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Subj: SHAZAM! #13 - Dearest Daddy....
Posted: Sun Jul 26, 2020 at 07:03:55 pm EDT (Viewed 204 times)
I might have called this piece 'The Death of Captain Marvel', but in evaluating the intentions and forces that dictated Geoff Johns' up-to-date reimagining of the original concept of 'Captain Marvel' one has to accept that when looking at Billy Batson and his alter ego here in 2020 there lies only a veneer surface level recognition of the character published by Fawcett Comics back in the 1940s, and continued subsequently by DC Comics when they acquired the rights to the property back in the 1970s.
In truth Captain Marvel isn't present in 2020 as DC have felt obliged to rename and reinvent the character as someone called "Shazam", which as Archimedes demonstrated centuries ago with his famous outburst "Eureka!" is less a name, as it is an exclamation.... What does 'Shazam' mean to the average person on the streets of the DC universe who are accustomed to the clearly descriptive and publically recognisable titles of Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, The Flash, Robin, Green Arrow, The Martian manhunter, Starman/Stargirl, or even Doctor Fate and Cyborg?
Is not Billy Batson's adult self a very public superhero concept as they are, as opposed to purposely less visible and more lowkey operators like Zattana, Swamp Thing, John Constantine or Madame Xanadu?
But obtuse naming of the title character isn't even the main problem to be had with Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham's 'Shazam' title as it reaches its thirteenth issue. And rather than go into a further 300 word ramble and breakdown of where this series has come from we should just get to the presentday and look to the opening page and content of Shazam #13 to grasp very quickly what a lazy and messy affair this titles conception and rapid evolution has been from Geoff Johns, for here is a book that demonstrates little of this writers onetime ability to asutely identify the the key elements a decades old character concept, to then strip down, and re-polish that aging idea back into modern relevance and renewed mass appeal. None of Johns' onetime determination and obvious hard work to sell a character to a new audience is on view in this series. No, instead what we have here is a book that is nothing more than something he has written as a tie-in to a film launch, and a collection of the same, by now banal techniques, he used to expand the mythos' of Green Lantern and, to some extent, The Flash. And thanks to this lack of any original ideas and any fresh approach to this particular character the result is a book that reads and looks as if it is a pastiche of Geoff Johns' own past greatest hits. We have an absolute riot of multi-colour super-people to suggest 'depth' of concept, fantastical but abstract strange worlds are name dropped and alluded to, but because there is little set-up or patient introduction of these concepts there is nothing here the reader really understands of these things. They exist therefore only as unneccessary clutter for the reader to try to comprehend the possible significance of.
On the art front is a similarly haphazard choice. Very solid as an artist, Dale Eaglesham's work evokes that of Jerry Ordway, and then Peter Krause's, approach to bringing life to his Power of Shazam series in the 1990s, and yet in the context of the lighter tone and content by which Geoff Johns is trying to instill here it seems to be a case of an artist being mis-assigned to a book. A more playful and energetic style is needed to bring this fantastical and surreal world Geoff Johns is envisaging to life.
As Johns did for his revamping of Barry Allen he employs a painfully heavy-handed parental aspect to attempt a repositioning of this veteran old property into the readers emotional landscape - despite his never being any real part of the characters life before modern times Cecil Batson's existence is made manifest purely by virtue of his purpose in the mechanics of Billy Batson's character, and not as any three-dimensional interesting character in and of himself. Here solely to add angst to Billy's life Billy Batson's Daddy issues lack a convincing dimension as the fact is Billy never knew him to begin with. The use of Batson Snr as foil and adversary are merely substitutes for actual depth of character in the young and insecure Batson. With not much else to call on Geoff Johns ensures much of this issue is devoted to Billy Batson's father and his lack of parental responsibility to the needy Billy. That Batson Senior is now under the possession of Mr Mind adds high angst to an already angst-haunted youth, but as with Johns' work on Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, and various other of his characters over the years, this writers now entrenched simple-minded assumption that his audience is emotionally and intellectually stunted is here in plain view to see. Accordingly Shazam #13 is a book that tells us, at every single turn, what to think and feel concerning Billy's internal dilemma's, and then, with all the deliberateness of a weary but patient remedial teacher, tells us all over again... and again, and again. But there is little to be had here really, just the shallow cheap angst of a precocious wanting child over his deadbeat Dad who was never any part in his life anyway, and as Johns tries to put it - he was never there because apparently he was so small and shallow as a human being that he could barely even care about himself, never mind his son. It's all so familiar, banal, and tiresome as a plot element. The parent-as-frienemy. Achingly Overused in comics today, and certainly overused in Geoff Johns' own writing career by now. Even the Wizard is no longer the paternal wise-man who once formed such an important part of the young Billy and Captain Marvel's life in times gone by, a red flag then of just how desperate Geoff Johns is to add some perceived 'depth' to Batson by making him ever more isolated and with no parental older figure to go to for occasional support and advice.
Peering behind the admittedly eye-catching cover the first page of this issue sets the situation with the Marvel Family, a random multi-ethnic cast clad in bright colours and tinsel, stood around a fallen Black Adam. The text informs us we are on 'The Earthlands' and with Eugene, Darla, Billy, Freddy, Mary Pedro, and Darla! All are looking down on the prone unconcious form of Adam, and we see a cocophany of speech bubbles that, perhaps deliberately, emulates that of Brian Bendis' trademark style of random talk-over-each-other bafflegab. As an attempt to inform the reader it is limited, but as an attempt to instill the notion that this is 'family', with all of its squabbling and communication, it largely succeeds. The problem with this page really lies in the fact that with its seven similarly clad cast members it demonstrates the massive overload of characters and strange locations that hinder the readers ability to comprehend what is what in this book and focus and invest in any one character. Otherwise though this opening page is a fine example of Dale Eagleshams solid work ethic, and does tell the story well in terms of layout we watch Billy Batson/Shazam turn to face an unseen person... the person who is responsible for Black Adam's defeat. His own Father.
And so the attack of The Monster Society of Evil, and such an onslaught of new cast members and faces, and idea, and events, and sights, and tinsel, that as this reader tries to take it all in he can see it is no real mystery that this is a title that has already been announced as being cancelled, barely even a year in. Another two or three issues to go.
Despite a reasonably successful film to hang itself off 'SHAZAM!' is a title that pays no heed to a mass audience who may not be familiar with that film, it has no awareness that its audience will need to be brought along with it at a pace that is natural and which can engage their interest. It pours quantity into its content and swamps the readers ability to even care about its (theoretical) central character. Who really cares about this interpretation of Billy Batson? Who can identify with a boy this immature, this needy, despite being surrounded now by a large and well intended 'family'?
It is an inconsequential title, a set of very familiar and overused cliches that contains no great time or effort from writer Geoff Johns and is, to me, being written inbetween his other many commitments. And it shows. There is nothing new or original to be had here. Neither in terms of approach, nor in terms of even moving the Captain Marvel/SHAZAM mythos along. After all the simple appeal of the early Captain Marvel years lay in the idea that a reader of the comic, a young boy or girl, could potentially be the recipient of a magic wish that granted them the identity of a capable, wise, and powerful superhero like Captain Marvel, or his Sister, Mary Marvel. Their abilities were easy to decipher, spelled out in their magic word that granted their power. By contrast what today's SHAZAM character can do is... well, anyone's guess, as it is up to the writer to decide what his abilities are in any given appearance and as a result this is a character who is hard to understand as his nature is now so nebulous, and his abilities are so ill-defined and nebulous.
That this movie-led title lasted just over a year tells you all you have to know about its worth.
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