Freddy Freeman is unimpressed by the quality of enemies Billy Batson is fighting as the supercharged hero Shazam.
Freddy says that with the power at his command, Shazam should be thinking bigger, prompting Billy to go looking for more impressive villains.
And soon, he’s face to sackcloth face with Batman’s scariest scoundrel, the Scarecrow.
Of course, beating this baddie isn’t as simple as Billy reckons it will be – Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, is barking mad, but he’s also one of the smartest men in Gotham. And his fear gas can get into Billy’s magically tough body. How will the World’s Mightiest Mortal react when he’s faced with his greatest fears? And will Batman chew the boy hero out when he inevitably arrives on the scene?
That last question is answered as artist Brandon Peterson and colourist Mike Atiyeh present probably the best entrance by the Caped Crusader in years. It’s a powerful piece of pure Pop Art which I won’t show here because context is sometimes king. And I want to persuade any potential buyers to shell out a few quid for this wonderful fill-in issue.
I’m old enough to remember Marvel Comics in the Seventies, when the Dreaded Deadline Doom came more often than the milkman. Seemingly every creative team regularly fell behind, necessitating a reprint with, if we were lucky, a hurriedly put-together new framing sequence. Things got so bad that editor-in-chief Marv Wolfman was forced to come up with a rather ingenious solution. Still, a fill-in was rarely a series highlight.
Well, this is my favourite issue of Shazam to date. The series began with a February 2019 cover date and it’s been regularly late; I guess editor Mike Cotton, perhaps with regular writer Geoff Johns, decided to build in a bit of breathing room for Johns and his various artist collaborators and commissioned this surprise story.
And the result is fantastic. Guest writer Jeff Loveness gives us a fast-paced, funny done-in-one that doesn’t stint on the action. The banter between Billy and Freddy is adorable, Shazam’s enthusiasm for Gotham City entirely understandable – he doesn’t live there – and Batman and the Scarecrow are on fine form. Plus, blimps.
After the fight there’s a terrific scene that provides a nice insight into Billy and demonstrates that while Batman is a serious fellow, he isn’t always a pillock to visiting peers. Loveness has been producing a lot of entertaining shorts for DC and Marvel; it’s time someone gave him a shot at a series.
And the art is, as you can see, stunning. Peterson’s storytelling is wonderful, his cityscapes sweeping, his heroes majestic. As for the villains, come on, what’s wrong with Freddy Freeman that he doesn’t find even the idea of a Crocodile Man in a business suit awesome? To be fair, after seeing him in action he admits to the glory that is Herkimer.
The only thing I’m not keen on is Peterson’s choice to surround everyone with keylines. They make the figures pop, but in a distracting way.
Atiyeh’s colours add tremendously to the visual experience, helping evoke a world of wonder, while Rob Leigh’s letters are, as ever, a treat; I included the credits page partly so you could see his terrific title treatment, which takes me right back to the Art Deco feel of Jerry Ordway’s landmark Power of Shazam series.
The cover is drawn and coloured by Peterson and it is, you will notice, rather excellent.
I’ve been enjoying Geoff John’s ongoing Magiclands storyline, but if you just want an inconsequential, but not insubstantial, fun feature starring a hero you can squint and pretend is the Original Captain Marvel, don’t miss this issue.