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Review: ‘Shazam!’ #1

Shazam 1 header

Shazam! #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Mayo “Sen” Naito and Mike Atiyeh
DC Comics; $4.99
Rated T for Teen

Shazam 1DC Comics is launching a new, ongoing series starring the Superhero Formerly Known As Captain Marvel, their first since the young reader focused 2008-2010 Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam! The reason for the timing is fairly evident: In April of next year, Warner Bros will release the long-in-development Shazam feature film. This first issue isn’t necessarily an ideal first issue, given that after 28 pages we aren’t even told the names of the family of six superheroes, but then one imagines the collected trade paperback should be available around the time the movie opens. And Shazam! #1 does at least accomplish the bare minimum required of a first issue of a new serial series: It gives readers enough to decide if they want to read #2 or not.

Answering for myself, I’m going to go with yes, I do—even if I might wait a few months until the story arc is collected, given the pacing and the heftier-than-average price tag. Kids may decide differently.

Writer Geoff Johns, an evident fan of the Captain Marvel/Shazam franchise, does a decent job of striking the right note between scripting this issue as if it is the first one someone might read and continuing the story he had written for a back-up feature in Justice League. (That 2012-2013 strip has since been collected as Shazam! Vol. 1; as the evident basis of the upcoming film, it’s probably one of the better places to point curious preteen and teenage readers.) That story told a new version of the origin of Golden Age superhero Captain Marvel, who therein used his magic word “Shazam!” for a name since Marvel Comics has spent a few decades squatting on his original moniker. Bitter, street-wise teenage orphan Billy Batson stumbles upon a magical subway station that transports him to The Rock of Eternity, where a dying wizard gives him the word that can transform him into a mighty, Superman-like champion who is devoted to preserving and protecting magic itself.

By the end of the story, Billy was able to share his power with the other five adopted kids he was living with, transforming each of them into a similarly mighty caped hero with a lightning bolt on his or her chest. While Billy’s alter-ego went by the name Shazam in that series, we never did learn what Freddy and Mary—the one-time alter-egos of Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel, who probably won’t use those names for the same reasons Captain Marvel is no longer “Captain Marvel”—are going to go by, nor what their siblings Pedro, Eugene and Darla will adopt as their hero names.

Here Billy and Freddy’s class are on a field trip to The Museum of The American Revolution in their hometown of Philadelphia when masked gunmen attempt a robbery. Billy transforms to save the day, but not before his five siblings all appear to lend a hand/be introduced. Once home, the kids have dinner with their adopted parents, and then sneak off to explore The Rock of Eternity, which they’ve been treating as something of a secret clubhouse. This being a monthly comic, a pair of extremely dramatic things happen, just as the story ends for the issue.

There’s an eight-page back-up feature telling the story of how Mary came to live with the Vasquez family, which is an awful lot darker than one might expect—and perhaps the main reason this gets a “T for Teen” rather than “E for Everybody” rating—and how she first met and befriended Freddy. It also seems to contain the origin of—or at least an Easter egg reference to—a new version of Hoppy, The Marvel Bunny, a funny animal answer to Captain Marvel from back in his 1940s peak of popularity.

Johns’ preceding “Shazam!” story was drawn by his frequent collaborator Gary Frank, but his artist on this new series is Dale Eaglesham. He’s a pretty perfect choice in that he has a very realistic style similar to that of Frank, but he uses fewer lines, and his work thus has a cleaner look and less gritty feel than Frank’s often does. Eaglesham also tends to slightly over-exaggerate characters’ postures and emotions, resulting in an effect that suggests a superhero comic version of Norman Rockwell. I wouldn’t have thought he would have fit the character as well as he ultimately does; if not the ideal Captain Marvel/Shazam artist, Eaglesham is definitely pretty much perfect for Johns’ Shazam story.

The back-up story’s artwork, by Mayo “Sen” Naito, is a sharp departure from Eaglesham as well as Frank, featuring wide-eyed, big-headed moppet characters, with anime-like simplicity and lighting in coloration. It makes the allusions to child abuse—all coming in dialogue balloons emanating from somewhere off-panel—seem all the scarier, but offers an interesting suggestion on what Shazam! could have looked like with a different artist working in a wholly new style.

It’s always difficult to predict where a series will go based on the first issue alone, but Johns’ ambition for the title seems to be something along the lines of Harry Potter-meets-Superman, with a focus on the family elements of the character. That’s definitely marketable. Here’s hoping the execution meets that ambition going forward.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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