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Billy Batson led a hard life. When he was a child, his parents, C.C. and Marylin Batson, were betrayed and killed by their assistant Theo Adam while on an archaeological dig in Egypt in 2008. Batson was sent to the Fawcett City Home for Troubled Youth but didn't settle down at the foster home. Batson sold newspapers and slept in subway terminals. At that time, he met and befriended a bum named Mister Tawky Tawny, who was an agent of the wizard Shazam sent to watch over him. Tawny nicknamed him "The Captain," knowing he would one day inherit Shazam's legacy and become Captain Marvel. Eventually, Batson saved up enough to rent a modest apartment room in downtown Fawcett. Despite countless tragedies and hardships, Batson protected his perfect heart and remained good.

Batson was approached by Clark Kent, from the Daily Planet, for a piece on homeless youth. He managed to eat two breakfast meals in one sitting. The next morning, a little after 8 am, Batson met with Kent again. This time they encountered Black Adam, Shazam's former champion. Adam sensed Batson was marked by the wizard's energy and sought to kill him. Superman intervened but was no match for Black Adam's magic. Batson ran into Tawny, who gave him back a subway token. In the Downtown Fawcett City Station, Batson was run over by a subway car but was teleported into it, instead. The car took Batson to a mysterious cave. At the entrance, Batson came upon several statues that represented the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man: Pride, Envy, Lust, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness and Injustice and he met Shazam and learned of his destiny.

Shazam instructed Batson that by speaking his name, he would come to his aid. The cave then rained down on Shazam and Batson was teleported back to the battle in Fawcett. While running, Batson screamed for Shazam to help and a lightning bolt appeared and granted him power. The lightning bolt is a physical manifestation of Shazam's power. The bolt transformed him into the very adult Captain Marvel granting him invulnerability, flight, super speed and super strength. As he fought in the battle, Batson had the choice of becoming the true successor of Black Adam or like Superman and uphold the ideals of mankind. Captain Marvel heard Superman's words and spared Adam. Tawny then appeared before the three and revealed his true form, a talking tiger. Rather than be banished again, Black Adam spoke, "Shazam," and rapidly aged into dust. The next day, Batson awoke with a renewed sense of purpose and started off by dealing with some neighborhood punks.