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The ’80s Revisited: Shazam: The New Beginning #s 1-4


shazamthenewbeginning001Writers: Roy and Dann Thomas
Artist: Tom Mandrake
Inker: Jan Duursema
Letterers: Agustin Mas
Colorists: Carl Gafford, Joe Orlando
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Dates: April/May/June/JUly 1987
Cover Price: $0.75

Until this month, I’d really only known DC‘s Captain Marvel (Shazam) as a guest-star…an important figure, but I’d only really ever stuff where he was a guest-star, not THE star, of a book. While memory may fail me, I’m pretty sure my first real introduction to the character was Action Comics Annual #4 (a 1992 Eclipso: The Darkness Within crossover).

I saw him again pictured in Death of Superman stuff–the funeral stuff at least. I believe I would have seen him in Zero Hour, and I was aware of the Power of Shazam series though I’ve yet to actually read any issues except the Blackest Night issue from a few years ago. Maybe his most significant–and to me, emotional–appearance was in Kingdom Come.

Of course, he again wound up on my radar with the Superman/Shazam: First Thunder story shortly before Infinite Crisis, and then during the magical side of that story. I was aware of (but again have yet to read) the Trials of Shazam series. I was aware of the “corruption” of Mary Marvel with the Final Crisis stuff, and recall seeing Captain Marvel in the I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League, as well as an issue or two of Giffen/DeMatteis‘ original Justice League. And of course, I was aware of the property from various things I’ve read about the history of comics, and seeing solicitations for the various collected volumes (such as the Showcase volume).

And most recently, probably getting my hands on the collected edition of Jeff Smith‘s Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil and a few issues of the Johnny DC Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam series.

shazamthenewbeginning002I saw the Monster Society of Evil and Billy Batson stuff as stand-alone/out-of-continuity things, so haven’t considered those.

Which brings me to my recent acquisition/reading of the New 52 Shazam vol. 1, which in turn led me to an immediate reading of the serendipitously having-just-bought this entire 4-issue mini in a quarter-bin…which I understand backtracks a bit from the Legends crossover and tells the origin of Billy Batson and Captain Marvel in context of the then-new DC Universe post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.

All of the above to get to actually talking about the issues this post purports to be about.

Much as I wanted to LIKE this, much as I was interested–at least conceptually–in reading this, and appreciate HAVING read it, now having the “experience” of the series as part of my Shazam/Captain Marvel knowledge-base…the series was ROUGH to get through.

First and foremost, this is a series from some 25 years ago–more than 1/3 of the character’s entire existence ago. It’s very much a product of the ’80s, and quite verbose…there were times I was taken out of the story simply being overwhelmed by the density of text in any given 2-page section I’d turn to.

shazamthenewbeginning003I’m honestly quite convinced that this same story told in present-day with all the main elements would easily be done as at least 12 issues (a 3-issue mini per issue). (Given that density, I’m honestly not going to attempt to recap the story itself in this post!).

Yet, rough as it was to get through–having read primarily “new” comics for a number of years now and rarely actually delving into anything older than 1993 for more than a single issue at a time–I’m quite glad to have read this. Sure, it’s a lot packed into few pages…but while that drives against what I’m “used to,” and so gave a bit of negative by way of my having to “force” myself to stick to the series rather than read something else and then come back to it…ultimately, I am glad I did so. 

There were plenty of plot holes and “leaps” of logic, stuff that wouldn’t fly today…but there was a lot more to ’em than I imagine there’d’ve been to similar concepts a decade or two earlier, or even at the beginning of the property in the 1940s.

But we got the “essential” stuff: Billy, the Wizard, Sivana, Black Adam…even reference to Hoppy. And with the density of narration and dialogue, while not as smooth as a modern depiction, we get quite a bit of detail and motivation. Not so much “shown” as “told,” but the end result is largely the same…especially combined with my pre-existing knowledge of the character.

shazamthenewbeginning004Visually, I can’t say I was all that impressed. The art wasn’t bad, by any means…but it really didn’t stand out all that much to me (especially not compared to Gary Frank‘s art on the New 52 volume, and my memory of the cover to Action Comics Annual #4). Sure, those may be unfair comparisons, but they are what they are. It also certainly did NOT help that the copy of the issues I read are very much “reading copy” condition…with much of the art a bit faded and blurred due to the ink/newsprint paper quality from the time.

Barring specific interest in this take on the character–time period or creative team–I don’t know that I’d particularly recommend seeking these out. However, if you find ’em in a bargain-bin in readable condition, they’re worthwhile, and if you can get the set for $4 or less, the time you’ll likely spend reading one issue would “value” the issue far beyond a modern $3.99 issue.

Having now read this, I’m definitely interested in reading/re-reading other Shazam stuff…though beyond the recent Superman vs. Shazam tpb, I don’t think I’m gonna go “older” than this series…I’ll stick to the Power of Shazam run I bought a year or two back, and whatever collected volumes I can get my hands on. I’ll also be seeking out more on Black Adam, having come to like that character quite a bit under Johns‘ writing, in 52 and in JSA.

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2 Responses

  1. I really liked this version, but then again, I read it at the time it was put out and I think that does make a difference.

    • I imagine that IS the difference; definitely a whole different thing to read something for the first time ever, 25 years after it came out than to have read it while new. Still, I definitely “appreciate” it; it would likely be like ‘Man of Steel’ had I read it in the early-’90s and/or gotten more familiar with Shazam/Captain Marvel stuff prior to late-2013…

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