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The Trials of Shazam vol. 2 TPB [Review]

trialsofshazamtpb002Writer: Judd Winick
Artists: Howard Porter, Mauro Cascioli
Letterers: Rob Leigh, Travis Lanham
Original Series Covers: Howard Porter, Mauro Cascioli
Reprints: The Trials of Shazam #s 7-12
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $14.99

This volume took me a bit longer to “get into” than the first…partially less excitement to get into the volume (now having a good idea of the story and such after reading the first). Of course, plenty of distraction, too with a “new comics day” and a local comic convention since reading the last volume.

We pick up here with Freddy’s journey…he’s got part of the powers of Shazam, and Sabina has the others so far…with a couple of the gods’ powers as yet unspoken for. He winds up recruiting “help” from the Shadowpact, on the idea that his attaining the powers is less important than Sabina NOT getting them. As she steals more power and the balance of magic is close to being toppled, the “war” actually breaks out with Sabina launching a spell that needs one million souls and will push Dark Magic far beyond Light magic. Freddy meanwhile recruits the Justice League and leads the counter-assault. Things finally come to a head, and the legend of Shazam moves forward.

Story-wise, this volume is consistent with the first; this felt like the back half of the same story, with obvious progression and development from what came before. I definitely liked seeing the other characters involved…while I expected this to be Shazam-centric, seeing that this takes place in the shared, main DC Universe of the time makes it so much better than just being off in its own little corner. It’s also cool to see Freddy being responsible and involving others as the situation needs it rather than egotistically insisting on going it alone (suggesting there’s plenty of strength simply in recognizing when one needs to turn to others, perhaps).

Visually, the first couple chapters match the entire previous volume while the final four are a shift as we move to Cascioli on art rather than Porter. While this is in itself a bit jarring and quite noticeable, it works pretty well…and I definitely prefer a complete such shift than stuff being interspersed. It may not be entirely consistent with the first 8 chapters, but the parts are consistent with themselves, and everyone is still quite recognizable. I actually think I’d’ve preferred this latter visual take for the entire thing if that’d been possible.

As a whole, a good volume, though I maintain that I’d’ve by far preferred this be one large volume to its existing two skinnier volumes. This is a singular overall story that seems near-arbitrarily split in half just for the sake of being halved, or of keeping its collected volumes as the “standard” 6-issue things.

I’d think it obvious, but as the second of two volumes, if you’ve not read the first, I don’t see any real reason to seek this out unless you’re specifically looking for the ending of the story rather than the beginning or ‘full’ story. But if you’ve read the first half, this is definitely well worth getting to finish, to have the complete story. Overall, I’d recommend trying to get both volumes at once if possible to read as close together as possible.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this series and already knew the “core” ending going in. But I definitely  enjoyed reading this, and find myself very disappointed to realize for the moment that other than the New 52 Shazam volume I read weeks ago, I don’t know if there are any collections with NEW Shazam stuff after this story out there or what issues to get for any appearances of Shazam.

The fact that that bothers me and that I’m interested in more of this take on the characters is a definite positive to me and credit to the story.

If you want to see the Shazam/Captain Marvel stuff actually progressed and status quo changed/updated (or at least don’t mind it happening), this is definitely well worth reading!

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.

Superman vs. Shazam! TPB [Review]

[Reprints All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58, DC Comics Presents #s 33, 34, 49, and DC Comics Presents Annual #3 (1984). Cover Price: $19.99]

supermanvsshazamtpbMy initial criteria for choosing this volume? “Cheap” and “Superman” and “Shazam”/Captain Marvel. Also, “new.” As in…this just came out a few months ago (March, 2013 as far as I can tell) and thus qualified as “shiny and appealing,” so to speak. I also have to admit to appreciating the Shazam logo I’m most familiar with at the moment for pre-New 52 stuff (primarily due to Jeff Smith‘s Monster Society of Evil but have noticed for other Shazam items). Surfacey stuff, sure, but it yielded the sale and put the volume into my hands.

The art’s fairly standard-ish, especially for what I tend to “picture” as the generic “pre-mid-’80s” type visuals. Not horrible or anything, but nothing that blows me away by “today’s standards.” Yet, I certainly appreciated that often–while they appear QUITE similar otherwise, I COULD distinguish Captain Marvel’s face from Superman’s face…certainly something QUITE good in my book! It could be argued that the art is limited a bit, constrained by the standard-ish panel structure…that is, a lack of contemporary creative layouts and full/half/double-page splashes and the like. With most everything being in individual panels, there’s not a lot of room for much of the artistic impressiveness that would grab me with more recent art. While that’s a bit broad considering this volume spans a number of years, I largely read it in one go, and the visual style kinda blurs for me on older stuff.

Story-wise…by contemporary standards (again), can’t say I’m all that thrilled with this. Characters didn’t seem all that deep to me (some seemed to just come out of nowhere, with little or no context), and there were plotholes one could drive a truck through. Characters were all too quick and willing to “accept” something at face value with seemingly no consideration for the depth or scope of the issue at hand…and villains’ motivations seemed extremely thin.

All that said, or despite saying all that, I rather enjoyed the volume in and of itself. Even with the extremely limited prior exposure I’ve had to Captain Marvel, I know enough to recognize Sivana, Mr. Mind, Black Adam, the multiple Earths, and have recently learned a bit about Hoppy and the extended Marvel family (Uncle Marvel was–like Hoppy–quite a bit on the far-fetched side, but I recognized the character as Billy’s uncle from Shazam: The New Beginning).

While the stories may have been published years apart, in the general sense of the pre-Crisis DC Multiverse of the ’70s/early-’80s, these fit together well enough, and it was cool to see the nods to continuity.

I don’t know that I’d really recommend this to a new fan of the Shazam or Superman stuff as any sort of ‘essential reading’ (unless you’re particularly interested–specifically–in “digging in” and “experiencing” the historical element of the characters’ earlier interactions). But this does fit in quite nicely with other “themed” classic Superman collections that take a particular element (Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Zod, the Phantom Zone, the Daily Planet, the Bottle City of Kandor, etc) and present some stories focused on it.

For the price (especially if discounted) the volume is quite a good value for the time it’ll take to read, even though the art and stories don’t hold up real well with contemporary comics. This is a time-capsule showcasing Superman/Captain Marvel (Shazam) crossover/team-ups of the past, and for me, upon filing, will be a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

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