“Shazam!” DVD a Nostalgiac Look at the 1970s

The superhero known as Captain Marvel has been a mainstay in one media form or another since his original appearance in Whiz Comics #2 back in 1940. While Captain Marvel was the first superhero to make it to the silver screen in the 1941 serial “The Adventures of Captain Marvel” with Tom Tyler in the title role, the 1970s television series produced by Filmation marks the revival of the superhero when its comic books were licensed and published by DC Comics in 1973. “Shazam!” originally aired from 1974 to 1977 on CBS with Jackson Bostwick in the title role for the first two seasons, then with John Davey for the last season. With each episode a half-hour long, “Shazam!” was not just ideal Saturday morning entertainment, it also communicated lessons such as integrity, hard work, honesty, and not compromising oneself in order to have friendships.

Billy Batson (portrayed by Michael Gray) travels the California roads with his Mentor (Les Tremayne) in a home-on-wheels, frequently coming to the aid of those in need. At least once per “Shazam!” episode do the “Elders”, or deities bearing the names of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury, contact Billy via a unique device that resembles a red plastic half-sphere with lights that activate whenever they want to speak with Billy. Prior to receiving their message, however, Billy says: “Oh Elders fleet and strong and wise appear before my seeking eyes.” Then do the Elders appear, in animated form. Many times the messages Billy receives from them seem ambiguous at first, but as the day progresses, he understands what they mean as he meets new people whom he ends up helping as Captain Marvel.

Many of the special effects performed by Captain Marvel in the television series echo those of the 1941 film serial with Tom Tyler in the starring role, “The Adventures of Captain Marvel.” While the Captain Marvel of the television series is not deflecting bullets nor using machine guns on the bad guys, he is helping to catch criminals, rescue children and small animals when they are in danger. Every episode contains a moral at the end – and are included in the DVD set spoken by Captain Marvel, summing up the important lesson each episode teaches. These moral lessons were originally pitched by Jackson Bostwick to the producers of the show, certainly not a bad idea at the time, especially for future generations of Captain Marvel fans who were curious as to how the superhero was portrayed during the 1970s compared to his inception in the 1940s.

Billy/Captain Marvel and Mentor are depicted as individuals who genuinely care about others, helping those in need not out of pity, but by guiding them in the resiliency of the human mind. As the Elders are seen guiding Billy, in turn Billy gently guides children and youths who he sees as needing someone to mentor them. Stories such as building the self-esteem of a little blind boy who is overprotected by his family, encouraging a would-be professional mechanic to stay in high school instead of dropping out, and preventing teens from getting involved with illegal drugs, crime, and gangs are covered in the series. With such positive messages as those conveyed in “Shazam!”, the viewer cannot help but long for a simpler time, even as one as recent as the 1970s, where society was not only prosperous for the most part, but also much safer and less paranoid (for example, many episodes depict children playing in areas away from home, exploring the world on their own). Television shows like this might confuse a young viewer of today yet also have them long to have such freedom – which is possible, according to columnist and author Lenore Skenazy (“Free-Range Kids”, John Wiley & Sons, 2009) without parents going to pieces. While the above named lessons in the series episodes are certainly important, the second and third seasons contain plots dealing with positive selfishness and respect, such as the episode “Sound of a Different Drummer”, where a student is practicing hard to become a violinist while playing baseball on the side. But his friends are a bit jealous and attempt to discourage him from pursuing that which he is working very hard for. Teaching youth that it is okay to be entitled to the fruits of one's labors is a value rarely taught today, and this episode is far more appealing and more helpful for the younger generation than sitting down with and reading a David Seabury book (“The Art of Selfishness”, Julian Messner Inc, 1964) on the subject.

Some of the best episodes of the series are: “Finders Keepers”, where two Catholic school girls are on a field trip at the beach for an educational project and in using a metal detector, come across a metal box full of stolen cash (Captain Marvel rescues the girls from a raft surrounded by a shark), “The Joyriders” with child actor Kerry MacLane as a boy who must develop integrity when it comes to his friends committing juvenile crimes, “The Athlete” which dealt with Title IX, which pertained to gender equal opportunity in sports, and “The Brain”, where a boy (Christopher Man) wants to be accepted by his peers but does not have the inclination towards their activities: they play football whereas he likes to read.

“Shazam!” was in many ways the culmination of 1970s popular culture: in 1973, DC Comics started publishing a whole new series of Captain Marvel stories under the title “Shazam!”, which greatly aided the popularity of the television series with the same title; Billy Batson's favorite music leaned towards electric guitars, a sound that his Mentor was not fond of; the fashions worn by teens during that period (even though Billy's costume was very much like the one in the comic books: the blue pants and red shirt with yellow collar); and the general peaceful atmosphere of the decade. Unlike Captain Marvel's mission in the 1941 serial where the superhero is battling a potential world-domination force (the Scorpion), a reflection of World War 2, in the 1970s television series he is helping teens who need a little guidance. “Shazam!” is not just entertaining as a comic-book superhero but also as a dispenser of wisdom where needed – wisdom being one of special gifts bestowed upon Billy Batson by Solomon. Even the physical image of Captain Marvel was updated to reflect the 1970s: Jackson Bostwick wore sideburns (the action figure of this superhero made by Mego Corporation resemble Bostwick) along with the slightly longer hair that was stylish for males during that decade. Many child actors of the 1970s appeared on the series, such as Pamelyn Ferdin, Danny Bonaduce, Lance Kerwin, and Jimmy McNichol. For a 1970s superhero television series, this 3-DVD set is a must-have for any fan of Captain Marvel or major superhero fans.

Episode list:

Disc 1:

The Joyriders

The Brothers

Thou Shalt Not Kill

The Lure of the Lost

The Road Back

The Athlete

The Treasure

The Boy Who Said 'No'

The Doom Buggy

Disc 2:

The Brain

Little Boy Lost

The Delinquent

The Braggart

The Past Is Not Forever

The Gang's All Here

On Winning

Debbie

Fool's Gold

Disc 3:

Double Trouble

Goodbye, Packy

Speak No Evil

The Odd Couple

The Contest

Bitter Herbs

Ripcord

Finders Keepers

Sound of a Different Drummer

Out of Focus



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Comments 2 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 19 months ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Captain Marvel/Billy Batson was my favorite as a small boy in Yonkers, N.Y., when I looked forward to seeing the "chapters" at the local theater, The Terrace on Ashburton Avenue. I don't remember any of the details of the films (I was only about 5 years old at that time (1940-41) but I've recalled those old feelings with great fondness. I am not familiar at all with the later versions. Thanks for the memories!


MaryGH profile image

MaryGH 19 months ago Author

Thank you for your feedback, William! Life-long Captain Marvel fan myself.

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