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Justice League: War

justiceleaguewarboxcover_0206I (finally) read the entire Justice League: Origin 6-parter a few months ago, having taken advantage of one of Comixology‘s 99-cent sales. I don’t recall right now if I’d originally stuck with the book for 3 issues, or 4..but I know that I “let it go” before the arc was done, as I was bored with it and it seemed more flash than substance. Sure, it was pretty to look at for the most part, but the story was just lacking, and not up my alley of preference.

I’d like to think that I approached this film with little expectation and an open mind, but so recently off the JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time thing, biased against anything seeming truly long-term in the New 52 comics, and not particularly ENJOYING the comics this is based on I think I was predisposed to dislike Justice League: War.

Visually, with the animation, I liked this a good deal better than Trapped in Time. In particular, something about this Superman worked better for me than a lot of previous animated versions, though I could certainly do without the “collar.” Granted, I’ll take the collar over nearly-bare-shoulders and a sagging cape, gladly!

Nothing with the animation–in and of itself–ever grabbed my attention positive or negative. Which, technically, is a positive in my eyes. It just is what it is…neither calling attention to itself for revolutionarily spectacular style or effects nor being “off” in such a way that I noticed it or had a problem with it.

I’m far more used to Batman’s costume changing through the years, and am less familiar in general with the other characters’ costume specifics to have any particular opinion there. Superman’s costume worked well for me (or as well as it can)…I don’t mind the loss of the “trunks” and the darker blue to the suit is fairly subtle and doesn’t bother me, either.

My problems with this film come with the story…or as I felt, its lack thereof. This seemed to be little but one fight scene after another, alternating between hero-versus-hero, heroes-versus-generic-bad-guys and heroes-versus-boss-bad-guy. Basically, this might as well have been a video game, punctuated here or there with a few moments of mandated pre-provided plot.

While I “get” that these aren’t “my” versions of the characters–this IS based on the New 52, after all–there’s a certain “heart” missing from all of the characters in this. None of the heroes have any qualms about wading in to the slaughter of the parademons–there’s no hesitation, no questioning if they’re alive or should be rounded up rather than killed–by ANY of the characters. There’s also the admittedly nitpicky aspect of Shazam cursing (an obvious huge step away from the “holey moley!” exclamations often attributed to the character)…this was (for me) the most bothersome of the subtle things in this film.

Aside from a few touches of humanity–Batman and Superman acknowledging Clark and Bruce; Vic/Cyborg and Shazam/Billy’s secret; Batman sharing his identity with Green Lantern come to mind–these came off as two-dimensional archetypes rather than characters to actually care about. We’re just outside witnesses to the events that unfold, albeit with front-row seating. We don’t get into any of the characters’ heads, we get only–at best–hints to their pasts, we don’t actually see anything “personal” with them or any supporting cast/characters.

I didn’t note any of the voice actors going in, so rather than hearing so-and-so AS _______, I simply heard the characters speaking. By the end credits I realized Alan Tudyk voiced Superman, and having recently been on a Firefly/Serenity kick, that was a welcome surprise. (Of course, as said earlier: there’s not enough to the characters to really care, or for me to really get to where I’d recognize a single voice I’ve not previously associated with the animated character). All the voices seemed to work, none of them gave me any pause to hear THAT voice coming from the given character.

The extras aren’t particularly impressive. I always watch the featurettes as I’m interested in the content and refuse to watch video interviews online, and tend to find these of a higher production value than “just” some quick interview video posted online.

The Jim Lee featurettes seem just a “love fest” to Jim Lee. I would have preferred more of a documentary feature on the history of the Justice League and its varied incarnations through the years–from the original mash-up of “let’s throw all our characters into one book!” to the late-’80s “Bwa-ha-ha” and the ’97 Morrison “Big Seven” through Meltzer‘s Identity Crisis and post-Infinite Crisis reboot on to the current New 52 stuff.

I bought my copy from Best Buy specifically for the Superman figurine. I already had several figurines from previous releases and had missed a Superman one several years ago, so paying the $2 above Target and Walmart‘s $18ish opening-week price didn’t bother me on that end. That the film failed to truly entertain or really hold my interest is a sincere disappointment. Having now experienced this one for myself, I’m quite hesitant at the thought of any future Justice League New 52 films (such as one hinted at by a scene in the end credits).

