Shazam! Volume 1

Young orphan Billy Batson has bounced from foster home
to foster home, but he’s far from the ideal child.But after a fateful night on
a subway car, that all will change. 
Brought to the
feet of the magical wizard Shazam at the Rock of Eternity, Billy is imbued with
powers beyond any mortal man. Now given abilities that make him Earth’s
Mightiest Mortal at the utterance of a simple phrase, will Billy make the right
choices and do what it takes to become a hero?
Geoff Johns
Gary Frank
DC Comics
The moral of this story is trust in Geoff
Johns. From the start, relaunching Shazam to the extent that it would reach
mass appeal was going to be difficult. The character used to be known as
Captain Marvel (but never to be published as such due to a copyright issue with
a Marvel character) and was one of the first superheroes, at one point being
more popular than Superman himself. Captain Marvel was completely aimed at
children and had a lot of more fantastical elements, such as a Tiger in a suit
called Mister Tawky Tawny and an intelligent evil caterpillar called Mr Mind.
Captain Marvel’s alter ego was even a kid called Billy Batson
Though eventually meshed into the DC
Universe after the company bought the rights to him, he’s never quite sat well
with it, even after some great work done by writers like Judd Winick. For at
heart, Captain Marvel is a character that makes Superman say ‘what a boy scout’.
How do you make that appeal to a modern day audience who are a bit more cynical
and want a bit more darkness to their heroes? All the while keeping the fans of
the traditional interpretation of the character happy?
Johns appears to have found the answer by
charting a path right down the middle. This version of Billy Batson is still an
orphan, but his life has been anything but lovely. Passed from one foster home
to another he’s combative, rude and overall not very trusting of others. Yet
when he moves into a home of a couple who have adopted multiple other children
he slowly finds himself discovering what a family is. All the while, trying to
discover more about the powers he has been gifted as Shazam and fend off the
attentions of Black Adam, the last man to take up the Shazam mantle.
What makes a pretty rote story work is that
John’s injects it with a somewhat childish sense of glee, whilst making sure
everything rattles along at a quick enough pace that you never really see the
cracks in his construction. When Billy first gets his powers and uses it to
foil a robbery he genuinely loves doing it. When he’s gifted by a few quid by
someone too as a way of saying thanks, the way his face lights up perfectly
captured the concept of a boy within the body of a man. I wasn’t the greatest
fan of Gary Frank’s artwork, but it’s the small details like that that he get
John’s is the master of managing to tell
stories that are economic and that have all these branching paths that come
together when needed (as anyone watching the Flash TV show can attest) and it’s
in  full flow here, Black Adam’s, and to
a lesser extent Doctor Svanna’s, storyline weaving in and out of Billy’s, who
has his own problems to deal with. This does present some problems in the eventual
big showdown at the end as it just becomes one fight after another, but even
then the variety of twists and turns throw in means it’s entertaining enough.
Overall, Volume 1 of Shazam is a success.
John’s manages to resolve the main storyline in six issues, whilst leaving
plenty of open ended plot points to be picked up on at a later point. I’m not
sure if we quite needed the Shazam universe back in our lives, but now he’s
here I’m glad he is.
Cover image courtesy of DC Comics.

Shazam! Volume 1 is available from Amazon or your local comics retailer.

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