Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank
Colors by Brad Anderson
Letters by Nick J. Napolitano & Dezi Sienty
Collection Covers by Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
Holy Moly this book! In less than a year, we’ve got both a movie and a new volume of Shazam. So good, I found myself practically summoned to read more about him. The New 52 Shazam was the latest version of the character before DC’s Rebirth run. While Shazam didn’t have his own series during the New 52, he was able to get a story in. A number of issues sprinkled throughout the Justice League run featuring Shazam made its way into a single volume. Like most characters in comics, Shazam has gone through a number of retcons and changes to his origin story.
The New 52, the most current origin story used, will be covered here. It’s not as hilarious as my first time seeing Shazam in the Flashpoint animated movie. Watching Flashpoint Shazam transform, my buddy and I simultaneously exclaimed: “he’s just a pile of kids!”. This will always be my first thought of the Shazam family.
The story follows our young hero Billy Batson, a foster kid with no parents. Checks out so far. A lovely couple is being interviewed to become the potential foster parents for Billy. Things are looking like it’s shaping up to be a good wholesome origin story. Except Billy is a turd. He steals, lies and says things that all the soap in the world couldn’t clean out. Despite being brought into a new home with lots of cool siblings, with their own fun little quirks, Billy is still distant. He’s a kid who was abandoned and views others as a potential to disappoint expectations and trust. Geoff John’s doesn’t waste a chance to display this in every angry outburst he makes towards those that don’t share his same bitter outlook.
Before we make the same assumptions the Wizard does in this story, we get to see that Billy isn’t such a bad egg after all. He helps out his new siblings by standing up to their bullies. In doing so, he finds himself transported to a magical fortress where he begins his on the spot interview for Champion of Magic from a cranky old wizard. This wizard goes by the name Shazam and is looking for someone to take his awesome magic powers. He hasn’t had great success when is requiring “pure good” to be on someone’s resume.
As we have seen, Billy definitely is not pure good. One of my favorite things about this origin for Billy is when he is told that he isn’t worthy, he makes a counter-argument to the wizard. Billy has no idea what’s going on but makes it a point to tell the wizard that pure good isn’t a real thing. There is potential for good in everyone as well the potential to be the worst. Real philosophy coming from this teen, enough for the wizard say “hmmm ok good point. Here are some awesome superpowers, now don’t die.”
From here we get a lot Billy, with his newfound powers, and Freddy, one of his foster brothers, going around having fun and stumbling into trouble while learning what he can do. Both Geoff Johns and the movie do a great job reflecting what it would be like for a kid to just find out he has superpowers. While our heroes romp around both in the story (and in my own writing), let’s check in on the villains of this story.
First up, you have Doctor Sivana who, in this book, really isn’t anything but super buff at the beginning of this story. He is looking for a cure for some illness his family has (which we never know about). He has decided to pursue magic instead of science to see if it can cure what ales them (which he never will). While on his search for magic, he gets hit with some magic lightning and gets a magic eye allowing him to see, you guessed it, magic. Magical. With it, he is able to free Black Adam (Evil Shazam).
Black Adam is the original Champion of Magic. Time imprisoned hasn’t done much for his narcissism. The guy gets to have a whole fish out of water experience briefly in the modern times before setting out to hunt down the wizard. He wants to obtain the remaining power from the wizard. The only thing that could stop him is if some kid got ahold of it. Once he realizes that he is too late and the wizard has chosen a new champion, Black Adam sets out on a path of destruction to locate Shazam.
Where is Shazam at this point? He has the powers. He wants to stop people from doing bad things and cares for others safety. Despite these qualities, when Billy confronts Black Adam he is unable to fight him successfully. Billy receives a little back story about Black Adam and learns that he’s a selfish dude who has killed the people he cared about for more power. This turned into a good cautionary tale for Billy, showing what he could become. The realization finally hits Billy when his siblings come to his rescue. He always felt that his distance from others was a strength. But that wasn’t true. To have others risk their necks for him showed he doesn’t have to push people away.
The name is spoken; the Shazam Family is born! What’s cooler than having awesome supporting characters? Giving them superpowers also! I shared a jaw drop moment with Black Adam here. The whole moment plays out amazingly. If that wasn’t enough insult for him, he ends up destroying himself falling for kid’s taunts. With the bad guy beat and the day saved it’s time for the Shazam family to hit the hay. They have Christmas presents to wake up to.
Geoff Johns’ Living Lightning
Geoff Johns was one of the first writers for DC I learned of beginning my journey into collecting comics. Lot’s of work went into bringing back characters to popularity with the New 52. Sparking new life into many heroes. I personally enjoyed Aquaman and Green Lantern. With his success, it was nice seeing Johns give Shazam some attention. I enjoy the heart of this story most of all; a challenge he didn’t have to overcome by himself, just because he was the “champion” Billy faced down evil and became a hero because of his family’s support.
That was the biggest take away from my experience with this character. The story itself works well with his most current run released in 2018, seemingly picking up where this series left off. Currently, Shazam’s stories seem to be largely self-contained from the rest of the DCU. In time, I am looking forward to more connection to the larger universe. Until then I’ll enjoy seeing what fun and heroic adventures Billy and his siblings get up to.