Shazam isn’t just a funny name for a superhero, it’s actually an acronym that explains the source of the guy’s powers. Knowing exactly who and where the powers come from won’t make the word work for you, but it might impress people at parties.

For decades, Shazam was actually the name of the wizard that gave young Billy Batson his powers. When the character was first introduced in the pages of 1940’s Whiz Comics #2, he went by the superhero monicker “Captain Marvel.” (No relation to the Captain Marvel currently zapping Skrulls on movie theater screens all over the world.) The wizard (played in the new Warner Bros. movie by Djimon Hounsou) selects Billy (Asher Angel) to inherit his powers, which are drawn from seven famous Greek gods and heroes, each with their own particular specialty. Here they are:

  • Solomon - Wisdom
  • Hercules - Strength
  • Atlas - Stamina
  • Zeus - Power
  • Achilles - Courage
  • Mercury - Speed

Here’s a few of the key panels from Whiz Comics #2:

DC Comics

Saying Shazam’s name, turns Billy into Captain Marvel, and vice versa when the time comes.

Whiz Comics was published by Fawcett Comics, a rival to DC Comics (then known as National Comics). Eventually, Fawcett went out of business (in part because DC sued them, claiming that Captain Marvel infringed on their copyright for Superman). The various Captain Marvel comics were canceled, and for a while the character was largely forgotten. (That was when Marvel Comics, sensing a business opportunity, created their own Captain Marvel and trademarked that name.)

In the 1970s, DC Comics licensed the original Captain Marvel from the rights holders and began printing new stories featuring the character. In the early 1990s, they purchased him outright. By that point, Marvel had well-established their own Captain Mar-Vell, so while the Billy Batson version still went by that name for a while, all of his comic books instead featured the word Shazam. That includes a very good ’90s series titled The Power of Shazam! by Jerry Ordway that updated and revised his origin. Despite the changes, he kept the Shazam acronym.

In 2012, as part of a relaunch of the entire DC Comics Universe, Captain Marvel officially took the Shazam name. So when he rescues someone now, and they say “Thank you for saving me! What’s your name?” he just has to awkwardly smile and nod, otherwise he’ll turn back into a little kid. Shazam opens in theaters on April 5.

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