Shazam! #1 review

‘With one magic word… Shazam!‘ With the return of the 1970s tagline, and a cover unapologetically acknowledging Captain Marvel’s long comic book history, writer Mark Waid and artist Dan Mora declare that they’re going back to basics. The World’s Mightiest Mortal isn’t throwing magic lightning bolts around. He’s not turning every second person into a Shazam version of themselves. He’s not wearing a super-shiny outfit and dripping energy. And he’s not calling himself Shazam.

The opening image tells us that fun will be to the fore

As it turns out, that’s not even an ordinary dinosaur, with Waid and Mora adding an extra layer of whimsy to every kid’s favourite. After sorting out the lizard problem, our hero heads to the Rock of Eternity, where he meets his foster brother.

So, as with the Geoff Johns Shazam revamp, Billy and Freddy remain foster brothers, and they have a gaggle of siblings. They’re unseen, along with Mary Bromfield, traditionally Billy’s twin but more recently older and no blood relation – she’s at college while Billy remains at school. If Waid tweaks things back to the classic set-up, great, if not, well, this is all pretty close. Freddy is back to his familiar brunette look, Johns’ annoying blond kid having been quietly shuffled off between storylines – he even has the tatty old scarf. As of last month, Mary is even going by ‘Mary Marvel’ when she dons the familiar white cloak. And while the star of the show is now ‘The Captain’, take a look at the comments on Billy’s podcast,

A couple of ‘Captain Marvel’ references. As I understand it, DC are still legally OK to use the name inside comics, I really hope Waid is edging towards that.

For now, I’m very happy with this first issue. After the dino-fun and a fabulously entertaining look at the Captain’s training routine we see that shadowy figures are plotting against him, meet the newest member of Billy’s family and get an answer to the question many people ask: why doesn’t Billy choose to spend all his time as a super-powered adult?

That’s an interesting new wrinkle. And I suspect it’s Solomon who’s behind some rather surprising behaviour by Cap as we reach the end of the issue.

Mark Waid is one of comics’ great storytellers, his ideas and plotting as good as anybody’s, and better than most. He identifies the essence of a character and finds ways to make them work for today. One course correction he makes to recent Shazam stories is that while Billy is a big kid in between missions, when the call to help comes he’s as focused as any hero. The movies are entertaining, but on the comics page the superhero doofus bit gets old very quickly. And Cap is capable, here repairing an actual spaceship – he says he’s no genius but he’s smarter than he gives himself credit for. Fingers crossed, before long the silly Billy bit when he’s in adult form will go completely.

Dan Mora, who’s been teaming with Waid to great effect on World’s Finest, is on fire here, producing page after page of comics that find the right balance between dynamic and whimsy. While the Golden Age simplicity of co-creator C C Beck likely wouldn’t fly with most readers today, Mora isn’t shy of including the classic Captain Marvel squint. He’s also great at hitting the odd comedy beat.

Alejandro Sánchez colours in the modern style, with plenty of moodiness, but he ensures that the Captain’s red suit pops in every panel in which he appears. And Troy Peteri adds even more style with his lettering – I especially like the Todd Klein-style font used for the Rock of Eternity intruders.

Back to Mora’s cover. I just love it. It’s rare these days for a comic book to feature old comics, if you see the idea used anywhere it’s on Best Of.. books. But here’s Captain Marvel, zooming right out of his old stories, thrilled to greet us. Covers are usually done long before the interiors, which may be why that chest emblem glitters… it’s a vestigial lightning bolt from the Geoff Johns days.

Does anyone know whether this is an ongoing or a mini-series? The former would likely mean Mora having other artists fill in for him on World’s Finest. The latter wouldn’t. Hopefully it’s the former because either way we’d get just one Mora-drawn book, while Waid is a little more likely to be able to fit both series into his schedule. So bring on the fill-in artists…heck, I’d even be happy were Shazam! to have alternate illustrators – hello, Doc Shaner? The main thing is that Waid gets an open-ended series to do Captain Marvel, his family and friends justice. On the basis of this debut issue, he’s the man for the job and Mora is the perfect collaborator. The dream would be both craftsmen being able to do both books. Captain Marvel is in very good hands.

