Shazam HC New52 (DC)


Rating: 5/5 – A Solid Re-telling of the Story That’s Been Retold Too Many Times To Mention!

Nobody seems to know what to do conclusively with the Big Red Cheese ever since DC acquired him back before many of you reading this were born. Jerry Ordway did an amazing job back in the 90s with the Power of Shazam series, which gave Captain Marvel’s powers a clear definition and had a great way of delegating them to the rest of the Marvel Family. It was a well-thought out concept and the issues hearkened back to a more innocent and happy time, which is ultimately what a Captain Marvel story needs to be, right? There’s no room for a New 52 – aka Dark and Gritty – version of the World’s Mightiest Mortal, is there?

Well…there just might be.

Done as a series of backup tales in the regular Justice League book – Shazam! tells the story of young Billy Batson, who one day finds a magic portal, a powerful wizard, and speaks a word that transforms him into Captain Marvel, who defends the…what? You’ve heard all this? Okay, well what if instead of the goody two-shoes Billy we’ve read so many times before, this version of Billy was kind of a jerk? What if one of his first thoughts when he gains the powers is teaming up with his pal Freddy to make a quick a buck and maybe score some beer? Hey, Captain Marvel’s definitely of drinking age even if Billy isn’t.

Fan reaction when these stories first began to break was pretty negative – Billy was often referred to as “Bratson” and, as it was riding the wave of negativity much of the New52 books had been receiving, it was dismissed as a bad move that would likely be overwritten. That’s a shame because in this collected work, when it can be consumed as a whole, there’s a lot to love about this version of the good Captain. One, it doesn’t try to retread old ground. Sure, Billy’s not a likeable kid…at first. But he’s young. He has a lot to learn, and by the end of this story it looks like he’s begun to learn it.

Two, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank together on a book could get me to buy it if it were about Brother Power or The Inferior Five (look ‘em up!). The artwork is gorgeous, and the writing is among some of Johns’ best – he had to know he was treading on sacred ground here as we Captain Marvel fans are an unforgiving lot if you “get it wrong”.  Relax, Geoff…you got it right, but it may take time for people to realize it.

Three, part of the fun of any Shazam tale (I guess we can start calling him that now for real, can’t we?) is his supporting cast. Not just the Marvel family, but the villains as well. The New 52 version of Shazam’s rogues’ gallery does an admirable job of updating them without completely eliminating what made them so much fun in the first place. Black Adam is back and more menacing than ever, Dr. Sivana has lost the short stature and there’s nary a “Big Red Cheese” utterance to be heard, but he embodies the original intent of the character – a man of science now confronted with the fact that magic is very real.

And what of the family itself? Giving a nod to the Ordway series, Batson is now able to “bestow” his power to those close to him – in this case a group of orphans like himself – thus creating the next generation of the Marvel family. Mary is back in the red outfit, Freddy’s returned in the trademark blue (although he’s a blonde now), but there’s a whole group of new, and differently powered kids (let’s just call them the Lieutenant Marvels for now) each with a different gift bestowed upon them – one kid is a speedster, another can speak to machines, etc. – and the beauty of it is, Billy’s not sure how he did it, or how the power works, or if it’ll work again, or anything…he’s got to figure it all out as he grows and matures as a hero.

And that’s ultimately what sold me on this version of Captain Marvel – in nearly every iteration before, we’ve had a Billy Batson custom made and ready to take on the mantle with a gulp and a “Holy Moley” for good measure. This time around, there’s room for improvement. Batson’s not a lovable kid right now, but he could become one…and it’s likely he will become one…in time. He has to learn what being a hero truly means, and it doesn’t promise to be an easy journey. Nor should it be. It’s a journey I hope readers are willing to make with him, though. It sounds like a fun trip.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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