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‘Shazam!’ to give ‘Captain Marvel’ run for the money

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Zachary Levi plays the hero, right, and Jack Dylan Grazer plays Freddy Freeman in Shazam!

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Friday, April 5, 2019

Although I grew up to become the publisher of Marvel Comics and later consulted for DC, I must admit my favorite superhero as a boy was Captain Marvel.

No, not the superhero portrayed in the recent “Captain Marvel” movie, but the “big red cheese” depicted in those comic books originally published by Fawcett.

Artist C.C. Beck and writer Bill Parker created the character in 1939, a few years after the first appearance of Superman. And long before Marvel’s character called Mar-Vel.

This original Captain Marvel was just an ordinary kid, a teenaged newscaster named Billy Batson, who could transform himself into the World’s Mightiest Mortal by uttering the magical word “Shazam!”

This word was different from the exclamation so frequently invoked by TV’s Gomer Pyle. It was a secret incantation given to Billy by a mysterious wizard who imbued the boy with (tick off the initials) 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 – S.H.A.Z.A.M.

Based on comic book sales, this Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero of the 1940s. Even more than Superman.

The company that became DC Comics didn’t like that, so it sued Fawcett for copyright infringement. After a protracted legal battle, Fawcett threw in the towel and ceased publishing Captain Marvel comics, and later DC purchased the license.

I always thought it was a bum rap. Captain Marvel was nothing like Superman: Captain Marvel was a human using magic in order to become super, while Superman was an alien from another planet whose powers happened to be greater than any human.

What’s more, Captain Marvel’s chiseled-jaw appearance was modeled after movie star Fred MacMurray, not Clark Kent.

During the period that this original Captain Marvel character lay dormant, Marvel Comics came along and created their own character and claimed the name. Thus, the current “Captain Marvel” movie from Marvel Studios.

So as consolation prize, DC had to publish Captain Marvel under the title “Shazam!” They even started calling him Shazam.

That’s the backstory behind the new superhero movie titled “Shazam!” that’s playing this week at AMC Fire Tower, 1685 E. Fire Tower Road, and Regal Cinemas Greenville Gande, 750 S.W. Greenville Blvd.

Produced by New Line Cinema and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (owner of DC Comics), “Shazam!” is the seventh installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

In this telling, a 14-year-old troubled orphan wanders into an abandoned subway station where he encounters an ancient wizard who chooses him to be the “Champion of Eternity.” Billy and his foster brother, Freddy Freeman, must harness these new powers to thwart a villain named Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.

The film stars Asher Angel (TV’s “Andi Mack”) as Billy Batson, the teenage boy who can transform himself into an adult superhero. And Captain Marvel is played by Zachary Levi (one of the Warriors Three in “Thor: Ragnarok”).

Jack Dylan Grazer (one of the kids in “It”) plays Freddy; and Adam Brody (“Scream 4”) is his superhero alter ego, Captain Marvel Jr.

We also meet Grace Fulton (TV’s “Bones”) as Billy’s foster sister (she was his twin sister in the old comic books) and Michelle Borth (TV’s “Hawaii Five-O”) as Mary Marvel, her superhero identity.

Toss in Mark Strong (“Zero Dark Thirty”) as the dome-headed evildoer Dr. Sivana, and Djimon Hounsou (“Aquaman”) takes on the persona of the Wizard Shazam.

“Shazam” star Zachary Levi offers a pretty good description of the new franchise: “It’s gonna feel like the movie ‘Big,’ but with super powers.”

Shirrel Rhoades is a former executive with Marvel Entertainment, a writer, publisher, professor and filmmaker. He is from North Carolina and lives in Florida. Contact him at srhoades@aol.com.

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

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