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Doomsday Clock #1 [Review]

doomsday_clock_0001_supermanThat Annihilated Place

Writer: Geoff Johns
Illustrator: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson (Lenticular based on existing art by Dave Gibbons)
Associate Editor: Amedeo Turturro
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 2018
Cover Price: $4.99 ($5.99 Lenticular variant)

It’s been a long time, offhand, since I read a comic quite so dense as Doomsday Clock #1. And I use the word dense as a good thing overall–in this age of $4.99 comics that hardly take any longer to read than a $3.99 or $2.99 comic, where everything is written to flow seamlessly as a 4 or 5 or 6-issue "graphic novel," it’s great to have a comic that just wants to be a single issue.

I was rather frustrated to learn that the image I’ve seen MOST USED in association with this issue (the Gary Frank Superman cover pictured above) is actually a VARIANT and not the "main" cover. The main cover seems to be a generic "The End is Here" cover (that leads into the issue itself as the classic Watchmen covers did!). In keeping with my usual, though, wanting the cover I’ve most seen advertised and such with an issue, I managed to get the Superman cover. Of course, then I saw a lenticular variant, one I had probably heard of/read about, but not paid attention to (again: VARIANT)…but it being lenticular, and "cover price" (albeit $1 more than the standard issue to account for the lenticular-ness) and me really getting a kick outta the design–Rorschach’s face goes from just the blobs to the symbols of "the trinity" (Superman/Batman/Woder Woman), I went ahead and got that one as well. It’s certainly no worse than having bought a Marvel lenticular, where the lenticulars were entirely different images from their "regular" covers.

I don’t know what I expected from this issue. Being that it’s an obvious follow-up to Watchmen, and apparently integrating those characters into DCU canon (if not continuity, then perhaps affecting continuity from the outside), and seems to have been "timed" to release at the 25th anniversary of Superman’s death (real-world, that is–November 17-20ish 1992), and stuff previewed or "leaked" online indicated an in-issue reference to that date…I had extremely high expectations for this issue. It’s honestly been a long time since I feel like I actually was taken in by "the hype," usually seeing the hype entirely for what it is and maybe "choosing" to "give in," say, on actually getting a variant cover, or actually getting an issue of something I don’t normally get, or diving into an event I’d intended to stay away from. Here, it’s more of an emotional hype…one that left me feeling rather let down.

As said above–this is a dense story–one that would take a long time to really summarize, and for my own reading experience, get well beyond the initial reading I tend to do for reviews. Essentially, we meet a new Rorschach, who is piecing stuff together, much as the original did, starting out the original series. We get glimpses of this current world–late 1992, about seven years after the original’s 1985 setting, as we meet various characters and are re-exposed to older/originals. We also learn that Ozymandias has a sort of countdown clock of his own going this time, but in a much different way than before. Finally, the last several pages give us a glimpse into a non-Watchmen DCU, and an extremely familiar-looking take on the Kents…which makes sense, given Frank was the artist on Superman: Secret Origin, that laid out a particular vision for the characters.

While this has a lot as a single issue, and certainly many layers with stuff that’d be picked up after a second or third or FIFTH reading, still more to be picked up on STUDYING the art beyond the words, and even more on top of that to be noticed after subsequent issues come out and shed more light on stuff…on my single-read-through I hit the end and thought "Wait…that’s IT?" and was starkly reminded of similar disappointment with Grant Morrison‘s Final Crisis.

This is not a "casual" issue, apparently. Picking it up and reading it "cold," even if you’ve read Watchmen, there doesn’t seem to be all that much to it. It’s a first issue, and world-building or re-world-building. It’s surely a strong foundation on which the rest of the issues will draw. But for me, in just picking it up, after all the months of hype, I just did not enjoy it or get much out of it. And I’m steeped in comics history, especially DC, and even more specifically Superman.

