The Power of Shazam!

The Power of Shazam! continues in the same vein as many of the recent trades on “the shelf”, reimagining each hero’s origin story within the new, single universe.

It doesn’t feel that long ago that I read my first (and only) Captain Marvel collection.  Indeed, it was a mere month ago.  Perhaps that’s why the original stories are still so fresh in my mind.

As the trade began, I worried that I would be bored, reading a retelling of a story I had just read.

I was, luckily, very wrong.

As the story begins, it’s not even clear that this is a story about Captain Marvel.  We begin in an ancient Egyptian Tomb, and it is only through the slow, subtle revelation of names that we learn two of the featured characters are named Batson, and are presumably Billy Batson’s parents.

Unfortunately, they don’t fair too well in the story, with both being murdered by one of their fellow archaeologists:

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It’s not until a decent way into the trade that Billy Batson even appears, but I actually found this to be a positive aspect of the comic.  The original Captain Marvel backstory was so simplistic that Billy’s parents are hardly even referenced.  Here, not only do we get a richer description of who they were, we also get to see their connection to a certain hated villain, Dr. Sivana.

When Billy Batson finally appears in the comic, his story starts to feel very familiar.  This version doesn’t stray too far from the original, with Billy still being summoned by the original Shazam and given the gift of his powers.

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Having the backstory involving his parents adds a new level to the reader’s understanding of this character,  making his transformation here much more poignant than the original.

Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this comic is the fact that the reader is reminded that although Billy is physically transformed every time he says “Shazam”, mentally he is still a little boy.  Especially when he is first adapting to his new powers, there are numerous instances of Captain Marvel making mistakes and responding in a very child-like manner:

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I love that Billy’s true personality still shows through in these comics.  Yes, he may be a powerful superhero after his transformation, but deep down he’s still just a kid.  Not only does this endear him to the reader, it also makes him even more relatable to children, making me think that this comic is definitely geared towards younger readers, perhaps moreso than say, the recent Batman comics.

Furthering the comic’s appeal is the fact that, even though content-wise it may be written with kids in mind, it’s still extremely well thought-out, organizing the characters in a single, cohesive world.

Dr. Sivana’s tie to Billy Batson’s parents felt realistic, and helped propel the story in a natural way, rather than springing this arch-nemesis on Captain Marvel for no apparent reason.

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Luckily, the comic is able to tell these stories without making them unnecessarily silly.  Instead, they are given the proper amount of respect due to such an entertaining character, allowing him to be funny without veering into the world of absurdity.

Overall I was very pleased with this reintroduction of the character.  I really enjoyed the first Captain Marvel trade on the shelf, but wasn’t sure how such a character would work with the newer, more serious tone given to recent stories.  I’m happy to say the writers pulled it off flawlessly, expanding on Captain Marvel’s world while still keeping all of the beloved characters from the original series (heck, even Uncle Dudley makes an appearance).

With every trade I read about Captain Marvel, I just like him more and more.  He’s funny, he’s endearing, and he’s more relatable than many other characters (I’m not sure what this says about me that I relate better to a kid than an adult, but oh well).  I can’t wait to see if he makes any appearances with other DC characters.  Please tell me he meets Superman one day and is completely awestruck at meeting his hero, as only a little kid could be.

When I read about that, I’ll be able to die happy.

-Jess

Shazam!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

My weekend consisted of seeing the new James Bond movie, watching old episodes of “Seinfeld”, and reading my first ever Captain Marvel trade.  All in all, not a bad way to spend two days, if I may say so myself.

Since this blog is all about comics, we’re going to forego discussing those first two activities and focus on the main attraction: Captain Marvel…or Shazam…I’m still a little unsure on what exactly I’m supposed to be calling him, since apparently he goes by both names.  I’m going to stick with “Captain Marvel” since that was his original name.  Can I get a ruling on that? Are we good with the “Captain Marvel” choice?

I must admit, before reading this trade I knew absolutely nothing about this character.  This is not me being modest or underselling my own knowledge. Before my foray into comics, I had at least heard of most of the main superheroes and knew their general powers, even if I didn’t know much about their individual storylines.

That wasn’t the case with Captain Marvel.  In all honestly, I thought Captain Marvel was a character for, well…Marvel (it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why I thought that).  I’m convinced all of the comic people were conspiring together 60 years ago just to confuse the hell  out of me today.  Does Marvel own a character called Mister DC? I wouldn’t put it past them at this point.