26 thoughts on “Shazam! #1 review

  1. I’m soooooooooo looking geared to this book! I wasn’t able to get to the comic shop today but it’s on my list of things to do first thing tomorrow!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I did! And the book was everything I was hoping for! Loved the art! Loved the scripting! Loved the story – minus the cliff-hanger… I’d kinda like to see a happy-go-lucky hero that doesn’t have to navigate some weird personality change. I’m sure that it’s a temporary thing and easily solved in the next issue, but still… I’m not a fan.

        But everything else? Loved loved loved!

        Here’s hoping that they find a way to restore Freddy’s powers while keeping the rest of the siblings unpowered and in the background. They can still pop in from time to time (in the way that the Lieutenant Marvels would) and have an adventure or two… but I much prefer the focus to be on Billy, Mary and Freddy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, kid in a man’s body work for Prime but has anyone thought it might be what’s held back most Shazam revivals? I don’t recall Ordway leaning into that (or at least having Billy be a near moron in both guises like subsequent revivals). I’d ditch the rest of Johns’ annoying panel wasters too but foster care is a better way to connect Freddie to Billy than Captain Nazi.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Since you gave this one a good review I’ll probably get it. But it’s going to be tough to measure up to The Power of Shazam by Jerry Ordway & friends. Mind you, I’ve heard people who grew up on the original Fawcett Comics stories (either when they first came out or via reprints) say the Ordway stories weren’t any good, so it’s all subjective!

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  4. A nice start. Tea with the dinosaurs was “spot-on”. I think the biggest difficulty with Captain Marvel is genuinely understand his abilities. He was the power of Zeus and Zeus is a god capable of a lot more than just lightening bolts. Also, I didn’t the treatment of Billy being the runner-up to being Captain Marvel. Billy likes being Billy. The comments about slow, heavy, etc. make it seem that Captain Marvel is the way to go, no matter how annoying Solomon may be. Lastly, why are the gods always treated as villians? They can’t be that bad if they’re loaning their abilities to Marvel for free; no worship needed. All in all, I liked it and want to read more.

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    1. I wonder if gratitude towards the patron gods works as well as worship. There’d be Billy and Mary’s gratitude for the power to help people and people’s gratitude Billy and Mary saved them with those gifts,

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      1. I don’t think that’s how worship works. . .regardless, none of the Marvel Family had to do anything like it to my recollection. In fact, the gods and heroes tended to be cheerleaders of Billy.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Great question, I think this came up when we were talking Lazarus Planet. All I can think, still, is that DC has a terrible distrust these days of every parental figure this side of the Kents and Alfred.


      1. Yes, it certainly did Martin! Maybe we should keep a record of how many times this cliché show’s up. Nabu as written by Geoff Johns (with David Goyer originally) acted like Knobu (that joke is straight from Ben Elton circa 1990, you are welcome) in JSA. Niles Caulder proved to be a manipulative nutcase in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol as was Johns’s “New 52” version. The Countdown to Infinite Crisis Maxwell Lord and the later versions penned by Greg Rucka, Johns (him again!), Judd Winick, et al changed from a sometimes morally ambiguous but basically pretty pretty pret-tay pretty good guy (even in his thought balloons!) to a sadistic, misogynistic, superhuman-hating, gameplaying loony (he *murders* Lois Lane in the sight of a mind-controlled Superman during the backstory to an alternative dystopian timeline in Johns’s Blue Beetle run. Yeuch). Khonshu from Moon Knight has been portrayed in recent years by the likes of Jason Aaron as a real bastard. Brian Michael Bendis’s Jor-El – a continuation of the Mr Oz version penned by, er, Geoff Johns, Dan Jurgens, and co. – was partially responsible for the destruction of Krypton. These writers are beginning to seem pathological in their obsession with this trope, aren’t they? Ah, well, enough of that!
        I might not like the colouring but isn’t that a good cover. Mark Waid does a good job here of starting to renovate this version of the Big Red Cheese. Let’s hope he can keep it up. The unshowy peeling away of some of the more unnecessary additions (without going the whole hog) from this revamped Captain Marvel is a good sign. More of that please.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a brilliant run-through of fallen authority figures. I reckon the Guardian were the original DC good guys to suddenly become arses. Proper trailblazers, them.

