Recently, I was invited to answer a question on Twitter, from Jeff Wright who owns and operates the Mighty and Marvelous Shazamcast:
— Shazamcast (@theshazamcast) April 8, 2016
I have previously tweeted on Twitter some of what I want to see – and what I do not want to see – from DC regarding Captain Marvel in their Rebirth event, which is: I want classic Captain Marvel, and not New 52 Shazam, the latter of which is an entirely different character who possesses none of the charm and whimsicality of his predecessor. However, I have not yet made an in-depth wish list.
Like Jeff, because I would rather not articulate my thoughts 140 characters at a time, I have decided to write an article on the subject. This way, I can write everything in one place.
First, what exactly is Rebirth? According to Dan Didio and Jim Lee, it is DC’s attempt to get back to the core of what was special about the DCU before the New 52, but continuing through with the New 52.
From DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio:
“What we’ve done with this is we’ve really taken both things out. We’ve taken what really worked with the continuity of that Infinite Crisis period and then taking the freshness and newness of the New 52 and pulling them together. Rebirth, for me, is an amalgam of — at least in my period of time — of everything we’ve been working on to this point.”
Basically, Rebirth is Infinite Crisis + New 52.
Uh… that last part has me very apprehensive. It makes me both fear for and expect the worst when it comes to Captain Marvel.
Still, the idea of DC getting back to their roots has me somewhat hopeful, because I have time and again maintained that that is what DC needed to do after it became clear that the New 52 was a failure. If they could do that with not just Captain Marvel, but also their entire line, we just might be in for a treat.
However, again, because Didio and Co. remain stubbornly attached to their New 52 line, I am more trepid than hopeful, because in the case of New 52 Shazam (and many other characters for that matter), they got so far away from classic Captain Marvel’s roots, to the point that the character was entirely unrecognizable, so much that I publicly stated that Darkseid War: Shazam! was everything wrong with the character that they did not know they were doing, and that I was done with the character after that.
If one is, say, an Aquaman fan, then they would have every reason to be excited because the New 52 was good to Aquaman. For Captain Marvel fans, not so much. New 52 Shazam was horrible.
That said, if DC is serious about getting back to their roots, then again, I will hold out hope, and give Rebirth Captain Marvel – I am not calling him Shazam – a chance.
On that note, let us move on to my wishlist:
1. DC, PLEASE CALL HIM CAPTAIN MARVEL, NOT SHAZAM
His proper and original name is Captain Marvel. Shazam is the name of the wizard who gave young Billy Batson the power to transform into Captain Marvel by saying his name.
Yes, Marvel Worldwide Inc. owns the Captain Marvel trademark, so DC cannot use that name on the titles of his books, but that is no reason to stop calling him Captain Marvel.
In fact, since Marvel Comics obtained the trademark in 1967, and since DC licensed the character in 1972, DC had always called the main-continuity version of the character Captain Marvel in the pages of their comics up until 2011.
This means that for almost 40 years, DC called him by his proper name.
The reason for the change in 2011? According to Geoff Johns, people called him Shazam anyway, so he figured that they might as well change his name.
No, I deeply apologize, but there is absolutely no reason DC cannot continue calling him Captain Marvel, especially since Thunderworld proved you could still call him Captain Marvel and do without the confusing Shazam brand.
2. IF THERE MUST BE A NAME CHANGE, CALL HIM CAPTAIN THUNDER
Initially, when Fawcett Publications was conceiving the character in the fall of 1939, before he was named Captain Marvel, Billy Batson’s original alias was going to be Captain Thunder.
Unfortunately for Captain Marvel’s co-creators, Fawcett higher-ups did not like that name and ordered the name to be changed to something else.
With that, Fawcett Publications decided to change his name to Captain Marvel. The rest, as they say, is history.
If memory serves, the Captain Thunder name is free for DC to use.
In fact, DC already has used it. At least twice.
The first was in Superman #276 in the 1970’s, and the other was in the DC’s Flashpoint story event.
Each time, it was for an alternate version of Captain Marvel.
Still, these instances gives DC a copyright precedence and allows them to give him the name that Fawcett had originally wanted.
That, and it permits DC to keep with the military title theme that Captain Marvel’s original creators had intended for him to have all along, dating all the way back to the very first concepts.
It just makes sense.
The only difficulty in making that suggestion a reality is that Roy Thomas owns the Captain Thunder trademark.
Granted, he doesn’t have the trademark registered, so he likely could not sue DC if he wanted to, but since when does that stop anyone in our modern litigious society?
While DC could use that name inside the stories, potential legal issues could make it difficult for DC to use Captain Thunder on the title.
Either way, I would love it if DC used either Captain Marvel or Captain Thunder. Just do not call him Shazam. That is the name of the wizard, and using that name to brand Captain Marvel due to trademark legalities just confuses readers.
