Shazam!: What You Need to Know About the Shazam Family

Spoilers ahead for Shazam!, in theaters now. In the third act of Shazam!, the recently-released DC Comics adaptation starring Zachary Levi in the title role, the hero comes to a realization: what good is power, if you don't have anyone to share it with? It's this revelation that provides a roadmap to defeating the villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, and his creepy Seven Deadly Enemies of Man/Seven Deadly Sins. Sivana and the Sins have Billy Batson's (Asher Angel) foster siblings taken hostage, and Sivana demands that Billy hand over the power of Shazam to him in exchange for sparing them. Instead, Billy incapacitates Sivana long enough to share the power with his family, bringing a major part of the character's comic book mythology to life in live action.

When Shazam! -- nee Captain Marvel -- was introduced, he immediately became one of the most popular characters in comics, outselling even Superman (of whom he was accused of being a copycat). The character proved so popular for Fawcett Comics that shortly thereafter, they launched a spinoff, Captain Marvel, Jr. Captain Marvel, Jr. was Billy Batson's friend Freddy Freeman, who was seriously injured in a hit-and-run. To save his life, Billy shared a fragment of his powers, with Freddy accessing his abilities by saying "Captain Marvel" rather than "Shazam," which is what Captain Marvel said because he got his powers from the wizard Shazam.

There is an oddly amusing aspect to Captain Marvel, Jr. -- since he got his powers by calling out the name of Captain Marvel, he was unable to introduce himself by name without transforming back into Freddy. After years of dealing with that issue on the page (sometimes with a knowing wink-and-a-nod from the characters), 2011's New 52 reboot saw Captain Marvel rebranded as Shazam (due largely to trademark issues that are not really pertinent here, but likely seem obvious), so that now the main hero in the stories has that issue, rather than Freddy.

While the "Marvel Family" over the years had grown to include other characters, including Mary Marvel, Mister Tawky Tawny, and more, the version seen in the movie actually originated in an alternate-continuity story. Flashpoint, a miniseries which set the stage for the aforementioned reboot, took place in a world where Barry Allen never became The Flash and as a result time was broken. Familiar heroes and villains were reinvented for the dark new world, and in the case of Captain Marvel, he became S!H!A!Z!A!M!, a group of kids who shared the wizard's power. While most of the Flashpoint characters vanished at the end of that story, the reconfigured Shazam family was incorporated into Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's take on the character, which serves as the principal inspiration for the film version.

Their first appearance in the comics is more or less like what happened in the movie, except that it was Black Adam and not Sivana with whom Billy was facing off. Billy's foster siblings were as surprised as anybody to get the power of Shazam, and their arrival helped turn the tide in a battle that was looking pretty dour.

Shazam! is in theaters now. Shazam! #5 will be available in comic shops and online on May 8.

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