In Review: Shazam! #1

Before buying the next issue I'll thumb through it because I wasn't wowed by this story or art.

The covers: Three covers to pick up and you don’t have to say the magic word to get them. The Regular cover is by interior artist Dale Eaglesham and colorist Alex Sinclair. Captain Marvel sits in the middle of a high school classroom, sitting at a desk trying to answer a test question. He chews on the eraser of his pencil nervously, unaware that a paper airplane has found a landing pad in his hair, someone is shooting spit wads through his ears, and the girl behind him is putting a Kick Me sign on his back. The student in front of him is giggling at his cluelessness, a jock in the back is laughing, and a nerd student, in shirt and tie, plus an apple on his desk, reads a book with his thick glasses. Everything has been checked off for a classroom in chaos illustration. That’s why this doesn’t work for me: been there, done that. A much better frontpiece comes in the form of the Variant cover by Gary Frank & Brad Anderson. This has a youthful Captain Marvel high above the city beneath dark clouds with a lightning bolt striking his chest. He looks joyfully to the heavens at its futile actions. This clearly shows the hero enjoying the moment. Terrific character work, love the lightning, and the city is spectacular. This is a great cover. The Blank Sketch Variant cover is a wraparound white cover featuring the publisher, price, and title at the top and the book’s credits in the lower right. Underneath this cover is the Regular cover, so it’s like getting a two for one. I really love the idea of blank covers, where a fan can get an artist to create a one of a kind illustration or get the series creators to sign it. However, on its own, left blank, it’s not so much to look at. Overall grades: Regular C, Variant A+, and Blank Sketch Variant C

The stories: Geoff Johns opens his book by summarizing in the first three pages the backstory of Shazam and Billy Batson, though the old man says something I don’t recall him ever saying in other origin stories. Page 4 brings the story to the present in Philadelphia at the Museum of the American Revolution. Freddy Freeman is bored with their tour and Billy tries to get him to focus since there’s a test tomorrow over what they’re hearing. Suddenly five masked men rush in (Spiderman: Homecoming moment) to steal the artifacts and empty visitors’ pockets of their wallets. A magic word is said and the thieves are dealt with. That was an issue for me, as a new reader. I can name three of the Shazam Family, but I didn’t know the other three and the two boys are never named. Heck, the one in green is mute? This had me being completely indifferent to them, for it they can’t be named I, as the reader, have nothing to hang on, save the visuals. The rest of the issues establishes their life with their foster parents, who are nice, and a secret they have behind a door. There’s also a massive magical location that introduces a new location to them. The ending is a decent cliffhanger, but since I’ve only just met these characters it doesn’t have too much impact. My biggest issue with this premiere is that it’s the Shazam Family and not just Captain Marvel. Johns has cast a big net and not catching much that’s defined. That’s disappointing. There’s an eight page back up story titled “Mary” also by Johns. This is a cute quick tale that explains how Mary ended up with the Vasquez family, how she and Freddy bonded, and how she saved a very special pet. It’s cute. Overall grades: Both C 

The art: The settings on this issue are terrific. The opening three pages will definitely take readers to a mysterious place from the way Dale Eaglesham has created them. The smoke and energy that flies about also looks great. I’m not liking Billy Batson’s face from the first page. Though he only appears in the bottom three panels on the page, the shading lines on the side of his face make him look scratched and his cleft chin looks silly. These facial shade lines appear and disappear on several characters and make the characters look unfinished. The old wizard on the third page looks great, but his head is down. This had me feeling nervous about the characters. Page 4 had me feeling relieved: every character looks terrific. The first panel establishing the exterior of the museum as superior stuff. The next page has the book’s title proclaimed and several panels are tilted to increase the tension and energy of the situation: I love when books do this. The full-paged splash that follows has Captain Marvel looking okay, but the characters around him do not look good. The smoke that’s still swirling about him comes off as overdone. The seventh page has a circular panel as Marvel endures heavy gunfire. I like it, but I can’t believe Eaglesham covered the hero’s face with a thug’s gun blast. Yes, it’s for a visual joke that follows, but the joke still could have been accomplished with the blast lowered or deleted entirely. It’s took me a moment to figure out what was being shown in the second panel; it’s awkwardly composed. The third panel shows the joke and it’s decent. The other members of the Shazam Family appear and they look fine, though it would have been nice to have seen which kids transformed into these buff protagonists. I like the way Eaglesham composes his pages and panels, but it’s the fine details, especially on the characters, that are uneven. Don’t even get me started on the bottom three panels when the kids eat dinner. “Mary” is illustrated by May “Sen” Naito. This is done in the style of most tween books published by companies like Scholastic. It looks fine, but is so different from the main story as to be ill suited for this book. That said, I did like Naito’s art, with the characters sympathetic and cute and the settings highly detailed. If I had to choose, I’d rather Naito illustrated the main story. Overall grades: “Shazam! and the Seven Magiclands! C and “Mary” A

The colors: Mike Atiyeh does a great job with the color in the first story. The blues and grays on the first three pages really give the story and visuals an ominous/mystical feel. I was a little bummed that Billy wasn’t wearing a bright red sweater when he met Shazam, but that would have upstaged the tattered reds on the old mage. The interiors of the museum have the calm colors would one expect of such a building. I was surprised to see Freddy as a blonde, but updates were needed I guess. Page 7’s first circular panel looks great for the lighting bolts surrounding it and the dark colors within and around it. The colors used for the two heroes on the left in the fourth panel on Page 8 are really passive — too passive. They don’t stand out in any panel. Darkening or brightening them would help considerably. That may have been their original colors, but having never seen them before, I don’t know. The skin tones on Page 10 are outstanding and Atiyeh gives all the characters excellent flesh tones. The double-paged splash on 16 and 17 has excellent art and superior colors that really sell the reveal. Naito colors her own work on “Mary” and they are passive colors, but they work exceedingly well. There are some bright reds and yellows, but the majority are soft. I like them. Overall grades: Both A

The letters: Rob Leigh letters both tales, creating narration and dialogue (the same font), the story’s title, the book’s credits, scene settings, yells, and sounds. I was disappointed that the narration and the dialogue were the same font, as an ancient font would have really added some visual oomph to the first three pages. There aren’t too many sounds in this issue as the only action occurs in the first half of the book. The dialogue and yells are good, with the yells in different sizes and fonts so the reader can better hear their emphasis. The scene settings were really cool, looking metropolitan. The opening story and credits are gorgeous. Overall grade: A-

The final line: Before buying the next issue I’ll thumb through it because I wasn’t wowed by this story or art. Too many characters left unexplained in the opening issue doesn’t help and visuals that go from awesome to awkward create inconsistent art. I want to like this title, but I have a feeling I’ll be more satisfied if I dig through my back issues for Jerry Ordway’s take on this character. Overall grade: B-

To order a digital copy go to https://www.comixology.com/Shazam-2018-1/digital-comic/722259?ref=c2VyaWVzL3ZpZXcvZGVza3RvcC9ncmlkTGlzdC9SZWNlbnRBZGRpdGlvbnM

To see the covers visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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