Captain Marvel: Where Do I Start?

Captain Marvel art by Evan ShanerBy some he’s known as “The World’s Mightiest Mortal,” while others refer to him jokingly as “The Big Red Cheese” or as erroneously as “Shazam!” but his name is always been Captain Marvel. Created after the overnight success of Superman in 1938, Captain Marvel taps into every child’s fantasy of being a superhero; not by growing up to someday attain that goal, but getting it today through a mystical phrase that converts you into a super-powered adult body.  Come on, even adults would like to be able to transform into Captain Marvel.

In the 1940s Captain Marvel outstripped both Superman and Captain America in terms of popularity, going on to earn the distinction of being the first comic superhero to get his own film with 1941’s Adventures of Captain Marvel. In the intervening years DC has attempted to revitalize the character from time to time, but they largely haven’t been able to find a proper place for Billy Batson and his gang, as evidenced by his absence from DC’s recently announced relaunch of its superhero line in the fall of 2011.

Even if DC doesn’t seem to know what to do with him, Captain Marvel remains a vital superhero in comics. More than just a Superman stand-in, he’s the embodiment of adolescent power fantasies with a dash of actual fantasy with magic, boy’s adventures and talking animals. Here’s five stories that are a sure-fire way to get the scoop on Captain Marvel.

Shazam: Power of Hope: This standalone story by Paul Dini and Alex Ross quickly sets about differentiating him from DC’s other caped hero by exploiting the whimsical and innocent nature of Captain Marvel as a hero with the heart of a child. Shazam: Power of Hope is grounded in simple character interaction and acts of kindness. Superman may be DC’s boy scout, but Captain Marvel is the only hero who’s truly a boy at heart.

The Power of Shazam: This 90s attempt at revitalization of Captain Marvel shows writer/artist Jerry Ordway at the top of his game, taking on the concepts of Batson, Fawcett City and even Tawky-Tawny. The introduction of Black Adam rates as the darkest and most monstrous depictions of the villain before or since. If you imagine Captain Marvel as a Disney-esque DC hero, then Black Adam becomes the perfect arch-nemesis in the mold of greats such as Maleficent and Cruella de Ville. And for any fans of Jerry Ordway, this book is a must have for the rarity of the painted style the artist employs here.

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil: Jeff Smith’s series is the most recent in our list, but also one of the most classic. Best known for his elaborate and lengthy Bone series, Smith shows he can deliver the same passion and charmin short doses here with an emotional and witty story pitting DC’s kid hero against a litany of villains as well as the idea of a hereto unknown sister to Billy Batson.

Superman/Shazam: First Thunder: Captain Marvel can’t help but be compared to Superman; in this series by Judd Winick and Joshua Middleton, they tell the story of the two heroes first epic meeting. Putting these two oft-compared heroes side-by-side really exposes their differences, pushing Superman as a more serious mission-focused adult and Captain Marvel as a pure, child-like adventurer. And it’s not just these two heroes intersecting but their villains as well, with the duo facing off with Lex Luthor, Dr. Sivana and even Eclipso.

Shazam!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told: This expansive volume takes readers from the earliest days of the kid-turned-hero into his later appearances and re-inventions from the 50s through the 70s. Seeing artist C.C. Beck’s inventive line reminds you heavily of Mike Wieringo despite coming some 70 years before, striking a mythic and exuberant note. Take special note for the story where Marvel fights the planet Earth itself after it gets fed up with humans living in its skin.



  1. Few superheroes looks cooler than Captain Marvel does when Alex Ross draws him.  He just looks like a symbol of strength and righteousness.  I’ll definitely have to check out the Winick and Smith books, as I’ve been dying to read a CM book since seeing that Superman/Shazaam animated short.

  2. I’ve always been a huge Shazam fan since I was a kid.  I really hope that they make  a place for him in the new DCU.  I wasn’t happy with the child like art style they chose for the books over thee years.  I think it can be a kids book without looking like it.  I’ve been trying to get my GF’s daughter (8 years old) into comics and she’s gravitated more towards archie comics because they don’t look stupid.  If DC can have a kid comic without making it look dumb they might have a winner. 

  3. Jeff’s Smith Shazam is near enough to being a perfect comic. You can hand to anyone of any age and they get it. 

    Personally Kingdom Come is one of my favourite Captain Marvel stories. His redemption at the end typifies the characters meaning so well.

