I am writing to you again.
The first time was when I published my Captain Marvel Rebirth wishlist, shortly after it became known that you guys were planning on publishing his Rebirth book. The only difference is what we have here is an actual open letter.
As we get closer to Captain Marvel’s Rebirth book, I felt it imperative to write you again. I don’t expect anyone at DC to read this, much less for anything to come about from this, but it will feel immensely purgative to express what I have to say below.
Some of this is a rant, some of this is an honest criticism of how you handled New 52 Shazam, but this is a genuine, heartfelt plea from a long-time Captain Marvel fan, for whom Captain Marvel means a lot.
I won’t rehash my wishlist article, but it had some wish items in there and some new ones that I want to share before I get to the main point of this letter later on.
My first wish is for you, DC, is to call Captain Marvel by his proper name.
It is and will always be Captain Marvel.
His original creators, Bill Parker in particular, always intended for him to have that military title in his name and have insisted that Captain Marvel is his proper name. That should be honored. That, and Shazam is the name of the wizard.
There is no reason – not even a legal one – that necessitated a change in Captain Marvel’s name.
Of course, DC, you probably don’t agree.
How do I know this? Because in 2011, you went and did exactly that; you changed Captain Marvel’s name to Shazam.
And what was the reason you gave us for doing so? Because – and I am quoting from you: “… everybody thinks he’s called Shazam already, outside of comics.”
Seriously, DC? You thought you should rename a character because people who weren’t buying comics thought he had a different name instead of thinking about what those who actually were comics thought?
Look, DC, I get wanting to expand your consumer base, but who exactly did you think you were the ones you should be selling to? The ones who were buying your comics, or the ones who weren’t?
That’s what I thought.
And what did the people who were buying comics call him?
They called him Captain Marvel.
Well, most of them did, anyway, and which name do you think they preferred?
Again, that’s right, DC.
Captain Marvel. It’s ALWAYS been Captain Marvel, and it always will be.
By changing Captain Marvel’s name, you began to – if not further – alienate a section of the consumer base that was passionate about Captain Marvel.
Consumers like me.
Never try and attract potential new consumers at the expense of the ones who are your tried and true consumer base. That’s just simple business sense.
Further, as I noted above, there was also no legal reason that necessitated changing the name from Captain Marvel to Shazam. Sure, Marvel Comics owned the Captain Marvel trademark, and has for decades going all the way back to the 1960’s, but they do not own the name, and they never have.
All that meant was that you could not use Captain Marvel’s name on the cover.
However, if you wanted to, you could call Captain Marvel by his proper name inside the comics themselves.
But then you already knew that because you called him Captain Marvel for 38 years inside the comics before deciding to change the name to Shazam in 2011.
And it didn’t stop there because even when you changed his name, you continued to use the Captain Marvel moniker. Indeed, you called him Captain Marvel in Thunderworld, Convergence: Shazam!, and Scooby Doo Team-Up #16.
So yeah, DC, you knew this.
With that said, let’s move on to my second wish:
Like you did with Thunderworld, for the sake of appropriate branding, please call the title of his book something else besides Shazam!
Let me explain:
The whole concept of branding is for consumers to associate a product with its source. You Should never, ever brand your main character with the name of a supporting character.
Because if you do so, and the supporting character’s name is in the title instead of the name of your main character, you create the Link/Zelda conundrum.
Why? Because you’ve already half-lost the game when it comes to optimizing your product’s brand. Your consumers will be confused before they’ve even bought the product. They’re going to think the name of the main character is Zelda when, in fact, his name is Link.
Worse, it won’t stop there. They will be confused for as long as you continue to brand your main character in such a fashion.
Confused consumers defeats the whole reason we have and go through the effort of branding our products to begin with.
This is basic business sense.
Now, I can already hear you saying (probably with exasperation), “But Marvel Comics owns the Captain Marvel trademark, so we can’t use the character’s name on the title.”
And that sucks. I get it.
However, using Shazam as an alternative or as a solution for branding Captain Marvel sucks even worse, if that’s possible.
Because there’s an easier way to fix this.
“What would you suggest then?” I hear you asking.
Use Captain Marvel’s nickname as the title.
Seriously, use The World’s Mightiest Mortal! as the title of Captain Marvel’s book, much like how you’ve used Man of Steel as the title a Superman book.
Or how about using a title that he was once published under, like WHIZ Comics?
Neither have any legal restrictions – that is, neither are copyrighted or trademarked – and are up for grabs for anyone to use.
