Shazam: The New Beginning Reinvented Captain Marvel – and Was Promptly Forgotten

Shazam has had a tumultuous history over at DC Comics. Initially, a rival for Superman while published by Fawcett Comics, he was later incorporated into the DC Universe. Sadly, he’s never quite achieved all that he could under DC’s control, and it shows with the many divergent takes that they’ve had for him.

One of these was Shazam: The New Beginning by Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, and Tom Mandrake. Introducing several radical changes for the World’s Mightiest Mortal, would stay with the character. Unfortunately, the story itself wouldn’t, as it was quickly supplanted by another post-Crisis on Infinite Earth’s origin and ultimately forgotten.

What Changes Did Shazam: The New Beginning Bring to Captain Marvel?

Published in 1987, Shazam: The New Beginning was a book that came out after the miniseries Legends, which itself was the first appearance of Captain Marvel in the new, post-Crisis continuity. Much like with other major heroes, there were several big changes made to the character, namely in terms of his relationships. In this continuity, Billy Batson, while still an orphan like usual, lived with his uncle Dudley Batson. This was a new take on “Uncle Marvel,” a bumbling buffoon named Dudley that befriended the Marvel Family in the old comics. Though he wasn’t actually their uncle, his ultimately affable nature made him like family.

Also sharing a blood relation to Billy was none other than his arch foe, Dr. Sivana. Essentially standing in for Billy’s evil uncle Ebenezer, the corrupt scientist Sivana sought to use Billy for financial gain more than anything. Black Adam was also in the story, though he, thankfully, wasn’t added to Billy Batson’s family tree. Perhaps the biggest change to things was the fact that Billy retained his personality whenever he transformed into Captain Marvel. Beforehand, Captain Marvel had an entirely different personality, but that was no longer the case.

Not only is the wizard Shazam himself shocked by this, but he also seems to remember the original Marvel Family from before the events of Crisis. This included both Captain Marvel Jr. and Billy Batson’s sister Mary. Billy’s mentally remaining a child as Captain Marvel is now a hallmark of the character, likely due to it being the ultimate fruition of the wish fulfillment concept behind him. Sadly for the creative team, that’s about the only thing that would stay in continuity.

Jerry Ordway’s The Power of Shazam Completely Erased The New Beginning

Despite the popularity of Shazam: The New Beginning, the series never had a follow-up or ongoing series. Seven years later, Captain Marvel would finally get another chance for the spotlight, but not quite in a way that developed what had come before. Jerry Ordway rebooted his continuity again in The Power of Shazam, with this miniseries leading to an ongoing monthly title of the same name. It did away with The New Beginning, with the only change that it kept being that Billy mentally stayed the same whenever he transformed. Dr. Sivana’s being a corrupt business could arguably be based on his scheming as Billy’s uncle in the previous take, but it was more likely meant to reflect the similar changes made to Lex Luthor by John Byrne’s Superman reboot.

That reboot of the Man of Steel eventually led to Superman’s popular “triangle era,” with one of the creators of this period being Jerry Ordway. It’s possible that his popularity on those titles allowed him to take on Captain Marvel, especially since DC had done nothing major with the character in nearly a decade by that point. On top of that, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! made further changes to the timeline, so the Big Red Cheese was due for another origin story.

Five years ago, Shazam: The New Beginning was rereleased for the book’s 30th anniversary, and this is about the most that DC has acknowledged the story. Despite how much it’s been forgotten, it had an inarguable impact on the Shazam mythos. Perhaps the best representation of this is seen in the DC Extended Universe, with the Billy Batson of the Shazam! movies clearly related to what Roy Thomas once did with the character.

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