Speaking of branding, that brings me to my next one:
Make the title for Captain Marvel’s stories Thunderworld – or something similar.
Back in 2011, Geoff Johns stated almost verbatim that they were going to change Captain Marvel’s name to Shazam because “that’s what everyone was calling him anyway.”
All due respect to Johns, that is a poor cop out. If you do not want people to call him Shazam, do not put the name Shazam on his covers. Doing so puts up the wrong brand and it just confuses people.
Simply put something else in the title. The World’s Mightiest Mortal would work.
The success of Thunderworld proved that removing the Shazam brand avoids the branding confusion that often comes with calling the character Captain Marvel, and it fits the character’s world and mythology perfectly.
On a different but similar note, one of the great assets about Thunderworld was that it was set in an alternate universe where Captain Marvel was the alpha superhero in his world.
It is as it should be, because long before he was licensed by DC, at the height of Captain Marvel’s popularity in the Golden Age, when he – not Superman – was the king of comics, he lived in his own universe.
On that mark, you guys should know what is coming next:
4. PUT CAPTAIN MARVEL IN HIS OWN UNIVERSE
When Captain Marvel came into the DCU, he was an acquired property, as opposed to being one of DC’s own creation. This would eventually lead to a problem, because by the time he was acquired, DC had already built their universe and they continued to expand, so it became a matter of finding a fit for Captain Marvel.
They had the right idea at first, keeping Captain Marvel in a separate universe, Earth-S.
But somewhere along the line, someone had the idea to reboot the entire DCU for Crisis on Infinite Earths, where there were no alternate Earths. It was a great idea in theory, but bad for Captain Marvel.
From Duy Tano, writer for the Comics Cube, explains why:
“After the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, DC rebooted their entire line (kind of) so that there were no alternate earths, and there never were. A part of this decision was to reboot Captain Marvel from scratch. Therefore, in this new universe, not only would Captain Marvel have to exist in the same universe as Superman, but he would also have to deal with the fact that he could no longer retain the same role. Superman is the premiere superhero in his universe – the same exact role Captain Marvel fills in his. Thus, in this larger DC Universe, Captain Marvel is just plain redundant.”
Despite some successes like Kingdom Come, where Captain Marvel had perhaps his greatest moment, DC has long had trouble finding a fit for Captain Marvel for that exact reason; the role of a paragon was already taken.
Truth is, Captain Marvel has almost always worked best in his own universe. Why? Because he was never meant to be in the DCU.
And that is okay. He does not need to be.
Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!*, Thunderworld, and Convergence: Shazam! provide viable templates on how to succeed with Captain Marvel in his own Universe. That, and it simply works marvels when creators employ the very traits that endear Captain Marvel to the comic fandom.
*Captain Marvel was set in his own universe in Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! until the very last issue, when Superman and the Justice League made an appearance, after DC decided to cancel the series.
That is why DC needs to…
5. PUT CAPTAIN MARVEL IN THE HANDS OF CREATORS WHO UNDERSTAND WHY WE LOVE CAPTAIN MARVEL SO MUCH
There is a reason why C.C. Beck’s, Bill Parker’s, & Otto Binder’s Captain Marvel ruled the 40’s. Because on its own, the concept has mass appeal.
A purely good boy with the biggest heart in the world is chosen by a wizard to become the World’s Mightiest Mortal with a magic word. Set in a world of both scientific and magical villains, talking tigers, and alien worms able to to read minds, Billy Batson’s world is one where adventures can only be one thing: Whimsical.
Captain Marvel’s Fawcett creators got it right on the first try, and since Captain Marvel’s appeal still remains strong today, it would actually serve DC to take the holistic approach with Captain Marvel, especially since recently, classic Captain Marvel has sold better than New 52 Shazam.
On the subject of taking the holistic approach, my next wish is for DC to…
6. KEEP THE CLASSIC COSTUME
Characters have a core idea and a core template; obvious in their name, costume, what they do, etc., so if those get lost, the logic of the character is lost.
For example, Spider-Man has the powers of a spider, so it would make sense to give him a skin-tight suit for his acrobatic feats, and a web-shooter for combat and traveling purposes. Design-wise, it would be only appropriate for his costume to be thematically arachnid in nature. It would be a poor sense of logic for a character called Spider-Man to be in a costume with a skull on his chest and a cape on his shoulders.
Similarly, the same care and consideration into a costume design goes for a character called Captain Marvel.
Said C.C. Beck, who designed Captain Marvel’s costume:
“Captain Marvel’s was an operetta-style soldier’s uniform. He wore a sash, a jacket-like top, tight pants, and had a small braid-trimmed cape slung over on shoulder when he first appeared…
… Captain Marvel’s so-called ‘arm-bands’ were his captain’s sleeve marks, showing the rank of captain…
The decorations on Captain Marvel’s cape were ornamental buttons and braiding used on military outfits.”
