The Enchanting Thunder-Family (Shazam #1 Comic Review)

Shazam #1

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Dale Eaglesham

Cover Artist: Dale Eaglesham & Alex Sinclair

Variant Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson

Colors: Mike Atiyeh

Letters: Rob Leigh

Shazam #1 cover by Dale Eaglesham

Blurb

A young, orphaned, teenage Billy Batson comes across the mystic realm, the Rock of Eternity, as the soul-surviving ancient wizard is about to die. Gazing into Billy Batson’s life, the wizard deems Billy worthy to inherit the powers of the wizard’s magic, the mystic lightning. Thus when Billy says the name “Shazam” he transforms into an adult, magical superhero! Together with his adopted Vasquez siblings (Mary, Freddy, Eugene, Pedro and Darla), they can all channel the mystic lightning, as the Shazam family!

 

Summary with limited spoilers

The issue opens with a brief recapping of Billy’s encounter with the ancient wizard, before cutting to the present in Philidalphea, as Billy & his brother Freddy are on a class field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution, as Billy tries to listen to the tour guide’s speech on the revolution, while Freddy is bored by it. Just as the two are being told off by their teacher for talking during the tour, a gang of armed thugs suddenly appears, trying to steal the antique guns at gunpoint. Thus Billy leaps into action, taking a moment to duck away from the rest of the class before shouting “Shazam”!! Transformed into his superhero alter-ego, Billy fights off several of the thugs, but as one of them takes a museum guard hostage, he’s struck by someone else’s lightning. Billy’s siblings, likewise magically transformed, arrive to help. After thoroughly trouncing, the remaining criminals, the family tries to answer questions from the grateful kids & the just-arriving police, but it becomes clear the family still has a few details they need to sort out, such as what to call their little group. Or their own codenames. After the family returns home, they share a meal with their foster-parents, Rosa & Victor Vasquez. Recounting the hostage situation & robbery the Shazams thwarted (being careful not to reveal it’s them to their parents), it’s once again made clear the kids don’t know what to call their group. After quickly scarfing down dinner, the kids rush off upstairs, where Billy opens a portal to the Rock of Eternity. As Darla & Pedro decorate the throneroom where the ancient wizard once sat with Christmas lights & a homemade team-banner, Billy takes a moment to share how grateful he is to be a part of the Vasquez family, and to have all of them as siblings. Suddenly Eugene urgently rushes the group off to a previously unexplored part of the Rock, sharing that he’s been trying to document the realm since they first gained their powers. He leads the family to a newly opened area, filled with trains & lines extending outside the Rock of Eternity into the void. Eugene reveals the name of the room, the Station, as he read it off an old sign nearby. As Billy examines the traincars, looking very derlict, Darla notices a map on the wall, of a place called the Magiclands. As the next page intercuts with Rosa & Victor enjoying some alone time while they clean (NOT LIKE THAT GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF THE GUTTER), Freddy notices a generator in the room, and despite Billy’s warnings of not knowing what will happen, Freddy flips the power on. Meanwhile, there’s a knock on the Vasquez’s door…

The comic also features a fun back-up story also written by Geoff Johns, with art by Mayo “Sen” Naito, focusing on Mary’s own backstory, growing up with an abusive father, leading to her running away to live on the streets, being adopted by the Vasquezes & meeting Freddy for the first time, and rescuing a rabbit from being experimented on at Dr. Sivanna (long-time arch-enemy of Shazam)’s lab, and ending with a flash-forward to jjust before the opening of the main story, with Mary & Darla getting called by Freddy to join Billy at the musem. As the sisters transform, a stray bolt of lightning hits the rabbit, Hoppy, and the rabbit too flies out the window.

 

