Review: SHAZAM #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Dan Mora
Colours: Alejandro Sanchez
Letters: Troy Peteri
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
SHAZAM #1: The World’s Finest creators present the World’s Mightiest Mortal in a dazzling solo series! Dinosaurs from space! The Clubhouse of Eternity! Homicidal worms and talking tigers! Atomic robots, alien worlds, mad scientists, sinister curses, and villains from throughout the DC Universe—welcome to the wild adventures of Billy Batson, whose big red alter ego defends the Earth from its weirdest and wildest threats! Want to stop Lex Luthor and The Joker? Call Superman and Batman! International crises? Page Wonder Woman! But when Garguax, Emperor of the Moon, sets his sights on Gorilla City, that’s when you shout Shazam! The fan-favorite team of Mark Waid and Dan Mora brings the magic!
DC has given us yet another major reset to the Captain Marvel/Shazam mythos However, this time, Billy Batson’s new status quo looks rather familiar. In fact, Mark Waid and Dan Mora’s new Shazam looks very much like the pre-Flashpoint version. One thing I’ve noticed with the new Dawn of DC direction is that a lot of characters and titles are reverting to something close to their pre-Flashpoint state without necessarily retconning away newer history from the New 52, Rebirth, and Infinite Frontier Eras.
Like a number of Shazam fans, I wasn’t entirely happy with Geoff Johns’ reboot of the character and his mythos. I hated the name change from Captain Marvel to Shazam. I didn’t mind the new costume so much -except for the damn hoodie cape – but it wasn’t as stylish as the classic version. And while the three new members of the Marvel/Shazam family weren’t a bad idea, they did contribute to make the Johns’ Shazam title too crowded – and my major criticism of that title was that Johns had way too much going on. It was like Johns had plotted out a hundred issue run of the title and tried to cram it all into the first year.
Since Johns’ reboot, I’ve frequently stated that two things would have to happen for DC to revert to the classic version. First, the Shazam movies, largely based on Johns’ version, would have to cease being a going concern. And second, a writer with a lot of clout would have to champion a return to the original mythos.
With Shazam: The Fury of the Gods having a disappointing box office performance and Jame Gunn shifting DC movies away from the DCEU in general, it appears the current Shazam movie franchise is dead in the water. This satisfies the first condition. As for the second criteria: enter Mark Waid.
Mark Waid has recently returned to DC Comics, and so far his new work for them has a retro feel. Instead of a new Batman/Superman title set in the present day, Waid has given us a title set firmly in the bronze age. And he even revived the original title World’s Finest – the classic designation for Batman/Superman team-ups.
Reading this new Shazam #1, you can tell that Waid has done some hard negotiating with DC about which classic elements he would be allowed to reinstate and which elements of his post-Flashpoint history he has to keep. It’s not a complete regression to the classic Captain Marvel, but it’s pretty damn close.
The recent miniseries, Lazarus Planet: Revenge of the Gods and its tie-in issue Wonder Woman #798, has set up Waid’s new status quo. That story featured Billy and Mary assisting Wonder Woman in a fight against the goddess Hera and the Wizard. In Wonder Woman #798, Mary officially takes on the name Mary Marvel. And in the fourth issue of Revenge of the Gods, the Wizard restores Billy’s powers. However, instead of allowing Billy to share his power with Mary (or the others), Six goddesses grant Mary the same powers. Not-so-coincidentally, the initials of those goddesses also spell out the magic word “Shazam”.
In SHAZAM #1, Waid introduces two major changes. The first and most visible is the “new” costume. Technically Billy and Mary’s new costumes appear in the final panel of Revenge of the Gods, but it’s in this issue that we get to properly see Dan Mora’s realization of Billy’s costume. The costume is essentially a reversion to the Bronze Age version, but the change is very welcome. While Jim Lee’s New 52 redesigned costumes were beautifully drawn, they were rather overcomplicated with an overabundance of unnecessary detail. But the older design, as drawn by Mora, is simpler, cleaner and a true classic that perfectly suits the character. And the damn hood is finally gone!
The other major change is that Billy has dropped the name Shazam in favour of “The Captain”. Waid explains this as an in-joke between Billy, Mary, and Freddy at Billy’s expense. Apparently this comes from a “little maritime accident” that left Billy soaked, and wit a new nickname.
I am guessing that this new name was a compromise Waid came to with DC. Waid likely pressed for a full return to Captain Marvel, but DC still wants a name they can use for branding and doesn’t involve comparisons to or confusion with Marvel’s Captain Marvel.