These suggestions aren’t just alternatives; they are truly viable solutions.
By using one or both of those as titles, you can return to calling him Captain Marvel inside of the comics as you have done for decades, but with the bonus of actually being able start undoing the branding damage of using variations of Shazam! in the title.
Next, my third wish:
Please stop pigeonholing Captain Marvel as your “magic Superman” or as some “guardian of magic.”
Look, I get that you want to make Captain Marvel even more distinguishable from Superman, At the height of his heyday, Captain Marvel’s stories included a wealth of sci-fi elements, thanks largely to Otto Binder.
Just look at Captain Marvel’s rogues gallery; they included an alien telepathic worm (Mr. Mind), a living nuclear-powered robot (Mr. Atom), a genius caveman (King Kull), a Nazi super-soldier (Captain Nazi), and more. A lot more. And that’s with not even getting into the fact that his main villain was a mad scientist.
Then, consider that for Captain Marvel to find the Rock of Eternity, he has to do so through scientific, physical means such as flying to the center of time and space or by an extra-dimensional train.
Any of those strike you as Captain Marvel being “magic guy,” DC?
By trying to portray Captain Marvel as a “magic Superman,” you distract prospective readers at the expense incorporating many of the other elements of Captain Marvel’s entire mythology, all of which is founded on the very thing that makes Captain Marvel so appealing:
As it is with wish fulfillment, it goes hand in hand with the sort of whimsicality the imagination can conjure, using both sides of the same coin: Magic and science.
So don’t cut yourself off from that. Don’t handcuff yourself to a limited amount of the kind of materials at your disposal. Take full advantage of his entire mythology: Both the magical AND scientific aspects of his world.
And on a very similar subject, DC, can we please stop saying Captain Marvel’s powers are magic-based?
I’m sorry, but it’s lazy.
When Billy Batson accesses the acrostic powers Captain Marvel’s powers, it makes it magic-caused, not magic-based.
When Captain Marvel’s uses the strength of Hercules (combined with the power of Zeus) to lift a heavy object, he is doing so with brute strength, not magic.
In other words, Captain Marvel’s superstrength is not mystical. They’re physical, like Superman’s.
My fourth wish:
Give Captain Marvel back his classic costume. It is timeless and still works today. It does so because of its sheer simplicity and its military theme.
No costume re-design has bested it, whether by an amateur artist or by a professional one, which is amazing because the costume was designed in 1939!
This is a testament C.C. Beck’s design skills, something for which does not get enough credit.
But let’s talk about something else for a minute. Let’s talk about re-designing a classic costume.
Let’s say that for some reason, you felt that Captain Marvel’s costume HAD to be re-designed, because it’s outdated or some artificial, silly reason like that.
I then humbly implore you to ask yourselves why Captain Marvel’s classic costume has stood the test of time and why so many fans prefer it. What are the right elements to keep in the old costume and transfer to the new one, one that is consistent with the hero’s name?
But let me save you the energy and time of doing that.
The aforementioned elements of simplicity and military thematics are to be the first and foremost ones, if not exclusively.
In your New 52 costume, I felt you got away from the true power and appeal of Captain Marvel’s classic costume. Gone was the elegant simplicity and timeless military theme, replaced with complicated style lines and a neutered theme of magic (the hood and magical lighting symbol) – which, of course, was a product of making Captain Marvel your own “magic Superman.”
The problem is that it just didn’t say “Captain Marvel.”
But then again, I suppose that was your intention. Still, even if it was what you were after, when it comes to creating a costume that stood the test of time, it was not effective.
Take Juggernaut as an example; his name alone implies a massive muscle-bound man who perhas has a penchant for for charging into things. He’s the proverbial unstoppable object. It is natural then, that his costume should incorporate elements of intimidation and feats of strength. With this concept in mind, a fitted strongman apparel and helmet would be extremely appropriate. Both would fit with the name, Juggernaut. With some proper aesthetics thrown in, you should end up with a costume that stands the test of time.
Guess what? In Juggernaut’s case, it has. Very little about his costume has changed over the years.
Likewise with Spider-Man; his name should conjure images of a wall-crawling acrobat. Thus, it would be appropriate that his costume be arachnid-themed and skin-tight.
Unlike Juggernaut, though, Spider-Man’s gone through numerous costume changes. However, Marvel Comics has always, always reverted back to the original.
Because it’s timeless. It’s a winning design that Marvel got right on the first try. Each time, they tried to fix what was not broken, and each time, they failed. Sooner or later, they always returned to using the original costume.
