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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.

DC Villains Month, Week Four

BANE (Batman #23.4)

foreverevilbane001 It’s rather discouraging to see such a great character go to waste. But, seems that’s what’s happened with Bane in the New 52. I was hoping for something with a lot more depth in this issue, than I found a year and a half ago in The Dark Knight #6. But this seems to be pretty much that same Bane…the one that–to me–truly seems to ignore 15 years of character development and depth. The issue basically shows us Bane recruiting an army to “take back” “his” city (Gotham) as if his only goal has ever been the taking of Gotham. He’s making use of a modified Venom, which flies in the face of what I saw as one of the character’s greatest strengths and the poignancy of the second Vengeance of Bane issue: his rising above and overcoming the need for Venom, and consistently proving himself powerful and smart with no use for the drug that had once had such hold on him. What I get out of this issue is pretty much a caricature of the character circa 1993 with none of the depth/growth/developoment that made me continue to like the character beyond the Knightfall arc 20 years ago. I see no reason to care about or be interested in this New 52 Bane, and I suppose I’m thankful to “get” that from a single issue rather than investing in an entire multi-issue arc…such as the Forever Evil tie-in mini this issue was probably aiming to “sell” me on picking up as a continuation.

SINESTRO (Green Lantern #23.4)

foreverevilsinestro001 I quite enjoyed the Sinestro Corps War a few years back, and enthusiastically followed all the Green Lantern stuff for years, but gradually trailed off. My past enjoyment of Sinestro as a character was the “selling point” for me for this issue, once I’d decided to get some of these Villains Month issues. I’ve been very loosely “aware” of stuff the last couple years in the GL side of things, so was not totally lost with this issue. It was cool to “catch up” a bit on Sinestro–even from a point of view outside of his own. While the “witness” is not entirely reliable to me, the overall context seems to me that we’ve had some extra detail added to Sinestro’s background–including his introduction into the GL Corps–that fits within established stuff. While not quite enough to spur me back to the monthly issues, this was an enjoyable glimpse back into the GL side of the DC Universe and hint at what I should expect as I gradually get caught up with the collected volumes from the last couple years.

BLACK ADAM (Justice League #23.4)

foreverevilblackadam001 I really wasn’t going to ‘bother’ with this issue. I’ve not been a huge fan of Black Adam except under Johns‘ writing, and I hadn’t cared for what I’d seen second-hand of the New 52 Shazam stuff…and was not at all interested in buying Justice League for the “backups,” and generally figured the Shazam side of things was no longer for me. But a friend’s into Shazam, and knowing he’s interested sparked my interest…as well as realizing that hey, this IS by Johns, so why not? And even though I am not “up to speed” on the New 52 status quo of the (formerly?) Marvel family, this issue provided some interesting details, and left me more curious about other New 52 stuff than any of the other Villains Month issues. With a collected edition of the New 52 Shazam story thus far just out, I might actually be inclined to check it out and see where I land thanks to this issue.

METALLO (Action Comics #23.4)

foreverevilmetallo001 I have never been a particular fan of Metallo, though I got kind of attached to the Byrne version introduced in Byrne‘s Superman #1. That take on the character–as he showed up with differing amounts of power and control over machines, the machine with a human brain basically–is the one I prefer. I’m not a particular fan of the former military John Corben or the ties to Sam Lane and Lois Lane. It just seems a bit too complicated having a major Superman villain be basically just a girlfriend’s spurned “ex.” Technically this issue does what I would hope for–introduces me to the character, shows how he got the way he is, and shows what he can do. But my lack of interest in the character in general taints that, and left me fairly cold and honestly did nothing to spark my interest in where the character might go from here. I’m pretty sure I remember Corben showing up in one of the earliest issues of the New 52 Superman (unless that’s blurred with Geoff JohnsSecret Origin mini from a couple years ago), and this issue hints at a prior battle with Superman, so it would seem to me the only real “significance” of this particular issue is the “introduction” of the “Kryptonite heart” and technically being the issue in which Metallo is recruited by the Society.