Anyway, once I realized Captain Marvel was, in fact, a DC character, I was a little more interested.  Still, I had never heard of him, and wondered if perhaps he was just a minor, unsuccessful character from the Golden Age.  I knew that he had been a favorite of Mistah J’s back when he was a kid, so that made me want to read about the character that much more.

His origin story, like most Golden Age superheroes, is pretty self-explanatory.  Billy Batson, a young orphaned boy, meets a mysterious stranger who decides to pass along his powers.  Now, all the boy has to do is say “Shazam!” and he magically transforms into Captain Marvel, a full-grown man with essentially the same powers as Superman super strength, speed, and the ability to fly.

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Okay yes, the character is very similar to Superman.  There is one distinct difference though that really makes Captain Marvel special: his alter ego.

Superman is super through and through.  Born on Krypton, he always had these fantastical powers and presumably always will.  By comparison, Captain Marvel, as powerful as he is, can change back into ordinary Billy Batson by simply saying “Shazam!” a second time.

Captain Marvel’s true identity not only sets him apart from Superman, but all other superheroes as well.  He is the only character whose true identity is that of a young boy.  Sure, characters like Robin and Kid Flash exist, but they serve as sidekicks to the real stars of the show.  Billy Batson acts as a bridge between children and the adult world.  Whereas most comics force children to idolize adult characters, Billy Batson allows them to look up to one of their peers.  Captain Marvel and all of his sidekicks are average, everyday kids most of the day.  Although told in a fantastical, over the top manner (as with all comics), Captain Marvel allowed children to believe that they too could be super and make a difference.  They didn’t have to wait to grow up.

After success in the Golden Age, Captain Marvel returned to the page nearly twenty years later.  With this, the writers decided to explain his two-decade absence within the plotline.

wpid-wp-1446835244836.jpgThe ever-amusing yet evil Doctor Sivana trapped Captain Marvel and his companions in suspended animation that whole time, explaining why the characters had not aged at all.

I’m always intrigued by how comics writers explain gaps in the storyline.  Other mediums might have just reintroduced the characters with no explanation or reference to their previous existence.  In the comic world though, even in the 70’s, all of the stories were connected and needed to fit together just so in order to make the multiverse complete.  I’m fascinated and a little in awe of how well the stories tie together, and the fact that such detail was given to a slightly less veteran character is impressive to say the least.

The stories themselves were outlandish but surprisingly fun.  The comic didn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and it paid off.  By letting loose, the stories developed incredibly entertaining plotlines with truly memorable characters:

wpid-wp-1446990476520.jpgMeet Mister Mind, an alien worm-genius.

Yes.  Alien. Worm. Genius.

Captain Marvel features the zaniest cast of villains I’ve read about by far.  They may be out there, but that kept me interested throughout the trade.

A handful of the stories I found downright unique.  The best example is an issue in which the Earth, brought to life with human characteristics, is lamenting about the humans covering its surface.  Constantly poking and prodding it, Earth decides to cause a series of natural disasters to rid itself of these pests.  As a result, Captain Marvel is forced to face off against the entire Earth in order to save the human race.

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Look at his face, he’s so angry ohmygosh.

This story was original and entertaining to read.  There wasn’t an actual villain in this issue, but it was still engaging and thought-provoking, moreso than other comics. I found the depth of the story surprising, given how strongly these comics are geared towards children.  I realize all comics at this time were written for kid readers, but Captain Marvel felt more kid-friendly than just about any other comic I’ve read so far.  I was impressed, then, that I was still able to enjoy the stories presented here.  Rather than feel childish or immature, the issues were extremely enjoyable, without having to resort to a darker, more mature form of storytelling.

In the span of one day I went from knowing absolutely nothing about Captain Marvel to being a big fan of his stories.  Although they lack the subtle nuances sometimes found in other comics, I found the stories highly entertaining, filled with non-stop action and adventure.  There are no slow parts, no dragging dialogue or superfluous scenes that lead nowhere.  Everything plays into the larger story.  With so many other early comics containing unnecessary scenes, I was glad to find that this comic was tightly written, keeping me enthralled from start to finish.

At this point I’m not sure how often, if at all, Captain Marvel reappears on “the shelf”, but I certainly wouldn’t object to revisiting the character should he pop up again.

Now I feel like I need some awesome exclamation to end my blog posts, to take me from blogger extraordinaire back to everyday, mild-mannered me.  Too bad “Shazam!” is already taken.  It’d make a pretty awesome sign-off.

Ah screw it.  My blog, my rules.  Shazam!

-Jess