There was no more exciting display of thunder and lightning during my childhood
than the bolt from the blue that transformed young Billy Batson into a grown superhero named Captain Marvel at the utterance of a single word.
Screencap of Shazam!'s opening sequence © 1974 DC Comics.
Although not half as faithful to the comics as its slightly later cartoon incarnation, Filmation’s 1970s live-action Shazam! on Saturday mornings was thrilling in large part because it did indeed star real people. Ere long there would be a live-action superhero boom that brought versions of DC’s Wonder Woman and Marvel’s Hulk to our living rooms in prime time — with less successful stabs at other Marvel characters — plus, of course, the sensational reintroduction of Superman to the silver screen
as the decade closed out.
While happily embracing the myriad network and syndicated animated series from Filmation and Hanna-Barbera featuring original and comics-based costumed adventurers, I got a special charge from watching Shazam! or reruns of the 1950s Adventures of Superman and 1960s Batman series no matter the divergences from their printed counterparts. (Even DC’s concurrent Shazam! comics, which attempted to mirror the Saturday-morning show for a spell, could only do so with broad strokes.) Much of the electricity, no pun intended, was due to the crackling transformation of Michael Grey as Billy into Jackson Bostwick and then John Davy as the World’s Mightiest Mortal.
The preceding nostalgia was prompted by the opening line of a post from last week re thunderstorms.
I’m among those who tended to be awed into nervousness if not terror by thunderstorms as a kid but now enjoys them, despite the literal headaches they often bring, with obvious respect to the rare yet real damage that may ensue. And there were thunderstorms aplenty in Wildwood, my home for the first eight years of my life and many summers following, a barrier island near the very southern tip of New Jersey. During bad ones my grandfather would calm my sister and me down by, if we were at the house, opening up the requisite World Book Encyclopedia volume and explaining the phenomenon in basic scientific terms; if we were out somewhere, he would similarly try to remove the mystery by recounting the facts in his own words and reassure us that the only place safer to be than a sturdy building when lightning flashed was a car because of its sealed metal casing. I confess that last part made leaving the car deadly frightening since a body stepping onto the ground while holding the car door would be completing the circuit, although to their credit I think either he or Mom would make a game of darting out into the house, store, or restaurant on such occasions as quickly and safely as possible.
[Note: Shazam! was finally released on DVD in 2012 and on Blu-Ray in 2019, with
the series available for purchase on iTunes and now at least intermittently free to stream on the ad-supported website Tubi.]
Related: The ’Vision Thing • Number Ones • Hope of Good Capes