  4. Captain Marvel is one of the best characters DC has to offer and I can’t understand why they can do something similar to Invincible or Ultimate Spiderman with him as a perfect blend of teen life and super heroics. PLEASE DC bring him back soon and Mary too, In the white costume if you please .

  5. Be sure to check these out if you missed out on the Power of SHAZAM series originally.
    I plan to, since I didn’t get into Captain Marvel until after this series was done. 

    I think I’ve read everthing on your list though, and it’s all good stuff. 

  6. BTW, the first image is from Evan “Doc” Shaner. It’s uncredited in the article, but if you like it, check out his other stuff:

  7. Winnick’s Trials of Shazm is very good

  8. I love the art is the Superman / Shamzam series, it’s a good 4 issue mini.

  9. @wulfstone  Second!  Trials of Shazam is terrific and features the lovely art of Mauro Cascioli!

  10. @bansidhewail  I was going to add Trials here as well. I was discussing how good it was with a friend over lunch just today.

  11. Great list, Captain Marvel is one of those characters i’ve always loved in theory but haven’t had many great stories to read him in. I’ll have to look for these. 

    Also there’s a pretty sweet Captain Marvel history book (complete history i think) that just looks awesome.  

  12. Captain Marvel is my all time favorite superhero. I loved the stuff with Mary Marvel in 52, and since then they have done next to nothing with the Marvel Family characters, leaving them powerless last I saw them. If anything is ripe for a reboot and new #1, it is this. Why this wasn’t one of the 52 I will never know. And DC should have the balls to call it Captain Marvel and not pussy out and keep calling it Shazam.

  13. @IroncladMerc  Balls have nothing to do with it, it’s about losing money in legal fees to the blokes across the street, which I’m pretty sure DC couldn’t afford to waste right now. And I think you meant Countdown, because I don’t think she turned up in 52 except for  some scenes at Black Adam’s wedding. But yeah I agree she’s great when she’s not turned evil, aged and sexified, given a magic addiction or whatever, palling around with murderers like eclypso, dumped on the shores of themyscira and then turned loose as a possessed desaad dressed as a female fury with horrible haircut. I could forgive everything else, but a pink ponytail? Come on! *GOB*

  14. @IroncladMerc –They have a very specific legal agreement with Marvel and couldn’t call him Captain Marvel on the cover of any book for any reason. The Captain Marvel rights muck up is a very fascinating story…its worth taking the time to research.  

  15. Any thoughts on Freddy Freeman? I guess he’s just called Shazam as a chosen candidate for the power of Shazam as Captain Marvel took the the role of the wizard Shazam under the name Marvel after the wizard was killed. Captain Marvels Wikipedia is really interesting but am still a little unclear as to DC’s placement of the name when in Cry For Justice when Freddy Freeman arrives, Supergirl or someone loudly says CAPTAIN MARVEL!!, then Jay Garrick says “or is it Shazam, I’m a little unclear with all the names” and Freddy says something like “lets keep it simple and just call me Freddy.”  So, what I wanna know is, after Flashpoint is Freddy still gonna be Shazam and Captain Marvel/Billy Batson stays as well? Anyway, 52,Cry For Justice, Final Crisis, JSA and Kingdom Come all have great Captain Marvel/Shazam moments.

  16. @JSAkid. So i wrote out a paragraph saying that your confusion probably mirrors the writers and that it would all be sorted out the next time they’re reintroduced. But then I remembered the reboot and realised it doesn’t matter anyway as the slate’s being wiped clean, so even if they don’t turn up in september, they’ll be back at some point with a fresh origin, hopefully some kinda uh REBIRTH. I’d like to see Junior just as Freddy Marvel, like how it’s just Mary Marvel.

  17. Freddy lost his powers in Titans #32; Billy & Mary lost theirs in JSA a while back.

    Right now, there is no Captain Marvel in the DCU. Black Adam was turned to stone when Billy & Mary lost their powers, so now only Osiris and Isis are up and around. 

    After Flashpoint, I’m wondering if we’ll have anyone bearing the power of Shazam at *all*.

  18. Supposedly, the wizard SHAZAM was planning to get into fisticuffs with Freddy over the name and powers after that JSA arc, but apparently he’s forgetful in his old age.  And now he doesn’t have to worry about it anyway.

    I have no plans to read any post-reboot/Flashpoint DC stuff until I hear an announcement of the Marvel Family’s place in the new world.

  19. No Shazam! archives? CC beck’s cap marvel work is some of the best superhero comics ever. Thats like doing a “Plastic Man:where do i start?” and just including an anthology with one or two jack cole stories.