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Shazam! (New 52) Vol. 1 [Review]

shazamvol001Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterers: Nick J. Napolitano, Dezi Sienty
Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $24.99

I’ve never really been a fan of the Shazam/Captain Marvel property. I haven’t exactly disliked it, but I’ve never really had any active interest in it. Actually, my primary interest has probably come much more in retrospect in the last 10-15 years, looking back to where I came across the character(s) in the 10 or so years prior, and seeing how the concept’s been worked into the general DC Universe, and given the history as tough competition to the Superman publications.

In more recent years, I neglected to follow the Trials of Shazam series, though seeing the changes wrought by Infinite Crisis and its lead-up seemed to hold a lot of potential. I just never really got around to going back and checking up on the saga.

Then the New 52.

I didn’t care for Justice League, so wasn’t about to buy a title “just” for some “backup feature” or “co-feature” or whatever. It seemed to me that there was some miscommunication as to when the Shazam stuff would even start, and ultimately that came down to “out of sight, out of mind” for me, if not simply “don’t care.”

Skip then to Villains Month and the heavy house-ad presence for the Shazam! vol. 1 hardcover, combined with a conversation I had with a friend whose only real exception to “no super-heroes” IS Captain Marvel/Shazam. Beginning with simply being “cute” and sending an SMS photo of the ad (“hey, here’s something NEW you can buy!”) followed by realizing I’d been enjoying the stuff with Black Adam in 52 and then the JSA story near the end of Johns‘ run there, and opting to get the Black Adam Villains Month issue…and I fell into my own “trap.”

I was curious, and interested.

Which, finally, brings me to the book itself: Shazam! Volume 1. This book collects the Shazam! feature from Justice League (2011) #s 7-11, 0, 14-16, 18-21…or 13 chapters. Being–as I understand–functionally “backup” or “co” features, these were each significantly shorter than a standard issue, so these 13 or so chapters work out to approximate six issues…making this a standard-size volume overall.

That I was able to get the hardback for $15 shipped made it like getting a paperback, but the added “plus” of actually being a hardback…though that’s probably moreso the immediacy, as my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I was more interested in checking out the New 52 iteration of the property than caring about having a hardback vs. paperback.

The cover’s depiction of the character is a bit “off” to me, looking questionably sinister, power-mad, or at the least, slightly creepy. Based on the interior, it looks to me like that image was from a variant cover of an issue of Justice League, and seems modeled after the 2012 #0 issues of the New 52. Fitting, as this is the introduction of this version of the character…not so fitting as it’s the only image of the character that stuck out to me in that way.

Gary Frank‘s art is a definite draw for me, and made the book quite easy on the eyes. Everything taken solely in context of this single volume, I haven’t much to say about the art other than I enjoyed it quite a bit–in general as well as the character designs themselves. Adding my knowledge of more Shazam stuff than just this volume, Mary seemed a bit too “old” and not so “innocent” as I’m used to seeing the character (excepting Final Crisis and such), and I’m not familiar with Pedro, Eugene, or Darla offhand. Additionally, the hooded full cape isn’t an aspect of the costume I’m used to, though Frank makes it look good.

Story-wise, it was a bit stranger to me seeing a more rebellious, cynical Billy Batson, one quite lacking in the wide-eyed worldly wonder and “Holey moley!” of even the ’90s take on the character. While that’s long been a relatively defining aspect of the character, its absence in this was actually quite welcome to me. This Billy seems much more grounded and realistic, and it’s a lot easier to identify with the character himself. That there are echoes of the typical “with great power comes great responsibility” refrain thematically doesn’t hurt things, either. I also found that I don’t at all mind the missing “Captain Marvel” name, as I’ve grown up with Shazam as the cover designation involving the character(s). It remains to be seen the long-term designation of the siblings’ names, but as I’ve (as of this writing) yet to even read Ordway‘s Power of Shazam series, I have no particular vested interest in the old naming convention.

Throughout this volume, we get to see some honest growth of the character as he first takes advantage of his power, then attempts to learn to channel it, and finally shares it and steps closer to being the hero he’s gotta be. We also have the introduction and a bit of development of the villain–Dr. Sivana–whose quest for Black Adam and access to magic dovetails into the overall arc of Billy getting HIS powers and stepping into action. Sivana’s motivation also rings true, as he’s seeking to save his family with the magic and not “just” some mad scientist-type scheming against the magical hero.

There were a number of splash pages, enough that I couldn’t always tell where a chapter definitively had ended. In this single-volume format, that’s definitely a good thing…yet it underscores how much I would have hated this in its original serialized format. The story taken as a whole–this entire volume–works very well, but pull out any one chapter by itself and there’d be a lot left wanting for that chapter–either focus on Billy and his building relationship with his new “siblings,” or continued development of things on Sivana’s end with Black Adam.

As touched on earlier–I very nearly bought this for full cover price just for the immediate gratification…but currently holding an Amazon Prime account with free 2-day shipping, I forced myself to hold off in order to save $10 (40%). At the $15 I ended up paying, this was more than worthwhile as a purchase. The full $25 might be a bit of a stretch…but as a hardcover, it’s not a horrible value, and as something I was actively interested in acquiring TO read, this seems one of the better volumes I could have chosen. 

All in all…I’m quite satisfied with this book, and the amount of time it took me to read the thing cover to cover for its price compared to the same price for say, four of last month’s Villains books. I don’t know that I’d jump into buying single issues with a continued backup series featuring Shazam or the Shazam family, but I would certainly check out an ongoing title or occasional special.

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Earth 2 #1 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

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

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