A troubled kid with embers of good in his heart, Shazam! represents the ability for a child to see the hope and good in the world, when the disenchanted adults can’t. In this Shazam! character analysis we’ll look at this truly unique hero, who’s distinctively different viewpoint on the world makes him one of the most interesting DC heroes.
Do you ever remember the blissful joy of being a kid? It’s a time before you truly understand the world as you know it today. The concept of evil doesn’t really exist in your mind yet. You haven’t been faced with any turmoil, your life is simple. Then as we get older we start to experience more, and these experiences shape our way of thinking. Maybe we for the first time face grief, anger or stress. Things aren’t simple anymore, and that happy-go-lucky child you once were no longer exists. So now you’re a bit bitter, maybe not as hopeful and cheerful as you once were.
Now that’s fair enough, in the face of difficult times, staying the same is rarely the outcome. It’s natural for us to evolve as according to our situational factors. We see this with many superheroes. The prime example being Batman. He isn’t the happy kid he once was before his parents died. Now he is filled with grief and anger, the sweet little Bruce Wayne is no more.
It’s easy for these heroes to lose their ways because they’ve been faced with so much horror. They’re so disconnected to that feeling of being happy and free, disconnected to looking at the world through an innocent and sweet lens. This is what puts Billy Batson aka Shazam! (previously known as Captain Marvel) in such a unique position.
For those unfamiliar with Shazam! let’s go through a brief origin story (basing off the New 52 origin, which is what the new movie is following): Billy Batson was a troubled orphaned kid, jumping from foster home to foster home. Billy eventually finds a new foster home which already houses a few kids including Freddy and Mary. Billy has difficulty fitting into this loving home and doesn’t want to be included in this so called “family”. However when he sees the other kids in school being picked on, Billy comes to their defence. One thing leads to another and Billy runs onto the subway to avoid the bullies chasing him, the subway ends up taking him to The Wizard (why doesn’t my train ever do this??). The Wizard is looking for someone to be the new champion and caretaker for the Rock of Eternity.
The Wizard tried to find a pure good soul but couldn’t. When encountered with Billy, Billy tells The Wizard there’s no such thing as pure good, he’s tried to be good but it doesn’t work. The Wizard sees that there are embers of good in Billy’s heart and chooses him (partly because he was also running out of time to find someone). The Wizard grants Billy powers and he is now Shazam! When he says the magic word he transforms from a child to the adult hero.
Now diving deeper into this Shazam! character analysis, what makes him so different to other heroes is that he is a kid. And whilst that sometimes proves to be a weakness for him (like getting distracted by silly things) it’s also his greatest strength. He sees the world in a clearer, more hopeful light. He isn’t always over burdened by the stress of adulthood because he is still connected to his more carefree side, and whilst he has to grow up fast, he remembers what it’s like to be young and free, because he still is young!
In Paul Dini’s Shazam! Power of Hope, we see Shazam! taking the day to go visit unwell children and making their wishes come true. There is one kid he can’t help though, he doesn’t want to talk to the scary adult Shazam! So Shazam! transforms back to the kid Billy, and is able to talk to the sick child in a more relatable way.
Billy’s ability to see things from both the mindset of a child and adult makes him a very versatile hero. It’s easy to be distracted by the fact that Shazam! is like a god. His powers come from the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. And this often burdens Billy, all the power and responsibility. However in Dini’s story, Billy is reminded that he should not feel burdened by this power, he should remember that he has this remarkable ability to give people hope, and that isn’t necessarily in his god-like state.
Of course the conflict of being both a child and a man often comes to play. In Geoff John’s JSA run there’s a story arc in which Shazam! and Stargirl start having feelings toward each other. Stargirl is young, Billy Batson is also young, but not when he’s Shazam! Stargirl knows that Shazam! is actually a 16 year-old boy, the rest of the JSA don’t. The Flash concerned over an older man flirting with a younger girl wants to put a stop to it. Here Shazam! is met with a conflict; either reveal that he is actually 16 years old and not some old creep, or put a stop to his relations with Stargirl and put the job first.
The wisdom of Solomon advises Billy that he has the best capability of doing his job when the JSA trusts and respects him. Sadly the truth is if they suddenly find out he’s a 16 year old boy, that trust and respects disappears. So Shazam! chooses the wisdom and reason over his teenage heart. Billy understands that power and knowledge are inextricably linked, so to follow his teenage heart with blinkers on would be a mistake, it’s all about the balance.
Thus we have a person with the heart and imagination of a child, met with a man with power and responsibility. It’s an interesting mix, and makes for interesting storytelling.
I think there’s a lot of untapped potential for this character, and there are a lot of strong writers who should take on this character and create a beautiful story. It is an exciting time to be a Shazam! fan and hopefully his solo film brings more attention to this character, and we get to see a lot more great stories!
But what are your thoughts and perspectives on Shazam!? Let me know in the comments below!
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Categories: comic book characters