Such is the power of a truly iconic, timeless costume design.
If you re-design a character’s costume and neglect the inherent elements of the character’s costume design, it would cease to be as powerful a design as the original.
This is true for every character. Captain Marvel is not exempt. As such, DC, if you feel it’s necessary to go with a new, more modern costume, I suggest asking yourselves how best to preserve the traits in Captain Marvel’s classic costume that makes it timeless and translate it into whatever new design you might give him in Rebirth.
If I may, how about something like this?
As you can see, the simplicity and the military motif of Captain Marvel’s classic costume were retained, allowing for the power of costume to be optimized with a more modern aesthetic.
My fifth wish:
Please stop portraying Captain Marvel as an immature man-child.
Indeed, DC, since you guys have moved away from having Billy Batson and Captain Marvel be separate entities, making them one and the same, you naturally thought that if Captain Marvel has Billy’s mind, that he obviously must think like a 10-year old.
Basically like Tom Hanks’ Big, but with superpowers.
This, I presume, is to give fans the sense of Captain Marvel as being a comedy character.
I apologize, DC, but this is a clear case of memory loss. You have clearly forgotten Billy Batson’s backstory.
There’s two things you’re forgetting.
The first is that Captain Marvel is not a comedy character. He was never intended to make readers laugh. He was supposed to take the reader on an adventure and make them say, “Whoa! Now that was fun!”
In other words, intended to be fun, not funny.
The second is that Billy Batson is already inherently mature for his age.
You see, for Billy Batson to survive on the streets of a major metropolitan city as an orphan child around the age of twelve and become a self-made radio celebrity at that age – much less be worthy of being chosen by a 5,000-year old wizard and have the vast powers of ancient figures bestowed upon him – one of them being the THE. WISDOM. OF. SOLOMON! – you’d have to be mature well beyond your years – even if that means, as Captain Marvel, you still had the mind of a child.
Clearly, DC, you’ve forgotten that Billy Batson is not one to possess an immature, childish mind.
No, Billy Batson is more like Harry Potter, a boy with a heart of gold and a decency beyond his years who was chosen for greater things. Similar to how Harry Potter’s wand chose Harry, the wizard Shazam chose Billy Batson to be Captain Marvel. (Interestingly, the analogy is more appropriate when you consider that like Harry Potter’s wand, Captain Marvel is the plot device designed to get him out of trouble, which was the way it always in the golden age where Billy Batson was the protagonist and he needed to call down the lightning.)
Now, DC, I know what you’re thinking: How does making Captain Marvel mature make him more whimsical or even interesting? Doesn’t maturity make make someone less fun, and inherently more adult?
Let me answer that with a question: Does being an adult make you less fun or less capable of fun?
Because maturity does not preclude having an inner child.
This is a powerful truth to behold once you realize it.
But what does having an inner child have to do with anything?
The inner child is the source of our child-like wonder, that innocent sense of awe and fun.
Now, it would be easy to confuse having an inner child as being immature, but nothing could be further from the truth.
You see, the older we get, when we indulge our inner child and get in touch with our child-like awe and sense of fun, we grow, which is what maturity is all about.
Immaturity, on the other hand, implies behavioral non-growth.
So no matter matter how old we get or how mature we become, we all have that inner child inside of us, and that inner child is who we really are.
This is what makes Captain Marvel – who literally has a child inside him – the absolute perfect metaphor for the inner child within all of us.
Why else do you think Captain Marvel is the paragon of brightness and optimism that he is, arguably more so than Superman?
Yep, his inner child.
Fawcett Publications knew this. The proof is in the whimsical nature and tone of Captain Marvel’s stories and this was a huge factor in them making Captain Marvel the undisputed King of the Golden Age. Captain Marvel was fun, not funny.
So, DC, when you make Captain Marvel an immature man-child, you defeat the very metaphor that he so adequately represents.
That, and there’s one more major aspect to consider when you make Captain Marvel an immature man-child; there is ALREADY a Captain Marvel-like character where the sole idea behind him is that he would behave and think like a young boy even after he transforms into his adult form.
His name is Prime, from Malibu comics.
Captain Marvel came first, so it really would be disingenuous to make him a caricature of Prime, a character that was BASED on him using Prime’s schtick when Captain Marvel was already highly appealing as a beyond-his-years mature youngster.
So, please, DC, indulge Captain Marvel’s inner child and forsake this immature man-child angle that you’ve grown fond of and I guarantee you that you will re-capture the magic and awe that made Captain Marvel so special and appealing.
