Shazam! The Big Red Cheese! Billy Batson! And Captain Marvel!
However you know him, the DC powerhouse is one of the longest running heroes in the superhero genre, with worthy reads from 1940 to today.
Below you’ll find my picks for the essential Captain Marvel (I just can’t exclusively call him Shazam!) comics throughout DC’s history.
Geoff Johns time writing the New 52 version of Shazam! (initially as Justice League backups) is a notable exclusion from my picks, since this take on the character has seemingly become the de facto DC take of the 2010’s. There are other interesting “elseworlds” style uses of the hero (Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight Strikes Again come to mind) that don’t really suit the character’s strengths, and won’t be included here either. Finally, I will also avoid the perhaps trollsome take that Miracleman written by Alan Moore is probably my actual favorite Captain Marvel style comic of the 80’s!
The Best Shazam! Comic Books
Captain Marvel Adventures (vol. 1) #22-46
By Otto Binder and CC Beck with “The Monster Society of Evil.” I’m not sure I can stress enough how *fun* the original Golden Age Captain Marvel comics could be. There’s a reason Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family would outsell Superman throughout the 40’s, and I have to think part of it is the imagination of creative collaborators Otto Binder and CC Beck.
Collects: Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #1 to #4
I expected very little from this retroactive “first” Superman and Shazam team-up, but was delightfully wrong! Writer Judd Winick has strangely become one of the more underrated DC writers of the 2000’s, and this miniseries (published in the late 2000’s) is an extremely fun, all ages style take on the first time the Man of Steel met the Big Red Cheese.
Since this occurs in the very early moments of DC’s age of heroes (Superman and Batman are getting their start, but Green Lantern and Flash aren’t even around yet), I recommend reading earlier in the Captain Marvel timeline.
Issues: Justice League #1 to #6, Justice League International #7
Shazam is on the post-Crisis Justice League comedy book for their earliest outings. If you want the set-up for the Big Red Cheese’s place in the newly defined DC Universe, I recommend Legends (the six issue event starring Darkseid vs. the heroes of earth has some nice Billy Batson moments) into Shazam: The New Beginning, a four issue miniseries that retells Captain Marvel’s origins.
For my money, though, any excuse to read the Justice League as told by Keith Giffen, JM Demmateis, and Kevin Macguire is good enough. Captain Marvel won’t hang around the team forever, but he’s played up for the comedic effect of a kid in a muscle-bound superman’s body.
Collects: Shazam – The Power of Hope
30% a nice distillation of the Captain Marvel origin and ethos, and 70% the pleasure of ogling Alex Ross’ painted art.
Collects: Power of Shazam Graphic Novel, Power of Shazam issues #1 to #45
The Jerry Ordway written and painted graphic novel leading in to one of Captain Marvel’s longest running ongoings is arguably the best entry point for Captain Marvel’s origins. I’ll be honest, I actually prefer the real Golden Age debut (it’s extremely effective), but Ordway gets extra credit for launching in to this enjoyable Power of Shazam run.
Collects: Starman #39, Power of Shazam #35, Starman #40, Power of Shazam #36
Starman written by James Robinson with art initially by Tony Harris is one of my favorite DC Comics of the 90’s, and more broadly, one of my favorite 20 comics of all time! So the fact that one of Power of Shazam‘s limited crossovers connects to Starman makes for an easy pick on my essential Captain Marvel list.
While it’s not my favorite, this Jeff Smith (creator of the all-time great Bone) written and drawn book is a great all ages entry point. You get Shazam, Dr. Sivana, Mister Mind, Tawny, Mary Marvel, and perhaps most importantly, secret codes for each issue title!
Unsurprisingly, Shazam works extremely well in all-ages formats geared more towards younger readers, and there are a variety of options that really seem like they should be on shelves next to the likes of Dogman.
Collects: Day of Vengeance #1 to #6, then straight in to Infinite Crisis
The realm of magic plays a major role in in the Day of Vengeance prelude to DC’s mega 2000’s event, Infinite Crisis. Naturally, Captain Marvel, the wizard, and the rock of eternity are at the heart of these proceedings.
A little 2000’s DC background goes a long way with this one (particularly familiarity with Identity Crisis), as does a general interest in Captain Marvel’s role in Infinite Crisis. Of the preludes, Villains United is definitely stronger, but otherwise Day of Vengeance is up there with Omac Project, and definitely better than the Rann-Thanagar War. Plus, this is pretty easily some of the best Captain Marvel action of the decade.
Issues: The Multiversity: Thunderworld #1
“Captain Marvel and the Day That Never Was!” By Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart, and Nathan Fairbarn. Dr. Sivana inserts an 8th day (Sivanaday) into the calendar in this glorious love letter to the entire Captain Marvel mythos.
I love Morrison’s work across The Multiversity and this one-off take on the entire Captain Marvel crew is a great example why. While there are larger themes that impact the event as a whole (namely, the characters influenced by the content of a comic book!), this issue is easy to pick up with no additional knowledge of Multiversity. Don’t get me wrong, I highly recommend you do read the whole book, but for our Captain Marvel fixin’s, it isn’t necessary.
Issues: Convergence: Shazam #1 to #2
Long story short, do not read Convergence, but do read these two issues of Shazam that tie into Convergence. I know, comics can be weird, but holy moley, are they worth it!