When teenage newsboy Billy Batson shouts the magic word “SHAZAM!” he is instantly transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal, the superhero knows to the world as Captain Marvel. Gifted with mystical powers, Captain Marvel and his “Marvel Family” – Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. – he is the embodiment of truth and justice, challenging evil wherever he finds it. From battling the villainous Dr Sivana and Mr Mind to Dragon-Men from Saturn and intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo, every day is an adventure.
This collection of 14 classic and more modern tales of Captain Marvel include his 1940 origin story by the legendary team of Bill Parker and CC Beck, Golden Age stories from Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and Otto Binder, and several of his Silver Age and post-Crisis appearances from creators including Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Jerry Ordway, Alan Grant and more.
Captain Marvel – the original one – has quite a legacy.
While rarely mentioned, for a while the original Captain Marvel – these days more often referred to as Shazam – was bigger than Superman. A favourite with readers upon his comic book debut, Captain Marvel was also the first comic book superhero to make it to the big screen, in the excellent 1941 Republic serial that still holds up today. He’s a character who deserves respect, and his good nature, caring attitude, occasional goofiness, charm, sincerity and warmth make him one of the greatest characters in comics of all time.
In this SHAZAM!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told collection, fans can read some of the defining stories of the big red cheese. Unfortunately, it’s the nature and significance of these stories that are also one of its biggest drawbacks because… well, it’s Captain Marvel. Confused? Then let me explain.
To begin with, the first half dozen stories presented in SHAZAM!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told are pure Golden Age tales. Personally, I have a soft spot for stories from that time, but there are plenty of people these days who don’t and will simply dismiss them as dated and simplistic. The thing is, they are dated and simplistic because that was the nature of these kinds of stories back then. They fitted the target audience of the time. Captain Marvel is an old character, so expect old stories if you want to read his classic exploits.
After the Golden Age, there’s the awkwardness of the Silver Age tales. It’s clear from them that the creators involved are fans of Captain Marvel and show him all the respect they can. Catching lightning in a bottle is nearly impossible though, and while the stories are good they’re not great. As for the more modern tales, they’re a mixed bag which highlight Captain Marvel’s inherent goodness – as well as that of Billy Batson. Again, they’re solid enough and show a genuine love for the character. However, it’s baffling that a legendary story like Shazam! Power of Hope or some of his appearances in JLI or JSA aren’t included in this collection (especially given the Alex Ross cover).
The real drawback is that the stories presented aren’t great, even if the character is.
That isn’t to say this collection is bad – if you’re a fan of the character and want to read some of his earlier adventures then it’s fantastic! It isn’t a slur on the creators involved or stories themselves either. Instead, it’s because of how we perceive the character of Captain Marvel and, as a character, he’s probably better than any story he’s ever appeared in. The expectations of readers with this collection may be too high, and it doesn’t quite live up to the title that these are the greatest stories ever told. In some way or other, they may be considered disappointing, depending on the reader, so be warned.
Captain Marvel is a great character and, as a collection that highlights the history of the character, it does more than cover the basics. SHAZAM!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told is more likely to please long-time fans and comic book readers rather than newcomers, but if you’re a fan of the classics then this is certainly worth your attention.
SHAZAM!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told
SHAZAM!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told is a collection of classic tales that falls short of being magic.