My sixth wish:
Please let Captain Marvel’s world and stories be bright, whimsical, and energetic again. This is what made Thunderworld, and Convergence: Shazam! such big hits with the fans and it is what made the later issues of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! one of your best-kept secrets in all of comics.
When Captain Marvel was at the height of his popularity, it was the whimsical nature of his world and stories that made him an icon. It was a winning formula then, and if you follow it again, will still continue to be a winning formula today.
Doing so is as simple a matter of pairing Captain Marvel with creators who not only understand the character, but have a love for the Marvel Family and/or are a fit for the character’s mythology and tone. The art, story, character portrayal should all have that one word in common: Whimsical.
Doc Shaner, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, Mike Norton, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Gail Simone, and Cameron Stewart are all fits for the character. Of course, availability would be an issue, but there are no shortage of creators who would and could rock a Captain Marvel Rebirth book.
Some, like Doc Shaner – who LOVES Captain Marvel – would be worth waiting for when he’s available, because Doc Shaner would be to Captain Marvel what Greg Capullo was to Batman: Legendary.
Pairing the two of them together is money in the bank. You guys like money, right?
Now, assuming you are still with me after reading all of that, I am ready to discuss my seventh and final wish, which is ultimately the main point of this article:
Are you ready?
Please STOP making Billy Batson an egotistical jerk.
Seriously, this is of utmost regard.
Your New 52 Billy Batson is horrible. He is not endearing in the least.
Because he is an egotistical jerk and a brat.
I’ve long been vocal about my disdain for New 52 Shazam, having given up on the character altogether immediately following Darkseid War: Shazam! #1, in which I expressed that it was everything wrong with the character that you did not know you were doing.
Of all of my complaints since the introduction of New 52 Shazam in Curse of Shazam!, from calling the character Shazam instead of Captain Marvel, to continuing to make him an immature man-child for comedy relief, and pigeonholing him as DC’s “magic guy,” just to differentiate an already-distinctive Captain Marvel even more from Superman, the biggest for me was making Billy Batson a jerk.
Now, strange as this may sound at this point in the article, and while I consider all of the above wishes to be bare minimum requirements when publishing Captain Marvel, I can live with all of the aforementioned grievances listed above if you guys got back to making Billy Batson a pure-hearted boy in Rebirth instead of the jerk he was in the New 52.
There is nothing, I repeat: nothing, that will make me – and many other long-time Captain Marvel fans – drop a Captain Marvel Rebirth book faster than an Nth metal gravity punch than if Billy Batson continues being a jerk.
Fortunately, DC, your Rebirth has given me and many others some hope. Since it is predicated around you taking your New 52 universe and getting back to the core roots of your characters (and going forward with them), it has produced a sense of refreshing optimism, and so far, you guys have largely delivered on that promise, giving us back the classic Superman and Wally West that we all know and love. As a result, you are experiencing – forgive me – a true rebirth.
As you look to continue your streak of goodwill with the fans, we become closer to the second wave of Rebirth, which you have said will come after you get this first wave of characters and their books just right. From the looks of things, you’ve done just that.
With that, our attention has begun to shift to the second wave. Based on Johns’ comments in May and the December solicitations, it seems that this second wave may arrive some time in the spring of next year, it appears possible, if not likely that we will get Captain Marvel’s Rebirth book in the second wave.
Despite not getting his own title yet, New 52 Shazam has already made an appearance in Rebirth, in DC Rebirth #1 and Hellblazer: Rebirth #1. Because of that, I don’t expect you to fully reinstate classic Captain Marvel in Rebirth, even though that would be the best possible thing you could do with Captain Marvel.
However, I do expect to get your New 52 Shazam. That’s not what I want, but given the premise that Rebirth is based on, and the precedence that you’ve established in bringing the classic Superman and the classic Wally West back, I do have hope that your plan is to take your New 52 Shazam and infuse him with the roots of classic Captain Marvel.
If so, I would consider that not only very encouraging, but also acceptable because Billy Batson being a purely good person is the very core root of the character, and that’s how he should be.
Let me elaborate:
In his Fawcett origins, Captain Marvel was secretly Billy Batson, an orphaned boy with the biggest heart who is able to transform into an adult superhero by saying a magic word. Despite horrible tragedies and serious misfortune such as the loss of his parents and being kicked out by his cruel uncle who stole his inheritance at such a young age, Billy Batson remained an utterly and purely good boy; selfless and incorruptible. These morally wholesome virtues are what made Billy Batson worthy to chosen by the wizard to be his champion.
