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How Shazam! will change the DCEU

Now that Aquaman has had a few months out in the world, it's time to turn our attention to the next big-screen release in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the shared world of characters set up by Warner Bros. Pictures as the DC Comics competitor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though we've spent the last couple of years seeing characters who previously popped up in other films (Wonder Woman and Aquaman) finally getting their solo due, this time around we'll be focused on an entirely new character: Shazam, the kid-turned-superhero (played by Asher Angel in kid form and Zachary Levi in superhero form) who's about to bring his own brand of comedy heroics to the world.

We still don't know exactly what changes are coming to the larger DCEU in the coming years, as filmmakers seem to be focusing more on individual releases than shared universe team-ups. What we do know, though, is that Shazam! has the potential to add a lot to the universe, from supporting characters to villains to the implications for sequels. Here are a few ways Shazam! is poised to change the DCEU.

The Wizard of the DCEU

Every hero gets their superpowers in a different way. In Billy Batson's case, his powers come from an ancient wizard called Shazam, who summons Billy to his lair after determining that the boy is the correct person to inherit his vast powers. Shazam's name is an acronym comprised of the initials of the elder gods and mortals that grant him his powers — Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury — and by saying the word "Shazam!" Billy can then summon that power and transform into the title hero.

The Wizard (played by Djimon Hounsou in this movie) is more than just a guy who gives a boy superpowers, though. He's lived for centuries in the Rock of Eternity, a nexus of his power (and by extension Billy's) that also serves as the prison of the Seven Deadly Sins (who are, as their name suggests, physical embodiments of the Biblical sins of Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth). Director David F. Sandberg has confirmed that the Sins will appear in some form in this film, which suggests a struggle for the Wizard, and possible custodianship of the Rock of Eternity passing on to Billy. Whatever happens, it's the beginning of a massive new mythos that can only get more complex and exciting from here.

A new range of powers

Every superhero has their own set of powers. The DCEU already has plenty of different combinations of superhuman abilities, from Superman's flight and heat vision to Aquaman's fluency in fish communication to the Flash's incredible speed. Even among titans like that, though, Shazam has a particularly interesting set of powers.

He's got some of the usual things, like strength, speed, durability, and flight, but then it gets a little more unique. As the trailers for the film have frequently showcased, Shazam is granted the manipulation of lightning by Zeus (that's the Z in his name). It transforms him into his superheroic self, of course, but he can also simply summon it from his fingers at will, and in the comics it has often even served as a kind of shield against magical attacks. 

But wait, there's more. Depending on which comics the film most heavily draws from, Shazam is also able to summon the wisdom of Solomon (that's the S) to get wisdom in trying times and instantly recall knowledge of something he didn't know before, as well as summon the courage of Achilles when he really needs to step up in battle. All of this combines to make him a rather versatile hero, if he has the cleverness to make use of his full range of powers.

A younger hero

The superhero origin in Shazam! is unique among the DCEU heroes in that it serves as a form of wish fulfillment for young viewers in ways that no other character's story can. Billy Batson is not a kid who grows up to be a superhero; he's a kid who is a superhero, a teenage boy who is suddenly granted the ability to transform into a strong, fast, buff guy in a cool costume just by saying a single word.

That not only connects the character to a younger audience in ways the other films don't, but it also means audiences will get to see a different perspective on what it means to be a hero in the DCEU. Billy Batson's Shazam body may be massive, but as the trailers show us, in his mind he's still just a teenager, trying to figure what he's actually supposed to do with this new heroic form. That reframes the superhero narrative for the DCEU, and creates some exciting potential for the future of the character.

A meta look at superheroes

It's often important to give superheroes someone to bounce off of so they can process their thoughts out loud without actually talking directly to the audience. Superman had Lois Lane and the AI simulation of his father for this in Man of Steel, Spider-Man had his best friend Ned and Tony Stark in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and so on. In the case of Shazam!, that role falls to Freddy Freeman, Billy Batson's fellow foster kid and best friend.

Freddy is not just a stabilizing influence in Billy's life. He's also obsessed with superheroes in a way that Billy absolutely is not, collecting memorabilia and fantasizing about various heroes and their powers. That means that when Billy himself gets superpowers, he goes directly to Freddy, who begins testing and documenting Billy's new abilities while also trying to give him a few pointers along the way. This sets up a relationship between heroes and the audience that no other DCEU film has, because it allows Freddy and Billy to become meta-textual commenters on their own story, and injected a little self-awareness into what has often been a rather self-serious fictional universe.

