Our first pick in The 2020 PopCult Gift Guide today is actually a double-shot of Shazam!. I’m talking about the 1970s adventures of The Original Captain Marvel, not that goofball version they made the movie about. These two books are perfect gifts for any young, or young-at-heart, fan of superhero comics, and are also a treat for fans who are already of the best-selling superhero of the 1940s, Captain Marvel.

Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1
by Denny O’Neil, Elliot Maggin, C.C. Beck, Kurt Schaffenberger and more
DC Comics
ISBN-13 : 978-1401288396
$49.99 (discounted at Amazon)

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 2
by E. Nelson Bridwell, Kurt Schaffenberger, Elliot S. Maggin and others
DC Comics
ISBN-13: 978-1779501172
$49.99 (discounted at many booksellers)

I have mentioned many times in PopCult that The Original Captain Marvel is my all-time favorite superhero. I got hooked on the comics in the 1970s when I lucked into a giant tabloid-sized reprint of classic Captain Marvel stories from the 1940s and 50s.

I started buying the “Shazam” comic book (they couldn’t use “Captain Marvel” in the title because Marvel comics had claimed the name, and I’ve probably written about the situation a dozen or so times in this blog), and it was a mix of classic reprints and new stories that attempted to capture the magic of the original stories, which had mostly been written by Otto Binder.

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 1 collects the newly-created material from first 18 issues of DC’s Shazam! comic of the 1970s.  Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal Vol. 2 collects the newly-created material from issues 19 to 35 (completing the original run) and also the tabloid sized Superman vs. Shazam comic book.

All of these were published from 1973 to 1978. Some of these books were reprinted in black and white in a Showcase Edition a few years ago, but we get to see them in full color in these collection. This is just a terrific collection of fun superhero stories that show what comics were like back before they got all grim and gritty.

The second volume picks up at a curious point in the run of the Shazam comic. By 1975, the Shazam Saturday morning live-action show had debuted and DC Comics (then National Periodical Publications) found themselves in a quandry. Captain Marvel had become one of their top merchandise sellers, but the comic books were lagging far behind.

It’s often said that DC did not understand the characters, and during the run of comics collected in the first volume Captain Marvel’s co-creator, C.C. Beck, who had come out of retirement to launch the new book, had left it in a dispute over the quality of the writing. Even with the character being a merchandising powerhouse under the “Shazam” brand, the comic book was selling so poorly that it briefly went to an all-reprint format and was dropped to quarterly publication status while the Shazam TV show was at the top of the Saturday morning ratings.

These collections sort of put the lie to the idea that DC didn’t understand the characters. Volume one has many fun stories (along with a few minor misfires) and Volume two includes one of my all-time favorite Marvel Family stories. After a year of reprints in 1975/76, the title came back with new material featuring E. Nelson Bridwell, a DC editor with a deep love of the characters, as the writer. Volume two also includes the first comic book story of The Mighty Isis, the companion TV show to Shazam, which is unlikely to be revived by that name any time soon.

These are, for the most part, family-friendly superhero stories aimed at a younger audience, but they are highly entertaining and address more complicated and adult topics than you might expect. Much of the art is handled by Beck or Kurt Schaffenberger, both veterans of the original Captain Marvel and Marvel Family comics, and there are some interesting interludes with other artists as well.

DC has pencilled in a third volume, which would cover all the stories written by Bridwell and drawn by Don Newton, which ran in World’s Finest and Adventure Comics, and which have never been reprinted before. COVID-19 and a major reorganization at DC Comics will likely delay that volume, but these two books will give the superhero fan in your life a great head start. Available from booksellers, comic book shops, or at a discount from Amazon.