Shazam! Gets New Writers: Bill Birch and Geoff Johns

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For a super-powered guy with lightning speed, Captain Marvel moves pretty slow. The Shazam! film, once a New Line project and now part of Warner Bros., has been inching towards the screen for several years. Get Smart‘s Peter Segal remains on board as director, but there are two new contestants in the screenwriting game: Bill Birch and comics luminary Geoff Johns. What’s going on with the film, after the break.

Variety says the studio is looking to go back to the comics for new script inspiration, and that’s probably the best pointer to explain why Green Lantern writer Johns is on board as consultant and co-writer with Bill Birch. Saying WB is going ‘back to the comics’ isn’t very specific, though, as that encompasses decades of stories in which young Billy Batson can say the word Shazam to transform into the super-powered Captain Marvel. (Shazam being the name of the wizard that gave Batson his power, and also an acronym for the legendary figures that contribute power to Captain Marvel: the wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and the speed of Mercury.)

The character came to life from Fawcett comics as a Superman knock-off, and his continually obvious nature as exactly that is what makes him difficult to adapt. How do you put the character on screen without audiences wondering why they’re not just watching a Superman movie? One primary angle is the mystical nature of the character, and the classic figures from which he draws power. One classic enemy is Black Adam, essentially an ancient Egyptian Captain Marvel that comes forward in time to fight the current incarnation.

John August had what might have been a great take, which he described as “Big with superpowers.” He envisioned Batson still being a child even while in the adult body of his alter-ego, and wrote “a comedy with a lot of action.” After rewriting that and working with the project’s changeover from New Line to WB (recounted in detail on August’s blog) the writer became one of many casualties on the project.

Will Shazam! move forward from here? Hard to say. August said the picture was dead (but allowed that it could come back, which has happened) so WB obviously has an interest in making it work. Below, check out the opening of the live-action ’70s TV show and the animated series from a few years later. Also consider this: if TV or film rights are exercised as part of the acquisition by Marvel Comics of the Miracleman comics by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman (which drew heavily on DC’s Captain Marvel for inspiration) will that moot Shazam!?

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