What now?’ asks our hero on the wonderful Brandon Peterson cover for Shazam! #15 and well he might – it’s the last issue of the latest series starring the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel.
Or rather, ‘inspired by’… this isn’t the Captain Marvel loved by generations. The powers are different. The personality is different. The family set-up is different. He’s not even called ‘Captain Marvel’, he’s called ‘Shazam’.
But wait, wouldn’t that mean DC has doubled down on the Captain Marvel Jr problem – how do you say your magic word when said ticket to adventure is your name? Not according to this issue, it seems the rules have changed off panel.
What the book still has, under fill-in writer Jeff Loveness (a fill-in on a final issue is very 2020 Shazam!) is some charm. The scene with Cap – he’ll always be Cap to me – and his new schoolteacher is rather lovely.
Taken for what it is – a story starring the hero of Geoff Johns’ reimagined set-up – this is pretty good. Loveness and Peterson pull off the same trick they did in their previous fill-in, for issue 12, giving us a sharp, fun done-in-one that ignores Billy Batson’s now massive family of foster siblings and focuses on the main man. Or boy-man, rather. This isn’t the classic Cap, a nice kid transformed into a full-grown man, this is very much the child in a fully grown body. And a pretty dim one at that. Loveness, bravely, hangs a lantern on the matter, after Cap beats up a bad robot in Japan.
It really does make no sense, having the Wisdom of Solomon but not having it ‘turned on’. What does make sense is the lesson Billy learns after meeting the aforementioned teacher, Ms Ayes, whom he initially annoys with wilful ignorance.
Her response is rather challenging.
Brandon Peterson’s storytelling really is great, with character touches such as Ms Ayes’ half-in-half-out blouse, and Billy’s tension showing in his gathered neck. There’s not a bad page in the book, heck, every one is pretty much wonderful, as Peterson and colourist Mike Atiyeh gives us not one, but two giant mechanical men, an iconic transformation, a cameoing Sea King, unusual but very pretty flames and much more. And they’re all there because while this Billy ‘Bratson’ might disagree, Loveness doesn’t think it uncool for the hero to learn a life lesson. One that comes when Ms Ayes has a truly terrible day.
It’s a good one for the reader, though, as Cap has to negotiate the adult world without the experience that usually brings wisdom. The scenes between Cap and Ms Ayes are touching, with no hint of a romance that would put us in creepy Hal/Arisia territory.
Rob Leigh’s lettering always adds to a book, and here I particularly like his title design for the story’s punning title.
There’s no specific reference to this being the last issue, which is a shame. It’d be nice for fans of this version of Cap – and surely there must be some – to know where to find him next. Or for those of us who prefer a traditional Marvel Family to know that this guy is going away – hit movie or no hit movie, surely DC can see this revamp hasn’t caught on with readers. That Loveness, Peterson and co can make lightning-powered lemonade with the New 52 version is a tribute not to it, but to their talent.