The action figure history of the original Captain Marvel, more commonly know as SHAZAM
The original Captain Marvel, commonly known better as SHAZAM!, has been a constant figure in pop culture for decades and has graced store shelves and collector walls in many varied and interesting forms. Captain Marvel first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 in 1940. Young Billy Batson was given the powers of the gods when he spoke the word “SHAZAM”. SHAZAM stands for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. This powers combined to give him the nickname “The world’s mightiest mortal.” His stories were quirky and fun, giving a wink and a smile at the viewer and never taking themselves too seriously. Captain Marvel often had a huge smile on his face. He was eventually joined by a gaggle of unusual allies including a talking tiger, his sister Mary, their friend Freddy who would become Captain Marvel Jr., three “Lieutenant Marvels” and even a talking anthropomorphic rabbit called Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. His villains included and alien worm called Mr. Mind, a squat, myopic mad scientist called Sivana and his evil, similarly powered counterpart, Black Adam. At one time, Captain Marvel regularly outsold the likes of Superman, prompting the then Detective Comics/National Publications to sue Fawcett for copyright infringement, claiming that Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman. The case dragged on for years with Fawcett finally giving up the fight. In the 1970s the former National Publications, now DC Comics licensed the use of the characters from Fawcett and began publishing their own stories. However as rival company, Marvel Comics, had appropriated the Captain Marvel name for a character of their own in the character’s absences, DC was forced to call the series SHAZAM! on the covers and in the subsequent Saturday morning TV series. Many people came to regard that as the character’s name and after many years, DC has finally made SHAZAM! the character’s official name. The 65 years of the character’s existence has spawned a number of fantastic action figure representations and these are five of my favorites:
Mego World’s Greatest Superheroes SHAZAM! Released by Mego in 1974
This Shazam character was part of the now beloved Mego series. The character was eight inches tall and featured a plastic body, cloth costume with a lightning book sticker on his chest, hard plastic boots and a glossy vinyl cape. It is important to note the color and design of the first cape as later editions didn’t have the high color and had a white cord around the neck rather than the original yellow.
Super Powers Collection SHAZAM! Released by Kenner in 1986
This small six inch figure with multiple points of articulation features a removable (and often lost) cloth cape. The cape is white with the gold accents similar to that of the comic. The series is inspired by the “Super Powers Team” evolution of the Super Friends cartoon and was created by toy giant Kenner as part of their Super Powers Collection. The figure also featured a punching arm action by squeezing the legs together. It is also smiling, a signature look from the classic Fawcett comics.
Kingdom Come SHAZAM! Released by DC Direct in 2003
This figure is based on the phenomenal series by writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross and the sculpt is based directly from the art of the series. This vinyl figure has limited areas of articulation but is sculpted like a statue in a solid and heroic pose. Here it’s very much life come to art with the barrel chest, massive and muscular arms and legs and a face that favors Fred McMurray, the 40’s actor who was the original inspiration for the comic hero’s face. The sinister and menacing quality that we see throughout the series is well represented here.
Justice League Unlimited SHAZAM! Released by Mattel in 2009
This tiny four inch tall figure is stripped down to its absolute essence with designs based on the popular Cartoon Network cartoon. Created by Mattel, none of the power of the character is lost, however, as the chest and biceps here are huge and the body tapers down onto nearly comically thin legs, it follows the model used in the series by animator Bruce Timm. The smile on the face is slight but they get extra points for having his cape drape over his left shoulder, the proper placement of Captain Marvel’s cape that many adaptations often miss.
Justice League New 52 SHAZAM! Released by DC Collectibles in December 2013
This redesign of the character is based on the work of artist Gary Frank and it is unusual in many ways. This just under seven inch PVC character has a hood that cannot be removed but the head can be turned from side to side. The iconic lightning bolt is greatly enlarged and the image of “Kirby Krackles” inside it are to denote energy and movement. The boots and the wrist gauntlets are greatly changed and show a limited but very interesting set of details. He is also a more articulated and more serious figure than his predecessors, with a furrowed brow and tightly closed mouth. There are many more figures than I have covered here that range from the amazing to the absolute silly (I’m looking at you, Billy Batson with Hoppy the Marvel Bunny set), but what makes this character and its multiple interpretations so interesting is that Captain Marvel is the ultimate wish fulfillment: a small boy becomes a powerful and wise adult simply by speaking a magic word. This speaks to the young child that we all remember ourselves being. Playing with these toys and imaging this world lets us all go back and dream that we, as children, could have saved the day, stopped the bully, saved the damsel (or the dude) and taken to the skies…and still made it home by dinner. Sounds like some pretty good magic to me.