These elements formed the core idea and core template of the character. It was a winning formula in the 40’s and it still holds mass appeal even in today’s highly cynical world.
Over the decades prior to the New 52, you did not change those core elements about Billy Batson. They remained largely, if not completely unchanged.
Because when you change the core idea and template of a character, the character becomes an entirely different character.
When you do that, you change the product – the brand, really (and remember what I said about brands above?) – into something else entirely.
For example, take Reed Richards.
Would he be the same character were he changed into someone who did not possess a prodiguous intellect?
Exactly. He wouldn’t. Reed Richards would cease to be Mr. Fantastic and he would then become something else: Mr. Average.
You made New 52 Billy Batson a victim of that same crime, DC.
Gone were the core elements of a purely good and selfless boy that Bill Parker and C.C. Beck created together, replaced by the pale, jaded imitation that Geoff Johns created, one with an entirely different set of core characteristics: selfishness, bitterness, and egotism.
Non-endearing traits, in other words.
To put it simply, you made New 52 Billy Batson a jerk. The very concept and qualities that made him special were gone.
Why are those qualities so important? Why are those qualities so special?
Think about it, DC, the world is full of jerks, so when you give a jerk the power of the gods, you say that just about any jerk can be given those powers.
Thus, if Billy Batson is a jerk, what is there to separate him from just about anybody else? What makes him special? What makes him worthy?
Again, think about that, DC, because it then becomes a question of why the powers were not just simply given to someone else who has endured similar, if not greater tragedies as Billy did and retained a purely optimistic perspective in the cruel world around them.
Making Billy Batson a jerk just does not work.
Without that incorruptibility, that selfless wholesomeness, and pure Norman Rockwell-ian goodness, Billy Batson would not be special.
He could not and cannot possibly stand above the rest in being chosen.
This is the flaw that Geoff Johns – and especially you, DC – did not foresee when he made Billy Batson an embittered jerk in the New 52.
Now, I can easily see that when an orphaned young child is kicked out on the street by an uncle who stole his inheritance, that it would be easy for him to become disenfranchised with the world and begin to see it with a jaded, selfish, and hate-filled heart.
That’s so very “modern” and interesting in today’s day and age.
And yes, DC, I get that for some people – which I presume would include you and Johns – they think that being morally wholesome is an outdated notion, a relic of a time past, so in an effort to modernize a character, they change such characters like Billy Batson into hardened, embittered meanies to fit with the times.
The problem with that idea is that it is flat out and completely untrue – the notion of moral wholesomeness being outdated, that is.
Being pure in heart is a timeless virtue, one that has been in the stories of our heroes in countless cultures and eras. It still stands strong today because of that, and in no era can it possibly be outdated.
That is why, even today, given the core idea and core template being predicated on Billy Batson having a pure heart, it cannot and does not work to make Billy Batson be a jerk.
Do you get it now, DC?
Don’t get me wrong, Johns is undeniably a good writer and I have nothing against him as a person, but he did a lot of damage to Captain Marvel by removing Billy Batson’s core elements.
Worse, you let him do it.
Fortunately, where your Rebirth is concerned, Johns will not be writing Captain Marvel’s Rebirth book, so that alone gives me hope that under another creator’s care, we just might get a much more holistic treatment of Captain Marvel.
And if we are lucky, you guys will put creators who are not just a tonal fit for Captain Marvel, but understand why we love the character in the first place. (Someone like… Doc Shaner?)
Of course, just making Billy Batson a purely good boy again does not mean he will be perfect.
Perfect would be you granting every single one of the wishes that were expressed above in this letter.
That means that in addition to Billy Batson being pure good, that 1) you go back to calling him Captain Marvel, 2) you stop making Captain Marvel an immature man-child, 3) you give Captain Marvel back his traditional costume, 4) you stop pigeonholing Captain Marvel as “magic guy,” 5) you go back to making his world and stories bright and whimsical again, and 6) you use a different title on the cover besides “Shazam!”
As I’ve said above, those should be bare minimum requirements, but I’ll digress, because even if you only give us the pure-hearted Billy Batson that we know and love and nothing else, it will still be FAR better than the counterfeit version of Billy Batson that you gave us in the New 52, and I can live with that.
Just… Get back to what makes Captain Marvel great: A purely good Billy Batson worthy of being chosen to call down the lightning.
Make his lightning mean something again.
That is my ultimate wish. I’ll honestly live with the rest, if I must.