Shazam! #14 review


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?

19 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!


  2. ‘Chekhov’s Superboy Prime’, I love it!

    Oh Lord, if I knew about Sinestro doing that to Kyle’s mother, I’d forgotten it. Just vile.

    As for your final thought, ah-blooming-men.


  3. 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.


    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.)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Looks like if the previews are any indication, he is going to do something of a face turn and take on the Batman Who Laughs/Darkest Knight in the current Death Metal event. Which makes sense, since the BWL represents everything he hates about the modern DC Universe/dark and gritty trends. He just showed up in a book as his agent, but I suspect that Wonder Woman, who has gone to an Infinite Crisis earth created by the BWL in the Dark Multiverse, convinces him to ‘do the right thing.’

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The most obvious rejoinder to any of Geoff Johns’s clumsy attempts to head off criticism via the medium of the straw man (Aha! If I have a character say *this* then no criticism can have power! Bwa-ha-ha-! Maxwell Lord was always a villain! Black Adam is an anti-hero not a double-dyed fascistic mass-murdering bastard! Hal Jordan is zer greatest! Barry Allen is cool! Hee hee hee!) is that HE is the ultimate privileged fanboy. The irony that his most toxic Zack Snyder-worshipping deluded antifans employ the same unsupportable arguments and priveleg fanboy “I want!” tactics (Quite how anyone could complain that Geoff “Mr Violent Gloom” Johns is somehow worse than or antithetical to Zack “Mr Violent Gloom” Snyder is beyond my ken especially since Snyder’s DC dross was influenced BY Johns). Of course, if one throws around accusations of racism or “toxic” work environments (altho’ there is the strong suspicion is that they don’t REALLY care about racism or toxicity but honestly just want their own way like unsocialized adolescents, particularly when their behaviour is insanely toxic) then it’s easy to portray yourself as hero when in reality you are a Black Adam or a Lex Luthor.
    Johns’s “Lex Luthor is Connor Kent’s “father” retcon was arguably the first time that a really bad notion of his became canon, altho’ much of his Green Lantern Rebirth-and-after reupholstering of Hal Jordan had similarly annoying elements to it in order to make Hal Mr Super-duper the Bestest Lantern Evah and retcon or replace much of the Emerald Twilight/post Zero Hour stuff. I say this despite liking some of Rebirth and the pre-Red Lanterns run – I even enjoy some of the Blackest Night/Brightest Day/early New52 stuff but the the “Guardians are bad guys and Sinestro is partly “right” BECAUSE of that”/Rainbow Corps dimwittedness was appalling. The Sinestro Corps weren’t a bad idea as villains, but dragging the retconned Zamarons/Star Sapphires in and introducing the ludicrous blood-spewing Red Lanterns led by Atrocitus (Alan Moore is spinning in his grave and he isn’t even dead) along with the Blue, Violet, Maroon Corps et al *plus* ideas from Moore’s twist-in-the-tale short stories forming the basis for YEARS of tales was bonkers. Bad bonkers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not one for amateur psychoanalysis but there must be some Secret Origin for Geoff Johns that sheds light upon his habit of corrupting the good guys while painting the villains in a better life.

      I gave up on his GL stuff because I got so sick of the Crayola corp, and everything being interrelated. It was wearying and boring.


      1. I’m not one to cast aspersions…but YES! There has to be. I wonder if it features Mopee?
        I couldn’t agree more. “(E)very thing being interrelated. It was wearying and boring ” Nail. Hit. On. Head.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. One of Johns biggest failings is understanding there is a line you cannot cross and redeem a character, not that he tried. Sinestro had Kyle’s mother murdered (and painfully!) just because Kyle embarrassed him. With no real consequences for that act, Johns went on to write Sinestro as a type of anti-hero. Black Adam ripped a man in half in front of the press and Johns wrote him as heroic at times even.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s so true. I suppose it’s because Kyle isn’t the sainted Hal Jordan, Johns’s dream man! Having said that the Rebirth retcon had Sinestro at the root of virtually everything that befell Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps but Johns still went the way you recall.
        “Hero” Sinestro is a misnomer but as with Black Adam Johns went with it. Black Adam *could* have been redeemed, instead Johns and others continued to portray him as a raging, raving, self-interested homicidal maniac who was treated as an anti-hero instead. That isn’t morally complex, it’s immoral and bonkers!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Kyle’s mother was revealed to have been killed by a a sentient virus that was a member of the Sinestro Corps on the orders of, ah, Sinestro. After was caused to feel fear on being informed of this by Sinestro (Sinestro informed Kyle that this meant his mother’s death was his fault. Even tho’ surely it was Sinestro’s fault and the, uh, sentient virus), Kyle was then possessed by walking/floating evil retcon/plot device Parallax (at which point Kylerallax began talking in the very same dudebro patois that Geoff Johns would use for Black Lantern Ronnie Raymond Firestorm a couple of years later) and what happened next need not detain us. Suffice it to say Kyle being Parallaxes for just a few issues apparently meant he was no better than Hal (Except Hal bumped off several of his friends – they got better! They were then mostly killed off by Geoff Johns after being nasty to Hal – and the Guardians *before* he started calling himself Parallax but don’t think about that too hard), Kyle was deParallaxed, and after the Earth was saved (spoiler) from the depredations of the Sinestro Corps, Sinestro was briefly incarcerated on the Oan version of death row (the Guardians having gone nutty authoritarian by this point) but was quickly freed. As Geoff Johns didn’t want to write about Kyle only Hal was involved with Sinestro in the main title, altho’ Kyle was with Guy and co in Green Lantern Corps I don’t believe that the very pertinent guilt of Sinestro for Kyle’s mom’s death was brought up much if at all because Geoffrey wanted to portray Sinestro as a sort of tragic anti-hero/anti-villain in the main title. Isn’t this all nice, uncomplicated, and entirely logical!
        Sinestro has swanned around scot free most of the time while Kyle has been either out-of-focus, mischaracterized, or sidelined. Goofy.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Now THAT is the very definition of ‘you read it so I don’t have to’. Poor Kyle, he was such a great character with a great cast and excellent strip and DC pissed it away to bring back Hall. See also Wally.


      6. The Black Adam business was awful, but I must have stopped reading Johns’ GL before Kyle’s mother was murdered. Maura, wasn’t it? And Kyle never brought Sinestro to justice? At the very least he shills be on the deepest pit of Oa with Major Victory.


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