It is pretty much impossible for me to approach this title as if it is my first exposure to the Shazam character. I was a huge fan of Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam take back in the day, so Captain Marvel holds a place on my favorites list. Geoff Johns goes out of his way to modernize the concepts, and he does a decent job. It just doesn’t hold up against the Power of Shazam.
In the new 52, Billy Batson is a mean-spirited boy, who acts out to hide his pain and vulnerability. I really liked the updated take on Talky Tawny; the tiger’s zoo habitat is one of the last good memories that Billy has of his parents, so now he has personified the tiger into being his friend. Of course, when blessed with the power of Shazam… interesting things happen.
The wizard is recreated as an Australian Aborigine. The designs on all the figures of power are pretty impressive; I wish we could see more of those ancient wizards in action. The 7 deadly sins are all loose in the world too, and they do show up, causing chaos for a few pages. But they feel shoehorned into the story; there aren’t enough pages in this for them to get their due.
Johns doesn’t mess with Black Adam’s formula too much, which is a wise move. Still an arrogant jerk from ancient Egypt, Adam is a fantastic villain who ALMOST has a streak of nobility. Johns adds a pretty huge original sin into Adam’s origin, but even so, there are moments when it seems like you could almost reason with the guy. Fairness and justice are his motivation, after all.
Dr. Sivana starts off as a hale and hearty scientist in search of power, and ends up a weak genius with the ability to see magic. He never takes center stage, but clearly the seeds are planted for further stories. Seeing Sivana’s odd partner appear on the last page just bummed me out again, though. That character’s finest moment was in 52, and seeing his “first” appearance here just reminds me that the 52 series doesn’t count anymore.
Johns returns to a concept he used in Flashpoint, that Billy Batson has a large family of adopted brothers and sisters, all of whom can share the power of Shazam. Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior (now called Mary and King Shazam) are part of this group, but there are a few more kids getting power ups too. It is satisfying seeing the kids deal with school bullies and reunite with their adoptive parents (who are actually really good people, I’m happy to say).
Gary Frank’s art is great, as always. I don’t really care for the frayed hoods and cloaks that Shazam and Adam are sporting. It doesn’t seem necessary and blurs their classic look. But Mary Marvel, the other Marvel kids, Sivana, they all look great. I can also see some potential in the Shazam look with just a few tweaks. As always, Frank’s greatest strength is the facial expressions on his “actors.” There is never any doubt about the emotional state of any character.
In the end, this is a FAIR comic that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. That said, it lays a solid groundwork for Shazam in the new 52. Billy at the end of this story is easily a character I could find myself rooting for in future appearances.