Using a bright red, gold, and white color palette, along with a simple lightning bolt on his chest, the template for Captain Marvel’s classic costume was set, putting the power of the costume into its simplicity and military theme.
Amazingly, Captain Marvel’s costume has yet to be bested by any modern re-design, which says a lot since the look has been around for more than 75 years, proving that it is timeless.
In a perfect world, if DC is serious about getting back to their roots, they would recognize that and keep the classic costume.
But… because DC loves their New 52 so much and because they have a strong tendency to reinvent the wheel so as to be modern and unpredictable…
7. IF DC MUST MODERNIZE CAPTAIN MARVEL’S COSTUME…
… Then I humbly implore them to ask why Captain Marvel’s classic costume stands the test of time, and how to preserve those traits in the new design.
Once you have the bare essence of the costume’s design logic, then you can move forward with incorporating them into a new design.
Take Juggernaut as an example; he’s a massive muscle-bound guy in red tights and a unique helmet built for charging into things; along with the name, intimidation and feats of strength are implied. It’s basic, logical stuff. If the basic expectations of the character are rarely met, the character will almost certainly run into critical and commercial trouble.
This is true for every character, down to their costume design. Captain Marvel is not exempt.
As such, the New 52 Shazam got away from the true power of Captain Marvel’s costume by going with a magical approach (hood and magical lighting from within the lightning) and the complicated style lines.
This is called fixing what ain’t broke. And what happens when DC tries to fix what ain’t broke? They move farther and farther from why we buy and read their comics in the first place.
Indeed, loyal Captain Marvel fans were alienated a bit by the costume change.
[Changing Captain Marvel’s costume was not the change that did most of the damage in alienating and upsetting a lot of Captain Marvel’s loyal fans; changing Billy Batson’s core template did most of that by itself, but it did not help. However, the latter topic of Billy’s characterization will be addressed down below.]
What’s funny is that the New 52 Shazam’s costume in the animated Justice League: War movie actually improved his comic version of the costume. WB Animation streamlined it by making it simpler, which is one of the elements of Captain Marvel’s classic costume that makes it work. Additionally, despite keeping the hood, the animated version’s costume somewhat resembled a more military appearance. You could slap that onto a character named Captain Marvel, and it would fit the core template and core idea. Granted, the costume change was due to making animating Shazam easier, but appeal-wise, it just looked so much better.
This is why in the case of Captain Marvel, I ask that DC maintain the two aforementioned elements: Simplicity and a military theme. In addition, I would love for DC to keep the colors of the costume bright since the colors fit his fun and whimsical tone perfectly.
That reminds me…
8. USE ARTISTS AND CREATORS WHO ARE A TONAL FIT FOR CAPTAIN MARVEL
They all have something in common: A love for the Marvel Family and/or they are a fit for the character’s mythology and tone.
The tone of Captain Marvel’s adventures are whimsical and fun. The same should be true of the style ofart. The more exaggerated and fun the art style, the better. A highly rendered and “realistic” hatching style like Gary Frank’s or Ethan Van Sciver tends to be a less than ideal art style for Captain Marvel.
And please, while I think he is a nice person, and a talented creator, please do not let Geoff Johns go anywhere near the character, not unless he will take my last wish below seriously.
9. MAKE TAWKY TAWNY A VERBALLY LINGUISTIC BIPED FELINE AGAIN
And make him look like a dapper and proper gentleman.
Make him verbose.
Make him intelligent.
Make him Tawky Tawny again.
10. USE OTHER VILLAINS BESIDES BLACK ADAM
Captain Marvel has as rich and diverse rogues gallery as just about anyone in comics.
Outside of Doctor Sivana and Black Adam, we have got… an alien telepathic worm. A living nuclear-powered robot. A genius caveman. A Nazi super-soldier. A grandmotherly criminal mastermind. And more. A lot more.
Use them, DC.
Last but not least. Seriously, this is THE big one, DC:
11. STOP MAKING BILLY BATSON AN EGOTISTICAL JERK
Seriously, stop it.
Sorry, DC – and Geoff Johns, for that matter – but this is the part where I stop wishing for a moment and start dishing out some tough love, so yeah:
New 52 Billy Batson is horrible. He is a brat. He is a jerk. He is egotistical. He is not endearing in the least.
There. Done. I said it.
To continue doing so is to disrespect the core of the character and what he represents .
As I stated above, the appeal of Captain Marvel is that he is secretly Billy Batson, a purely good boy with the biggest heart who is able to transform into an adult superhero by saying a magic word – the ultimate wish fulfillment.
Billy Batson was chosen by the wizard, Shazam, to be his champion.
The reason Billy was chosen was because he was worthy of the powers of the wizard, because he was special.
