Shazam! #14 review

BECAUSE NO ONE DEMANDED IT!

He’s back. Superboy Prime, Last Son of an Earth long vanished from the multiverse, back to ruin another story. This current Shazam! series may not feature my favourite take on the Marvel Family, but it’s had its moments. Here, though, as he ends his lengthy story, writer Geoff Johns falls back on some of his old, bad habits and makes the landing far bumpier than it needs to be

The book opens with Shazam the superhero – because Shazam the Wizard is now simply The Wizard – tiny and inside the head of Billy Batson’s father. Dear old dad is the most recent person to share the Marvel magic, making him the perfect vessel for the evil worm that is Mr Mind.

Outside, the rest of the Marvel Family – Billy’s foster sisters and brothers – are fighting Mr Mind’s Monster Society of Evil. Mind and company want to control the Magiclands, the fantasy realms that include Oz and Wonderland. The kids are holding their own until an escaped prisoner of Mr Mind makes his entrance.

Yes, he’s holding a heart. He’s just pulled it from one of the bad guys. Isn’t that just what we want from a Shazam! comic?

In CC Batson’s head, meanwhile, superhero and worm are spouting spells in what looks like Latin. Forget the enchantment, though, Mr Mind has more luck with taunting words than magic ones.

Finally, Billy realises Mr Mind’s Achilles’ heel.

His actions result in the Monster Society members being taken out, but Superboy Prime, unlike other Kryptonians, is resistant to magic.

The Marvels, though, have an ace in the hole.

Yes, Black Adam, black sheep of the Marvel Family who, for some reason, Geoff Johns’ won’t allow simply to be a bad guy, despite a catalogue of atrocities. Happily, it’s Billy who comes up with the way to defeat Superboy Prime, but the ending of the book places Black Adam firmly in the ‘redeemable’ camp.

Black Adam isn’t a hero. He’s not even an anti-hero. His acts mark him as a villain, if he does a good deed, it’s to serve his own ends. It’s not like this series is short of Marvels. Billy has five super-powered siblings, can’t we have one Marvel Family member who’s firmly a villain?

Superboy Prime, he could be a decent villain, but he’s strictly Panto, the leering, scheming madman who loves to be booed and hissed. And as usual, Johns can’t resist putting him in the ‘entitled fanboy’ role. Remember that dialogue above?

“This is a total joke. Your ‘family’. You don’t need them. You’re way cooler without them.”

That has all the subtlety of a brick. I get that Johns has been hearing the sentiment since 2012 or something, when his Shazam revamp debuted in Justice League. He’s had nearly a decade to prove the naysayers wrong, to show us why a gang of Marvels, each with one speciality, is better than a trio of superhumans. And while I have enjoyed aspects of the stories, I’m unconvinced – the charm of the Golden Age originals and the Bronze Age continuation is indeed ‘way cooler’ than his revamp. Why make Billy Batson a wizard, a spell-casting hero with undefined abilities (here we find he can shrink himself), rather than a super-strong and smart guy who can fly? Why is it better to have Pedro, Darla and co as super-sibs rather than civilian supporting characters? Why is Mr Mind a magician?

Show us, don’t insult us. I prefer original Marvel Family, I likewise love Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam; I don’t love Johns’ take, with Hanson-lookalike Freddy Freeman cussing and Superboy Prime eviscerating folk. And yet I’ve praised the good stuff, not railed against it.

I’m railing now. Geoff Johns has turned me against his book. FOREVER,

Things I liked in the script include Superboy Prime’s line about ‘the latest attempt to sort a universe’; his frustration that no one knows who he is; Billy realising that the power of words extends to Mr Mind; the ‘this is what happened next’ narration which puts the lid on what otherwise could have been an interminable series of quest serials; namechecks for some old comics properties. And there’s a very nicely written scene between Billy and his birth dad – it’s just a shame it’s terribly depressing.

Or at least, annoyed me during a tea break. Seriously though, Superboy Prime as the embodiment of negative critics is so tired. He makes every book he’s in worse; why not use the pages – and we have extra ones this time – to show more of the new characters, make us love them? Can’t Johns just accept that not everyone loves his revamp? Or that maybe he has it wrong, that he’s dumped the uniqueness of the Captain Marvel concept and made it all a little generic?

