I have been a huge fan of comic books for over twenty years, and in those twenty years, aside from an episode released as a bonus for Warner Bros. Television’s anniversary and one that was screened at the Paley Center a few weeks ago, I had never seen the live action television series based on the Fawcett-DC Comics character Shazam!
The show ran before I was born – from 1974-1977 – and for whatever reason, I never saw much of it at all in syndication.
The Warner Archive is remedying that, not only releasing the entire show, but also restoring the picture so it looks better than it likely did when it was first on.
For those who don’t follow the comic books, “Shazam!” is the magic word said by a young boy named Billy Batson to become the powerful hero known as Captain Marvel.
When adapted for live action TV, several things were changed from the core concept. For starters, Billy Batson is a teenager; not a young boy like he was in the comics. I’m assuming part of the reasoning for this was so that young people would look up to him. He also does not work for radio station WHIZ; instead, he travels around the country in a RV with an older man known as “Mentor.” Nowadays that seems a little creepy; in 1974 maybe it wasn’t. Speaking of that RV — Captain Marvel’s lightning emblem is on the RV, yet no one really seems to make the connection between Billy and Captain Marvel.
Shazam! is also often fairly formulaic; usually a young person gets themselves into trouble, the Elders give Billy a riddle tying into that, then Billy and Mentor meet this young person, and eventually, Captain Marvel saves the day. You might think I’m complaining about that; I’m actually not. It’s repetitious but it’s a formula that works. This is a series aimed at children, though despite some often times heavy-handed moral lessons and occasionally outlandish plots, I feel like it doesn’t talk down to the audience too much. At least some of the end-of-episode “morals” are available to add as a bonus. The video quality on those isn’t as great as it could be, and somehow Captain Marvel lecturing comes off as a little creepy, but I’ve read some reviews that said they weren’t there, so I have to point that out.
(By the way, as this show is produced by Filmation, you’ll hear some He-Man voices among the Elders. I like that.)
As an older viewer, and one who lives in Southern California, the hugest treat of the Shazam! DVD is finding and recognizing familiar locations. I’ve noticed some spots in Sun Valley, and it’s really cool to see what this area looked like before I lived here. This show doesn’t really try too hard to hide locations and phone numbers, so it’s kind of easy.
Some familiar faces show up as guest stars within the show, some before they became [more] famous.
The DVD set contains every episode of the live-action Shazam! TV series, and it may be my favorite Warner Archive release so far. It’s a piece of TV history, it is a lot of fun, and I guarantee you’ll get the theme music stuck in your head. I actually wish this had been shown more often when I was a kid, because I know I would have loved it.
Any complaints? Well, for one, I know there may be budgetary concerns but Michael Gray has done a lot to push this DVD release, and it’s a shame he couldn’t be brought on for a commentary. The other? Nowhere on the DVD package does it give an episode listing. That would take someone about 20 minutes to make, and it would have really been helpful to have on the packaging or the disc art.
You can purchase Shazam! The Complete Live Action Series from the Warner Archive at WBShop.com. Here’s a clip of [most of] the opening title sequence: