Saturday, February 24, 2007
Shazam! Shazam! Shazam....
...with apologies to Gomer Pyle.
Two very different takes on the classic Captain Marvel are currently being published by DC Comics. The first, currently up to the fifth issue of a 12-issue run, is The Trials of Shazam!, in which Freddy Freeman--now apparently of college age--must undergo a series of tests to be re-gifted with the powers of the gods and heroes and take his place as the new Captain Marvel...who, apparently will just be called Shazam, now.
I presume that last bit is to allow DC to actually have a character who uses the name by which they have marketed the Marvel Family for the past 40 years or so.
If this series, by Judd Winick and Howard Porter, were about any other character, I'd call it a terrific idea, as Freddy meets the current human incarnations of the various "Shazam" donees. (So far, he's met Solomon as a female tattoo artist and Achilles as a never-dying soldier.) But the whole thing is just too dark and too angsty for the Marvel Family, who have always had a touch of whimsy in even their biggest battles.
And the art--ignoring the bad drawing in so many places, why is this done in this semi-painted style anyway? It's, again, inappropriate for the nature of these characters (at least as they've been portrayed in the past) and wildly inconsistent besides.
It appears DC has decided, yet again, that the way to make Captain Marvel (excuse me, Shazam) work in the modern era is turn him into every other dark and conflicted hero. To quote the great Rocket J. Squirrel, "but that trick never works!"
The second series, which has just begun its four-issue run, is Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil! This one is written and drawn by Jeff Smith, of Bone fame...and I had high hopes for it. Certainly, we have here, at least, an art style appropriate to the character. And Smith is good at injecting whimsical moments into the story, as evidenced by the scene with Cap and the hot-dog man.
But I question the need to re-tell, one more time, Cap's origin, complete with making Billy Batson's life even more miserable than at any time in the past. And I don't think the idea of Cap having a "past life" that he doesn't completely recall works either. Neither does the insertion of metaphysical concepts like magic working differently at the Rock of Eternity, or the (spoiler warning) literal "footprints" Billy accidentally leaves on the world, setting up the crisis for the rest of the story.
I'll continue to follow both of these tales--the first because, as I said, if it were any other character, it would be a great idea; the second, because I think Smith can still pull this off, if he doesn't let the need for modern complexity overcome the character's natural simplicity.