Mark Waid on Shazam's new nickname, the legacy of Kingdom Come, the Shazam Family, and more

Shazam! #1 art
(Image credit: DC)

Shazam! By now just about everyone is familiar with the magic word that turns young teen Billy Batson into a superhero, and that magic word will also be the title of his new ongoing Shazam! series from writer Mark Waid, artist Dan Mora, and colorist Fernando Sanchez.

But the new title, part of 'Dawn of DC,' will bring some changes to the Shazam Family, with Billy Batson front-and-center, a new nickname for his superheroic alter ego, and a focus on returning to the most classic elements of the Shazam! mythos while also bringing Billy and his friends further into the 21st century.

Before Shazam! #1's May 2 release, Newsarama got a chance to speak with Mark Waid about his plan for making Billy Batson a fully-formed hero with real stakes while preserving his long legacy, and even how Waid's portrayal of Billy Batson in Kingdom Come factors into the relaunch.

Newsarama: Mark, I'm very excited to talk about Shazam! today because Billy Batson is one of my favorite characters of all time. You and Dan Mora are bringing Shazam back in his own title for Dawn of DC. What does that mean for you as a creative team and for Shazam as a character?

Shazam! #1 art

(Image credit: DC)

Mark Waid: Being part of 'Dawn of DC,' it means following the same principles that we have for Batman & Superman: World's Finest, which is, taking it back to the core versions of these characters and then expanding it from there. 

That's not to say that other Shazam Family characters won't be showing up - they will. And it's not to say we'll be ignoring anything that's happened in the past, but that's the tone. It's a way of approaching the characters that feels clean, and honors the past without feeling beholden to it, so you can pick up the first issue and get in on the ground floor.

Nrama: You brought up respecting the history, the classic version of the character, which kind leads to one of the biggest questions I have for you. I've heard that Billy Batson's superhero alter ego will be known as 'The Captain' in this title. How did you land on that particular epithet? Were there any other names that were considered?

(Image credit: DC)

Waid: Sure. I mean, there were a million other names to be considered. But you know, the two biggest ones weren't available. Captain Marvel is obviously off the table, and Captain Thunder is also under trademark by someone else. 

So he just needed a name he could use to refer to himself without saying the magic word. We're not making a big deal of it, it's not gonna be on merchandise, you won't see toys with 'The Captain' name on them. It's more of a conceit for this title and in continuity, just so he has a name he can say out loud.

Nrama: On that note, the magic word is a big part of this title, as Billy will have to face off with the six champions of goodness who provide his powers. How do they become a physical presence in this title? How do they function as antagonists?

Waid: Without giving too much away, they'll be struggling for control of Billy, because the six of them are not necessarily on the same page anymore about what The Captain should represent, what kinds of things he should be doing. And that'll be an undercurrent of the first arc. It won't be the focus of every issue, but that will be the running subplot.

Shazam! #1 art

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: I wanna talk about Dan Mora, cause he's just a force of nature.

Waid: Yeah. Right.

Nrama: How did you manage to get him on double duty with World's Finest and Shazam!, two ongoing titles at once? That's still the case, right?

Waid: Yeah, oh yeah. He's wedded to both books as am I. And you know, frankly, if he had said "I gotta leave World's Finest in order to do Shazam!," I'm not sure I would have stuck with either book. I mean, because I need him on both books, because he's so good. But luckily, he's a freight train when it comes to the speed at which he does these things. He's a bullet train. 

And you know, we've been toying with it for actually almost maybe a year, maybe more in the background, that Shazam! was something we want to do. Doing a few pages here and there to test it out. But it was editor Paul Kaminski who worked the magic of scheduling and made sure that he's been able to do both books.

Nrama: We talked about the history of Shazam!, but it feels like for a lot of the last 10-15 years, the focus has often been off Billy Batson and more on the rest of the family. Beyond just being the most classic version of the character, what makes Billy the right character to focus on here? What are your goals for Billy?

