Shazam, or “Captain Marvel” as he was once known, has always been iconic yet somewhat disappointing. The character has been around for almost 75 years, but still isn’t a big draw. Sometimes he’s vital to the workings of the DC Universe, and sometimes he’s completely forgotten.
Billy Batson was an orphan, pure of heart, who was brought to the Rock of Eternity and granted magical powers by the wizard Shazam. Originally named Captain Marvel and published by Fawcett Comics, the character wound up eventually with DC Comics, renamed Shazam after a lawsuit by Marvel Comics.
In the “Shazam!” trade paperback, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank get a chance to start over with Shazam, and they begin by establishing Billy Batson as something more than the innocent orphan he’s been portrayed for most of his existence. Little Billy isn’t idealistic, he’s a brash, impatient kid who has grown up in the foster system and orphanages and he behaves accordingly. Perhaps being an orphan was a romantic notion back in 1939 when the character was created, but now the background comes with a different set of expectations.
The backstory of Shazam basically being a magical Superman is explored also, with longtime arch-enemy Dr. Sivana starting the whole situation. There’s another long-time famous foe who gets a cameo at the end of the book also, and appearances by the whole Marvel family, all the way down to Hoppy.
This time, the legend begins with Billy coming to a new foster home, and the wizard Shazam searching for the next warrior. Billy’s not a pure-hearted innocent anymore, but really the same can be said of all modern day comic book characters, and other heroes of fiction. The wizard decides he’s close enough, and things take off from there.
Gary Frank’s artwork is, as usual, fantastic. His realistic art really brings out the difference in the boy Billy Batson and the superhero Shazam, and the similarities between he and the evil Black Adam are also striking. Their battle scenes really pop off the page.
It’s an interesting start for a legitimate comic book legend, and one that wraps up most of the elements of the old Captain Marvel books that people will remember. There’s no crossover with the rest of the DC Universe, but these pages originally appeared in the back of DC’s “Justice League” comic, so obviously the character is meant to take a larger role (and does, very soon after the events of this book). The book seems to focus more on the magical aspects of the character, which is a welcome change.
“Shazam!” reprints parts of “Justice League” #7-11, 0, and 18-21. It’s 192 pages, available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle formats, and published by DC Comics.
— Reid Kerr always enjoyed the live action “Shazam” on Saturday mornings.