The flashback in which Billy describes this has some interesting details. Billy and Mary are wearing their “new” costumes, but Freddy hasn’t had any super powers since they got those costumes. Even stranger, Freddy is wearing his classic Captain Marvel Jr. outfit, not the New 52 version. So, when exactly did this happen?
Speaking of Freddy, he is no longer blond as he appeared since the New 52. In some panels, it looks like he now has brown hair, but in others, it appears to be its original black. Either way, it brings Freddy much closer to his classic appearance.
We are explicitly told that Geoff Johns’ previous status quo for the mythos is still canon. Billy refers to Freddy and Mary as foster siblings and that they live with Victor and Rose Vasquez. Also, Talky Tawny makes a brief appearance, preparing dinner in the Vasquez kitchen.
There were some complaints about Johns ditching the setting of the fictional Fawcett City in favour of Philadelphia. Waid deftly sidesteps this issue by placing the story in Fawcett City, but declaring that to be a suburb of Philadelphia. This shows how cleverly Waid manages to keep some of Johns’ version by moving them into the background instead of eliminating them completely.
I also liked how Waid has shifted Freddy from being Billy’s social media publicist to Billy. Waid Billy being the host of a podcast about the Captain’s adventures. This is reminiscent of the Billy being a reporter for WHIZ radio (and later TV), but with a more modern bent. I’ve never found the idea of Billy as a kid reporter to make much sense. But nowadays, kids and teens can and do establish podcasts and YouTube channels that can attract large followings. Podcaster Billy makes much more sense.
Intriguingly, Waid hints at future problems for Billy to contend with. First, Billy has set himself the task of restoring Freddy’s powers now that Billy can’t share his own. Mary’s come from a separate source now, so perhaps Billy will have to find a third group of deities, demigods, and heroes to powers to Freddy.
I also find it interesting that there doesn’t seem to be any concern on restoring the powers of the other three foster siblings. Hopefully, Waid will be keeping them to the background and focusing on the classic three members of the Marvel Family.
Also, it appears that the Wizard and one of the gods, perhaps Zeus, are unhappy with how Billy is using their powers. They go on to state the immediate need to prompt Billy to “restore the reputation of the Gods”.
The issue also ends with Billy saving the lives of some citizens and then erupting into a tirade against them. He declares,
You should be on your knees with gratitude! You should feel blessed taht someone incredible as I am would even dirty my hands with you!”
Clearly, this doesn’t reflect Billy’s true feelings, which implies some form of manipulation. I suspect this has something to do with the Wizard and Zeus’ plans, but it’s possible that some other threat is also at work here – Mister Mnd, perhaps?
Dan Mora’s cover is absolutely gorgeous. I adore this image of the Captain bursting forth from the pages of Whiz Comics #2, which feature the origin and first appearance of Captain Marvel.
While it’s fantastic to see the return of the classic Captain Marvel costume, there is one thing tat could have made it even better. I miss the chest flap. However, this is only an extremely minor quitble.
Between Geoff Johns’ iteration of the title and this one, Tim Sheridan featured Billy in his Teen Titans Academy title and a spin-off Shazam miniseries. While Sheridan was bound by the history Johns had established, he introduced a drastic new status quo for Billy. I was somewhat disappointed that there was no mention of Sheridan’s story. This leaves it unclear as to whether Waid is ignoring this period, or has retconned it away completely. While I do prefer Waid’s take on the mythos, I did quite enjoy Sheridan’s story and would have appreciated some closure.
Now, I hesitate to label this as negative, but I notice that the Wizard shown in this issue as Geoff Johns reimagining of the character as Black. Now, I don’t have a problem with this. However, DC has been rather inconsistent over the past few years, alternating between the Black version and the White version of the Wizard. They need to pick one as the official version and stick with it. It appears that Waid and Mora have picked the canonical version for their story, but it remains to see if that choice will stick.
Captain Marvel has always been one of my favourite characters. And while I didn’t hate Geoff Johns’ New 52 version of the character, I still felt it was a low point with some serious problems. But, rejoice fans! Waid and Mora have restored the World’s Mightiest Marvel to his former glory – well, almost. He’s not the same, but Waid’s Captain has recaptured the feel of the classic Shazam comics I delighted in reading as a child. This is one of the most auspicious beginning for a new series I have ever seen.