This is the tenth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes. For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.
33 years after the release of “The Adventures of Captain Marvel,” Captain Marvel and his young alter-ego Billy Batson were adapted for television by famed animation studio Filmation. “Shazam!” was the first live action television series the animation studio had ever produced.
By the time the television series rolled around, Fawcett Comics had been out of business for over 20 years and the rights to many of their characters, including Captain Marvel, had been licensed by DC Comics. DC had begun publishing Captain Marvel, under the title “Shazam!,” for two years when they sub-licensed the character to Filmation for the television series.
In between the time Fawcett went defunct in 1953 and DC acquired the character in 1972, Marvel Comics had created and began publishing their own Captain Marvel character. Because of this, when DC acquired the Fawcett character they were prohibited from advertising the character as “Captain Marvel.” They were still allowed to use the name in the book itself, but not on the cover or on advertising materials. Because of this, the title of the book became Shazam!, which carried over to the television series. Since DC’s New 52 relaunch, the character himself is now called Shazam.
While the series was live action, Filmation basically treated it the same as they did their animated shows. It was directed at the same child audience, it aired on Saturday mornings and each episode ended with a heavy-handed moral being spoon-fed to the audience.
Once again, there were no villains from the comics used in the series. Instead, Billy Batson and his guardian, Mentor, would help out kids with every day issues in every episode. The series dealt with things like runaways, bullies, juvenile delinquents, and other issues that were affecting the real kids in the audience.
The television series varied significantly from the source material. Taking a page out of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics, the television series wasn’t based in any one city. Instead, Billy and Mentor traveled around the country in an RV, helping people as they happened upon them. Also, instead of getting his powers from a wizard named Shazam, Billy Batson actually had audience with the Elders, the actual Greek, Roman and Hebrew gods from whom his powers were derived.
Captain Marvel was played by two actors during the course of the series’ three season run. Jackson Bostwick portrayed the eponymous superhero during the first season, and was replaced by John Davey for the second and third seasons.
At the start of the second season “Shazam!” was joined by a spin-off, “The Secrets of Isis,” to form the “Shazam/Isis Hour.” While the character Isis was an original creation for television, she was later incorporated into the DC Comics universe and was also used in an episode of the Superman-related television series “Smallville.”
“The History of DC Comics on TV”. http://www.ign.com.
Smith, Zack (31 December 2010). “An Oral History of CAPTAIN MARVEL: The Shazam Years, pt. 1”. Newsarama