Opinions on story and art

This is overall, a really fun, enjoyable opening to a VERY long-awaited on-going series. Geoff Johns originally revamped the character & franchise formally known as Captain Marvel back in 2012, in a series of back-up stories featured in Geoff Johns’s New 52 Justice League series. The rebooted version of the character (and renaming of his alter-ego to Shazam) drew a lot of ire from fans of DC’s Captain Marvel, as Billy Batson came across as very abrasive, and obnoxious at multiple points in the story (not to mention later issues of Justice League when Shazam formally joined the team). Also of note was the change of Captain Marvel’s name to “Shazam”, which meant that due to saying Shazam causing the transformation, Billy could no longer say his own superhero name if he wanted to remain transformed. This new series seems to aimed at addressing some of the criticism lobbyed at the New 52 Shazam story, while picking up where it left off. It opens with a recounting of Billy getting his powers, only now the narration provides insight into the ancient wizard’s thoughts behind choosing Billy as the inheritor of the magic lightnight & the Rock of Eternity. Likewise the issue also directly acknowledges Billy can’t say his codename of Shazam without changing back, has Billy nearly calling himself Captain Marvel (that wasn’t cute that was annoying), and does strive to show Billy acting much kinder to his new family than he did previously. The comic establishes that it’s been a year since the events of the Shazam origin (which seems to stretch credulity but comic-time & real-world time are never in-snyc), so Billy being much friendlier & nicer to his sbilings does feel natural.

Geoff Johns does a very good job making Billy come across as much more appealing as a protagonist than in Justice League. Likewise, Johns provides solid characterization for most of the supporting cast (though Pedro seems to get the shaft, he’s not even referred to by name in the issue), giving enjoyable moments to Freddy, Mary, Eugene, Darla and even Rosa & Victor. And the narrative sets up plenty of mystery with both the Station and the Magiclands, taking full advantage of the seemingly limitless storytelling potential the Rock of Eternity provides with its vast size, constantly alterning shape & structure, and ominous atmosphere. The Rock of Eternity has the potential of the TARDIS in Doctor Who, and it feels like Johns is using the Rock in a similar fashion. I’m very eager to see how its further implimented. Likewise, the second mystery presented at the cliffhanger of the main-story is equally intirguing, providing a potential opening into more of Billy’s backstory, something helpful for newer readers coming on board the book with the impending release of the Shazam movie in theaters next spring.

Equally entertaining and fitting Geoff Johns’s own whimisical tone with the dialogue of the Shazam family is Dale Eaglesham & Mike Atiyeh’s art. Eaglesham’s artwork is very stretchy & expressive, capturing the vibrancy of the Shazam family’s youth in both their normal, and superpowered forms. And just as endearing as the Shazam kids are, so too are the visuals of the Rock of Eternity forboding & enigmatic. Eaglesham’s designs & pencils make the Rock feel like something out of a dream. The Rock at times feels like Hogwarts, equal parts enchating and potentially menacing. Mike Atiyeh’s colours convey the mood of each scene and character so perfectly, from the dark shadows of the Rock of Eternity to the cheery Vasquez dinner of lasagna, the coloring never feels like it detracts from the pencils and inks, only enhancing them. The artwork featured in the back-up story “Mary” by Mayo “Sen” Naito is incredibly endearing and balances the line of both heart-breaking at seeing Mary passed out on the street, and heartwarming at seeing Mary feed Hoppy. It’s an incredibly cute story, and I’d give ANYTHING in the world to see Naito team with Gail Simone to write a Mary Marvel spin-off miniseries or on-going. Rob Leigh’s lettering throughout the comic conveys an old-timey style, fitting the mystical nature of Shazam, without feeling distracting or ever being difficult to discern. Once again, it enhances the issue.

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Ian Cameron

Ian Cameron

A comic-loving doofus eager to see the worlds on the page reflect the wonderfully diverse world we all share!
Summary
This is a comic series Geoff Johns has been trying to get off the ground for half a decade, and with its fun characterization, wacky artwork & intriguing set-up for the first story-arc, I think it was worth the wait! This first issue is very promising, but it’s too early to tell if, like Geoff Johns’s relaunching of Justice Society of America or Green Lantern, if he’s caught lightning in a bottle yet again.
Good
  • After several years of being irriated by New 52 Billy Batson, here he comes across as incredibly likable and endearing.
  • The art by Dale Eaglesham & Mike Atiyeh is incredibly fun & fits the tone of the story perfectly
  • The “Mary” back-up is adorable & heartwarming in the best of ways, GET A GAIL SIMONE-MAYO “SEN” NAITO MARY MARVEL BOOK GOING STAT!
  • Darla is as adorable as ever!
Bad
  • The comic takes its time re-establishing the characters’ names (and Pedro’s isn’t said once)
  • Freddy’s characterization may be irritating to some
  • The near-miss of of Billy calling himself Captain Marvel is a little too cheeky to me.
9.3
Amazing
Art - 10
Writing - 9
Plot - 9
Character Development - 9
Written by
A comic-loving doofus eager to see the worlds on the page reflect the wonderfully diverse world we all share!

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