Visually, it’s a very good issue–I’m quite a fan of Gary Frank. I felt like there was a lot that was recognizable and familiar here, despite Frank not being Gibbons, and outside of not seeing a Superman costume or a Batman costume or a Wonder Woman costume–really, it felt like there was virtually nothing actually DC in this issue–I felt like this was set in the world I recalled from reading the original Watchmen all those years ago. There’s also a LOT crammed into this issue: it seems to me that the lowest panel-count on any given story-page was five…which is a far cry from the all-too-often-used "cheats" of full or DOUBLE-page splashes with barely a word to go with the art. I welcome the "grid" layouts of the pages, the actual panels and "traditional" gutters–both for squeezing in more content as well as mimicking the style of the original.

Basically, this seems like a really slow start to something, and that it was vastly overhyped, as well as being quite "confusing" as far as the covers go–once again, a major problem with doing variants AT ALL. The $4.99 cover price is rather steep, even with 30 pages of story (if a 20-page issue is $2.99, another 50% would be only $4.50!) but I suppose it’s a bit offset by some of DC‘s issues being $3.99 (the 1-per-month books) so this actually fits that rate.

I wanted more–I wanted something brighter and splashier out the gate than what I got here–but I’m still looking forward to the next issue, looking forward to see how things build, though I suspect this will be a far more impressive story in larger chunks or as a whole rather than as a single-issue-at-a-time monthly (or less-frequent) journey.

doomsday_clock_0001_blogtrailer

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General Mills Presents: Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice #4 [Review]

generalmillspresents_batmanvsuperman0004Lights Out

Writer: Joshua Williamson
Penciller: Eduardo Pansica
Inker: Art Thibert
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Cover Artists: Gary Frank and Rod Reis
Assistant Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Alex Antone
Art Director: Larry Berry
Cover Date: N/A (found in cereal boxes in March 2016)
Cover Price: Free

I’m not sure what I actually expected from this issue…but what I got wasn’t it. And this one’s actually very simplistic yet hard to sum up: essentially, it’s a couple of kids up late at night arguing over who is the better hero–Batman or Superman? Each has reasons, but ultimately it takes the intervention of another to point out that they’d actually work together if they’re both heroes, despite differences.

As such, more than any of the other issues, this one just seemed a bit “off” to me, and extremely “meta.” It’s the argument fans have had for probably three-quarters of a century. And an argument sure to come out of Batman v Superman the movie, regardless of the arguments going in. It’s a real-world argument, and one that honestly bugs me.

Long run of thoughts kept short, my answer to “who would win” is that the result is simply determined by the author and story being told.

Still, it’s interesting to see a handful of simple arguments–and to consider them from the point of view of a kid again (and likely at least a quarter-century my junior), and I can appreciate that. And like an earlier reference (that I made covering this series) to Batman: The Animated Series, this issue reminds me of an episode that itself adapted an earlier comic…one in which some young adults are sitting around a bonfire discussing Batman, and having a number of different interpretations of who/what he was (and whether it was in that comic or not I can’t recall, but my “memory” tells me in that story they dismissed the actual Batman as just some guy in a costume!).

Were this a full-size, bought-by-itself AS itself kind of issue, I’d not find it amusing or worthwhile. As something from a box of cereal, it was mildly entertaining, and did not make me feel like I’d wasted my time reading.

The art is quite good, and perhaps it was the influence of the story and that we aren’t in either hero’s head or actually involved in some ongoing story of either, the visuals just seemed to fit all the more, and differences in costume designs didn’t stand out to me along the way…perhaps taking any differences as being the kids’ own memories/interpretations. I also appreciated that even where we see an image of the two heroes about to collide in battle–that’s what it is: they’re about to, but we’re not given a “hint” one way or the other on a possible outcome…until they actually collide, one could “assume” either one could take the upper hand.

