*This article deals with the Justice League: War version of the character.
From the moment Billy Batson appeared on screen I knew that I was going to like him. But I had no idea how much this version of him was going to change things for the otherwise obscure character. Sure, the character has had a few praise-worthy animated appearances in the past, but they were few and far in-between and never explored Billy Batson – it was always about his superhero alter-ego, Captain Marvel.
That first scene, Billy Batson puts a hood over his head, tries to get into a football game, gets blocked by the usher and Billy just points to the elderly couple walking behind him and says, “My dad’s got the tickets.” While the usher’s distracted, he just sneaks right in.
Billy doesn’t like his coffee.
Before you start thinking, “This guy’s a moron. The true Captain Marvel would never be so dishonest!” Maybe so. But hear me out here, the next scene shows you why – he’s a huge fan of Victor Stone (Cyborg) and all he wanted to do was see him play some football. If that isn’t passion, then I don’t know what is. Young people sneaking into events they (probably) aren’t allowed to attend is something that many of us are all too familiar with. Sneaking into concerts when you’re underage just to see your favorite band play or even sneaking into a movie that you’ve been waiting ages to see but aren’t allowed in because of its rating. It’s all the same thing and they all express a passion for the music, sport or movie. Sneaking into an event doesn’t make you a bad person at your core – this says nothing about Billy’s character other than the fact that he can’t afford a ticket and that he loves football. And another thing, if you pay close enough attention, you can see that Billy is the only child shown in the crowd so as far as we can tell, Billy is going out of his way to show his love for the sport – something that other people his age aren’t doing – and that makes him stand out.
Speaking of which, the Billy Batson we’re used to seeing is a loner who lives in a shitty apartment but this one has foster siblings who get “so worried about” him when he sneaks out at night that they wait for him in his room until he gets back. Billy assures them that they don’t have to be and a proud smirk springs up on his face. The setting is part of Billy’s character development and usually when Billy is seen living in a shitty apartment on his own all we see is a child who lives a rough life and becomes a hero in spite of it. This time around, though, he lives in a comfortable middle-class suburban home and yet, he still sneaks out at night. What does that say about him? It says that it’s not about the money, or the material comforts you have, it’s about being secure and “at home” in a place that you feel you belong in. And even though he has a foster family, there’s still a divide between them because Billy doesn’t feel like he can relate to them.
When they compliment his new jersey, Billy proudly says he “stole it”. I like the fact that Billy is a little smug, I like the fact that he’s secretly amused by his foster sister’s concern and I like the fact that he’s proud of his stolen jersey. Sure, this Billy doesn’t have the strong moral core that we typically associate with the character, what he does have are younger siblings and this creates a whole new dynamic to his relationships with people. Here you have two other kids who are orphaned just like Billy and yet they look up to him, so he tries to impress them with his accomplishment even though he doesn’t see them as a family.
And another thing, we never see his family ever again but it does say something that the writers chose to go with characters who are around Billy’s age as opposed to overbearing foster parents. This just serves to show you that Billy doesn’t have disrespect for authority; he has a problem with what he thinks makes someone cool. And this is consistent in nearly every interaction he has with people. This is a Billy Batson that has a lot to learn – that means we’re going to have a lot of character development coming out of him.
He tries to act cool a lot throughout the film – Billy’s constantly trying to prove himself and constantly trying to appear the smarter and more experienced person. It doesn’t always work out for him but it shows us an element of insecurity that other Billy Batson’s haven’t before. This Billy feels insecure about his place in the world and so he becomes Shazam (Captain Marvel) to help him feel powerful.
Captain Marvel is a dork.
In fact, even as Shazam he still tries to act cool and badass because Shazam is still just Billy Batson with superpowers. During the battle with Darkseid, he flies ahead and tries to attack Darkseid on his own. You can guess how well that went for him. Needless to say, he got his ass handed to him and he still wanted to prove his worth to the team the only way he knew how. Billy Batson is a kid who believes that the only way to survive is to be stronger than the other person. They are not separate entities and Billy Batson’s insecurities carry through to his Shazam persona, despite the fact that he has the wisdom, strength, stamina, power, courage and the speed of the gods. Look at Superman, he wasn’t confident enough to handle the responsibility of being a hero until his late-twenties.
Because having superpowers isn’t enough to make someone confident and secure in their personality and this Billy Batson proves that. This Billy Batson is a kid that “the system” has failed.