PARASITE (Superman #23.4)

foreverevilparasite001 If I’ve not been a fan of Metallo, I actually dread Parasite. I think the only time I found the character relatively tolerable was the 1990s Superman: The Animated Series. I especially disliked the character’s transformation in the mid-90s’ comics to the tapeworm-round-mouthed blob, and the continued round-mouthed look in general. And it seems the character was just redone in the last few years in JohnsSuperman: Secret Origin arc. So having yet another version of the character isn’t that appealing. As I read this issue, I found myself wondering why, exactly, I had even bothered to buy it–I grabbed it “off the shelf” not having pre-ordered it–when I should have “left it” same as I did the Bizarro issue (a character I likely would have preferred over this) and H’el (a character I’ve yet to actually read anything with). At least this issue confirms for me that I’m STILL not at all interested in Parasite, and saves me investing in a longer story than just this one issue.

KILLER CROC (Batman and Robin #23.4)

foreverevilkillercroc001 I think this is probably one of the better versions of the character I’ve seen; it definitely works for me, at the least. I never really cared for the grey-skinned version of the character on the Animated Series, and wasn’t all that fond of what I saw of the character in the early/mid ’90s (specifically around Knightfall). That version “worked,” though and I liked it better than the later “Leatherhead-lite” version that was further mutated a few years ago to look more like a “real” crocodile. This issue shows a Killer Croc that is green-skinned, some of the looks of a crocodile, but much more human-looking overall without losing the “monster” appearance. Something to this take on the character doesn’t go over badly for me. I like that the character’s still more muscle than anything else, yet he shows some room for brains, and definitely has a fairly disctinct “place” within the Gotham hierarchy of Batman rogues. I won’t specifically seek anything else out with the character just as a result of reading this, but the issue lets me know that handled similarly I probably won’t dread another Killer Croc story down the line.

52 Week #10 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Stop the Press

Black Adam’s conference is interrupted, Clark Kent is on Perry White’s bad side, a new superhero shows up, Booster’s ticked off at events unfolding contrary to Skeets’ historical records, while Will Magnus and Professor Morrow converse…

52week10Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Art Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Chris Batista
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti & Jack Jadson
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Assitant Editors: Jann Jones & Harvey Richards
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: J.G. Jones & Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

This series seems to be hit or miss for a lot of people, and while many seem to be losing interest entirely, that’s definitely not the case with me. Things are taking awhile to develop, and the overall story seems to be moving pretty slowly…but overall, I’m liking things pretty much as they are–though if we get in deep, I can find plenty of faults.

This is the tenth issue–and tenth week–of this series. For as slow as things seem to be, enough has happened already that I believe I would just have to dig out the previous issues to make sure I could list ’em all, if I were to attempt to do get into that. At the same time, as far as "big" or "major" stuff…not so much.

But that’s part of the fun of this title–and why I’m enjoying it so far. While it’s just over three times the price of a regular issue, it’s roughly four times the size of a regular issue. And rather than get a chunk of story and have to wait 4-X? weeks for another chapter, we get a new chapter each week. Despite the old/tired comparison…it’s really like following a tv show with a large cast, where there are characters you love and hate, and even when you’re most interested in a certain character, they may not even show up in a given episode, and then be the focus of another episode, or anything in-between.

This issue takes us back to Black Adam, who has gathered together Kahndaq’s allies. While he speaks to them, he is intrrupted by a woman who slipped past guards–a woman who disagrees very much with Adam’s gathering of allies, apparently to rival the U.S.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent has made Perry’s list, and not in a good way, prompting Clark to take some rather drastic action–quite at risk to himself–to re-prove himself to the editor (and possibly begin the setup for where things were at the start of the recently-concluded Up, Up and Away! arc). This ties into what looks to be a developing arc on a new superhero: Supernova–a character I am as much in the dark about as the characters themselves.

Booster Gold is understandably frustrated, as his plans from recent weeks have completely fallen apart on him, and events around him unfold very differently from what he expected. In fact, Skeets doesn’t even have record of certain events, which leads to some curiosity as to their place in all this.

Finally, Magnus and Morrow discuss a recent development, leaving me ready and interested in the next issue.
My favorite part of this issue is the segments devoted to Clark and Perry, and Clark’s developing status-quo in this pre-One-Year-Later world. Reading the issue after this week’s Superman issue felt like a real treat: an extra helping of Clark.

