Superman is the Man of Steel and the last son of Krypton. His alien physiology gives him superhuman powers under Earth’s yellow sun, but it’s his Kansas upbringing that gives him his firm belief in truth and justice.
Shazam is a human empowered with incredible mystical abilities. One word transforms young Billy Batson into a brightly colored champion with a distinct and ancient power for every letter of his name. Shazam is where the innocence of childhood meets the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, and more.
It seems unlikely that these two heroes would fight, let alone kill each other. But it’s not about impossibility. It’s about injustice.
Fall of a Superman
Shazam’s powers call back to legendary figures of ancient times — a time when humanity was just as interested in stories of good people turning bad as they are today. Popular culture remains interested in corrupted heroes, whether angels, men, or supermen. DC’s Comics’ beacon of truth is no different. And when one of the all-time great heroes falls, he falls hard.
DC comics have corrupted Superman several times. He succumbed to Poison Ivy’s pheromones during Hush. He fell under the telepathic influence of Maxwell Lord during the Infinite Crisis event. In the alternate future of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, he’s forced into conflict with the Caped Crusader through years of political manipulations. Those are just three stories, not to mention the effect of various shades of kryptonite. It’s no wonder Batman keeps a piece of the deadly space rock secure just in case the worst happens to his long-term ally.
But Superman’s no killer. His godlike powers are even more impressive because he uses them to protect, not enslave. The Man of Steel didn’t kill Shazam in the main DC continuity, but he did in the alternative reality of Injustice: Gods Among Us.
The successful 2.5D beat-em-up video game Injustice: Gods Among Us was released in 2013, bringing a devastating and dystopian twist to the heroes we thought we knew. On-screen, the gameplay focussed on fights between opposing characters. Its concept allowed no-holds-barred scraps between friends and enemies, with players controlling characters’ unique fighting styles and attacks.
The fights were immersed in a sprawling storyline that grew and grew. The original videogame earned a sequel, more than five volumes of comics, and a spin-off animated film.
Many fans are interested in seeing what happens when Superman goes bad. But how did that happen?
Blame the Joker
Injustice was set on Earth-22, a world that seemed a lot like Prime Earth until one villain exposed its dark undercurrents. The Joker switched his attention from besting Batman to destroying Superman. The Harlequin of Hate’s elaborate plot saw him abduct Lois Lane and trick Superman using a heady mix of kryptonite and Scarecrow’s Fear Toxin. Even pulling in the Justice League doesn’t help the Man of Steel when his powerful enemy Doomsday interrupts his desperate search. It’s only while Big Blue propels his nemesis into the stratosphere that the rest of the League find the Joker and realize Superman has been tricked. Above the Earth, he realizes that he’s killed his pregnant wife, and that’s not all. The Joker connected Lois’s heartbeat to a nuclear device, meaning Superman’s home was devastated seconds after his wife died. It was enough to push Earth’s greatest hero over the edge.
Injustice was an epic storyline that dragged in most of the DC Universe over several years. One main appeal was that in this twisted universe, nobody was safe. That was clear when Superman crashed Batman’s interrogation of the Joker and put his hand through the clown’s chest in revenge. Injustice didn’t let up on the deaths.
The Injustice massacre
You could already tell that this was a different Earth when Steve Trevor’s adventures on Paradise Island (during World War II in this continuity) ended with Wonder Woman decapitating him.
Listing the heroes and villains who die during the complete Injustice storyline is exhausting. To give you an idea:
- Jesse Quick was killed by the Metropolis explosion trying to get (good guy) Lex Luthor to safety.
- The opening blast also took out Beast Boy and Kid Flash, while Steel was crushed in the aftermath.
- As tempers frayed, Nightwing was accidentally killed by Robin.
- The New Gods weren’t immune, and Kalibak’s arrival on Earth would be his final invasion.
- Captain Atom explodes after a confrontation with Wonder Woman.
- Green Arrow was beaten to a pulp by Superman in front of Jonathan and Martha Kent – did we say this story didn’t pull any punches?
- Jim Gordon sacrificed himself to take out Cyborg and protect his daughter, Oracle.
- One of the most interesting villains in the DC multiverse, Sinestro seized his chance to get even. He had one-time Green Lantern Kyle Rayner tortured and ripped to bits.
- Sinestro then stopped the Green Lantern Corps, taking out the adorable but powerful Ch’p on the way.
- The twisted former Green Lantern then manipulated Hal Jordan with the death of John Stewart until a broken Jordan fatally took out Guy Gardner.
- Superman showed his devastating power when he pushed Mogo, the planet Green Lantern, and Ganthet the Guardian into the sun.
- As the conflict broke from the physical realm, Deadman and the Phantom Stranger fell at the hands of the Spectre.
- Other characters dispatched during Injustice included Lex Luthor, Amanda Waller, Red Robin, General Zod, Booster Gold, and Blue Beetle. Even Alfred Pennyworth wasn’t safe.
It’s a long and bloody list, but Superman’s execution of Shazam remains one of the most chilling moments.
Why does Superman kill Shazam?
Superman’s journey from grief to increasingly deranged dictator of the Regime was at the twisted heart of Injustice. This select cabal was opposed to Batman’s Insurgency, and Superman took extreme steps to keep it and the Earth under his grip of steel.
The ingratitude Superman saw in Earth’s population wore away at the Kryptonian until he decided to set an example by destroying Gotham and what’s left of Metropolis. It was Shazam who stuck his neck out to point out this was a step too far. When the young hero suggested that destruction was no way to honor Lois, his fate was sealed.
Shazam’s death was a savage and calculated move from a god-like being obsessed with setting an example. First, Superman used his ice breath to seal his mouth before Shazam could use his powerful magical phrase to summon a lightning bolt. Then he calmly burned through Shazam’s eyes with his heat vision. The death is all the more chilling as the magical hero had recently saved Superman’s life during Lex Luthor’s last stand.
After the execution, Superman left Shazam’s body with one final look as he walked off, leaving the co-opted Solomon Grundy to dispose of the body. One small mercy in the execution was that it splintered the team, with Flash in particular questioning Superman’s actions, albeit more quietly.
That’s how the scene played out in the video game and the Injustice comic that ran from 2013 to 2016. Injustice roughly adapted the timeline of Injustice: Year One as the 43rd film of the DC Animated Universe. It made several changes to accommodate its shortened runtime, many of which brought criticism, but saved Shazam as his fateful confrontation with Superman didn’t make the cut.
Shazam may not have lasted long in the Injustice storyline, but the tales of this twisted Earth aren’t over yet. It’s expected that Injustice 3 will be formally announced soon, so the remaining characters of the DC Universe better watch out.