The Forgotten Hero: Shazam and his Legendary Fall from Grace
Characters are unfortunately trendy. It's hard to imagine that many of the heroes and villains that have been staples of comics for decades, suffered from poor popularity. It's true. However, the best ones find a way to stick around. Unfortunately, this story is about a legendary fall from grace where a triumphal return is not guaranteed at all.
Meet Shazam, who was originally Captain Marvel. He was the most popular hero of the "Golden Age" of Comic Books (from 1938 until about 1955) and a decent chunk of comic fans have no idea who he is.
After the successes of Superman and Batman in 1938 and 1939 respectively, Fawcett Comics' Bill Parker and C.C. Beck responded with Captain Marvel in 1940 (even though he was created the previous year). Originally intended to be called Captain Thunder (but couldn't because they had trouble copyrighting that name), Captain Marvel made his first appearance in Whiz Comics Issue 2 of February 1940.
With that Captain Marvel took over the world, becoming the highest selling hero of the 1940's, selling 14 Million issues in 1944 alone! Why the success? See, Captain Marvel is just a kid named Billy that becomes the hero when he says "SHAZAM!". My own take is that readers like to connect with their heroes, and a hero that's secretly a child is brilliant wish fulfillment.
Unfortunately, the success did not last long. Almost immediately, DC (then known as National Comics) sued Fawcett Comics, saying that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman. I shouldn't even have to say how grossly untrue this is, but the fact that after 7 years of litigation the case went to trial where the Judge ruled in favor of National (DC), proves how sadly sleazy and cutthroat the industry was at that time.
Feeling the decline of comic books by the end of the early 1950's, in 1952 Fawcett agreed to a settlement of $400,000 and closed it's comics division.
Eventually in the early 70's, DC bought Captain Marvel from Fawcett and revived him as Shazam (since Captain Marvel was already a character at Marvel Comics, and also many readers thought that was his name anyway since the character yells Shazam to transform. Simply, it just wasn't the same. Call me cynical, but it would not surprise me if DC was careful to hold back Shazam, again.
Anyway, it doesn't end there. DC has announced a Shazam movie for release in 2019, which at this point can really only help the character's popularity. Especially with The Rock slated to portray his arch-villain, Black Adam.
I am dedicating this post to my first art professor when I went to college, Mario Naves, who loves this guy. If you'd like to check out his own art and writings, he can be found here: https://mnaves.wordpress.com/