If you’ve got this issue, it’s worth reading–it’s a quick piece devoid of any continuity (and any need for continuity), doesn’t tie to anything else–outside this General Mills mini-series or otherwise, nor even other issues in this series. Other than perhaps wanting to complete a set if you have any of the others, or to complete the set by having a #4 and knowing #s 1-3 exist, I wouldn’t recommend putting much effort into tracking this (or the other issues) down. But for having them, I’m glad to have read them…though I wonder somewhat at these not being a quasi-adaptation of the movie…that would have given them a bit more weight, I guess (or mini-reprints of key issues related to the characters/movie). That these are original issues with a number of “known names” from DC and not “just” reprints is cool, despite the enjoyment I could also see in say, having a random Batman #1 or Superman #1. For that matter…any of the various Batman/Superman confrontations from over the years.

General Mills Presents: Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice #3 [Review]

generalmillspresents_batmanvsuperman0003Picture Proof

Writer: Marguerite Bennett
Artist: Marcus To
Colorist: Irma Kniivila
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Cover Artists: Gary Frank and Rod Reis
Assistant Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Alex Antone
Art Director: Larry Berry
Cover Date: N/A (found in cereal boxes in March 2016)
Cover Price: Free

While it’ll probably bite me on the next issue, I enjoyed this issue more than the previous two, suggesting that each issue is better than the previous. Whether that’s relational or incidental, I’m not sure…but it works for me!

This issue shows us Emily, a young student who happens to witness Batman in action, stopping some thieves and stolen discs…though her friends at school don’t believe her. “Pictures or it didn’t happen!” and all that. Having noticed a disc that fell to the side, she returns to the scene later, anticipating Batman would as well (a bit convenient) and sure enough, he does…and this time she gets a photo of him. When she’s at school again, she continues to be teased for believing in this bat-man…and later at home wonders to herself why she didn’t just show the photo. Seeing a distinctive shadow, she finds that Batman’s shown up to pay a visit–letting her know that he knows about the photo, but that he’s not going to take it from her…he trusts her (to do the right thing). And she does–she realizes that part of the effectiveness of Batman is criminals not believing he’s truly human. She tears up the photo, opting to let Batman remain a legend rather than drag him into reality.

By comparison to the first two issues of this General Mills Presents series, this is a fantastic issue and I thoroughly enjoyed it. That the main protagonist is likely a quarter-century my junior does not stand out to me as much here as in the prior issues. This one struck me very much as something that would work as an episode of the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, reminding me a lot of the “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” episode from that series. Something about that makes this more believable to me, even though we don’t get any kind of internal dialogue from Batman (and that’s something I only just noticed with this issue: none of these are from Superman or Batman’s point of view…they’re all from a kid’s point of view, likely to identify more with the reading audience of the issues!)

I’m not particularly familiar with Marguerite Bennett offhand by name…her name looks familiar to me, but that doesn’t mean an accurate memory on my part, and I’m also unfamiliar with Marcus To and Irma Kniivila. In some ways, I think that’s to the benefit of this issue…I wasn’t trying to be familiar with other work, had no prior expectations to set me up for disappointment, and thus it allowed me to read this the way I ORIGINALLY read comics when I was first introduced to them: by character/what’s on the page, and no real notion of the people who actually wrote or drew or otherwise were part of the creation of a given issue.

As said, this story reminded me of that BTAS episode, and works very well for me as a one-off story. It’s not beholden to anything…not continued from or continued into anything else (even prior issues of this mini-series), and though 20 pages is far too short a span to really get to know any of the characters, there’s just enough there to appreciate Emily’s plight, to identify with her and her friends, and to hint at the benevolence of Batman (he seeks to inspire fear in criminals, not random children). There’s a lot to be pulled “between the panels” in analyzing the issue, but ultimately, I simply ENJOYED reading this, and in the end, that’s what reading a comic’s supposed to be about.

I was neither impressed nor disappointed in the art…but it definitely lands on the higher side than low, for me. From the narration boxes to flying through several pages pretty quickly, this had a definite visual “feel” of a modern comic, and I definitely liked that the Batman we see here looks a lot more like what I’d expect of a comic book Batman than it did some “adaptation” of a live action version.

Of the three issues in this series that I’ve read so far, this is my favorite, and certainly worth checking out if you get a chance (without spending much or going significantly out of your way in order to do so).

