Note: The version of the character discussed in this article is primarily based on the one from Justice League: War.
That’s the story that we’re usually treated to when it comes to the character formerly known as Captain Marvel. But after watching Justice League: War, I realized that there’s another way to tell the story – one that presents more social commentary than the origin story first published in 1940 allowed.
When Billy Batson was introduced to the world of comics in 1940, he gained so much traction that he actually surpassed Superman in popularity (which is ironic since he was so similar to Superman, to begin with). Nonetheless, Billy Batson never really regained that popularity when he was re-introduced to modern readers – he’s had a few animated appearances but only one that had him in a starring role.
That is, until Justice League: War came out and put Shazam in the most prominent position he could get as a founding member of the Justice League.
I fell in love with Billy Batson from the moment he appeared on screen. He put on his hood, tried to get into a football game, and snuck past the usher by lying to him about his tickets.
I was shocked to say the least. “Billy Batson lie just to get into a football game?” I said to myself in disbelief. I completely changed my mind when I saw why he was so desperate to sneak into the game – he was a big fan of Victor Stone. That’s when I thought, “Who hasn’t snuck into a concert before?” just to see their idol play some music for the night.
Billy Batson in that moment did something that we’ve all done before or at the very least, knew someone who has. Tricking an usher into letting him into a football game isn’t immoral, it’s realistic!
Besides, sneaking into a football game doesn’t make you a bad person at your core, it just means that (maybe) you can’t afford tickets and that you love the sport.
Even when Billy is shown cheering for Victor Stone at the game, you can tell that he is the only child in the crowd and that definitely sets him apart. To me, this shows a passionate side to the character that couldn’t be shown any other way.
Billy Batson is usually depicted as a loner living in an old and shitty apartment but this version of Billy Batson lives in a middle-class suburban home with two foster siblings who worry about him when he disappears at night.
When it comes to Shazam’s story, the setting is just as important to his character development as his personality. When we see a Billy Batson that lives a rough life in an old apartment, we see a person who becomes a hero in spite of the difficult life he leads. But when we see a Billy Batson that lives in a materialistically comfortable middle-class home with foster siblings that he can call family, we see a person who still has problems.
Despite the fact that he lives in a beautiful house and has people who care about him, Justice League: War’s Billy Batson still sneaks out at night, he still doesn’t feel like his foster siblings are his family, and he still longs for something he doesn’t have. And it’s that journey that makes him such a compelling character – that he’s still looking for something to make him feel like he belongs. Because aren’t we all?
Despite the fact that he doesn’t view his foster siblings as his family, he still tries to impress them with his stolen jersey because they look up to him. This isn’t about morality or that stealing is wrong – it’s that Billy Batson believes that stealing the jersey makes him cool that shows you how he views the world.
What does this mean? It means that this Billy Batson has a bit of a skewed perspective of what is cool and what’s not and that makes me want to see his character develop further. It made me want to see a movie that was all about Shazam’s journey.
Shazam tries to act cool all throughout the film, as well, so that aspect of his characterization is definitely consistent. Ultimately, this means that Shazam isn’t a different person; he’s still just Billy Batson with superpowers.
For the first time, he meets other superpowered beings just like him and feels like he wants to be part of their team; this makes him do some pretty crazy and reckless stuff – like trying to take on Darkseid by himself to impress the team the only way he knew how – by being stronger than the other person. You can guess how well that went for him. The point is, 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. It just goes to show that having superpowers doesn’t overrule your insecurities.
Why do I love Shazam? Because he’s just a kid that “the system” failed and his story is important.