Billy Batson and his alter ego have never been high on my list of favorites. Sure, any kid would love to be able to say the magic word and instantly become a big, beefy superhero with powers fit for the Justice League. However, the whole idea of a teen mind living in the body of a grown man just doesn’t resonate with me. It seems cheap, too easy to manage, and extraordinarily overused. The initial charm, silliness and inappropriate humor sours all too quickly for me, especially in low-quality writing situations.
Therefore, when I heard they were making a movie out of this character, I laughed. Surely this would be a huge waste of money, and yet another reason for haters to rail on my beloved DC. I didn’t have high hopes for it at all. I mean, I love Zachary Levi, but come on — even I couldn’t see how he would be able to rescue this sinking ship.
Let me tell you, I haven’t hopped on board a sinking ship so fast in years. It looks honestly quirky. It’s silly. It’s fresh and genuine. It pokes fun at the entire genre — and it brings that old-school character into the new millennium in a way I’m ready to get behind.
More than that, though, it makes me appreciate the original appeal of the character design. It makes me appreciate innocence again.
I’ve written on this topic extensively, but it bears saying again: A lot of the superhero stories nowadays strive so hard for the dark, edgy, realistic feel that they risk losing the heart and humanity that makes them compelling. Cynical vigilantes have ditched their capes and bright colors to get in the moral mud and wrestle with the underworld. Big hair, big muscles, big weapons, and even bigger super-villains — that’s what has become mainstream.
Additionally, they’ve aged many of these popular characters back into salt-and-pepper adulthood. (I’m looking at you, Batfleck.) When caped crusaders first took off about a hundred years ago, the vast majority of them were adult men — until writers realized kids had become their primary audience. For a few decades, we saw more stories that were actively aimed at relating to the average ten-year-old — stories that held up a mirror and whispered into their imaginations, “What if?”
As history goes, the pendulum has swung back the other direction toward fully grown heroes. I must admit, though, in looking back at my own history, I’ve lost something of that innocence myself.
Shazam has been the reminder.
I first fell in love with the Good Fight when I was in elementary school. Although I’d probably been exposed earlier to cartoon crime-fighting, my total obsession didn’t take hold until I saw the Static Shock television show in the early 2000’s. From then on, it was my preferred setting for just about everything. My fledgling works of fiction all included teenage kids who discovered they had extraordinary powers — and how they were destined to save the world.
I still love those stories, but since growing up, my taste has diversified and trended into the more “realistic” iterations. It’s understandable, of course. There are tragedies and horrors in this world I could never have imagined at the age of 10. Real evil exists in this fallen world, deeper and crueler and more cunning than I ever knew. We’re taught never to let our guard down, and to be ready for battle at every moment like the watchful vigilantes we canonize.
God has called us to fight the Good Fight, it’s true — but He has also called us to innocence. In reclaiming and redeeming us, He has thrown off the chains and burdens that drag us down. We are being proactively remade to fit a new reality of freedom, justice, and love. Death and despair do not control us. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered by incorruptible new life.
We as Christians might as well be those innocent young heroes. So why shouldn’t we live out that joy of discovering the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit moving through us? We should be dancing in the streets! We should be laughing ourselves to sleep! We should be doing the floss dance in our armor! We have found Truth that assures us goodness wins at the end — and that is something we can be shamelessly giddy about. 1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”
Does that perfectly encapsulate the idea behind Shazam, or what?
After all, if Tom Holland can give us the best cinematic Spider-Man of all time by playing the consummate adorkable teen hero, why can’t DC do the same with Shazam!?
Annie M. Pasquinelli is the worship and media director at a small church in Eugene, Oregon and the author of the Fearless Nine book series about a team of faith-based superheroes. She is also a scuba diver and a graduate of Oregon State University.
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