General Mills Presents: Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice #2 [Review]

generalmillspresents_batmanvsuperman0002Field Trip

Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Federico Dallochio
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Cover Artists: Gary Frank and Rod Reis
Assistant Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Alex Antone
Art Director: Larry Berry
Cover Date: N/A (found in cereal boxes in March 2016)
Cover Price: Free

This second issue of the “cereal comics” was a good deal more enjoyable than the first for me, despite raising a couple questions in my mind. One: what’s up with Superman’s belt? Is it actually a belt, or some sort of punctuated attachment at the waist? Because it does not seem to go all the way around, but there’s a piece on front and a couple of hints of it, but it’s not actually a belt, but there’s SOMETHING there. Second, when was the last time a comic had Bruce Wayne fairly prominent without Batman or any of the rest of the Bat-family? (Leaving aside this ostensibly taking place in the “DC Cinematic Universe”). To say nothing of–as a 35-year-old adult–the ridiculousness of any other adult (particularly a CEO of a major company) having no problem with some random/unknown student straying from a tour group.

The story itself is pretty simple: a middle school (junior high) class visits Wayne Enterprises; one student breaks off from the group and (conveniently) stumbles across a gang of thieves stealing Kryptonian technology. They have a jamming device to block communication signals–including cell phones–so the student is unable to call 911. Before she can be discovered by the gang, she’s found by Bruce Wayne who followed her to make sure she didn’t get into anything dangerous. Superman shows up to deal with the thieves, and Bruce declines to step out and meet the hero at this time, while he and the student agree to hold the secret of each having been anywhere near this action.

OK, maybe that wasn’t as simple when summarized, but it read quickly. Despite my “issues” with Superman’s costume, the oddness of seeing Bruce Wayne as Bruce Wayne (and not Batman as Bruce Wayne walking amidst the citizenry in-action/on a case), and the irresponsibility of the adults, this was an entertaining enough read, and more enjoyable to me than the previous issue.

I was surprised to see Christos Gage as the writer…a name I’ve not been overly familiar with for quite awhile, but whose work I’ve definitely enjoyed in the past. While it might have colored my perspective going in, I did not actually give the credits any attention until after I read this (hence the surprise) but it does explain my enjoyment a bit. This is definitely a comic geared more for a younger reader (especially middle school age). Outside of this being a continuity-free one-off story that doesn’t “matter” anywhere else, it’s actually pretty good for what it is. I’d be curious at someone reading it without any “comics experience” and their notice (or not) of Bruce Wayne, and whether it would bother them to have him without a costumed Batman on-panel.

I’m not familiar with Dallochio‘s name or art…but the art worked well here for this story. It didn’t blow me away, but it gets everything across that it needs to, and in and of itself did not distract me from the story (just that mental tickle of curiosity about Superman’s belt, but that’s a fault of the costume design and not the specific artist, in my mind).

All in all, I liked this issue, and if you get it in a box of cereal or otherwise come across it without significant effort, it’s certainly worth reading, or at least passing along to a young reader in your life.

General Mills Presents: Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice #1 [Review]

generalmillspresents_batmanvsuperman0001Playground Heroes

Writer: Jeff Parker
Penciller: RB Silva
Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Cover Artists: Gary Frank and Rod Reis
Assistant Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Alex Antone
Art Director: Larry Berry
Cover Date: N/A (found in cereal boxes in March 2016)
Cover Price: Free

It’s been several years since I reviewed “cereal comics” such as these. Unlike the last batch of General Mills Presents Justice League issues (numbered 5-8 and 9 after 2011’s 1-4) that I never got around to actually reading, these Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice issues are perfectly timed with the new movie about to hit, so I actually have an interest in reading these right away…mostly because I’m curious about the product and to look at it as an adult and consider (if only to myself) the image of these characters kids might get…remembering back to my own early time in comics with “key” issues such as The Untold Legend of the Batman, which I believe was reprinted and given away in cereal boxes in the early 1980s.

