Saturday, June 21, 2014

Shazam!, Volume 1

 Gone is the sweet, innocent Billy Batson of yesteryear....bring on the dark, gritty "New 52" Billy Batson......SHAZAM, bitches!!!

 SHAZAM!, VOLUME 1 collects all of the SHAZAM back-up strips that have kept the JUSTICE LEAGUE hardcovers from having decent page counts. (That's JUSTICE LEAGUE #'s 0, 7-11, 14-16, and 18-21- Most are short back-up strips, but #'s 0 and 21 are full-length adventures.) Since it's written by Geoff Johns, you know it's going to be all grim-and-gritty, so the sweet little orphan Billy Batson is now a foul-mouthed urchin who burns through foster families faster than his social worker can find them. Billy is placed with a new family (Which nicely sows the seeds for Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. to be introduced later in the book), and through a series of misadventures, Billy finds himself chosen by The Wizard to be the new recipient of the powers of Shazam and the guardian of The Rock of Eternity. (The meaning of Shazam,-
S for the wisdom of Solomon
H for the strength of Hercules
A for the stamina of Atlas
Z for the power of Zeus

A for the courage of Achilles
M for the speed of Mercury-
is never mentioned in this book. In fact, there's no real explanation given for The Wizard's power, or what exactly The Rock of Eternity is or does.)

 Billy/Shazam (Who, it seems, will no longer be called Captain Marvel in his "New 52" iteration) soon finds himself facing off against Black Adam, a former recipient of The Wizard's power, who has been set free from his eternal imprisonment by Doctor Sivana, who looks just like Lex Luthor. Much fighting ensues.

 I didn't hate "New 52" Billy as much as I expected to....I mean, the sweet, gentle orphan from yesteryear would seem anachronistic in the 21st century, so I can live with Billy getting a personality makeover. I was really enjoying the book until the Shazam/Black Adam fight started, and then Johns started to lose me. It felt like he was cramming too much into this origin story, and by the end, I was overloaded. In the space of one book, we get introduced to Doctor Sivana, Billy Batson, his new foster family, a real tiger standing in for Mr. Talky Tawny, Black Adam, The Wizard, The Rock of Eternity, The Seven Deadly Sins of Man, Sabbac, witness the creation of The Marvel Family (The Shazam Family....?), and get a cameo by another classic Captain Marvel villain. It was a little too much for one story.

 The art, by Gary Frank, is superb, as usual, but just as Frank emulated the look and mannerisms of the late Christopher Reeve for his Superman comics, he seems to have modeled Shazam after Seth McFarlane, which I found really distracting for some reason. I also disliked the way that Johns and Frank beefed up and de-aged the wizened Doctor Sivana for his "new 52" debut. He looked and acted waaaay too much like Lex Luthor for my tastes, and the new look really took away from his character. And for such a long book, which tried to shoehorn in EVERY BIT of Shazam minutiae possible, we never learn just what the story is with Sivana's family, which is, ostensibly, the reason he freed Black Adam in the first place. The book ends with a nice little stinger, which seems to set up Volume 2, but with Johns being limited to two books a month by the powers-that-be at Warner Bros., it seems doubtful we'll ever get that follow-up, at least not with this creative team.

 The collection is rounded-off by a couple of variant covers, and a small sketchbook section by Gary Frank.

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