Remember when the DC Cinematic Universe was a dark and frightful place where Batman enjoyed branding the criminals he apprehended and Superman was always on the brink of turning evil? Then along came Shazam and suddenly the whole thing was family friendly. We could take our kids…but more important, we could take our moms.
This isn’t too surprising. Back in the days when comics were seen as the root of all evil and any child who dared to pick one up was doomed to a life of delinquency and—even worse—questioning authority, Shazam was still seen as pretty wholesome. His Golden Age adventures were quaint, even by the standards of the time, and his Bronze Age comics can get downright cheesy. In other words, Shazam has always been the type of hero your mother could get behind. His comics taught us good moral values, like the importance of numbers and making a list when you have a lot to do. So, in that spirit, here’s a list of seven reasons why Shazam is likely your mom’s favorite superhero.
1) He Always Obeys the Rules
Heroes like Batman and Green Arrow are not above bending the rules and operating outside the law on occasion, but not Shazam! Billy Batson is not a no-good hooligan! He’s a good role model for children who always obeys the rules, even when it’s inconvenient. A great example can be found in 1975’s Shazam #16 (reprinted in Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1). When the local judge (appropriately named Judge Pleasant, because it’s all so wholesome) is brainwashed into becoming evil, it’s up to Shazam to stop him.
This proves difficult, however, when the judge has sentences our hero to fifty years in prison for flying through a red light. Shazam, of course, could easily fly away and dodge the charge, but he believes in the rule of law. After all, he was sentenced by a judge, therefore he has to serve out his sentence.
“I can’t break out of jail. That would be against the law,” Captain Marvel muses as he marches with the other prisoners. Our hero then gets the idea to change back into Billy Batson, since Billy hasn’t been sentenced for any crimes.
It’s worth remembering that during this stage of continuity, the relationship between Billy and Shazam was different. The two had separate personalities and were almost treated as different people. Once the guards see Billy, they let him out of prison. Of course, after the judge is turned back to normal, Shazam prepares to return to jail since to do otherwise would be to break the law, but the judge refuses to let him. “Nonsense my boy,” he says. “You flew through a red light. How could there be a law against that? Birds do it all the time!”
2) He Has the Nicest Friends
They say you can judge someone by the company they keep. If that’s the case, then Shazam’s friends are a testament to what a swell guy he is! While Hal Jordan and the other Lanterns hang out with degenerates like Guy Gardner, Shazam spends his time with wholesome little boys like Sunny Sparkle.
If you get a chance, check out Sunny’s introduction in 1973’s Shazam #2 (also reprinted in Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1). The young boy is so nice that nobody can find it in their heart to be mean to him. Even hardened criminals can’t resist the urge to be polite to the boy! It’s almost like a superpower. Sunny Sparkle turns criminals into nice people simply by interacting with them!
People feel a large sense of generosity when they’re around Sunny, which causes them to shower the boy with gifts. What does Sunny do with all of these extra possessions? He donates them to charity, of course, because that’s what nice boys do! Your mother probably wishes you had more friends like Sunny Sparkle.
3) He Reminds You to Get Plenty of Sleep
How on Earth can a mother convince her comic-reading child to get plenty of rest when masked heroes like Batman stay out all night? Don’t worry, concerned mothers, because Shazam has you covered!
Billy Batson knows the value of a good night’s sleep, as he demonstrated in 1944’s Whiz Comics #53. Remember what I said earlier about Captain Marvel and Billy being treated as two individual personalities? This dichotomy came into play when Shazam fell in love with a woman named Delia Curtis.
Every night Shazam would attempt to woo Delia, which meant Billy wasn’t getting his beauty sleep. This causes Billy to be drowsy all day and slip up at work. After multiple nights of no sleep, Billy and Captain Marvel have a full-blown argument, but fortunately, the feud ends once Shazam learns that Delia is already engaged to someone else. The story is an important reminder that a good night’s sleep is more important than galivanting all night with tawdry females.
4) He's a Man of Good Conscience…Literally
Some DC Universe characters seem to have no morals. That bad apple John Constantine smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, plays morally reprehensible rock music and uses swear words. Thank goodness we have a hero like Shazam who listens to his conscience. In fact, 1944’s Captain Marvel Adventures #31 contains a story that focuses on the relationship between Shazam and his conscience.
Have you ever seen those old cartoons where someone’s conscience is embodied by a tiny angel on your shoulder, while temptation is embodied by a little devil? That’s exactly what happens here. The good side of his conscience, which is named Billy Good, tells Billy to respect the rules. His temptation, which is named Billy Bad, tries to get him to do something bad—broadcast some highly classified military documents he’s uncovered over the radio.
So what does Billy do? He transforms into Shazam and gives Billy Bad a spanking, of course! “Isn’t that the way with all our consciences, folks?” he asks. “A constant struggle between good and bad? And I’m certainly glad that in my case, Billy Good is stronger than Billy Bad.”
John Constantine, take note.
5) He Knows the Benefits of Brushing Your Teeth
Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but can he teach your children the value of a healthy diet and oral hygiene? That’s where the Shazam Family comes in! In 1975’s Shazam #17 (reprinted in Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1) a group of aliens invade our planet, but they don’t want to enslave humanity—they just want a good snack! Unfortunately, the aliens quickly become addicted to chocolate. Heck, at one point, they literally take candy from a baby.
Captain Marvel Jr. tracks them down and finds the aliens with massive toothaches. When Freddy inspects their jaws, he finds tons of cavities. The message is clear: don’t overdo it on chocolate, children, and always remember to brush your teeth.
Not only do the aliens learn a painful lesson, they renounce their evil ways and vow to turn their weapons into dental equipment. This is why five out of five dentists recommend Shazam comics. (Well, if they don’t, they should.)
6) He’s Patriotic
One great thing about Shazam is that he’s always thinking of our men and women in uniform. In 1943’s Captain Marvel Adventures #22, a bunch of comic strip characters decide to go on strike. They’re tired of their roles in their strips and want to try different lifestyles. Shazam sets them straight by reminding them about the soldiers serving overseas who are counting on them for entertainment. This does the trick and the characters promptly return to their comic strips.
Can we take a moment to consider how precious Shazam’s reaction was here. If you or I saw a comic strip character in the real world, we’d probably say something like, “Oh my gosh, a comic strip character in the real world! What the heck is happening?”
Instead, Shazam takes one look at these guys and wonders how it was going to affect the troops. They just don’t make characters like that anymore.
7) You Don’t Understand, He’s REALLY Into Following Rules
Aquaman is an expert swimmer, but does he know to wait an hour before getting back in the water after you eat? Wait, what? Is that the hill we’re going to die on?
Okay, maybe Shazam is too rigid about the rules. In 1942’s Captain Marvel Adventures #13, Billy Batson goes on a picnic with his girlfriend Cissie Sommerly. After a nice lunch, Cissie and a friend want to go for a dip in the lake. Billy tries to remind them that they’ve just eaten, but Cissie and her friend respond by teasing him. Sure enough, though, Cissie gets a cramp and it’s up to Shazam to save her.
“All youngsters should remember, don’t swim too soon after eating,” he sternly warns. Laying it on a bit thick, but I’m sure our mothers appreciate the sentiment.
Old Shazam comics are full of life lessons, good role models and wholesome situations. While Shazam has moved away from his innocent roots, there’s a part of him that will always be that sweet little kid from Fawcett City. And our mothers love him for it.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.