Saturday, August 21, 2010

Super Egos

With all the interest in getting any and all comic book characters to the big screen these days, I was wondering why there hasn't been a bigger push for Captain Marvel. Perhaps it is due to the very confusing nature of his origin and appearances over the years. DC comics maintains a character that they now refer to as "Shazam." Their main rival, Marvel comics, has had a series of characters they have published comics about called "Captain Marvel." Who could blame the guys at Marvel for wanting to have an eponymous hero to carry their banner throughout the galaxy? Trademarks can be such tricky things, even in the super-hero biz. 

Back in the seventies, there was a very blown-dry version on Saturday mornings of the adventures of "Shazam." It explained how young Billy Batson could assume all the power and wisdom of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. He would shout out an acronym of their names, and suddenly this kid would expand into a caped crusader with a big lightning bolt on his chest and a chin to match. In the comics, Billy was a newspaper reporter, a very common guise for super heroes to assume. In the TV show, he was a kid who travelled around in a Winnebago with some old guy and occasionally got to ride motorcycles. Even with the glamorous job at the newspaper or the opportunity to ride a dirt bike, I could not imagine why, once he had become Captain Marvel, Billy would ever utter the word again only to revert back to his ninety-eight pound weakling self.

The guy in Marvel comics had to bang his wrist bands together, and then he could only maintain his connection to the "other dimension" where the good Captain had been banished for so long before having to revert back to his more human form. That, in comics terms, makes sense to me. Perhaps the fact that "Shazam" was always meant to appeal to a younger audience may have kept him from feeling comfortable in an adult world. Maybe they figured out something about Superman that the folks at DC struggle with all the time: Once you become a Super Man, life loses a lot of its mystery. The vague sense of ennui felt by Clark Kent as he stares across his desk at Lois Lane is really an adolescent emotion. Ol' Supes could have manipulated the situation in his favor anytime he wanted by just keeping the blue tights and cape on full time, and he could have had any woman he wanted. But that wouldn't be right, would it?

I think Billy is afraid of what might happen if he kept his muscles on twenty-four/seven. The need for a secret identity is profound, especially when you're a teenager. That's what Marvel comics figured out with Spider-Man. Nobody needs a fortress of solitude more than a teenager. For Superman, it meant flying off to the North Pole. If all you had to do was say a word that makes you sound like Gomer Pyle? So be it. Goooolllleee!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Superman is an orphan whose entire birth world was destroyed, and no amount of flying backwards around the Earth is going to fix that.