And the art is fabulous. Dale Eaglesham handles the first five pages, a long recap that nods to the series’ many delays, followed by a big fight scene. It’s typically handsome stuff. Scott Kolins handles the other 24pp in a very different style, but I like his energy a lot. This issue is packed to the brim with characters and settings but the artists make it all look brilliant… well, except for naked Tawky Tawny – that, I could live without.

Colourist Michael Atiyeh and letterer Rob Leigh do fine work, Atiyeh adding vibrancy to the pages, Leigh making the printed word pop. Atiyeh also works with Eaglesham on the cover – does it look to anyone else that Superboy Prime is busy pulling his trunks up nice and tight?

So that’s the 13-part Shazam and the Seven Magic Lands over with. It’s rambled a fair bit but there’s been enough to enjoy that I kept buying. My favourite issue, though, was #12, a fill-in by Jeff Loveness, who’s back next issue to close out the run.

As for Geoff Johns, I await Black Adam/Superboy Prime Team-Up with great, er, interest?

5 thoughts on “Shazam! #14 review

  1. I hated it much less than you did. Mind and Savana as magicians was dumb (more for Mind. Savana didn’t even get dialog!) and the kids beyond Freddie and Mary remain blank canvasses but it did tie up the Neverending Story better than Johns has ever managed before. He gets points off for the future panel but since he’s never cleanly ended anything before I won’t quibble. Superboy Prime showing up for his umpteenth jobbing didn’t bother me that much. I’d made peace with it, I guess, seeing his earlier appearance as being Chekhov’s Superboy Prime in a way. It was quick and painless and set up the bit with Billy keeping his word to Adam, which would drive future story well.

    And BTW, Johns’ inability to see Black Adam as a villain pales before how he treated SInestro. He himself wrote Sinestro having Kyle’s mom murdered painfully and slowly because Kyle embarrassed him and still wrote him as if her were just a noble but ruthless quasi-hero. That made me sick.

    I’ll close with what I hope is the lesson this series learns from this debacle: Don’t open a book few are clamoring for with a thirteen part story or a writer who can’t turn in scripts in even an untimely manner!

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  2. I really wanted to love this series because Captain Marvel is one of my all-time favorite super-heroes. But I am really tired of this take of the character. I know Geoff Johns says he loves this character, but does he really?

    One of the most amazing aspects of the character is, or rather was, that this boy becomes a man when he says the magic word. Not a man-child, an actual man with the powers of wisdom, speed, strength, stamina, etc., that hs is famous for, but this immature brat child that becomes Shazam is just ridiculous at this point. Add to that the fact that he can’t seem to do anything on his own and every single issue is a lecture on “togetherness” and “family” and I just hate this.

    I’m all for the occasional moral being part of a story. Stories should impart things to the reader, but this is all so hamfisted. The characterizations of these characters isn’t childish so much as it is idiotic. I mean, would anyone really trust a person who acts like a 10-year-old to be a super-hero? Or to make decisions about the magical realms that can be, literally, world shattering? I got it when the gifts of Shazam imparted wisdom and knowledge along with the physical powers, but Johns doesn’t seem to care for that aspect of it.

    It worked in the movie because the actors were charming and they were not written like idiots, but here it just comes off stupid. I hate that he made them all Shazams, it should have been the older three, Billy, Mary, and Freddie with the others being part of their home family life. Not everyone needs a super-power to be special, but I don’t think Johns knows that.

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    1. Great points all. Geoff Johns has moved so far from the classic Marvel Family legend that I don’t understand why he wants to use the Shazam! name at all; sadly, now the (admittedly enjoyable) Shazam! film has arrived, we’re likely to be stuck with the kids for awhile.

      Then again, this looks to be the end of Johns’ involvement with them for the time being, the next revamp could be more along classic lines… it’s not like the film people need a tie-in comic on the stands.

      (And apologies for the delayed reply, that usually means I first read it in the middle of the night, and lost the memory before waking.)

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