The comic history of the Shazam family - Talking tigers, trademark disputes, and more

Shazam Family comic art
(Image credit: DC)

Billy Batson's adopted family is central to the Shazam! film franchise, with Billy sharing the powers of Shazam among his foster siblings - a concept that has its roots in comic books. 

And with the villain of Shazam!: Fury of the Gods, Hespera, out to reclaim the powers of Shazam, the relationship between Billy Batson and the Shazam Family is at the core of the new film.

But what's the Shazam Family like in comics? Well… sorta different, and often kinda weird. For one thing, they used to be called the Marvel Family, though modern incarnations have adopted the Shazam Family name.

Almost as long as Billy Batson has been saying "Shazam!" and turning into a superhero, he's shared his magical powers with a whole Shazam Family of superheroes, including sisters, best friends, uncles, and even a talking tiger.

Billy Batson, whose classic superhero name Captain Marvel is now best associated with Marvel Comics' Carol Danvers thanks to the magic of trademark, first debuted in 1940 - and by 1942, he was sharing his powers with a long lost sister named Mary Marvel.

(Image credit: DC)

Like Captain Marvel to Billy Batson, Mary Marvel is the classic adult superhero alter ego of Mary Bromfield, who was born Mary Batson. When Billy Batson's parents died, Billy Batson lived on his own while Mary was adopted by a well-to-do family named the Bromfields.

When Billy was reunited with his younger sister, he immediately began sharing his power with her with the blessing of The Wizard, who bestowed Billy's powers to begin with. That origin is just a bit different from the Mary Bromfield of the Shazam! movies, but we'll get to that.

Interestingly enough, even though Captain Marvel himself would eventually be deemed a too-close copy of his predecessor Superman thanks to a lawsuit against Shazam's publisher Fawcett Comics, Mary Marvel actually predates Supergirl as a female spin-off of a popular male hero.

Before long, Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel were joined by Billy's pal Freddie Freeman, who became a teen superhero named Captain Marvel Jr. whenever he said the name "Captain Marvel," which is pretty inconvenient considering his codename.

Though that core trio became staples of the Golden Age of superhero comics, with Captain Marvel Jr. even inspiring some of Elvis Presley's most iconic stage outfits, the growing Marvel family didn't stop there, adding numerous other heroes all by 1943.

There was also Uncle Marvel, Billy and Mary's bumbling uncle Dudley H. Dudley, and cousin Freckles Marvel,who didn't actually have powers, but were allowed into the Shazam! Family because, well, they loved them. 

And there were three so-called Lieutenant Marvels, also played for comic relief, who got their powers by … coincidentally also being named Billy Batson. But to tell them apart, there was "Hill Billy," who was kind of a hillbilly. "Tall Billy," who was really tall, and "Fat Billy," who was exactly the kind of unkind stereotype you'd imagine.

There was one final addition to the original Marvel family in 1948 - Tawky Tawny, an anthropomorphic talking tiger with the personality of a posh British man, who became the best friend of both Billy Batson and Captain Marvel, and even Hoppy the Marvel Bunny who… you get the idea.

(Image credit: DC)

Members of the Marvel/Shazam family appeared in most Shazam comic stories until the original Golden Age Captain Marvel and its spin-offs ceased all publication in 1953 thanks to the aforementioned lawsuit from DC, which resulted in Shazam!/Captain Marvel being legally branded as an unoriginal derivative of Superman.

Once Shazam/Captain Marvel and his related Fawcett Comics superheroes were licensed for publication and later bought outright by DC in the '70s, most of the Shazam Family characters were revisited and revised as well (thankfully the Lieutenant Marvels have remained mostly lost to time). 

Through most of Captain Marvel's DC history, Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., Uncle Dudley, and Tawky Tawny have all been in and out of his stories, with most of their origins getting slightly tweaked modern revisions.

Then, in 2011, DC introduced a new concept of the Shazam Family in the limited series Flashpoint, which showcased an alt-reality in the DC Multiverse, while paving the way for a full reboot of DC continuity.

In Flashpoint (which is the direct comic inspiration for the upcoming Flash film), each of the six powers of Shazam are shared between six different people - not too unlike the way each of the movie Billy Batson's adopted Shazam Family siblings each have some specialty in one of the abilities they all share. When all six heroes said "Shazam!" at once, they would summon the hero Captain Thunder.

Though this was just a temporary alt-reality version of the Shazam Family, the concept later informed a more recent incarnation of the group in the mainstream DC Universe which more closely resembles the movie version, with Billy Batson sharing his abilities with his six foster siblings.

This of course became the version of the Shazam Family which is now moving into its movie sequel, Shazam!: Fury of the Gods, which releases in theaters on March 17.

Then in June, Billy Batson gets a new Shazam! comic title in which he hangs out with none other than Tawky Tawny, bringing yet another cult favorite Shazam Family character into the modern era.

Shazam!: Fury of the Gods has had its big spoileriffic cameo already revealed by DC.

For more on Shazam! Fury of the Gods, be sure to check out our spoilery deep dives:

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)