For Your Consideration: Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1


Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

In 1973, fans were stunned to start seeing house ads announcing that the Big Red Cheese himself, Captain Marvel, was coming over.

This was huge to readers with any inkling of comics’ history as they knew of Superman vs. Captain Marvel (or DC versus Fawcett). DC sued, arguing the red-clad hero was too derivative of their blue and red-caped hero. The case dragged long past the change in tastes as superheroes faded in popularity until finally Fawcett settled and ceased publishing.

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1


DC acquiring the rights to publish new stories and reprint the classic older works was a big deal. It’s hard to imagine how big this was compared with the business today. But everyone was excited and the release of Shazam! #1 in late 1973 was the first case of young readers speculating on a new release being valuable. I bought 10; Michael Uslan bought a dozen as did so many others, effectively rendering the collectability useless but artificially inflated the initial sales numbers.

After the launch, readers were merely so-so on the material itself, thrilled to see co-creator C.C. Beck back on the art but less than enchanted with the stories. Then Beck’s displeasure with the stories went public and he quit. Bob Oksner and Kurt Schaffenberger, veterans from the Fawcett days, stepped in, and the series continued. It was an odd assortment, with brilliant moments and a chance to revisit familiar characters.

Shazam! #4

Shazam! #4


The first eighteen issues are being assembled in Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1. Why Shazam? Because with Fawcett out of comics, in the 1960s, cheapo publisher Myron Fass introduced a new hero with the name, a robot that yelled “Split” to send a part of his body like a missile. It was brief but caught the attention of Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman, who ordered Stan Lee to create a character with the name so they could grab the trademark.

“Now, you’ll find on the earliest issues of Shazam!, the title reads Shazam!: The Original Captain Marvel. And then Marvel sent them a cease and desist letter saying that under trademark laws, you couldn’t even have the name prominently on the cover like that. So they had to then had to change it to Shazam!: The World’s Mightiest Mortal,” Michael Uslan told Newsarama in their wonderful oral history.

Shazam! #7

Shazam! #7


These comics proved influential to many of today’s creators who had never seen his adventures before including Jeff Smith, writer/artist of Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil and Mark Waid.

“I think the reason why I and a lot of other kids were intrigued was because he was a forbidden character. You know, ‘the character that dare not speak its name’,” Waid recalled. “You couldn’t talk about him because of all the legal ramifications and he’d been sued out of existence and so forth.”

Shazam! #9

Shazam! #9


The all-ages sense of wonder and whimsy that was the hallmark of the old series, which outsold Superman for quite some time, was a creative challenge. Editor Julie Schwartz turned things over to Denny O’Neil, who felt as out of his depth with Captain Marvel as he did with Superman but tried his best. He was joined by Elliot S! Maggin, who told Newsarama, “The first story I did was the Sunny Sparkle story – that was in issue #2. The thing I liked about it was you could do things you couldn’t do with the so-called ‘realistic’ superheroes. They’re superheroes, there’s nothing realistic about them! That worked pretty well at the time, I thought, so I kept coming up with superlatives. There was a guy who was the world’s dullest human–Dick Giordano drew that like one of his kids.”

The only one who seemed to have a good feel for the material was E. Nelson Bridwell, who began writing before the first year was out. While Beck objected to everything sent him, he seemed most mollified by Bridwell’s touch.

Shazam! #2

Shazam! #2


So, what’s in this hardcover? Well, you get some great Beck art, you get the interesting art and photo covers combining the best of Beck with DC production guru Jack Adler. You get plenty of short tales by O’Neil, Maggin, and Bridwell that spotlights the Marvel Family or Captain Marvel. There are Captain Marvel Junior stories written by Maggin and drawn by Dave Cockrum (channeling original Junior artist Mac Raboy), Dick Giordano, and Schaffenberger. Mary Marvel gets her spot in a few pieces from Bridwell and Oksner. And the Man of Steel turns up in a piece from O’Neil, Oksner and Tex Blaisdell where Lex Luthor leaves Earth-1 to team up with Mr. Mind on what was eventually dubbed Earth-S.

Shazam! #15

Shazam! #15


Jerry Ordway, who later wrote and drew The Power of Shazam! said, “When I got the assignment to do Captain Marvel, I went back and reread the 1970s series as part of my research, and I thought it was pretty well done. I told Denny O’Neil this, and he thanked me, but indicated that he didn’t feel like he had the right grasp on the characters.

“But I thought it was a lot of fun, reading it again, and underrated in what it attempted in recapturing the feel of the 1940s book.”

“I loved the 1970s series – I liked Nelson Bridwell’s stuff a lot, and what Elliot Maggin was doing, and the first Captain Marvel Jr. story of the 1970s where Dave Cockrum did the art — great-looking story,” Waid added.

“I think that I liked the 1970s stuff because I was 10 years old, and I was a fan, and there was no DC comic I didn’t like at age 10. But looking back, I think that stuff has a great sense of humor and whimsy and holds up with some of the better Captain Marvel stories of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Certainly the visual continuity was there, with Bob Oksner doing his best C.C. Beck and Kurt Schaffenberger carrying the torch.”

Shazam! #18

Shazam! #18


Summing it up best is Mike Kunkel, the writer/artist of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam: “The thing I remember is that it was fun. That’s the main thing I remember – the fun-ness of it.”