The Power of Shazam And a New Kind of Family

By Corey Patterson

Many longtime DC Comics fans were ecstatic to finally see the beloved Shazam in his self-titled film this year. It’s the breath of fresh air the DC Cinematic Universe needed after the life to the stagnant DC cinematic universe. The box office numbers have been less than stellar (discounting Wonder Woman and Aquaman), especially when compared to their rivals at Marvel Studios.

The movie’s plot centers around Billy Batson, an boy orphaned at a young age after his mother lost him at a carnival. Since then he’s moved through numerous foster homes and gotten into plenty of trouble. One might think this is because he’s a bad kid, but nothing could be further from the truth. Billy has a heart of gold and will stop at nothing to find his birth mother.

Billy eventually finds himself in a foster home run by Victor and Rosa Vázquez, a loving couple who care for five other children. Each family member comes from a unique background and brings vastly different personalities to the table, but Billy wants none of it. His experiences in unloving foster homes have motivated him to find his “real” family instead.

A Hero is Born?

The film follows the comic book origins pretty closely. Billy takes a subway ride unknowingly into a mystical chamber called The Rock of Eternity. Here he meets a wizard called Shazam, who explains the necessity of finding a worthy soul to embody his magical powers and defend reality from the Seven Deadly Sins.

In a flash of light, Billy is imbued with all the powers of Shazam. He acquires super strength, super speed, flight, and even becomes an full grown adult. Such radical changes are enough to overwhelm the strongest of minds, but Billy eventually eases into his newfound abilities. The real question is: How will he use them?

Unfortunately, Billy sees his powers as the ultimate answer to his troublesome life. He gives up on seeking love from others only to have it thrown back in his face. His status as Shazam provides him with adoring fans to make up for the love he lacks.

Freddy, Billy’s stepbrother and new friend, notices these drastic changes going through him, claiming the supposed “superhero” can’t even save time for his family. And in a fit of rage, Billy says he has no need for their “family.” His powers, and the hope that he will finally find his birth mother, are enough for him.

Jesus and the Family

The notion of family has undergone many transformations throughout history. Most have restricted its meaning to those we’re related to, but Jesus of Nazareth turns this notion on its head in the Gospel writings.

Richard Rohr OFM, the preeminent spiritual writer and Franciscan friar, speaks to Jesus’ reframing of “family” in his spiritual study titled “The Shape of the Table.” In it he describes the beginnings of the Eucharist and how it challenged the society’s understanding of a family units. He notes, “Jesus’ constant use of table relationships is perhaps his most central re-ritualization of what family means. Note that he is always trying to broaden the circle (see Luke 14:7–24 for three good examples).” [1]

The verses from the Gospel of Luke Rohr cites feature one of Jesus’ most enlightening lessons regarding hospitality and family. He calls his disciples to reassess their understanding by looking first to those one would least likely consider members. These included people living in poverty and those with disabilities —basically anyone excluded from society at large.

Billy is placed in the same shoes Jesus’ disciples in an interesting parallel. His foster siblings aren’t what he was ever expecting in a family, so he keeps his heart closed to them. He even begins pushing Freddy away after deciding his Shazam image would be tarnished after being seen with such a socially unacceptable person.

Billy must decide whether he’s willing to add more seats to his table, so to speak. Will he limit his spots to flesh and blood members, or will he welcome Freddy and the rest of the Vázquezes into his understanding of family?

A New Kind of Family

The beauty of a story like Billy’s lies in its honest reflection of reality. Too often children growing up in foster care find it difficult to accept their new familial arrangements. And while gaining incredible superpowers won’t happen to any of us soon, they represent an instance of material gain which makes the downtrodden Billy question whether he needs family at all. Ultimately, Shazam! wonderfully weaves these themes together to showcase the beauty of family in all its shapes and sizes.

Corey Patterson is a writer and webmaster. He is passionate about the synthesis of theology and geek/pop culture stories. His interests lie primarily in superhero and fantasy genres. Check out his blog here and some of his reviews on Monkeys Fighting Robots.

Sources:

  1. https://cac.org/the-shape-of-the-table-2018-07-22/

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