All in all, if you already know these characters, if you like the New 52 incarnations of ’em and don’t mind the film’s “assumption” THAT you already know the characters (and want almost all-action and virtually no character development), you’ll probably dig this film. Alternatively, if you prefer deeper stories and well-rounded characters/character-interactions and the like, you’re about as well off here as you’d be watching friends play a videogame.

If anything, I’d recommend (if possible) a Redbox rental, and then if you happen to enjoy this, consider a purchase at that point.

justiceleaguewarwithfigurine

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 ’90s Revisited: Action Comics Annual #4

actioncomicsannual004Eclipso: The Darkness Within / Living Daylights

Written by: Dan Vado
Pencilled by: Chris Wozniak
Inked by: Karl Altstaetter, Trevor Scott, Karl Kesel, Steve Mitchell
Lettered by: Albert De Guzman
Colored by: Matt Hollingsworth
Assistant Edited by: Dan Thorslan
Edited by: Mike Carlin
Cover by: Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.50

Offhand, this issue is my earliest memory of the Captain Marvel character. If I was “aware of” him prior, it’s not a conscious memory. I wanted to re-read this issue given my recent foray (October 2013) into the Shazam/Captain Marvel character, as well as for the nostalgia. That, and while not from the 1970s or 1980s, I would have pegged this as a perfect issue for the Superman vs. Shazam collection…and this is certainly the issue that I think of when I think of the two characters fighting.

The issue’s cover is fairly iconic for me, showing an Eclipsed Superman struggling with Captain Marvel, captioned The Evil of Eclipso vs. the Power of Shazam! It’s rather interesting to realize the cover is by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti, given Quesada‘s eventual and current involvement with Marvel. The 11-year-old Me certainly had found it engaging, igniting curiosity as to the Eclipsed Superman and who this other guy was that he was fighting.

The interior art, while not nearly as thrilling, gets the job done. Particularly on this re-read, I was more interested in the characters and interactions than the actual art, though nothing about it particularly screamed “go find more that matches this art!” Given this is an extra-sized issue produced simultaneous with the weekly ongoing saga in the main Superman books, and is from 21 years ago, it’s not a great concern and largely gets a pass as such.

The story itself is a bit mixed. On one hand, I’ve read this before, I know the overall bit of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within ‘event’ and where things go; I have a fuller context all these years later of the characters, situations, and so on, so it’s hardly as engaging as it was originally.

The story picks up with a town having been captured by Eclipso, and the heroes are unable to reclaim it. The only condition by which he’ll relinquish his hold is in trade for Superman’s body–which he has, thus far, been unable to possess. Given this is Superman, of course he agrees–willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others (regardless of all the potential harm that could be done by Eclipso controlling his body and powers). While he makes the deal with Eclipso, the other heroes begin a plan to combat an Eclipsed Superman, which involves bringing in Captain Marvel–the only one to truly have a chance of going toe to toe with the Man of Steel.

The story itself isn’t terribly deep…though it does provide reasonable motivation for what occurs…stuff doesn’t come outta nowhere (such as Captain Marvel just happening to “fly by” at the exact moment he’s needed…he actually has to be called in). We have broad, ongoing plot points of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within story in general, and this feels much more like a key point in the event rather than “just” the “encounter of the week” with a Black Diamond.

I actually paid $4 for this copy of the issue, for the immediate gratification of getting to re-read the thing without having to dig through umpteen longboxes or quintuple the issue’s cost paying for shipping, etc. Despite paying that kind of money for a 21-year-old comic that typically oughtta be 25 or 50 cent-bin fodder, it was worth it for the reading experience…especially given the cost matched virtually any current Marvel, many current DC, and anything presently on my pull list–yet this issue has more than twice the content of a current series (in some cases, nearly 3 times the content!).

If you can find this in a bargain bin or just have an interest in Superman and Captain Marvel/Shazam fighting, this is definitely a worthwhile issue. Ditto if you’re looking for just a handful of the Eclipso Annuals from 1992.

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.

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.

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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