The World's Mightiest Mortal1 of 12
The wisdom of Solomon! The strength of Hercules! The stamina of Atlas! The power of Zeus! The courage of Achilles! The speed of Mercury! When Billy Batson says his magic word “Shazam!”, he’s imbued with all of these god-like powers. But these days, your average moviegoer might only have a very cursory knowledge of one of comic books’ greatest heroes.
So with his new film scheduled to hit theaters this month, we figured now was as good a time as any to give curious audiences a crash course in the Big Red Cheese himself. Here are our top ten Shazam stories of all time! (And here's our review of his exciting and energetic film debut!)
#10 Superman vs. Shazam! - When Earths Collide! (All-New Collector's Edition #C-58, Conway/Buckler)2 of 12
In the aftermath of a lawsuit between DC and Fawcett Comics over the similarities between Superman and Shazam, the Big Red Cheese went on something of a hiatus, sitting out the swinging 1960s while a new generation of heroes captured the hearts and minds of comics fans across the globe. But in the 70s, it would be DC Comics who would bring him out of retirement. And eventually they’d have him fight the very hero he was inspired by: Superman.
Written by Gerry Conway, with art from Rich Buckler, “When Earths Collide” would see the two heroes battle each other before teaming up against Karmang and Black Adam with some help from Supergirl and Mary Marvel. While the “heroes battle before finding common ground and teaming up” trope is a tried a true one, it works well here especially with the added parallels of Supergirl and Mary Marvel. But Rich Buckler’s epic fight scenes are the real draw to this title - putting on display the strength of two of DC’s biggest powerhouses.
While it was recently collected in print, it hasn't made its way to any digital platforms yet.
#9 Captain Marvel Battles the World (Captain Marvel Adventures #148, Binder/Beck)3 of 12
Otto Binder and C.C. Beck are one of the most iconic creative teams to work with Shazam, and “Captain Marvel Battles the World” is one of their most imaginative stories. With the Captain Marvel Adventures title soon to be canceled, Binder and Beck delivered a wacky story narrated by planet Earth himself! Turns out the celestial body is none too pleased with how humans have treated him and it’s up to Shazam to make things right.
You can’t have a Shazam list without a Binder and Beck story on it and while “Monster Society of Evil” might be the first on everyone’s mind, it’s eventual retelling (more on that later) takes some shine off the original. But stories like this one showcase the fun and ingenuity inherent to their work and Shazam stories during the Golden Age.
#8 Shazam: The New Beginning4 of 12
Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC had creators establish new origins for many of their characters. Roy and Dann Thomas tackled Shazam and their take introduced a detail that’s mostly maintained to this day - when Billy Batson becomes Shazam he keeps his child-like persona rather than switches places with an all-powerful being. It’s a small detail but one that helps set the Big Red Cheese apart from similar “Super” heroes.
#7 Superman/Shazam: First Thunder (Winick/Middleton)5 of 12
This limited series is a little bit of retroactive continuity telling the story of the first time that Shazam met the Man of Steel. While that might seem like a bit of a redundant team-up, writer Judd Winick does a good job showing what makes these two heroes different and showing how a bond formed between the two of them. They might have similar power sets and general outlooks but they can still occupy unique places in the DC Universe.
Plus, Joshua Middleton is no slouch and his art helps the story soar to greater heights than it might have otherwise.
#6 Shazam! Vol. 16 of 12
This is the take on Billy Batson and Shazam that new audiences will be treated to when they punch their tickets at movie theaters across the world and it’s not surprising to see a certain writer’s name on this list.
After finding great success with reinventing Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, Geoff Johns was the go-to architect of the DCU for a while. And in back-up stories during his Justice League run, he decided to reinvent Shazam. While many readers might bristle at Johns’ more cynical take on Billy Batson, it’s impossible not to recognize the impact this story has had - enabling Shazam to be thought of as more than a Golden Age relic in the eyes of studio executives.
#1 Shazam! Power of Hope (Dini/Ross)7 of 12
Alex Ross’ illustrations are instantly iconic and while his most recognizable work with the Big Red Cheese might be Kingdom Come, it’s Shazam! Power of Hope that stands as his best work with the character.
Ross, along with writer Paul Dini (of Batman: The Animated Series fame), craft a story that balances Shazam’s great feats of super heroics with smaller, more personal moments as the hero becomes something of a one-man Make-A-Wish Foundation for a group of sick children.cIt’s a simple and straightforward idea but one that cuts to the heart of the character. Billy Batson and Shazam are characters of endless optimism and inspiration. Like all the best heroes, they are at their best when they are aspirational. Ross and Dini capture that perfectly.
#4 Convergence: Shazam! (Parker/Shaner)8 of 12
Cut off from the power of Shazam and set on a crash course with the world of Gotham by Gaslight, Billy Batson and his friends have to find a way to save their world. And while the set-up might seem a little flimsy, Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc" Shaner deliver a stellar celebration of the Marvel family.
Convergence didn’t have a lot going for it as a whole but this quick two-issue story by Parker and Shaner shows the love that so many generations of creators have for Shazam. More than anything else, Shaner’s art takes the richness of C.C. Beck and puts it through a more modern lens creating something new and exciting for fans to discover.
#3 Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil (Jeff Smith)9 of 12
In the 2000s, DC wasn’t quite sure what to do with Shazam so they went back to a familiar well. They handed off the character to Bone's Jeff Smith for a four-issue series that retold the hero’s origin as well as his most famous adventure, “The Monster Society of Evil.”
As with so many Shazam stories, creators felt that the only way forward for the character was to go back and try to recapture what’s made Shazam a sort of cult-classic alternative to Superman and that’s essentially what we get here. In retelling this story, Smith morphs the Shazam mythos into something that almost has more in common with Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland than traditional superheroics.
#2 The Power of Shazam! (Jerry Ordway)10 of 12
Jerry Ordway’s gorgeously painted Power of Shazam OGN represented a new beginning for the Captain that codified his place in the larger DC Universe. He had a city to protect, an origin that brought him closer to his roots and a Big Bad that seemed like more of a match for him in Black Adam.
It might seem quaint compared to the output of Marvel, DC and Image during the1990s but The Power of Shazam stands as proof that with the right creator onboard, Shazam’s mix of wish fulfillment and adventure is a timeless formula.
#5 Thunderworld Adventures #1 (Morrison/Stewart)11 of 12
Thunderworld Adventures exists as part of Grant Morrison’s sprawling epic, Multiversity but clocking in at 40 pages, it’s a testament to the legacy of Shazam.
By including most of the major players in Shazam’s history in one story, Morrison gives readers a solid primer for a character they may have overlooked. And while Morrison’s more meta leanings are on full display in the event as a whole, this story is a reminder that page for page and panel for panel comics’ leading chaos magician is one of the best action-adventure storytellers in the business. Cameron Stewart’s clean lines and efficient character designs go a long way to backing up Morrison’s work and it’s hard not to dream about what a longer look with this creative team might have been like.
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