(Image credit: DC)

Waid: The first goal is to make Billy a complete character. Not that he hasn't been before, but to really delve into what it's like to have those powers. Why in the world you would ever change back from a superhero to a teenage kid? What does it feel like to have those powers, and then not have those powers? What does it feel like to fly through the air and then the next moment to just walk on the sidewalk at normal speed? That must be like going through molasses.

So that's Billy. Billy's the perfect character to talk about the friction in between being a hero and a normal person. That's basically a page right out of Kingdom Come, right? He's the fulcrum on which the whole teeter totter of the heroes rests.

Nrama: I'm glad you brought up Kingdom Come, because that's obviously one of the most well known times you've written Shazam. That's a different version of the character, different circumstances. But you've been bringing in some elements from Kingdom Come into World's Finest and some of your other recent work. Is that something we'll see referenced at all in the new Shazam! Title?

Waid: You know, I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it, but that's not the worst idea in the world. So let me put that in my back pocket. Thank you! [Laughs]

Nrama: Fair enough, fair enough. [Laughs] Earlier you mentioned that the Shazam Family will be showing up. What can you say about that?

(Image credit: DC)

Waid: Yes, we will see the rest of the Shazam Family, sooner than later. They show up in issue two. Because of Lazarus Planet, and the way its magic worked, you see in the first issue that Billy is making a genuine effort to figure out how to share his powers again. He can't crack that nut yet. 

That is an ongoing process, and I don't want to leave those kids out of the adventure. At the same time, I thought it was really important just to drill down on Billy for that first issue. But we will see the kids.

Nrama: I don't want to get too in the weeds asking specifics on that, but I have to ask about my favorite, Tawky Tawny.

Waid: Yeah, oh yeah. I mean, look, as I've said, this book is the repository for the weird and the strange and the magical and the bizarre, and so the fact that they have a living, breathing, talking Tiger basically as the house majordomo, all the kids just take that at face value at this point. 

That's why he'll show up just so plainly and without fanfare in the first issue, because with the Shazam Family, it's like "Oh look, we've got a dinosaur in the living room. Now we've got a tiger making our dinner." This is the way things are, they're completely used to it by now.

Shazam! #1 art

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: A lot of that is really baked into the character, going back to the Golden Age. How do you take that kind of idea and keep the fun of it, but bring it into a modern context? Audiences are almost used to that kind of thing, it doesn't seem as alien. How do you update those weird concepts and make them viable and still weird for today's reader?

Waid: Part of it is just pouring my love into it. Part of it is really just trying to show you why I think this stuff is fun and cool. And the challenge of it, the challenge of the book, frankly, is to do the fun, and do the humor, and do the bizarre stuff, but at the same time, not lose sight of the fact that there have to be stakes. 

Because, as somebody who has literally read every Shazam story ever, from the Golden Age through to not that long ago, I love those stories, I love that character, but the commonality of those Golden Age stories is that there are zero stakes. Captain Marvel finds a book that tells the future, you know, six pages, the end, they're fun. But if you tried to do that consistently with a DC character today, now, you really run the risk of feeling outdated.

This character has to have stakes, the threats have to be there, the villains have to actually be threatening. And that's the challenge when you're working on a book that is, from my point of view, at least half humor.

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: You mentioned Billy Batson, as kind of the fulcrum of that balance between humanity and super-humanity in the DC Universe. How will this book carry that theme through to the larger DC Universe? Will it crossover? Will we start to see that bleed in from other places after a while?

Waid: There's a villain who shows up in the second issue that is very familiar to DC readers, and who has been a fixture in other DC Comics in the last year. I like mixing those elements in, as far as how it spreads out into how it can connect to World's Finest, how it can connect to some of these other projects I'm doing that I'm still working on, because I do like the idea of having some sort of ability to feed into the modern DC Universe and have that ability to do some crossovers.

Nrama: What do you want readers to know going into this Shazam! relaunch? What are you hoping they take away?

Waid: I hope that they understand how special this character is, and how unique he is in the DC Universe. And I hope that they come away with new insights on Billy and The Captain, and how they work and how their brains work. Because I certainly came up with new insights that surprised me as I was thinking about these characters and plotting the first issue.

Learn the weird but true history of the Shazam Family.

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)