Posted by:
Byron Brewer

The Wayback Machine: Shazam!

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3056 With a Shazam-centric Justice League coming out next week with issue #0 and the Big Red Cheese (can you still say that?) getting ready to join said super-team, we thought it would be fun to warm up the Wayback Machine and head back to the mid-1970s when a crimson crusader yelled the secret word and got, not a duck from the ceiling, but a thunderbolt from the skies!

Unlike the 1960s Batman on ABC, this Saturday morning fare was done pretty straight-forward and really, if it had been a year or two later, could have joined Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk on their CBS nighttime runs.

Shazam! was a half-hour live-action TV program produced by Filmation (that animation studio's first such program), based upon the DC superhero then called Captain Marvel, now known as -- well, as Shazam.

The show ran from 1974-77 on CBS; from 1975-77 it was known as The Shazam!/Isis Hour, and included The Secrets of Isis, another excellently-done live-action series about an ancient Egyptian superheroine resurrected in the body of a schoolteacher. 

Shazam!was brought back for reruns in 1980. Actor Michael Gray starred as young Billy Batson and Les Tremayne as his guardian "Mentor," while Captain Marvel was played first by Jackson Bostwick and later by John Davey. Actress Joanna Cameron appeared as Isis, and her alter-ego Andrea Thomas, on three episodes of Shazam!, and Davey likewise appeared as Captain Marvel in three episodes of Isis.

This TV version of Shazam! departs notably from the comic book and radio versions of the character. The eponymous wizard Shazam does not appear in the series; teenage Billy instead speaks directly to the elders that empowered him via a communication device (who appear as animated characters: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury – S-H-A-Z-A-M, get it?). 

And instead of being based in any one particular city, Billy and Mentor traveled through 1970s Californiain an RV (very time-appropriate). In an era before cell phones, Mentor would make phone calls from the RV on a type of mobile phone, asking a mobile operator to dial the number.

There were no super-villains – Doctor Sivana was no where in sight -- and violence was downplayed. Billy, as both himself and as Captain Marvel, would help people out of difficult situations of their own making. As in many Filmation shows and cartoons, moral messages were contained within each episode, crystallized at the end of each episode by Billy learning a new moral lesson from either Mentor or his empowering elders.

On July 11, it was announced that Warner Bros. will release Shazam! - The Complete Series on DVD this fall via its Warner Archive Collection. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand release, available exclusively in the U.S.and only through Warner's online store.

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