I almost gave up on writing an article today and was willing to settle for a Filler Video. Luckily I decided to go through my RSS feeds. (“Luckily” being a relative term at this point.) I came across this article for LA Times blog Hero Complex about the scuttled plans for a Shazam! movie and Captain Marvel’s team-up with Superman in a forthcoming “DC Showcase” home video. No, this is not where the article title comes in.
To my knowledge Tom Hanks isn’t playing Billy or Captain Marvel. It has to do with some comments both in that article and in a previous article linked to in it involving Geoff Boucher’s interview with screenwriter John August, who was working on the theatrical version, rumored to have pro wrestler turned action movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, first as Marvel, then as his nemesis, Black Adam. And after reading these articles, I’m actually glad this movie never happened.
Let’s start with the more recent article and this part.
Also, consider this: August (and others in Hollywood) liked the idea of adding a time-limit component to the character’s traditional mythology; essentially, Billy Batson would only be able to inhabit his super-powered alter ego for, say, an hour at a time.
That would add opportunities for peril and also explain why Batson would ever bother shifting back to his more mundane identity. The time-limit and transformation scenes would make the character a natural for episodic television — just like “The Incredible Hulk,” arguably the best comic-book adaptation in network television history.
The idea worked for the original Ben 10 series, but Billy Batson isn’t Ben Tennyson. Isn’t the need to control his powers and balance his new double life–at 10!–enough conflict? You would think that there is no reason for a time limit, but note the part “…also explain why Batson would ever bother shifting back to his more mundane identity.” He goes into more detail in the actual interview, done just after working on a first draft of the potential movie script.
Of course, any Captain Marvel movie’s great challenge is answering one question: If you were a little kid who could turn into an all-powerful adult, why change back?
August’s answer: “That’s absolutely a key part of the movie. Billy doesn’t want to turn back. And a lot of the movie hinges upon that and Billy’s relationship with his best friend and that disparity. They are two teen friends, and then suddenly one of them is 30 and a hero. So it creates tension. You know, as a screenwriter, that’s the thing, to take what seems to be a problem and make it a key element of the story. That’s one of the emotional cores of this story. So to me it’s a great problem to have.”
Except it’s not as realistic as you think. Why would he want to turn into a kid again? How about that friendship you brought up (which by the way is also not in keeping with the comic–hey, just like the admittedly well done Incredible Hulk adaptation he’s basing concepts on)? How about the fact that if he were adult he wouldn’t be able to do kid things. How about this concept was already touched upon!
Why do we have to do this with Billy Batson? Why does he resume his normal, 10-year-old kid self? That’s not rocket science. Oh sure, some kids may try to stay in their superhero form as long as possible, but at some point most of us adults miss being kids, and would like to go back to those days, even only for a little while. Also, kids get bored with the same thing for a while. They play a certain game or with certain toys, enjoy it, but eventually get bored and will want to do something else.
Kids still want to be kids, at least until it’s time to do something they don’t want to do and are convinced that “if I were a grown-up, I wouldn’t have to do that because grown-ups get to do anything they want”, which plenty of adults would not only laugh at, but remember what THEY could do when they were kids.
Do you really need an entire movie for that? Not to mention that there are other aspects of Billy Batson’s story to tell. Jeff Smith, Mike Kunkle, and the team of Art Baltazar & Franco have shown how to pull it off in their runs on the character. Being a superpowered adult is fun, even if you’re not having to live up to the responsibility of being a superhero, but to say that Billy would never want to become an underpowered kid speaks of those who can’t understand why Superman would ever want to “act” as Clark Kent.
Superman IS Clark Kent and Captain Marvel IS Billy Batson (depending on which version you go by, since some writers have declared them separate beings, but one head scratch at a time). In both cases, the former is what he can do, but the latter is who he is! (One of the few things Lois & Clark got right.) This notion that everyone with superpowers immediate gains some kind of “god complex” and wouldn’t want to be “normal”, at least for a time, is just stupid. Although most of us would love to have the power to fly, would you actually NOT walk around…
OK, bad example.