We meet Jacob the morning of a big day at school as he’s introduced to a new neighbor Lucas. Jacob’s mom is giving both boys a ride to school. Jacob’s ok with it, and does minimal duty to help Lucas…nothing antagonistic, nothing above and beyond. His attention is focused on the day’s class visit with Metropolis reporter Clark Kent to STAR Labs…an excitement that’s a bit self-centered as he overlooks Lucas getting bullied just for being “the new kid.” When aliens attack STAR, Superman appears on the scene, and watching him in action Jacob is inspired to stand up for Lucas–because it’s about doing what’s RIGHT, whether one knows if they can succeed or not. And of course, we get a happy ending as the class is safe and Jacob and Lucas have learned a valuable lesson on friendship and standing up for something.

This issue is rather simplistic in its way, rather cliché and not too exciting. Though Batman is on the cover, neither he nor Bruce Wayne appear in this issue; though we do get Clark Kent and Superman. As a mid-thirties adult, the plight of junior high children is foreign to me in all but memory, leaving me too many years removed to “identify” with the kids. Though there are aliens Superman gets to fight, they’re “new” or at least I don’t recognize them, so they’re throw-away generic characters to me. This Superman reads vaguely like one I’d be familiar with…but we get the story from the kids’ point of view, so even Clark is a distant/generic character in this story. Being from the perspective of the kids makes it a more entry-level book (which I’m sure is the point, especially considering it must be assumed that it’s kids reading this, pulling it out of a box of cereal!) For depth of characterization and story, I’m not at all impressed…but as a “cereal comic” this actually exceeds my expectation.

Much of that is probably on the art, though. The visuals fail to capture the on-screen effect of Superman’s costume, resulting in a weird appearance to the character–to me–in this issue as it unfortunately LOOKS LIKE it is an “adaptation” trying to be something other than itself. Costume design aside, I really appreciate the layouts and color work on the issue…other than the physical size of the issue, it looks every bit as contemporary as any other comic, avoiding some generic “grid” layout or such, like there’s actual layout work done and this isn’t simply a bunch of images mashed together on a page. The art also gets the story across such as it is, and didn’t leave me questioning what happened or such.

I think for me the best part of this issue is the Gary Frank/Rod Reis cover…definitely top names to me. Parker, too, rings a bell–though I can’t specifically cite what I know him from off the top of my head.

Again…this is a “cereal comic,” an insert in a box of cereal…so it’s totally separate from any ongoing continuity, and is not part of some adaptation of the movie or such…it’s just taking advantage of the timing. It’s also essentially a throwaway piece seemingly meant to entertain but other than simply BEING a comic book, it doesn’t seem to cater to trying to get someone to go get other comics (except the rest that are part of this cereal box promotion).

Me being me–a lifelong Superman fan; a regular consumer of cereal and frequently perusing the cereal aisle–when I saw the strip across the bottom of a box of Lucky Charms indicating there was something Batman v Superman related, I obviously looked closer…and on realizing it was a new comic promotion, I was genuinely excited–as much as one can be for this sort of thing–and immediately bought a couple boxes. (Over a weekend I bought several more and thus had the entire 4-issue mini with relatively little hassle and plenty of leftover cereal for the next few weeks).

This in no way feels like something essential to the movie…nor is it any great work on the character or any kind of high-literature piece. But it’s an entertaining enough story with a “named” writer and “named artists” whose names I actually recognize, rather than just some random people slapping a comic together…the names lend credibility to this project, and I’m willing to read as a result.

I don’t yet know what the next three issues will hold; whether these are functionally one-shots or if there’s a recurring situation or such…but I would hope kids that find this would enjoy reading it and at least appreciate having read a comic book.

If you’re gonna eat the cereal anyway and see any of these, it’s worth picking up…though there’s nothing here to go completely out of your way for.

