Future State: Shazam #2 review

Ever had one of those weeks when there really are no comics you fancy? DC’s Future State event continues to churn out depressing-looking fare, mostly Bat-books, and with nothing that immediately appealed, an act of desperation – I bought Shazam! #2 and went back a few digital weeks and got the first issue too. I’d seen preview material and didn’t like what was happening to the original Captain Marvel, but hey, there’s a Detroit Justice League in there, surely that would provide some pleasure?

Lesson learned.

It’s the future and it’s in a terrible state. Never mind bad weather, the hero known as Shazam has been going around sneakily murdering other heroes. His colleagues in the JL have twigged, and managed to imprison him.

They know Shazam – who gets very annoyed if anyone calls him ‘Billy’ – will break out eventually, but hope Vixen can make him say his magic word, change back to Billy Batson. She fails.

Meanwhile, in Hell.

And back on earth, Shazam has just eviscerated a random woman on the streets of Philadelphia. The League catch up to him, ready for a battle they don’t think they can win, when someone indisputably stronger than the World’s Mightiest Mortal appears.

You’d expect an agent of the Presence – that’s God in DC reality – might have shown up earlier, but the Spectre has reasons.

Stupid ones.

What happened to the Spirit of Vengeance who would throw a murderer in front of a buzzsaw as soon as look at them? Since when does the Ghostly Guardian weigh things in a larger context?

Context is exactly what this two-issue mini-series needs. The Spectre reads Shazam’s mind and learns that the demon Neron has tricked him into being split from Billy Batson. Billy remains in hell tied to a door, his innocence holding Something Awful back, while Shazam sees demons everywhere, leading him to slaughter innocents.

OK, that’s some explanation for such vile visuals as an iconic comics character standing over the corpse of a random woman, blood dripping off his hands.

But so many other questions are raised in Tim Sheridan’s script.

Mary Batson phones her brother in both issues but never shows up when Shazam rejects her calls – what’s happened to her?

Los Angeles is smoggy, London has damaged buildings and New York is flooded – why, and what’s that got to do with events in this issue?

How can Shazam be taken in by known deceiver Neron when he has the wisdom of Solomon?

Neron claims he’s been trapped, like Billy, but by who?

If Shazam truly believes he’s seeing demons, why not share this with the other Leaguers?

Who the heck is that person released from the hell door on the final page?

Yes sir, I can Google. That tells me who the demon woman is. The ComiXology intro to last issue informs me that Future State: Shazam takes place after something called the Final Battle of Titans Island. The ComiXology intro this time tells us just who’s going to show up on the final page.

But why should I have to look outside the pages of a two-issue mini-series to find enough information to understand what’s happening in it? That old adage, ‘Every comic book is somebody’s first’ makes sense, writers should give the reader enough to go on. I could see this comic book being someone’s last. Sheridan doesn’t even bother properly introducing the characters. If you’ve never come across the pretty obscure Power Girl II, Tanya Spears, good luck at working out who Powerhouse is. If you don’t recognise Bunker from the terrible New 52 Teen Titans, forget it, he’s not named.

It’s not like I’ve come from nowhere to read the new issue of a long-running series – Future State: Shazam is two issues and I have both! Is it so hard to produce a self-contained story that can be enjoyed without having to buy other ‘event’ comics or run to Wiki every other page?

I honestly don’t get why writers keep corrupting the Shazam Family, darkening their world. Black Mary Marvel in Final Crisis was bad enough, now we have this. Do writers ask to be assigned a Shazam comic because they like the characters or because they want to shock by sullying the nicest superheroes in comics?

There is something I like a lot in the script – the reveal as to who the new Question is works, moving the story along. It’s just a shame the book ends on a cliffhanger… the revealed baddie reappears in the excellent Black Adam story in Future State: Suicide Squad #1 with no obvious relevance to this issue – it’s set hundreds of thousands of years on. Starting a story in media res is one thing, but this mini-series never moves beyond that – it’s all middle with no beginning and no end.

The art is great, I’m a fan of Eduardo Pansico’s illustrative style. His storytelling is first rate, he captures emotions well, his people are sexy – even the Spectre! Inker Eber Ferreira gives us a slick finish, while Marcelo Maiolo’s colours are a feast for the eyes and Rob Leigh’s letters are as good as ever.

The cover – by Bernard Chang and Maiolo – gives away the villain of the piece, in a scene that happens in the never-coming third issue. Marvellous.

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