Mary Bromfield, now the sole bearer of the powers of the wizard Shazam, is investigating the disappearance of her parents. It turns out they’re not the only folk to have vanished off the face of Philadelphia… dozens of Missing posters tell a scary tale. After a night wrestling with the riddle, she wakes to find local cyber trolls attacking her powered self.
Her one clue is a weird maybe magical, maybe technical device embedded in the chest of super-powered bad guys who have been popping up. Time for this bright student to hit the local college lab, where her research is interrupted by very friendly teacher ‘Dr G’. Mary is gobsmacked when her professor offers her a teaching assistant position.
We don’t learn if Mary gives Dr G (I’ve a theory about who she’s going to turn out to be) an answer, but we do see the next stage of her investigation – a visit to the local subway, which seems central to the mystery. She finds a homeless camp, and the man whose been organising the Missing posters.
Mary and Uncle Marv’s information-swapping session comes to a sudden end when they find a man menacing a homeless woman. When Mary turns into…
… whoever, she finds that the guy, who goes by Babel, is a mentalist who uses doubts and fears against his victims.
It seems those internet trolls got into Mary’s head at least enough for their words to be weaponised. A combination of brains and brawn sees Mary overcome the latest mystery madman, but when she powers down and returns home, she’s reminded that her words can hurt too.
Poor Darla. But lucky readers, we’re getting a cracking action saga that’s also a fabulous character study. So often new heroes have all the answers, or someone they can turn to – with that rest of her foster family no longer powered, and not being at the centre of the superhero community, Mary’s pretty much on her own. The pressure is telling – she really should let smart little Darla in, as well as the other kids – Eugene is a tech genius, Freddy has street smarts. Heck, if she had time to think straight she might remember that one of her patrons is Minerva, goddess of wisdom, and tap into that… or perhaps she’s already doing so.
Josie Campbell’s script is nicely balanced – plenty of the personal stuff, lots of superhero fun – and while I’m not thrilled that another writer banished Billy to limbo, it leaves Mary the space to shine under Campbell’s proverbial pen.
I’m chuffed to bits to meet Uncle Marv – a new version of Uncle Dudley/Uncle Marvel. His reason not to go by given name Dudley is a bit daft, mind – he doesn’t want to be identified with Harry Potter’s Dudley Dursley. Really? ‘Uncle Dudley’ would be just fine, and it would give him an instant bonding point with Darla – her surname is Dudley!
With Marvel Family revivals I’m forever looking for nods to the old comics. We’ve already had Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, sort of, and here’s Uncle Dudley, so Babel has to be a revamp of a Golden Age villain, I thought. Well, not that I can find. But he is interesting, I like his street clothes look, and his power gives letterer Becca Carey a chance to shine.
Also shining once more is artist Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner, with subtle, sensitive character work – that Darla moment is heartbreaking, while Mary’s frustration is as evident as much as her determination. I’m still not convinced by the new movie-inspired flappy skirt, I’ve always been a fan of Bob Oksner’s clean-lined Seventies look. I suspect Shaner is too, as he sneaks in an Oksner Easter egg. And if we have to have the new look, I doubt anyone could translate it better into print – Shaner is one of the best artists in comics. And as he’s colouring his work here, we get the Full Shaner, a masterclass in grounding a superhero in a recognisable world. I especially like the lightning effects around and within Mary.
See, for example, Shaner’s sharp cover, which features some of the other people who worked on this issue, sort of. Such fun!
And that’s this mini-series all over which is, sadly, all over after next issue. I hope it’s selling decently because it’s been a huge treat amidst DC’s Worlds of Batman. If anyone knows the one magic word to get us so more, yell it!