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Warning: SPOILERS for Shazam! are ahead!
Lost parents are a common trope when it comes to superhero storytelling, particularly in the DC universe. Occasionally ‘lost’ is literal, but more often than not it’s figurative, with the mother and/or father being deceased. Billy Batson is among the many DC superheroes who has lost his parents, although depending on the continuity, they’re either killed (usually the case) or are indeed missing. Shazam! took the latter approach, although it applied a unique twist that did a wonderful job reinforcing the ‘family isn’t blood’ theme.
After kicking off with showing us the adolescent Thaddeus Sivana being brought to Rock of Eternity in 1974 and failing to be selected as the wizard Shazam’s new champion, Shazam! flashed forward to show us Billy Batson as a small child attending a carnival with his mother, Rachel. Billy’s mother was trying to win Billy a stuffed tiger at a balloon-popping game, and while she didn’t succeed in doing so, she did win him a compass, which she told him he could use to find his way home.
Unfortunately (and ironically) for Billy, he was soon after separated from Rachel at the carnival. In the years following he bounced throughout the foster care system, never staying too long at a home, no matter how loving the family was, because he was determined to find his mother. Billy failed to accomplish this one his own, but luckily for him, one of the members of his latest foster family, Eugene, is a computer whiz kid, and he not only tracked down where Billy’s mother was currently living, but also discovered that her real name is Marilyn, just like in the comics.
You’d think that a reunion between mother and son would be a happy occasion, but as Billy learned upon arriving at his mother’s apartment, she didn’t reciprocate his excitement. It turned out that Marilyn did track down Billy at the fair after briefly losing him, but when she saw him being cared after by police officers, she decided he was better off being looked after by another family. Apparently our previous look at Billy and Marilyn together had been filtered through Billy’s romanticized memory, and Marilyn was actually having a difficult time caring for her son as a single parent. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Billy’s dad, C.C., is in prison.
Learning that your mother abandoned you is bad enough, but sinking the knife in further, Marilyn also told Billy that now wasn’t a good time for her to begin forming a new relationship with him, and assumed that he was doing just fine with whatever family he was living with. Understandably shocked and disappointed with how this reunion turned out, Billy handed his mother the compass she’d given him years back and returned home, at which point he returned home, gave his adoptive siblings superpowers, defeated a glowing-eyed maniac and realized he finally had found his true family. Yay, there was a happy ending for the kid after all!
When you’re making a comic book adaptation, it’s obviously necessary to take creative liberties in order for the story to flow smoothly within a cinematic framework. Every now and then, one of these changes ends up being better than what was originally depicted on the printed page, and with the kind of story Shazam! was telling, it was a better call to simply not have Billy’s parents in his life as opposed to them being dead or their whereabouts being a big mystery needing to be solved.
For those unfamiliar with the Shazam mythos, in the various pre-Flashpoint continuity stories, C.C. and Marilyn Batson usually due while traveling, with Billy being forced to live with his cruel uncle Ebenezer until being tossed onto the street. In the graphic novel The Power of Shazam!, Billy’s parents were archaeologists killed by Theo Adam, descendant of Black Adam, while on a dig in Egypt. In the New 52 universe, it’s never specified what happened to C.C. and Marilyn, although in the current Shazam comic book, Billy’s father has returned to reunite with his son. Whether this is the real C.C. or an impostor has not yet been revealed.
Regardless, had Shazam! gone the route of having Billy’s parents be dead/gone tied to some kind of conspiracy, similar to what was done was done with Peter Parker’s parents in the Amazing Spider-Man movies, would have been a mistake. Shazam! was about how people don’t need to be biologically related in order to be a family. Billy spent so much time looking for his mother that he didn’t open himself to the possibility that he could find love elsewhere in his life. With the Vasquez’s, he’s finally found that home and sense of belonging that he wanted.
There are more than enough Shazam stories from nearly 80 years to provide material for more Shazam! movies; a big mystery surrounding Billy’s parents didn’t need to be one of them. And while it may seem ridiculous commenting on realism in a movie about a boy who turns into an adult superhero by saying a magic word, it was a novel and logical idea to have Billy’s mom not caring for him because she didn’t want to. As heartbreaking as it is, there are people who have just been abandoned by their parents for selfish reasons, and by taking this approach, Asher Angel’s Billy becomes a more relatable character.
It’s also worth mentioning that this ‘family isn’t blood’ idea extends particularly well to one of Billy Batson’s siblings, Mary Bromfield. Before The New 52, Mary was Billy’s biological sister, reuniting with her brother years after their parents died. However, like in the New 52, Shazam!’s versions of Billy and Mary are not related by blood, but by the end of the movie they finally form that brother/sister bond and still get to be superheroes with their other siblings. It’s a win-win.
It’s possible Billy Batson’s biological parents could factor into future Shazam! movies. Maybe Marilyn will change her mind and decide she does want to build a relationship with Billy, and/or maybe his father will be freed from prison and decides to seek out Billy. But even if this does happen, Billy already has a family who loves and cares about him. These people care about him and have his back, and vice versa. And especially with his siblings, there won’t be any lack of excitement in their lives going forward.