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Shazam! Is 2008 The Year of Captain Marvel?

Well, golllollllolllly...

In the past couple of weeks, Warner Brothers has been aggressively moving forward with one of DC's most beloved characters. Once more popular than Superman, Captain Marvel looks poised for a public onslaught.

Of course, you can't call him Captain Marvel; technically it's Shazam! thanks to trademark issues with Marvel Comics. Still, a lot of people remember him from his '70's Saturday morning live-action show on CBS, featuring Michael Gray and Jackson Bostwick as each other's alter egos.

Recently, screenwriter John August (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) came onboard to work on the film adaptation, possibily tweaking a script by William Goldman. Or it could be a page one rewrite. The trades are unclear.

In the wake of August's hiring, rumors have run (making it to the Internet Movie Database) that Jake Gyllenhaal is considering taking on a dual role as Billy Batson and Captain Marvel. August has been quick to shoot that one down, hinting that the screenplay will leave Billy as a young boy.

Of course, fans of the character want to know how young. In the original Fawcett publication, orphaned Billy Batson was eight years old when beckoned down into an abandoned subway tunnel. (Yes, it was a different time.) There he faced the wizard Shazam, an ancient imbued with the powers of a variety of pantheons who passed them on to Billy. When Billy says the wizard's name, he becomes Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal.

Since his revival by DC in the early seventies, Billy has aged somewhat. The Variety article described him as a fourteen-year-old boy, and when Gray played the character, the actor was in his twenties.

Right now at DC, the character is being presented two ways. In Judd Winick and Howard Porter's somewhat controversial The Trials of Shazam, a teen-aged Billy has transformed into a white-haired, much older Captain Marvel, who has taken the wizard's place in the Rock of Eternity. His protege, Captain Marvel, Jr aka Freddy Freeman, is undergoing a series of tests to earn a promotion to being Captain Marvel.

At the same time, Jeff Smith has re-imagined the origin of Captain Marvel with Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, putting Billy back to being eight. So which version will capture the general public's imagination? DC Editor Mike Carlin commented at Comic-Con 2006 that he thought there was room for both.

Further putting a twist on the struggle, Rich Johnston revealed in this week's "Lying in the Gutters" column that Kids!WB has a Shazam! animated series in the works. (See image above) It's the first I'd heard, and notice that it's very squarely (and square-jawedly) a take on the classic Captain Marvel.

Both August and Goldman have claimed an affection for the innocence of the character, something definitely not present in Winick's bold take. If this animated series takes off, the real question is how rapidly will DC backpedal to make sure the print version of the character resembles the multi-media juggernaut?

While I'd like to say DC doesn't kowtow as much to their "popular" images, note that for quite some time, Batman went to an all-black suit to match Tim Burton's vision, and both Hawkgirl and John Stewart saw their profiles rise in the comic books to match their importance to the animated Justice League. Then again, Geoff Johns' Teen Titans hasn't become as silly as the Cartoon Network show.

At any rate, it's interesting for fans of the Big Red Cheese.

Derek McCaw

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