This Week's Preview: "Shazam!"

The weekend of January 12 was another washout; there was nothing playing that made me want to part with neither money nor time. I did think briefly about “The Upside,” the new Kevin Hart comedy, but it was a very fleeting thought and I resisted temptation very easily. I suspect Hollywood did not care to risk any of its better films against the lure of football playoffs.

An interesting problem is coming later this year: we will have Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” competing with DC’s “Shazam!” The problem is that the Shazam character was originally known as Captain Marvel; that character appeared in several comic books published by Fawcett from 1939 to 1952; at times the Fawcett character outsold DC’s “Superman” titles. The Fawcett line of comic books was destroyed by the anti-comics crusade led by Dr. Frederick Wertham; when Fawcett dropped its comic books in favor of paperback books, DC bought the rights to many of the Fawcett characters, but did not use them until the late 1970s when the company revived Captain Marvel, but entitled the book “Shazam!”

The revived version of Captain Marvel did not do well, and the title was canceled even though the character did pop up in various DC titles. A few years ago, the character was completely revamped; instead of one child, Billy Batson, who could use the magical incantation, “Shazam,” to gain the powers of various ancient heroes and deities, a conglomeration of Billy Batson and other children from an orphanage have to speak the magic word simultaneously. That is the version used in the upcoming film.

Since the title, “Captain Marvel,” was in abeyance, Marvel began using the name for an alien warrior, Captain Mar-vell, who migrated to Earth when he grew tired of his own race’s incessant interplanetary wars. After a few years of low sales, Mar-vell was allowed to die of cancer. His powers eventually migrated to a female character known as Ms. Marvel; she is now Captain Marvel and will be important in the next “Avengers” sequel. Between now and the release of that epic, we will see this Captain Marvel in all her glory in her own film. (She was the character Nick Fury was trying to summon in the closing seconds of “Avengers: Infinity War.”)

Confusing, isn’t it? Copyright lawyers have grown wealthy since the 1950s over all the mess. I can assure you that I will be in line for the Marvel version of the good captain. If I have time (and money) enough, I will also see DC’s version, but I won’t hold my breath.