Let’s be honest: DC Comics doesn’t know what to do with the Captain Marvel/Shazam family franchise despite them sitting on a potential goldmine. “Not….Batman? Don’t….know how it….works? Lighthearted…how does this….what is this?” Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. have been kicked around, depowered, repowered, and depowered again; they have been completely violated, and pulled through the ringer so many times by DC scribes in the past decade just because of their more wholesome nature, which has made it pretty dismal to be a fan. It is also such a far cry from their status as the most popular and widely read superhero “family” of the 1940’s, outselling (yes) even Superman and Batman at the time. Billy Batson’s debut in 1940 in Whiz Comics #2 sold over 500,000 copies.
Hey DC, how much are your top books selling a month now? A little over 1/5 of that. Yeah. Even Mary Marvel headlined Wow Comics, and by 1945 had her own Mary Marvel ongoing book as well. Let me say that again: She had her own ongoing. That lasted from 1945 to 1948. How difficult is it today for a female character to get their own solo these days? How much applause occurs when it actually does happen? Something is wrong here.
So DC, here’s my plea: Stop trying to fit the Shazam family into comics. They’re not going to thrive, as they haven’t in over 40 years. But don’t give up on them completely; why not give them a try in other media? Just listen.
Warner Bros and DC Comics should take a chance on a Captain Marvel/Shazam family cartoon series aimed at younger kids perhaps in the 10-14 range (and beyond, here’s looking at you Tumblr). They could, if they did it right, have a goldmine for merchandise and an opportunity for a really fun, energetic show for all ages that both boys and girls could equally enjoy.
Stylistically I envision a bright and colorful, pastel-toned and soft Max Fleischer Superman animation styling with that 1930’s-40’s esque setting that evokes the slapstick animated comedy shorts both from MGM and Warner Bros. Studios from the same era. Keep the tone light, quick, and snappy. Have story lines that mirror old adventure pulp movies and mysteries. With the Shazam franchise seeped deep with ancient mythology, archeology, and the supernatural, it seems like a no brainer! If The Mummy could spin out a relatively successful cartoon series, so could Shazam. Plus, archeology. Just archeology.
Alternatively, they could work with an Asian animation company to do a magical girl and super sentai meets western superhero style show like the oncoming joint French-Japanese production Miraculous Ladybug set to air next fall, or go on an adaptation “inspired by” limb and do a giant-robo style series. Yes, a Captain Marvel/Shazam giant-robo show. Ever since I saw artist Cliff Chang’s designs for a vintage anime style “Justice League” featuring a Gatchaman Batman and a Superman that is a little boy who controls a giant robot, I knew that robot concept would fit Shazam better. And it would fit Billy Batson better, too, as he truly is the child within the body of a near invulnerable adult man once transformed. Can you imagine how cool that would be? Summoned through an ancient artifact that activated due to Billy’s pure heart, Shazam, centuries old golem-robot rises from his slumber when summoned to protect Fawcett City against Dr. Sivana, and his ancient counterpart, Black Adam! Mechas for everyone!
Worried about two good natured young twins Billy and Mary being uninteresting as leads though? Let me point you to the enormous popularity of Gravity Falls.
Why is this so important? Why do I want this so badly? Because I really cannot think of anything else in Warner Bros./DC arsenal that’s “different” from the usual Batman or Superman shtick that could be appealing to kids. Shazam has always been such a happy medium between “superhero” sci-fi wackiness and then magical fantasy fiction it really does seem a no brainer for a cartoon series. The presence of magic along with sci-fi elements mean lots of variety, something you can seldom get with more sci-fi based superheroes.
My other reasoning? Mary Marvel.
I don’t understand the hate or dislike Mary Marvel seems to get from some comic fans. Is it because she’s actually a young girl? Is it because she is super feminine, often bubbly and sweet? She’s often called or pegged as the Snow White (she literally has Disney-brand animal magnetism, one of my favorite skill sets ever because animals are the best and hey I love Snow White) or the Pollyanna of DC comic heroines.
Sure she can be written as pretty naïve or as a general ingénue (sometimes a bit too much) but I think it’s such a cool inversion because she is literally one of the most powerful superheroes of any gender in DC Comics according to skill set. But she hasn’t been treated as such in a long time. She has such an interesting history and legacy as a female character. I think she’s a great example to girls to show that they can be a tomboy and kick ass, or they can be feminine and also kick ass. Too often media seems to pit one against the other, and that just shouldn’t be.
The Shazam/Marvel family get little of the respect they should be getting. This is why I think the best plan would be to give them a place where they could really shine; not in the comics, but on a cartoon show on TV. I feel that’s where their true potential could be explored much easier than trying a monthly comic. They can be retooled to be fresh and new as long as the humor and lighthearted appeal remains. So dear DC Comics, please hear my plea for The Big Red Cheese,the much maligned Mary, and poor Captain Marvel Jr. Give them a chance and invest in trying an animated TV series. I’ll even write it myself if need be. I’ll write a proposal. Anything. Just give them a chance to actually succeed.