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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.

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.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #5 [Review]

Mr. WHo? Mr. Atom!

Written By: Art Baltazar & Franco
Drawn By: Byron Vaughns
Inks: Ken Branch
Colors: David Tanguay
Letters: [no credit given]
Asst. Editor: Simona Martore
Editor: Dan Didio
Cover: Mike Kunkel
Publisher: Johnny DC (DC Comics)

This issue, just by not being by Kunkel seems to lose some of its magic. It’s still a solid, fun issue…but for one thing, it felt like I just sped right throughout in about half the time it’s taken on previous issues. While I don’t have the prior issues onhand for immediate comparison, I think a large difference is in panel size and action–the panels seem larger than I remembered for this series, and far more open with less action…almost as if the previous issues were super-compressed compared to this issue’s “standard” sort of appearance.

Billy and Mary battle a giant robot. That’s really the main plot here. Familiar elements are present–the kids’ living situation, Billy’s job, etc. The story’s fairly simple without being overly simplistic. The visual tone remains kid-friendly (as it should, given it’s part of the kids’ line). The art is also quite reminiscent of Kunkel’s…while the interior is not Kunkel’s, it does not seem all that far off from Kunkel’s cover image.

If you’ve enjoyed this book thus far, this issue is a bit of a step down from what it was…but it’s still a good book, and much more enjoyable than a lot of fare out there. With Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade done with, I daresay this is my favorite of the Johnny-DC line. We do have a “To Be Continued” on this issue…but it seems more one of those ominous “Not the End” types, not so much a “the-hero’s-in-danger” cliffhanger. As such…this makes for a fine one-off issue….from introducing the main characters and their status quo, introducing the threat, dealing with the threat, and winding down on the action, you needn’t have read prior issues to enjoy this, nor does it make one anxious for the next issue.

Recommended.

Story: 7.5/10
Art: 7.5/10
Whole: 7.5/10

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #4 [Review]

Words, Pics, Heart: Mike Kunkel
Letters: Steve Wands
Assoc. Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Jann Jones
Cover: Mike Kunkel
Publisher: Johnny DC (DC Comics)

This issue sees the culmination of elements from the first several issues come to a head as Billy and Mary confront Theo Adam with the help of the Wizard. Of course, it’s no easy task since the 7 Deadly Evils are along as part of Black Adam’s gang, and Captain Marvel is seemingly outnumbered.

The art is at once an annoyance and a delight. It’s annoying because I’m not a fan of the exaggerations it embraces visually. At the same time, it’s a delight–it’s far from my usual preference, but this issue (and those before it) make me feel like I’m parked in front of a tv watching a fun cartoon.

The story itself is fairly simplistic on the surface, but carries a lot of deeper stuff if one cares to look deeper. Like a well-crafted cartoon, there’s plenty to be enjoyed here even by adult readers, while holding what presumably would be attractive to the younger crowd. SUre, there’s violence, and sure, there’s fighting…but there’s no cussing, the violence is “cartoon violence” rather than “realistic,” and I daresay one would find much more enjoyment sharing this comic with them than a half hour on the couch with any of a number of contemporary cartoons.

Most comics that I really enjoy migrate to the top of the stack when I sit down with new books. This one makes its way to the bottom–it’s a great “happy book” or “palate-cleanser,” and with all the little panels and dialogue and such takes awhile to read–a great ending to a stack of new comics that otherwise flash by far too quickly. What gets this issue its rating is the overall enjoyment that transcends simply looking at the art or the story/writing.

Highly recommended.

Story: 7.5/10
Art: 7/10
Whole: 9/10

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! [Review]

Words, Pics, Heart: Mike Kunkel
Letters: Steve Wands
Assoc. Editor: Adam Schlagman
Editor: Jann Jones
Cover: Mike Kunkel
Publisher: Johnny DC (DC Comics)

This issue picks up with Billy–as Captain Marvel–sitting around ready to play hookey from school. Mary convinces him to go in due to identy and detention issues. While serving detention, Billy helps some other kids stuck in detention before Theo Adam strikes, still seeking the magic word to transform himself back into Black Adam. As a dangerous schoolyard-bullying act plays out, Mary innocently slips, and we’re reintroduced to Captain Marvel’s nemesis, Black Adam.

The story here is at once fairly complex and yet quite simplistic. In other words, kids or adults ought to be able to enjoy this…better yet, adults oughtta be able to enjoy sharing this reading experience with their kid(s).

The art has a simplistic style to it while conveying a good deal of emotion–and motion. Visually and story-wise, this feels like it ought to be serving as the comic-book counterpart to an animated series. And while I never really cared for the anime-styled Teen Titans show, a Shazam/Captain Marvel animated series would thrill be quite a bit.

This is definitely a good series for the younger crowd, yet should be fairly enjoyable to older readers. I’m actually enjoying this book more than many other “regular” DC titles these days. And in this day ‘n age, you simply cannot beat the price, either!

We do get a “to be continued” on this issue, but on the whole it’s quite a good read, with plenty of dialogue TO read and numerous panels per page rather than constant splash pages and few panels per page.

Taken seperately I my not generally like the story or art as much…but taken on the whole, I really enjoy this. The book is more than its individual parts. Very much recommended!

Story: 8/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 8.5/10

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