Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Holy Moley!

Posted by Don MacPherson on March 8th, 2012

DC Comics and Geoff Johns have been criticized recently after it began to spread the word about plans for its Shazam! property in its New 52 lineup. A backup feature (penned by Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank) introducing the new take on the World’s Mightiest Mortal is set to begin in Justice League later this month. The backup will be titled “The Curse of Shazam!” and as Johns has revealed in interviews, he and DC are renaming the super-hero character. Instead of Captain Marvel, the hero will be called Shazam. Johns argued many people outside of the niche market of super-hero comics know DC’s Captain Marvel by his magic word anyway. It can be presumed DC isn’t comfortable with “Marvel” being in the name of one of its iconic heroes anyway. Purists will no doubt be disappointed, but I see the logic behind the decision (even if I think Johns is selling readers short).

Fans of the character also expressed their trepidation when DC released a preview of the new Shazam (seen at right). Now sporting a hood, the teaser image would seem to make it clear this is a darker, more intense take on the Big Red Cheese (who will no doubt no longer be referred to as such in the New 52 — if “Captain Marvel” throws people off, the cheesy slur hurled by his enemies must be perceived as befuddling as well). Of course, it’s been known for some time Frank would be the handling the art chores for this reinterpretation and revival. Given his involvement, it was a safe bet we’d be looking at a grittier Shazam.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered a Darker Mightiest Mortal.

In the wake of such comics as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, DC published Shazam! The New Beginning, a four-part series written by Roy and Dann Thomas and illustrated by Tom Mandrake. Following Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC rebooted a number of its properties. Superman and Wonder Woman had had their turns, and it opted to give Shazam the same treatment in 1997. The Marvel Family was gone, as were talking tigers and the brighter, more playful tone readers used to associate with the property.

In The New Beginning, the orphaned Billy Batson ended up in the care of an abusive uncle, none other than Thaddeus Sivana. His archenemy was his legal guardian. Furthermore, while Mandrake is a skilled artist who’s done a great job on a number of comics over the years, I can’t imagine someone whose style would be more ill-suited for the goofiness of Captain Marvel.

The premise behind and continuity of Shazam!: The New Beginning didn’t last long. DC made little use of the new incarnation of the character. The concept fizzled, as the darker take didn’t seem to click for readers. There’s been a number of relaunches and reinterpretations since, and after “The Curse of Shazam!,” I expect there will be more still. Aside from a four-year run for The Power of Shazam! (by Jerry Ordway and Peter Krause) in the mid 1990s, Captain Marvel/Shazam! hasn’t seemed to have the much staying power. Though Captain Marvel’s comics once outsold those of Superman in the Golden Age, modern comics readers seem able to focus on the World’s Mightiest Mortal only for short spurts.

Personally, I think DC should’ve given the Flashpoint incarnation of the character — that saw six kids share the power of Shazam and could summon “Captain Thunder” — another shot. It stayed true to the concept’s origins in many ways but brought a lot of new dynamics to the mix as well, and ditched the “Marvel” moniker from the hero’s name to boot.

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6 Responses to “Holy Moley!”

  1. Ultrapaul Says:

    I just hope they don’t put Tron-lines all over his costume.

  2. Comics A.M. | Archie co-CEO talks Kevin Keller marriage, boycott | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    […] Comics | In light of DC’s new, “darker” Shazam!, Don MacPherson looks back at 1987′s Shazam! The New Beginning, a four-part series where “the orphaned Billy Batson ended up in the care of an abusive uncle, none other than Thaddeus Sivana. His archenemy was his legal guardian.” [Eye on Comics] […]

  3. ThatNickGuy Says:

    Wasn’t there some fan support behind the Flashpoint version of Shazam? I recall the concept being pretty popular last year.

    Personally, I think DC is missing a huge opportunity to give the Captain Marvel/Shazam mythos a shot at being a top-selling children’s title. Give it the same depth and appeal that Jeff Smith’s mini-series portrayed. Just because it’s kid-friendly doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down.

    I don’t mean to shamelessly plug (oh, who am I kidding? yes, I do), but I recently discussed this potential on my own blog.

  4. MrJM Says:

    Calling him Captain Thunder would have made waaaaaaay too much sense.

  5. Steely Dan Says:

    I’m a huge old school Captain Marvel fan (SHAZAM! From the ’40s to the ’70s has a cherished spot on my bookshelf), so this new version seems a little… odd. C’est la vie. Different strokes for different folks.

    That said, I must be one of the few people who actually liked the SHAZAM! The New Beginning mini-series from 1987. Something about it just clicked with me. I hesitate to use the word, but it was actually somewhat Dickensian in its approach. It also wasn’t the fawning nostalgia piece I found Jerry Ordway’s version to be (even though visually I preferred Ordway’s version of the character to Tom Mandrake’s).

    I really would have loved to have seen John Byrne’s proposed SHAZAM! reboot from 1991, though. I’ve seen some of the unpublished preliminary artwork and read interviews with him where he discussed the premise he had created, and it sounds like it could have been one of the best ideas to have updated the character for a modern audience.

  6. Mo Walker Says:

    @Ultrapaul – I agree with you, I am so over the “Tron suits” on DC’s teen characters. I agree with Don about giving the Flashpoint‘s Captain Thunder a chance. I personally found that Flashpoint concept very intriguing. Maybe DC could use Captain Thunder in the Earth 2 book. There are supposed to be a new generation of heroes springing up after the events of issue one.