We may not be able to officially call him Captain Marvel anymore, but Shazam is still one of the coolest superheroes in DC’s roster. Geoff Johns takes a break this month from his main narrative to finish up his Shazam origin story with artist Gary Frank. Justice League #21 is the final showdown between Billy and Black Adam, the former champion of the wizard council.
Spoilers Lay Ahead, True Believers!
Justice League #21 is a very satisfying conclusion to a story that’s taken over a year to tell. At times, when this origin story may have lulled, the promise of a grand confrontation between Shazam and Black Adam always made the rest worth it. Johns doesn’t disappoint as Black Adam truly reigns down some terror in the name of gaining the wizard’s power and, ultimately, control over the entire realm of magic. Gary Frank’s artwork shows off the awe-inspiring nature of their brawl and how their blows literally spark and crackle with magical energy.
Johns’ new interpretation of Shazam’s powers is also fantastic. Billy is the true scion of the magical kingdom on Earth; he has at this disposal the ability to endow power on anyone or thing he sees fit. He can manipulate magic like never before and it’s a joy to read. Many readers initially (and some still do) balk at the idea of a Billy Batson who was rough around the edges instead of the ideal American boy. But he has a resourcefulness and passion for defying authority that his pre-New 52 counterpart never had. Captain Marvel had the wizard Shazam to train him and teach him how to be a hero. Shazam has only his instincts and a brief encounter with his magical benefactor on which to go. This Billy is figuring it out as he goes along.
I can’t imagine how Johns is going to get out of killing Black Adam. Even though that moment resonates and holds importance for Billy’s personal journey, it’s hard to understand exactly why this had to happen. One of two things can stem from this: Either Black Adam is gone and Johns threw away one of DC’s biggest villains, or Adam is coming back very soon and that killing a character has already started to lose it’s meaning in the ‘New 52’.
Though this issue was full of action and fighting, that’s about all it had. There’s not a lot of plot advancement, even though Shazam and Black Adam are supposedly big players in the upcoming “Trinity War” crossover. Technically, this is the end of Shazam’s origin, which would mean he’s ready to be part of the greater DCnU, but it seems very sudden and the connections just don’t feel strong.
Justice League #21 is a fun issue that stands on its own on the eve of a major crossover for the title. It feels a bit out of place, but the amazing fight sequences and the new mythology surrounding Shazam makes up for some of the awkwardness. Geoff Johns obviously has big plans for Shazam, but those plans aren’t readily obvious just quite yet.