Shazam! has wowed critics with its heart and laughs, and surprised comic-book fans with its faithfulness to the character — who once went by a name now owned by Marvel — his history, and the more recent revisions made in the 21st Century. But as it is a modern era superhero film, there are a number of easter eggs and hooks that might leave those less versed in Billy Batson history a little confused. So here’s a handy guide to a few of the head-scratchers from Shazam! – including that caterpillar in the post-credits stinger!
Warning: Major spoilers ahead.
When young Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto) first arrives at the Rock of Eternity, the Wizard’s (Djimon Hounsou) dwelling, he sees a jar containing a caterpillar. Nothing more is said of it throughout the film until we see the jar has been destroyed sometime later. In the mid-credit stinger, the caterpillar appears in Sivana’s (Mark Strong) prison cell wearing a speaker and suggesting they can do great things together.
In the comics, the creature is known as Mr. Mind and as the teaser heavily implies, he will be Billy’s (Asher Angel) opponent in Shazam! 2. First appearing in 1943’s Captain Marvel Adventures #26, the character was created by principal Captain Marvel creator C.C. Beck and writer Otto Binder. When the Golden Age Captain Marvel first tussled with Mr. Mind, he was a caterpillar-like worm with mental faculties beyond those of mortal men. He was also telepathic and could spin nearly indestructible silk webbing. And as seen in the film, he used a “talk box” slung around his neck to amplify his voice into the human range of perception.
He was also the leader of the Monster Society of Evil, a group of, well, evil monsters dedicated to destruction and villainy in a very earnest Golden Age kind of way. A perfect set of opponents for Billy and his growing Shazam Family — more on them in a bit.
Over the years, his origins evolved. He eventually claimed to be an alien worm, which later writers made canon by revealing Venus as his planet of origin. He also became closely tied to Sivana, who gave the telepathic creature its name.
With formidable abilities and an inferiority complex well in excess of his physical form, he should prove a worthy opponent for Shazam (Zachary Levi). Doubly so if he and Sivana organize the Monster Society.
For over a decade, the Shazam! project was overshadowed by a potential spin-off, the Black Adam film starring Dwayne Johnson. The concept first came to light when the actor asked his fans if he should play Shazam. They responded with the overwhelming suggestion he was better suited to play the character’s best enemy, Black Adam. He has been attached to a film starring the character ever since.
Created by Beck and Bill Parker in 1945’s The Marvel Family #1 — his one Golden Age appearance — much of Black Adam’s history was outlined decades later by writer and artist Jerry Ordway. Teth-Adam was the son of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II (who in real life famously sired over 100 children). The Wizard Shazam was the Pharaoh’s high priest at the time and, looking for a successor even then, thought Teth-Adam would be the perfect candidate. But Adam was double crossed by the Wizard’s daughter Blaze. Instead of inheriting the Wizard’s powers, he derived his abilities from the Egyptian gods Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, and Mehen.
Nonetheless, he proved an able hero for the nation. But his duties kept him away from his family, who were all eventually killed when a power-mad priest swept through his home state of Kahndaq.
Believing Blaze’s corruption to be absolute, the Wizard eventually trapped Adam’s soul in a scarab and entombed his corpse in a sarcophagus where he referred to his former apprentice as “Khem-Adam,” or “Black Adam.” When Adam eventually escaped, he extended his animosity toward the Wizard to the entirety of the Marvel – or “Shazam” – Family.
While the details might be different — and contain a number of DC Comics characters like Blaze — the key elements of Black Adam’s Golden Age origin remain the same. The Wizard believed him to be a worthy successor and bestowed upon him the powers of Shazam. Adam was corrupted by the power, forcing the Wizard to banish him. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the story the Wizard tells the young Sivana in the opening moments of the film. Black Adam even makes a cameo appearance as the Wizard conjures up images of his first pupil. The entire Black Adam misadventure sets up the whole reason why the Wizard spends millennia looking for someone with the “purity” of Billy Batson.
So while not a key player in the first film, the character is ultimately important to the story director David Sandberg appears to be telling. But considering the Mr. Mind stinger, it seems as though Black Adam and Billy will not meet until the third film. In the interval, that Black Adam movie will presumably be made. According to Johnson’s recent Instagram post congratulating Shazam! on its success, he said production will begin “in about a year.”
OK, we’ve mentioned “the Shazam Family” once or twice, and that term is important and it is the name of the group of heroes Billy creates toward the end of the film. And as the movie went out of its way to discuss, names are important. So much so, you might be wondering why they do not receive proper names of their own.
In the Golden Age, Billy was ultimately joined by three other heroes deriving their powers from the Wizard: Captain Marvel Jr, Mary Marvel, and Uncle Marvel. A few others also joined the crusade with variations of the Marvel theme as “The Marvel Family.” Each was a person Billy knew in his civilian life, with Mary presented as Billy’s sister. But as we’ve discussed at length before, the “Captain Marvel” trademark was abandoned when Fawcett Comics agreed to stop publishing comics based on the character or his family in 1953 after a protracted legal case initiated by DC Comics. Marvel Comics eventually scooped up the trademark, so when DC bought the characters from Fawcett, they began to use the word “Shazam” in place of Marvel. Which means the Marvel Family is now “the Shazam Family.”
And as seen in the film, the group is composed of Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), and Eugene Choi (Ian Chen) — all of Billy’s new foster siblings in a story point which ties together one of the movie’s great themes about finding home. It also originates from a revision to the Shazam Family orchestrated by writer Geoff Johns, who created Darla, Pedro, and Eugene with artist Gary Frank. Their appearances and characterizations in the film are taken almost directly from the Johns/Frank stories – right down to their lack of proper superhero names.
Which may leave you wondering about Freddy and Mary. As both originate from the Golden Age, they had proper names, Mary was the Mary Marvel mentioned before while Freddy had the curious title of Captain Marvel Jr. It may look strange to modern eyes, but it made perfect sense at the time. Sadly, as both names prominently feature “Marvel,” it remains to be seen if Freddy and Mary will ever get new, proper hero monikers. Much like Billy in the first film, that issue of identity could form part of their story in the sequel.
Shazam! functions as a perfectly solid film without big ties to the Justice League, but the film concludes with a reminder that some sort of unified DC world still exists. To help Freddy with the kids teasing him at school, Shazam (Zachary Levi) comes round with a friend: the Man of Steel.
But the scene is awkwardly shot. Superman’s head is cutoff throughout and the John Williams theme appears in lieu of the character saying any sort of iconic phrase or cutesy remark.
At one time, Henry Cavill was supposed to film a cameo scene for the film — though everyone evolved denied the scene’s existence until its debut at the special preview screenings in March — but scheduling reportedly kept the actor out of the blue suit. It is unclear if facial hair was part of the problem this time.
It only adds fuel to the speculation about Cavill’s Superman future. Some say it is already over while Cavill’s only comment on the matter was a video in which he brandished a Superman action figure featuring his likeness. It remains to be seen what will become of the cinematic Superman, but it forms a real life cliffhanger almost as intriguing as Mr. Mind’s prison cell appearance.
Shazam! is in theaters everywhere now.