        I think I know what you’re getting at as regards the colouring on the covers, it’s a tad washed out.

        I am so jealous of your Knobu.


      3. Because Silver Age stories didn’t include much nuance the Guardians did plenty of shady shit through the years if you actually considered it thoroughly. Like Prof X in the early X-Men stories, those stories have to be ignored to stop the characters turning sinister. I think DC has run the idea into the ground now but the origin of it makes sense to me.


    3. Yep, why *are* the gods always treated as villains? At a guess I’d say it’s because many of the writers are atheists so they bring that to the story, although as it is *fiction* you’d think they would be intelligent enough – not to mention mature enough – not to do that. It doesn’t make sense to make *every* deity or authority figure into a grade “A” arse or monster, and holy moly it’s boring! Talk about a played out trope. Other explanations are available, some of the writers might *be* religious so when it comes to fiction that they can’t bear to write any god-figure as akin to their “one true God”. Although again, it is fiction! I can’t see why they’d think God would be bothered by a fiction but then I’m an agnostic I have more faith that God would be wise, that God would BE God than many believers. Ha! Of course, it might be as simple as certain writers not being able to recognize a cliché when they see one. I’d hope Waid would be above that though.

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      1. It’s not like the gods are great people to begin with. Hera arranged the slaughter of Heracles’ family, Zeus destroyed lives for sex, sheer vanity caused the Trojan War, etc. You could argue portraying them consistently heroic is deviating from the source material. Me, I’m just bored with it. They need to get a second story to go to. I know leaning into the gods and Solomon is the easy way to differentiate Cap from Supes but enough. Be original or have them appear as little as they did in the Golden Age. Also, I don’t mind the wizard’s race change since there were no WASPs when and where he was supposed to be from (I’d be cool with a historically accurate Black Adam too but the character’s name will make that never happen) but I’d like him to go back to the decades long characterization.


  5. Loved this book.
    Love that Waid reinforces that The Captain is always kind.
    Loved the dinosaur being something more.
    And as you say, the silly bits … a giant tea cup, the rock of Eternity now a storage unit for cool things and the best apartment a kid could have … give this the sort of whimsy of classic Capt Marvel.
    Like you, the ‘why be Billy’ bit was a great wrinkle. I think that the villains are the beings behind the powers of the letters in SHAZAM. Hope Billy remains unscathed !

    So great to have a Marvel family book on the shelves. I trust Waid and Mora.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A terrific debut. I really liked the reasoning behind why Billy doesn’t just stay Cap all the time — basically the Wisdom of Solomon is kind of a nag about indulging himself in his favorite activities. Who needs that 24/7?

    But also, I *really* like the mention that of all of Cap’s powers, extraordinary senses aren’t among them. That’s a BIG difference from Superman that I’ve never seen emphasized before. Superman usually acts with lots of information at hand (or he can access it once he knows where and how to look). So many other heroes have this, too — Iron Man’s sensors, Green Lantern scanning things with his ring, Spider-Man’s spider-sense. All storytelling tricks to get information to the hero (and the reader) quickly and conveniently for story progression.

    Cap, on the other hand, has extraordinary ability, but his point of view is largely human. He knows something when he can see or hear it, which is when you or I would be able to see or hear it. That’s a BIG difference, and I think it’s going to matter a lot it the types of stories Waid and Mora tell going forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could never figure out why Cap and Superman were so often shown as evenly matched. Love him as I do, Cap is basically a flying strong man… I must go back and see whether Superman used his sensory powers at all during their various fracas.

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