Friday, November 2, 2012
'Shazam!' CS: A True Marvel
The recent DVD release of "Shazam!: The Complete Live Action Series" provides lovers of good cheesy '70s shows another reason to thank the elders for Warner Archive. This release is nearly as exciting as getting the '70s Hanna-Barbera "Scooby-Doo" clone "Goober and the Ghost Chasers" from Warner Archive a few years ago.
From a more objective perspective, "Shazam!" is similar to the late-80s low-budget syndicated series "The Adventures of Superboy," which has the college boy of steel and his buds battle a buffonish Lex Luther and other baddies. Warner Brothers released the first season of that show many years ago, and I am hopeful that Warner Archive will start offering additional seasons.
The concept behind "Shazam!" is that mid-20s newscaster Billy Batson, played by dreamy teen idol Michael Gray, is the alter-ego of Captain Marvel. Dreamy Jackson Bostwick plays Marvel until being replaced due to an injury late in the second of the series' three seasons.
Billy and his sidekick/advisor Mentor spend their days traveling around in a motor home helping teens and post-adolescents out of jams largely of the younguns' own making. Each story is wrapped up with a moral, delivered by Bostwick through most of the series and by Gray in the final episodes.
Billy is granted his powers, and is guided by, six animated elders who deliver a cryptic message near the beginning of each episode.
The dual significance of "Shazam" is that it is the magic word that Billy, and at least one young and stupid boy in the greater Boston area, shout to transform from an average Joe into the super-powered Captain Marvel and is also the acronym of the elders' names. That group consists of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.
The two restrictions on the great power that goes along with the great responsibility of being Captain Marvel are that only Mentor can witness the transformation and Billy can only undergo it when it is absolutely necessary.
Plots included a young blind teen and his slightly older brother recognizing the accommodations that the blindness requires and the capabilities that the blind boy retains after losing his sight. Another episode has Captain Marvel setting a good example for a young boy with a history of trespassing to ride a neighbor's horse by volunteering to go to jail for a crime of which he is not guilty.
One of the more inadvertently entertaining episodes is a special two-parter in which Billy helps a girl who is trying to help her brother break ties with a middle-aged drug dealer for whom the brother is working. Seeing Billy deny being a "pusher" himself and watching the girl run around with a bag of what is clearly baking soda is very funny 40 years later.
Aside from the underlying message of "drugs are bad; ok," Billy teaches the girl that she should act responsibly by narcing on her bro. merely than by taking his stash.
The third season, which is presented as part of the "Shazam!/Isis Hour," is also fun by having Isis appear in a few "Shazam" episodes to help out Captain Marvel. This is similar to Scooby-Doo and the meddling kids helping the Blue Falcon and Dynomutt when they have a joint show. This wonderfully nostalgic show is also out on DVD.
The bottom line is that "Shazam!" is an awesome example of the fun type of show that broadcast networks used to air on Saturday mornings. This genre has plenty of action and wonderfully low-budget effects.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Shazam!" is encouraged to email me. I am especially eager to hear if anyone transformed into a super hero after yelling "Shazam!"