The ’90s Revisited: X-Men Prime

90s_revisited

xmenprime001Racing the Night

Writers: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Terry Dodson, Ben Herrerr, Paul Pelletier
Inkers: Al Milgrom, P. Craig Russell, Cam Smith, Mark Farmer, Mark McKenna, Tom Palmer, Tim Townsend, Hector Collazo
Letttering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Coloring: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Cover: Bryan Hitch
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $4.95

With this issue, we’re back to the “real” reality/universe/timeline/whatever. The 616 Marvel Universe. Bishop and his mission was a success, and by stopping Legion from killing Xavier…the Age of Apocalypse never happened, things have been set right. Or have they?

We have a bunch of plot points sharing this issue…while the various Age of Apocalypse mini-series led into X-Men: Omega, this issue now serves as the focal point for the return of the “regular” X-Men titles…as a “regular universe” Alpha issue to introduce readers to the current status quo of the characters and teams that make up the X-side of the Marvel Universe and send the readers into the mix of titles having had this bit of setup for where things are moving forward.

I do think that if Free Comic Book Day had been around in 1995, this would certainly have been a Marvel offering…an in-continuity quasi-anthology to get readers to jump aboard the entire line of X-comics.

I can’t say I’m honestly all that thrilled with this issue on this re-read. I certainly appreciate that there are “only” two writers credited, offering a bit of consistency to the story side of things. The issue is quite a mix visually due to the numerous pencilers and inkers getting their chance to work on pages presumably germane to the individual titles. Reading through this time, I noticed a bit of wonky art at points, but somehow was not particularly jarred by the shifts…perhaps for familiarity with the Age of Apocalypse stuff as a whole.

After the shiny “chromium” covers for X-Men: Alpha and X-Men: Omega, seems Marvel felt the need to give this a special cover as well–a clear plastic-ish thing with an inner orangey background. We also get the “alternate” X-Men logo, with the Prime part next to it…and the whole thing is a wrap-around (which I very much appreciate 20 years later in an age of VARIANT “interlocking” covers).

The story introduces or re-introduces some characters–and I even see hints of Onslaught in this reading. We find out that several characters–Nate Grey, Dark Beast, Sugarman, and Holocaust–escaped the Age of Apocalypse and wound up in the real timeline. Nate first appears in the “present,” while Magneto’s Acolytes only now in the present discover what will be revealed to be Holocaust…but Beast and Sugarman arrived 20 years ago, and were responsible for the Morlocks and Genosha’s Mutates, respectively. Marrow is reintroduced, aged twenty years from a prior appearance…Rogue and Iceman are on a roadtrip, the former haunted by whatever she saw in Gambit’s memories (Gambit’s in a coma). Trish Tilby reveals the Legacy Virus to the public along with the knowledge that it’s affecting humans as well as Mutants. X-Factor chases Mystique and Havok’s powers act up on him; X-Force’s base is destroyed. Wolverine is living in the woods outside Xavier’s mansion (refusing to reside under the same roof as Sabretooth) and Bishop is having unconscious outbursts as a result of the visions he’s having as a result of his temporal status in relation to the Age of Apocalypse. Amidst all this a mutant seeks the X-Men but winds up victim of humans lashing out against something they fear and do not understand.

This certainly sets up the various X-titles moving forward, so for that alone is pretty much an “essential read.” Yet, unless one intends to pursue those issues from mid-1995 that this is immediately germane to, there’s not much to really dig into singularly with this issue. Outside of characters involved and how they now will interact in the 616 universe, there’s no actual story-content directly tied to the story of the Age of Apocalypse timeline.

Given that, my covering of this issue is much like why I covered the non-Legion Quest X-books that preceded Age of Apocalypse: this is stuff coming out on the “other end”, the border, “bleed,” or whatever butting up against the Age of Apocalypse without actually BEING an issue of that..

While rarer than the Alpha or Omega issues in bargain bins, I certainly would not pay much more than cover price for this (and that would be a grudgingly-paid price). I’d seek this out to use as a starting point diving into any or all of the X-books of the time but certainly not if you’re only interested in the Age of Apocalypse.

Unlike contemporary Marvel, this does not kick off “the next” EVENT but rather gives the individual titles time to flex and explore their own things for awhile before everything heats up again with the following year’s Onslaught stuff.

xmenprime_wraparound

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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