Friday, April 27, 2012

Shazam! (Without Gomer)

In the seventies, I was a big CAPTAIN MARVEL fan. The first issue of DC's revived series featuring the World's Mightiest Mortal, called SHAZAM, was, in fact, the first comic I ever put into a comic bag! It was a fun series, light-hearted and whimsical but filled with memorable characters and lots of action and adventure.  By the time a TV series version came along on Saturday mornings in mid-decade, I was SO ready for it. 

...and SO disappointed. What the hell were they thinking? The only elements taken from the actual comic books were Billy Batson's name and trademark red shirt, the magic word "Shazam" and...well, that was it. Captain Marvel himself at least was well-cast with actor Jackson Bostwick looking very much like the Big Red logically (??) they recast him after the first season with a pug-nosed football player type in John Davey.

The first thing one had to get past was Billy's hair. I mean, I know it was the seventies but what happened to actors having to make concessions for the part. Michael Gray, though, in spite of a vague ethnicity one never ascribed to the comic version, was the best thing about the series and became briefly a teen heartthrob. 

  Radio and TV veteran Les Tremayne provided a familiar face and voice as "Mentor." Mentor was...well...Billy's Mentor. That's pretty much all we knew although I seem to recall hints that at one time he had been a super hero himself. The pair traveled around the country in a giant RV. No idea how they ever got any money for food or gas or anything. In the comics, they had Billy's faux Uncle Dudley grow a mustache to approximate the Mentor character and tried having the pair travel the US there, also. Ugh.  

Unlike the comics, every episode was a heavy-handed morality lesson. Once in every episode, Billy would find himself in a situation where he would have to yell his magic word. Usually, he'd also have a brief conversation with "the Elders." The Elders were a cartoon pantheon of the folks who made up the SHAZAM acronym. There was no old Wizard, remember.

Bostwick looked perfect except for his slightly too long hairstyle--so perfect that his picture even ended up on one of the DC Treasury edition reprint collections during his run on the show. 

He still appears at celebrity shows today. There;s his Treasury edition in the background of this shot.

I've read why he was replace but I can't recall the reason at the moment. His replacement, Davey, was a better actor, not that the role called for much. But he just didn't look the part to me. 

It was during this period that the same folks premiered ISIS with Joanna Cameron. Needless to say, the pair DID team up. At DC, ISIS even appeared in an issue of SHAZAM. Since the company didn't actually own teh rights, that issue has had to be skipped over whenever a run of SHAZAM has been reprinted.

I once described the TV SHAZAM as "dull, modernized, cheap-looking and incredibly preachy." But I watched it.

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