Geoff Johns explains why he wanted to give Shazam a bigger spotlight on both page and screen
Shazam is going to have a big 2019. No, Shaq isn’t rebooting his iconic genie movie (that would be Kazaam). We’re talking about the classic comic book character who can transform from a young boy into a strapping superhero by saying the titular magic word. This week sees the launch of a new Shazam! comic book (the character’s first ongoing title in many, many years) courtesy of writer Geoff Johns and artist Dale Eaglesham, and the first issue teases many magical secrets that are sure to be unraveled over the coming months.
Then, of course, there’s the big-screen Shazam! movie, starring Asher Angel as young Billy Batson and Zachary Levi as his adult-aged alter-ego. The Shazam! trailer, which featured a playful attitude rarely found in comic book movies these days, was one of the biggest hits from San Diego Comic-Con, and Johns couldn’t be more excited about it. The popular and prolific comic writer isn’t just giving Shazam a new spotlight on the page; he also championed a Shazam movie for years during his former role as chief creative officer of DC Entertainment.
“Conceptually I think he’s a perfect character, tonally he’s so unique, his books were so unique, and his world is potentially really unique. I really wanted to see Shazam out there in a much bigger way,” Johns tells EW. “I’ve been trying to get that movie made since 2009 when I was brought on as a consultant. I’ve been pushing to get that movie made, and now David Sandberg has directed an amazing, fun movie that just feels different than anything else that’s out there, from any company. I’m excited for people to see it, but more importantly, I’m excited for Shazam as a character to get out there in a bigger way — in movies, comics, everything. He was one of the most popular superheroes of his time and I think he’s still relevant. I think a kid in over his head with superpowers and magic is never gonna not be a lot of fun. To push it forward and build on it and get it out there in a bigger way is all I’ve been trying to do for a long time, and I hope that character finds a bigger audience because there’s an important message to that character that I think people can relate to, about finding family and building family and opening yourself up to the world.”
Like the movie, the new Shazam! comic builds on the stories Johns and artist Gary Frank made as backup features in issues of Justice League back in 2011. At that time DC Comics was going through a line-wide reboot known as the “New 52,” in which the company’s classic characters were revamped for a contemporary audience. The result was to make many superheroes darker and more angsty, and Billy Batson was no exception. In this telling, the young boy was angry and manipulative, after being forced from one foster home to the next. But he learned to be a better and nicer person after gaining his magic powers from the wizard at the Rock of Eternity, and also by bonding with his diverse family of foster siblings: Freddie Freeman, Mary Bromfield, Eugene Choi, Pedro Peña, and Darla Dudley. In fact, Billy has learned how to share his magical power with his five friends, allowing each of them to turn into their own Shazam-like superhero.
Back in his ‘50s heyday, Shazam (or Captain Marvel as he was called then; others have taken the name since) was actually one of the first superheroes to come with a whole family of sidekicks and helpers. In the following decades, superhero family trees would pop up everywhere. Just try to make a checklist of how many current and former Robins are running around the DC universe, or how many archers fight crime on the CW’s Arrow. But Shazam was one of the first, and even the new and expanded Shazam Family is still rooted in the core concept of the character, according to Johns.
“The great thing about it is it wasn’t just, ‘Oh, let’s make more superheroes’ — it was tied to Billy Batson’s foster kid story, of not having a family and needing to make his own family,” Johns says. “For me that’s a core element of Shazam since he was created. The story of a foster kid who finds family and learns to love people like family, and so therefore his greatest power is sharing that power with his family, is paramount and key to the book. It also makes him different and unique. It’s going to play a big part of our story line in the first year of Shazam. I’m really excited about the potential storytelling in that environment, reintroducing classic characters like Mary and Freddie and introducing new ones like Darla and Pedro and Eugene. It just keeps the mythology building and growing and rooted in the original conceit of the character.”
There will be plenty of mythology to explore in Shazam! The first issue of the new series finds the kids discovering what looks like a rundown train station inside the Rock of Eternity, along with a map of something called the Seven Magic Lands. When they reach those realms, Johns promises they will be unlike anything else in the DC Universe — since Shazam is unlike any other superhero.
“There’s a huge mythology behind Billy, but unlike other superheroes, he’s a kid. He doesn’t know what’s been thrust upon him. There’s no rulebook, there’s no spellbook, he’s literally finding this out with us,” Johns says. “Going along with him on his journey to become a superhero, the champion of magic, and the wizard of the Rock of Eternity is what’s going to make the book so fun to read and be a part of. We don’t know everything, it’s not all laid out, it’s all a mystery, and the mysteries are pretty endless. What he can do, and what he’s a part of, and why he exists and why the Rock of Eternity’s there and why the wizard sat there and why he was chosen…there’s so many great questions to explore and have fun with. The Rock of Eternity was this magical subway station like Grand Central, for something, and it was shut down long ago. We don’t know why it’s shut down or where it goes. These subway cars go somewhere. The reason they exist and come to the Rock, why Billy’s in charge of it all, and why there are seven thrones…it all will become part of the bigger story.”
Shazam #1 is out this week and available for pre-order here. See exclusive excerpts above.