While you may know Billy Batson and friends thanks to 2019’s Shazam! or its soon-to-drop sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, did you also know that he happens to be one of the oldest superheroes in publication? That's right, he stands up there with characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman having debuted all the way back in 1940! Which means there is a lot of history behind him…and some of it is pretty strange.
We've rounded up some facts about Shazam's past, from famous fans, to old black and white movies, that you might be surprised to learn.
1) "Shazam" is actually his fourth name
Our boy Billy Batson has been through his fair share of change over the years, including his name. While his civilian identity has stayed more or less consistent through the decades, he was actually introduced (all the way back in 1940) as "Captain Thunder." That name obviously didn't stick, and he was promptly renamed "Captain Marvelous" under a new publisher, which was then shortened to "Captain Marvel." That name stuck around for some time, until he was formally renamed Shazam, after the magic word and the wizard that gave him his powers.
2) Elvis Presley was a super fan
The King of Rock and Roll counted himself among Shazam's biggest fans. Specifically, Elvis loved Freddy Freeman and his superhero alter ego, Captain Marvel Jr (or Shazam Jr today). You can see elements of Freddy's original costume design in some of Elvis's most famous stage outfits, and, in return, you can find Freddy himself nodding to Elvis with his on-again-off-again rockabilly styling and his alternate codename, King Shazam.
3) Shazam was the first superhero to get a live action movie
Back in 1941, at the very height of his popularity, Shazam became the first comic book superhero to get a live-action adaptation with a twelve-part film serial. It was produced by Republic Pictures and titled The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Interestingly, this particular serial was actually a rebranded attempt by Republic to create a Superman serial (which they would eventually do several years later with Columbia Pictures). Many of the costumes and props used in The Adventures of Captain Marvel were repurposed for that Superman serial. Sharing really is caring.
4) There was a live action Shazam! TV show, too
While Batman '66 might be the most famous and iconic artifact from the Silver Age in terms of superhero TV shows, Shazam also got in on the action. In 1974, he had a (short lived) TV show eventually called The Shazam!/Isis Hour which featured Billy Batson and the Wizard Shazam (renamed 'Mentor' for the show) cruising around the country in a motorhome looking for injustices to correct. There were no real super-villains to be found. The second part of that equation, The Secrets of Isis, featured another Shazam side-character, Isis, and would air right after the Shazam! episode.
5) The Shazamily paved the way for the superhero family
While familial superhero dynasties may seem commonplace today, with characters like Batman and the Flash and their legions of sidekicks and cohorts, they can all trace their lineage back to the Shazamily. The Marvel Family title began publication in the late 1940s and leaned into the idea that Billy and his friends were indeed a family of superheroes, even if they weren't all blood-related. The idea helped inspire new characters in other books for decades to come.
6) "SHAZAM!" is an acronym that means more than one thing
While you probably know the standard meaning of "SHAZAM!"—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—did you know it could also stand for other gods?
Black Adam, for instance, uses the same magic word, but in his version, the letters stand for Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton and Mehen.
7) Not everyone was thrilled to find out Shazam's alter-ego was a kid
Secret identities can be tough, but they can be even tougher when your superhero self and your civilian self are two entirely different age demographics. This is a unique problem for the Shazamily and leads to all sorts of interesting (and frequently funny) problems. But not everyone sees the inherent charm of a teenage boy running around in an adult body with the power of the Gods. The miniseries Superman/Shazam: First Thunder featured a now famous moment where Superman discovered Billy's identity for the first time. His reaction is anything but positive—though not for the reasons you may think. Superman's first concern is that no teenager should ever have to shoulder the level of responsibility that comes with being a superhero, especially not one as powerful as Shazam.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods, starring Zachary Levi and directed by David F. Sandberg, hits theaters March 17th. Visit our official Shazam! Fury of the Gods page to buy tickets and catch up on all of the latest news, trailers and more!
Mason Downey writes about comics, movies and superhero history for DC.com. Look for more of his work on GameSpot, IGN and Polygon and follow him on Twitter at @rustypolished.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Mason Downey and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.