Though I know virtually nothing of the characters–and other than them being part of any large-scale stories/crossovers, I don’t think I’ve read anything with them before this series–I find myself looking forward to whatever it is that’s developing, that Magnus and Morrow are finding themselves involved in.

The story overall is good, though the further into this series we get, the more "continuity-heavy" it seems to be growing. We already know the basic outcome, as we’re into the 5th month of books that take place after this series, so some of that initial "wow, what happened in the missing year?!?" factor has worn off. Of course, that means that the story is going to have to carry itself all the more, and really be a story in and of itself, and not just "hey, this happened during the ‘missing year’!"

Not much to say about the art…it doesn’t blow me away, by any means…but it serves the story, and clearly at that. It’s not bad by any means…just fits the story, gets the job done, and elicits no real complaints from me.

The largest hurdle I see to this issue is really the price–that is, collectively for this series, given the weekly nature.

If you’ve been following these, though…I would argue that it’s worth keeping with the series. We’re about 1/5th into it, and I suspect due for some decent payoff in the near future.

And if you’ve been enjoying the recent Superman stuff, you may want to check in on this issue, for the segment with Clark, pre-One Year Later.

History of the DCU
Writer/Layouts: Dan Jurgens
Finishes: Andy Lanning
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Colors: Jeromy Cox & Guy Major
Editors: Berganza, Cohen and Schaefer

What can I say about this? This backup feature–which, as recently as two and a half months ago, I was really looking forward to–is an absolute disappointment.

So far, it seems like it would have been FAR more appropriate to serve as its own special issue, perhaps a 52 # 0 or prelude. This 9th chapter basically brings us up to last September (2005) heading into the actual Infinite Crisis series. As far as I can tell, we’ve learned nothing "new" about the New Earth that resulted from that series.

A better "bonus" to these issues would be to save an extra twenty-five cents and cap the issue off with the main story at an even lower cover price…

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 3.5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

52 Week 12 [Review]

classicreviewlogowhite

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: Mighty

Summary: Black Adam introduces us to Isis, Montoya and The Question come to an agreement as to where they’re off to next, and Ralph Dibny confronts Cassie about her cult’s theft of materials from a storage locker.

52week12 Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Art Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Barrows
Inks: Stull
Colors: Baron
Letters: Lanham
Assistant Editors: Jann Jones & Harvey Richards
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: J.G. Jones & Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

I don’t think I knew who "Black Adam" was two years ago. After reading the Countdown stuff, I was surprised when I went back through my Superman collection and found an issue in which he was prominently shown on the cover–point being, even if I’d heard of him, certainly had no clue who he was, nor what he’s all about. I’m still not certain, but something about him has had me quite interested–and for roughly $2.50/issue I’d gladly follow a series with this character in the starring role if of such quality as 52.

As-is, this issue is mostly Black Adam’s story, with a few pages of the other two plots thrown in. While this is a bit of a let-down as far as seeing what’s going on with Steel, or Booster–or anyone else, for that matter–the story held my interest, and regardless of what comes down the line, has an air of significance to it, as to Black Adam’s story, and the Marvel family in general. Adam’s actions do seem a little rushed, but given what he’s been up to lately, I wouldn’t see it as out-of-character…especially if there’s more to it all than we as the readers have been let in on just yet.

Ralph and Cassie’s angle, while brief, also has some good stuff, even though I’m not entirely interested in that particular plot. Possibly my favorite part of their exchange is Ralph’s comment about everyone confusing him with Plastic Man–something that I was definitely guilty of before Identity Crisis. Cassie seems a bit out of character, though it may well simply be my reading of things and that I’ve not figured her out yet.

Renee and The Question get 3 pages this issue, and while they keep that particular thread going, I’d have prefered 3 extra pages of Black Adam–right now, I’m just not all that interested in their story–especially just a snippet like this.

I think my favorite part of this issue involved Billy, and seeing how he’s adjusting to his new role.

The art on this issue is good–everyone’s recognizable and things are easy to follow. Facial expressions–particularly Adam and Billy–come across well, and give depth to the characters visually without even considering dialogue. I have no complaints offhand with art on this issue…

Overall, a strong issue that looks to affect Adam (and the Marvels) for quite awhile, though there’s not too much from other stories going on here. Certainly worth getting if you’re following the series; worth getting if you’re just a fan of Black Adam or the Marvel family, and so on. Recommended.

