all the Eclipse characters, including Miracleman, when the company filed for bankruptcy.
It was a complete mess, folks, and in the end, rights reverted back to Mick Anglo, in a twist nobody saw coming. Marvel then bought the character and from 2014, reprinted everything, promising the final arc of the story would be finished by Neil Gaiman.
We’re still waiting.
Now just like Billy Batson shouting Shazam! and turning into Captain Marvel, Mike Moran in 1982 would shout Kimota and turn into Marvelman.
The similarities were never subtle, but the two strips were a mile apart in tone. Where the original Captain Marvel would exist in a world of talking evil genius worms, and bald maniacal scientists taking over the world, the Warrior version by Moore dived into the darkest of storylines, and even produced the reason behind the silly stories of yesteryear.
Moore’s version is a masterclass in storytelling that has influenced so many creators since it’s publication. The notorious issue #15 of the Eclipse title is probably the most violent and disturbing single issue of a comic book ever, and Moore shows us the exact ramifications of a battle between superhumans in a real-world setting.
How fans have longed for a movie version. But it will never happen.
The legal wranglings alone would make it a nightmare to produce, and the incredibly disturbing tone would probably alienate a huge percentage of the general public. However, Shazam!, the movie, actually contains a few moments where we see some of those ideas from Moore’s storyline take shape.
The idea of Billy Batson and best mate Freddy, checking out his new superpowers, comes right from the pages of Miracleman in a story that has Mike Moran, and his wife, doing exactly the same thing as the two lads in the movie.
There are also some visuals involving Billy shouting his activation word and becoming his super counterpart, that almost mimics the early Gary Leach artwork in the first few stories of the Moore run.
The villain of the piece, Doctor Sivanna, played by Mark Strong, also seems to have taken a lead from the Moore run, with the evil villain acquiring powers similar to our Cap, and running his own evil corporation, similar to the Johnny Bates character in the comic book from Alan Moore.
I could argue that there are moments in Man Of Steel that also pay homage to the same comic, but Shazam has the most subtle moments that remind me so much of that unfinished story.
I can’t be the only fan that watched Shazam! and thought of Marvelman, and the ultimate superhero film, and the truth is that we will never see it. I can’t imagine Marvel producing a big screen version of the Moore story, and let’s face it, Moore would never lend his name to such a film either. But just imagine it. Then watch Shazam!, and see if you can see the smallest glimmers already up there on the screen.