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The Trials of Shazam vol. 1 TPB [Review]


trialsofshazamtpb001Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Howard Porter
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Reprints: The Trials of Shazam #s 1-6 and a selection from Brave New World #1
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price:
$14.99

I vaguely recall the events preceding this…the huge goings-on around the run-up to Infinite Crisis as well as the events of Infinite Crisis itself…this is an aftermath that I was tangentially “aware of” but never got around to (being able to) read until now.

Given my recent/ongoing surveying of multiple eras of the Shazam stuff, other than some sentimental value on the Action Comics Annual during the Eclipso: The Darkness Within event I don’t feel any particular attachment to any version the way I am sure I have with Superman, Batman, and many other characters I’m much more familiar with at length. So that puts this story into a unique position in my reading knowledge.

The idea of this journey, the “trials” strikes me as a classic Hero’s Journey; giving us what I believe might be the first “starring role” for Freddy (outside a possible co-starring role in Ordway‘s Power of Shazam ongoing way back that I have yet to read) and setting him up to fill the shoes of the “original” Captain Marvel.

With the demise of the Wizard, everyone’s roles in the world of DC magic shifts. Billy Batson–Captain Marvel–steps into the role of the Wizard, and Freddy is prepping to fill Billy’s old role. But with the change in magic, the rules have also changed. The gods’ powers cannot now be merely “bestowed”…they must be EARNED. Thus, Freddy must go about these “trials” in order to earn each power, from each god represented in the name SHAZAM. He’s given a guide who leads him on this journey; even while opposing forces rally to prevent his completing the trials. 

This volume gives us the first half of the Trials of Shazam series. While it does contain six issues plus some material from the Brave New World one-shot, it still feels rather skinny. Thankfully, I obtained this volume through an eBay purchase along with the second…both plus shipping for less than the cost of either individual volume. This is another case of where I truly believe–for “only” a 12-part limited series–the story should be in a single volume, even at double the cover price of these half-size volumes. That this is only HALF the story is the core drawback of the volume.

Visually I’m not terribly impressed. The art’s definitely not bad…it’s good, in fact. But there’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that’s missing or lacking, most likely simply my expectation given I had to put some conscious “work” into obtaining these volumes while prior Shazam stuff I’ve sought out were easily found on a shelf, in a back-issue bin or via Amazon. The art conveys the story and gives a look and feel to things and maintains consistency…I’m really never left with any confusion in a panel as to what’s going on. In and of itself the art is of a higher “technical” level than “emotional” for me.

Story-wise, this seems fairly run-of-the-mill and formulaic. As said above, it fits what I know/recall of the classic Hero’s Journey; plugging Freddy (and the Marvels) right in. Taken strictly on its own, as such, there’s nothing really all that new or “special” to this story. Being a super-hero comic (and something I’m reading the better part of a decade after it came out–knowing what ultimately came about and that the continuity this is part of doesn’t even exist anymore except in memory and “the back issue bin” and bookshelves) it definitely lacks an excitement and simply feels like it’s running through the motions more than anything else. That this is an extended “transition period” moreso than it is any true challenge or question of what’s to come.

Despite that, what makes this really worth reading is that it is a significant story in the overall Shazam/Captain Marvel saga, particularly in the late DC Universe of the 1990s/early 2000s…presenting actual, large changes to the status quo and moving characters forward in a way that they’re rarely allowed to; putting real growth into the Shazam mythos.

If you have an interest in the “legacy” aspect of characters; of passing-of-the-torch stories, of the Hero’s Journey, and the like, this fits in well with that. Ditto if you’re–like I am–surveying major available stories of the Shazam characters regardless of era/continuity. I’m not sure if this volume is technically out of print or not, but as it is only the first half of a singular overall story, I would definitely recommend getting the whole story at once if you’re going to at all…be it both volumes of the TPB edition or all the single-issue comics.

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