The Origin of Wonder Woman
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Adam Hughes
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Special Thanks to: Mark Chiarello
Wonder Woman created by: William Moulton Marston

If you’re looking for short ‘n sweet origin snippets, that’s what you’ll find here. This 2-page origin seems woefully inadequate to do more than tease just the barest, shallowest stuff involved with the character, and unfortunately, by itself doesn’t inspire me to want to know more about the character, other than the fact that this is so brief that almost anything would BE learning more about the character. The first 2/5ths-of-a-page panel/header seems a waste, and based on that visual, it’s a wonder that the character isn’t some porn-star.

The rest of the art on the pages works well, though being just a couple pages isn’t much to go on yay or nay. The bottom 2/5ths-of-a-page on the 2nd page offers a brief "Powers and Weapons," "Essential Storylines," and "Alliances" textual profile.

I’m not familiar enough with the character to know if anything in this 2-pager is new or sheds any light on any possibly "New Earth" changes/retcons, but nothing "feels" like new information to me. I hate to complain, but as with the disappointment the Origin of the DC Universe, this one is also a disappointment to me, and seems that it would serve better as some trading-card than taking up 2 pages that could have been used for continuing the overall 52 story.

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

The Power of Shazam #48 [Review]

Full review posted to comixtreme.com.

Story: 3/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

Justice Society of America #25 [Review]

Black Adam & Isis part three: Family Feuds

Story: Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway
Pencil art: Jerry Ordway
Ink art: Bob Wiacek & Jerry Ordway
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh
Assistant Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover: Alex Ross (variant by Jerry Ordway)
Publisher: DC Comics

We resume the story with “Black Mary” asserting influence on Billy–creating “Black Billy” and illustrating an interesting point of the nature of the Marvel Family’s use of the power that flows through them. While the Marvels clash with the JSA, Jay Garrick accompanies Billy’s father as things race toward pivotal “Marvel family” events.

The art on this issue is fantastic, and for me works perfectly with this story. In addition to being high quality art, the fact that it is Ordway–who has more than just passing familiarity to the Marvel family–is icing on the cake.

The story itself is accessible to me as a reader who never paid much attention to any of the Marvel family characters until relatively recently, and yet it is so obvious that this draws on continuity put down over the past couple decades (Ordway’s involvement is testament to that!)

As part three of an only four or five-chapter story, this isn’t the best point to simply jump in exactly, but as a whole if you’ve any interest in the Marvel family, this is a story you ought to be reading. And if you’re looking for a crash course or playing some wikipedia-catchup and the cover intrigues you, give this a shot!

Highly recommended.

Story: 9/10
Art: 9/10
Whole: 9/10

Justice Society of America #23 [Review]

Between a Rock and a Hard Place part one: The Power of Shazam

Story: Geoff Johns & Jerry Ordway
Pencil art: Jerry Ordway
Ink art: Bob Wiacek
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh
Assistant Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover: Alex Ross (variant by Jerry Ordway)
Publisher: DC Comics

Having survived the Gog ordeal, the team finds itself picking up the pieces left behind. We see Hawkman reprimanded for initiating a divide in the team, as well as seeing where several of the characters are at present, post-Gog. The latter part of the issue focuses on the Marvel family in its current incarnation, and sees Isis returned to her husband a changed woman, and the stage set for much trouble to come.

Given the emphasis on the Marvel family, it’s great to see Ordway involved with the writing alongside regular series writer Johns. Together, they compose a story that is quite compelling and interesting–and despite coming off a year-long saga, this issue is fresh and interesting, dealing with ramifications while also ramping up the new story in a great blend of the two points. Though I’ve not read The Trials of Shazam nor The Power of Shazam, I have no real trouble following along–and am actually interested just from this issue in tracking those down to read.

The art is quite good…I enjoy it in and of itself, as well as for the fact that Ordway’s had a significant hand in the Marvel family in earlier stories and thus is a very appropriate artist to take things on now.

As the first issue in a new arc, this is a great point to jump on to check this series out…and honestly, if you’re not reading this series, you should be. If you enjoyed Black Adam in 52 or elsewhere the last few years, and have any interest in the character, this is not an issue to skip.

Story: 9/10
Art: 9/10
Whole: 9/10

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