Review: Shazam! #4

[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Marco Santucci

Colours: Mike Atiyeh

Letters: Rob Leigh

 

Summary

“Shazam and the Seven Magiclands”continues as Billy Batson and the other foster kids are lost in the dangerous Wildlands! A realm where animals walk like humans…and where humans live in zoos! When Freddie and Darla are captured and paraded around like oddities, it’s up to Billy and the others to rescue them from the greedy Crocodile Men! Plus, the shocking ending to issue #1 could up-end Billy’s new family…or make it stronger than ever.

 

Positives

The current version of Shazam!, introduced as part of the New 52, has broken with a lot of classic elements of the character’s past, most notably the name Captain Marvel and the classic version of his costume. In the process, a lot of unnecessary or outdated concepts were also jettisoned. However, the lighter tone of the current series seems to be returning some of the sillier aspects of the classic mythos. And one of the silliest makes his reappearance here: Mr. Talky Tawny, a sentient, bipedal, talking tiger.

I am pleased to see that Johns is open to reinstating some of the classic pieces of mythos, even if Tawny wouldn’t have been my first choice.

Tawny comes from the Wildlands, one of the seven Magiclands, where Freddy and Darla find themselves trapped. Tawny finds himself in trouble with the police for defying the laws of nature by not wanting to eat his fellow sentient animals.

This raises an interesting question inherent in any funny animal comic or cartoon. In many of these cartoons, the food chain seems to still exist. So, what are the ethics around eating other animals, when those animals are fully sentient? If you think about it, many favourite kids’ cartoons have these horrific implications. Could it be that Johns is making a statement about the consumption of meat?

Also, Johns looks at the implications of a society composed entirely of children. One major unstated question is what happens when the children of such a society reaches adulthood. Other stories have posited that they would be exiled, as in the Star Trek episode “Miri”, but here the adults are enslaved, being put to work to keep the children’s’ paradise running.

This scenario makes for an interesting juxtaposition with Shazam having an odd dual status as both adult and child. King Kid sees the Shazam Family as spies, disguising themselves as children to infiltrate his kingdom, but revealing themselves as enemies when changing into their adult identities. It seems to me that Johns is making a subtle statement that adulthood is something more than just a physical stage of growth.

 

Negative

As stated above, Talky Tawny would be far from my first choice of a classic element to reincorporate into the Shazam! mythos. In fact, I think it would have been better to not bring him back, beyond an oblique reference as a stuffed toy or cartoon character. Although Johns seems to be going for a lighter tone in this series, the classic version of Tawny strikes me as a bit too goofy a concept to fit in a modern comic series. Hopefully, Tawny will not be a part of the main cast, but will remain a minor character that is used sparingly.

Also, the whole Magiclands saga seems a bit too far towards the silly end of the spectrum, and I hope the family returns to Earth to give the series a bit more of a realistic grounding. The lighter tone of the book is fun and refreshing, but I feel that Johns is taking it a bit too far in the current storyline. However, the last page appearance of Black Adam promises that the tone might be shortly becoming somewhat darker next issue.

 

Verdict

Despite the book having some trouble finding a good balance between being serious or silly, it is great to see that some of DC’s line of books is maintaining the bright hopeful tone that was promised by Rebirth. I am sure that the title will improve as it finds its feet, but at least it provides an enjoyable experience for the reader.

 

 

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Derek McNeil

I have been an avid reader of DC Comics since the early 70s. My earliest exposure was to Batman and Superman comics, Batman (Adam West) reruns, and watching the Super-Friends every Saturday morning.