Why exactly was Billy Batson worthy? What made him so special? Because despite horrible tragedies and serious misfortune at such a young age, he remained selfless, utterly and purely good, morally wholesome, and incorruptible.
When someone is orphaned as a young child and kicked out on the street by an uncle who stole his inheritance, it would be easy to become disenfranchised with the whole world, and to start seeing it with a jaded, selfish, hardened, and hate-filled heart.
But no, not Billy Batson. He and his heart remained – again – whole and incorruptible.
Think of how Harry Potter, before he found out he was a famous wizard, had only known cruelty at the hands of his relatives, yet his heart was not corrupted with spite and hate. This is also exactly true of Billy Batson.
This is the core idea and core template of Billy Batson. This is what made him special and worthy of being given the powers of gods and figures of antiquity.
New 52 Billy Batson, on the other hand, was changed from that core idea to become exactly what I described above; disenfranchised with the world. He became – there are no other words for it – a jerk. Worse, Billy was – as shown in Darkseid War: Shazam! – an egotistical one.
As I stated above, a character not only has a core idea, but a core template. When you change it, the character no longer is; the character no longer makes sense and the character becomes a different character entirely.
Using the example of Harry Potter again, would Harry Potter still be the Harry Potter we know and love if he became a rotten kid because life dealt him a terrible blow at such a young age? I did not think so.
Thus, when you make New 52 Billy Batson an egotistical jerk, you deviate from the core idea and the core template of the character, and you take away what made him special in the first place. So when you give him the power of the gods, you say that any old person can be given the powers of the wizard, Shazam.
It becomes profoundly confusing, because if just any person can be given the powers of the wizard, what and why exactly is Billy Batson worthy in the first place? What makes him so special? Why not just give the powers to someone else who has weathered similar tragedies and remained in an optimistic state in the world around him or her?
See? It just does not work.
This is the flaw that Geoff Johns did and probably does not see.
People make the mistake of thinking that being morally wholesome is an outdated notion, a relic of a time past, so in an effort to modernize – a theme I am sure you are noticing by now – they change such characters into meanies to fit with the times. Not true. Pure-heartedness is a timeless virtue, one that has been in the stories of heroes in countless cultures and eras and still stands strong today.
So, DC, If you are SERIOUS about getting back to your roots, this is what you need to do with Captain Marvel, above all else:
Get back to what makes Captain Marvel great; Billy Batson.
Get back to Billy Batson’s core idea and core template. Make Billy Batson the pure-hearted boy worthy of his powers that we know and love.
That is my ultimate wish.
You want to pigeonhole Captain Marvel as the guardian of magic? Fine. I do not know why anyone would since that limits the character and the full use of his mythology, but okay, I can handle that.
You want to call him Shazam? I would hate that, but I can live with it.
Just get back to the core idea and core template of Billy Batson. Please.
Make the thunder mean something again.
12. BONUS WISH 1: RESTORE BILLY BATSON AND CAPTAIN MARVEL AS BEING SEPARATE ENTITIES
Did you know? In the golden age, Billy Batson and Captain Marvel each got the other a Christmas present.
Yep, that is right; Billy and Cap were two different people. Captain Marvel was only ever and just simply the superhero avatar for Billy Batson.
Billy Batson was the protagonist of his stories and Captain Marvel was the plot device. Just about every single one of Captain Marvel’s stories began with Billy Batson narrating the introduction and then promptly getting himself into shenanigans, and using Captain Marvel to get himself out of it. That was the formula, and it was good old-fashioned fun.
I am not against Billy Batson and Captain Marvel being one and the same, but I prefer the dynamic of them being separate entities, because it would put Billy Batson back in the driver’s seat of his stories. If this were restored in Rebirth, I would be ecstatic.
If Billy Batson and Captain Marvel are a homomorphic entity in Rebirth, what I do not want to see is Captain Marvel being an immature man-child. This not only goes against the grain of the Wisdom of Solomon granting Captain Marvel unparalleled wisdom, but also the grain of Billy Batson possessing a level of maturity he has beyond his years.
Thus, if Billy Batson and Captain Marvel are a singular entity, then given the aforementioned powers of wisdom bestowed by Solomon and Billy’s own maturity, it should stand to reason that Captain Marvel would be correspondingly mature.
So when Captain Marvel sees the world through the eyes of Billy Batson, it is actually a reference to seeing the world with a Billy’s own child-like wonder and Billy’s own inner child, not to his immaturity. Those are two very different things, and the former fits Billy Batson’s core idea and core template while the latter does not.
Thanks to @lyricalili for reminding me what I had forgotten to add above in my original article.
— Let's Talk Shazam! (@LetsTalkShazam) April 10, 2016
13. BONUS WISH 2: RESTORE THE FAWCETT-VERSE
Feel free to share your wishes and thoughts on the subject in the comments section.
As always, Shazam!