A more comedic direction

Though they've often been criticized for being overly grim and gritty, some films in the DCEU have had moments of humor. Justice League got an injection of comedy after writer/director Joss Whedon stepped in to finish it, Suicide Squad tried to capture a little of that Guardians of the Galaxy goofiness, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman were particularly good about showcasing some levity among the superhero dramatics.

For Shazam!, though, the humor looks to be leveled up in a way that no previous DCEU film has even attempted. There are plenty of action moments in the trailers, but the marketing for the film has overwhelmingly leaned into the comedy, and the presence of its teen stars also adds a certain light touch to the film that DC seems to be banking on. After years of being branded by fans as the serious superhero universe full of grey skies and scowling characters, Shazam! is poised to bring sweeping change to that notion — not necessarily to make all of the studio's films funny, but to emphasize that different characters can bring different tones to the universe. Plus, if the character ever teams up with other DC heroes, the comedic sparks can fly even further.

A new threat

Since we're getting a new superhero introduction with Shazam!, it makes sense that we'd also get a new villain — enter Mark Strong's Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Sivana is the original Shazam villain, first appearing in Whiz Comics #2 alongside the hero (then known as Captain Marvel) back in December 1939. In his original incarnation he was a mad scientist who continually concocted deadly schemes and inventions to take control of the Earth, only to be thwarted by Shazam and his allies. Also, he lived on Venus.

The version of Sivana we're going to see in Shazam!, though, is a bit different from his comic book counterpart. Like the New 52 version of the character, he's got one scarred eye (which in the comics allows him to see magic), but in the film he's growing beyond his mad scientist roots to become a powerful magical artifact hunter. He's got superpowers of his own this time, and he's obsessed with magic, to the point that he's absolutely beside himself at the notion that a boy like Billy Baston could be chosen by the Wizard instead of him. He's also a bit of a tycoon, and runs his own company. So, provided Sivana survives the film, the DCEU could be getting another powerful, influential member of some kind of future Injustice League, as well as a guy who will keep digging deeper in his pursuit of new magical powers and threats to use in sequels.

A different city

While the heroes of Marvel Comics generally just reside in a parallel version of our own world, the heroes of DC Comics usually have fictional cities established as their home bases. Superman is from Metropolis, Batman is from Gotham City, and Wonder Woman is from the island of Themyscira. Shazam was also granted his own city in the 1980s, dubbed Fawcett City (after the publisher where the Captain Marvel family of characters resided prior to DC's acquisition). For the film version, Sandberg and company are taking things to a more familiar locale: Philadelphia, where many recent comics starring the title character are set.

This means the film will potentially get to play with real locations in a way that other big-screen DC stories have been unable to (with a few notable exceptions, like the presence of Paris in Wonder Woman). We don't exactly know how yet, but if these films keep spooling out into sequels and spinoffs as Warner Bros. clearly hopes they will, Philadelphia could become a new nexus point for a lot of DC Comics-based action. Oh, and don't expect nods to Fawcett to go away entirely. For starters, the trailers show that Billy and Freddy attend a school dubbed "Fawcett Central."

A family to count on

While Captain Marvel rose in popularity as a character in the late 1930s and early 1940s, sidekicks were all the rage, and the line of characters associated with Billy Batson continued to expand until a roster of superfriends was a regular part of the stories. Dubbed the Marvel Family (now the Shazam Family), these characters were primarily Batson's fellow orphans. They were immensely popular in the Fawcett Comics days and have since been brought back for appearances in the DC Comics era.

While we don't yet know if any other Marvel Family members will eventually appear as their superpowered selves on the big screen, each of the major family members has some role to play in the film. Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) is Billy's best friend, and becomes Captain Marvel Jr. in the comics, while Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton) eventually becomes Mary Marvel. There's also Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), Pedro Pena (Jovan Armand), and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), all of whom develop some kind of superpowered alter ego at some point during the history of the comics. Needless to say, this gives Shazam! fodder for sequels galore.

The coming of Black Adam

Speaking of sequels, there's already at least one other film in development directly tied to Shazam! For years we heard whispers of movie superstar Dwayne Johnson joining the DCEU. We eventually learned he would be taking the role of Black Adam, Shazam's archnemesis who also inherited the same powers once upon a time. In some versions he went rogue and disappeared, in others he's an antihero fighting to clear his name. Either way, he's a dangerous match for Shazam, and he's coming to the DCEU.

We still don't know exactly when we'll see Black Adam, with Johnson in the title role, but depending on how Shazam! fares at the box office we could see it sooner rather than later. Sadly, Black Adam is not set to make an appearance in Shazam!, but if all goes well the two characters could be face-to-face on the big screen very, very soon.