DC has informed retailers that plans to reprint the 1940s story Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil have been scrapped due to concerns over the book's contents.
The most likely cause for concern is the depiction in the comics of racial and ethnic stereotypes common to the era.
"After careful consideration, DC announces that the Shazam!: The Monster Society fo Evil Deluxe Edition HC (JUL180783) is cancelled due to concerns over its contents," DC wrote in an email to retailers. "This title will not be resolicited."
Newsarama tracks some of the history of the story, noting that the comic has been out of print since the '80s and that several people in a position to know had cited racist content within the story's pages as the source of corporate hedging.
“The black characters are depicted in a very stereotypical manner, which was sadly typical of the time, and so were the Japanese characters – which, again, was typical in WWII," Bone creator Jeff Smith, who wrote a similarly titled Shazam! story, said in 2010. “I don’t see why they don’t reprint it. I hope they do reprint it, and say, ‘This is what was done at the time, and it’s pretty bad, but it’s also part of the story.’”
Image Comics co-founder and Golden Age comics aficionado Erik Larsen responded to the cancellation on Twitter with little surprise.
"I think at this point--DC is trying to dodge a bullet because of the Shazam! movie. They don't want the negative publicity associated with the racist Fawcett Captain Marvel material," Larsen reasoned.
He noted that there is a practical reason DC had been tempted to brave the controversy and consider reprinting the material: among Shazam! stories from the Golden Age, "Monster Society of Evil" is one of relatively few that conforms to the demands of today's trade paperback market.
"The Monster Society of Evil is a big, attractive, irresistible carrot to DC because it's a long, multi-part story which includes all of Captain Marvel's major foes up to that point, including the ONLY Golden Age appearance of Mr. Mind," Larsen explained. "Most Fawcett Captain Marvel stories are relatively short. Few are multi-part stories and almost none are continued from one issue to another. There were a couple serials but the Monster Society of Evil was the only really long one (25 8-12 page chapters)."
Warner Bros. faced a similar quandary a few years back when reissuing a number of classic Tom & Jerry cartoons in which African-American characters were depicted in a stereotypical light. Amazon provided potential customers with a warning that some content may not be appropriate for all ages.8comments
Within the context of the Shazam! property itself, this is not the first time in recent practice that modern standards have flummoxed DC with regard to classic conten: Isis, the female counterpart to Black Adam and heroine of one of the earliest female-led superhero properties in film and TV, had her superhero nom de guerre removed on DC's Legends of Tomorrow because she shares it with the name of a 21st Century terrorist group.
Much of the "Monster Society of Evil" content, which was originally published by Fawcett before they sold the Shazam!/Captain Marvel rights to DC, is available for free on the Internet due to its public-domain copyright status.