Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Dale Eaglesham & Mayo ‘Sen’ Naito
Colors: Mike Atiyeh
Letters: Rob Leigh
The past few years have not been kind to the original Captain Marvel, today known as Shazam due to confusion with Marvel’s now more popular/famous namesake and decades of retcon after retcon as well as reboot after reboot with DC’s Big Red Cheese. Captain Mar….. I mean Shazam probably hasn’t had a consistent incarnation since the early ‘00s Power of Shazam by Jerry Ordway, which was a wonderful series that reaffirmed my love for Captain Mar… I mean Shazam (ok, I’ll stop). But Shazam has been a bit lost since then and DC has been unsure what to do with him. Where there was the fantastic Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder limited series the was also the Trials of Shazam, which did little to help the character. Then the New 52 came along, where Geoff Johns and Gary Frank serialized in Justice League #7-21 a new telling of the classic Shazam mythos that is now the recognized continuity that leads to Shazam #1.
Shazam #1 is a fun first issue. I’m not 100% in on this new version of the character. The core is still intact with young Billy Batson gifted with incredible powers by the ancient wizard Shazam and when he utters the wizards name he becomes Shazam, a hero who rivals Superman in power. Yet in this version Billy is not just joined by his sister Mary (Mary Marvel) and friend Freddy (Captain Marvel Jr.), who originally gained their powers by saying “Captain Marvel!”, but by his entire foster siblings so they are six strong in the Lightning League… or the Thunder Brigade.. well they haven’t quite figured out a name yet. It’s this childish nature of super heroics that makes Shazam #1 a fun story. Johns has embraced the interpretation that the Shazam character is still Billy, so a child with an adult body and super powers, rather than the classic interpretation where they are two separate entities who switch places when Billy says “Shazam!”. I’m sure Marvel legal might have an issue with that retelling of the story as it obviously conflicts with their classic Captain Marvel character and his relationship with Rick Jones and the Nega Bands. But that is really where the similarities end, and as both Marvel andDC each ramp up to their own Captain Marvel films in 2019 the two properties are vastly different, and thankfully both very enjoyable. Shazam #1 is a tight first issue that sees Shazam and his colleagues deal with a group of art thieves in their hometown of Philadelphia (gone is longtime home town of Fawcett City) and then continue to explore the Rock of Eternity, which they are using as their secret base. It’s a fun issue and sets up some hijinks that will no doubt come up in the future, such as how are all six children going to keep their secret from their loving foster parents, will Billy ever be able to say Captain Marvel without being cut off (which is a fun running gag), and will they actually agree on a name for their team? But at the end of the day what could possibly go wrong with six preteens being gifted with the powers of gods….probably everything.
There’s also a back up tale that focuses on Mary Marvel, which is a delightful tale with great artwork by Mayo ‘Sen’ Naito. It has a children’s book feel to it and focuses on Mary’s backstory, how she came to be a foster child and befriend Freddy. The story is concise and leads into the main story, which makes me hope that they do these short snippets for the rest of the family since next to the classic three they are virtual unknowns and it would be nice to have their back stories flushed out a bit more.
I wasn’t sure if I would like Shazam #1. I love the classic character but really didn’t get into the newest interpretation when it was originally serialized in the Justice League. I just couldn’t get into the new version of Billy, who’s a little rougher around the edges with some delinquent tendencies. I would have also preferred the focus be on Shazam rather than creating an entire new interpretation of the Marvel Family. I went back and reread the collection before picking up Shazam #1 and in one sitting it read a bit better and I found myself more interested with this debut issue. It also helps that I trust Geoff Johns, especially when it comes to new takes on these classic characters, since I feel that he treasures them as much as we the readers do. Dale Eaglesham is a bit of a departure from Gary Frank’s artwork on the serialized origin story but his style has a classic comic book feel, with great page layout, expressive faces, and impressive action sequences. Eaglesham has the hard task of drawing both children and adult versions of the same characters, and does it convincingly, which is not always an easy task. All in all Shazam #1 is solid first issue that has a modern take but a throwback feel, which is exactly what it should be.
Verdict: Shazam #1 is an updated take on the classic hero. Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham create a modern comic with a throwback feel which makes for a great read.