Zachary Levi’s Shazam isn’t the only superhero in the new DCEU movie.
FULL SPOILERS ahead for Shazam!
In what seemed like the kind of plot development that might be saved for a sequel, Shazam! totally went there and introduces the entire Shazam Family in its third act — the Shazamily! But who exactly are the Shazam Family — formerly known as the Captain Marvel Family — and what’s their history? Let’s break it down…
The Shazam Family are part of a long trend of superhero “families” like the Batman Family and the Superman Family, except these guys were basically the originals: an entire squadron of superhero sidekicks sporting very similar powers and costumes to the main hero.
The most recognizable members of the group, beyond the Big Red Cheese himself, are Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Marvel. Their names, of course, date back to an era when Shazam! was still known as Captain Marvel, and indeed, wasn’t even a DC Comics character yet. (Get the full story on Shazam’s complicated history here.) First appearing in Fawcett Comics’ Whiz Comics #25 (December 1941) and Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (December 1942), respectively, Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel are the powered-up versions of Freddy Freeman and Mary Batson.
Though the Captain Marvel/Shazam continuity has been rebooted many times over the years, in the original version Freddy was granted his powers by Captain Marvel after a near-death encounter with a villain named Captain Nazi (yep). In order to access his powers, he had to say “Captain Marvel” rather than “Shazam,” and he remained a teenager even in his super form. Mary Batson, meanwhile, was the twin sister of Captain Marvel’s counterpart Billy Batson (and just had to say “Shazam” to transform, which seems a bit redundant).
Back in the Fawcett days, there were also the Lieutenant Marvels, three boys also named Billy Batson, and also endowed with the power of Shazam. But they all kind of looked the same and wore the same costumes, which was boring and helped lead to the creation of Freddy and Mary.
Then we have Uncle Marvel, a powerless old guy named Dudley who claimed to be an uncle of the Marvels. He wasn’t, but he became a part of the family anyway, and would strap on a Shazam suit for what would no doubt be dangerous adventures that he was ill-suited to face with the other members of the group. And there were other characters like Mister Tawky Tawny (a talking tiger) and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny (uh huh) who were more like peripheral members of the Captain Marvel Family and plenty zany in that Golden Age way.
The various Captain Marvel/Shazam books were very popular in the 1940s, but a DC Comics lawsuit led to them all ending by the early 1950s. The characters were effectively in limbo for decades after that, before ironically enough winding up at DC where a variety of reboots to their origins and stories took place over a period of years. Most recently, DC’s New 52 reboot established the version of the Shazam Family that the movie mostly pulls from, featuring Billy Batson and his foster brothers and sisters. Joining Billy, Freddy and Mary are Eugene, Pedro and Darla.
Of course, eagle-eyed fans will have noticed that some of the actors playing the Shazam Family in the movie have had a previous brush with DC superheroism: Adam Brody and D.J. Cotrona pop up as members of the family, and both actors were cast in the Justice League movie that never happened. George Miller (the Mad Max series) was set to direct that film, dubbed Justice League: Mortal, back in the pre-DCEU era before Warner Bros. shelved the project in 2008. Cotrona would’ve played Superman and Brody was going to be the Flash. But now, the powered-up versions of Freddy and Pedro are played by Brody and Cotrona respectively.
We spoke to Shazam! producer Peter Safran about the decision to cast the actors in these roles.
“They didn’t know they were auditioning for superhero roles,” laughed the producer. “We didn’t let anybody know what these roles were. We made up a fake scene for each of the adult kids that basically reflected their personalities as kids as what they would be like as adults. Adam Brody played the water boy on a basketball team who finally gets the opportunity — the coach brings him into the game. And adult Darla, it was Darla having a driving test and she’s a total motor mouth. So they didn’t even know they were going to play superheroes. They were thrilled when they found out because … they wanted to put on those outfits for quite a while, and I think they were really happy to be out there flexing their superhero muscles.”
What did you think of the Shazam Family in Shazam!? Let us know in the comments!
And for more on Shazam!, check out our review, our breakdown of the end credits scenes, and our explanation of the film’s big DC superhero cameo.
Talk to Executive Editor Scott Collura on Twitter at @ScottCollura, or listen to his Star Trek podcast, Transporter Room 3. Or do both!