Trials of Shazam #1
“The Boy and the Man”
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist/Cover artist: Howard Porter
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN
I’ve never been a big fan of the original Captain Marvel. Though in part the ultimate in childhood wish fulfillment, he was also a clear knockoff of Superman (if memory serves, a court even ruled as much decades ago). Both the Big Red Cheese and the Man of Steel of whitebread pillars of strength and speed, both with rogues’ galleries full of mad scientists and monsters. With Trials of Shazam, writer Judd Winick addresses that redundancy, focuses on the main difference between the pair and reworks Captain Marvel into a different kind of hero with a different kind of mission. It’s a smart move, but I wonder if DC will stick with it in the long term (especially with a Jeff Smith Shazam! project in the future) or allow the changes to last solely for the 12-issue of this limited series.
In the wake of the Infinite Crisis, magic has been eradicated and reborn, but the new age of magic ain’t like the old one. There are new rules, new players and new threats. It’s like the world of magic is suddenly an untamed frontier once again, but fortunately, there’s a new sheriff in town. Captain Marvel now monitors mystical threats the world over from his other-dimensional perch in the Rock of Eternity, rushing into action when demonic danger is about to erupt. But the Marvel is about to find out that the rules have changed for him as well.
When it was announced that Howard Porter would serve as the artist on this new title, I was less than enthused. I was never taken with his work on JLA years ago, and his recent stints on Fantastic Four and The Flash were capable but unremarkable for the most part. But just as Judd Winick has reinvented the Shazam! property, Porter has reinvented himself as an artist. He offers up a radically different style here, and there’s no arguing with the results. His art is now highly reminiscent of the style of Dan (The Nocturnals) Brereton, as well as a more grounded look that puts me in mind of Scott (Batman: Night Cries) Hampton’s work.
The one aspect of the book that doesn’t quite sit right with me is the contrasting tones in the script and the art. Though the story is darker in tone in the opening scene, by the middle of the book, Winick lightens it considerably. He maintains that brighter feel that’s inherent in the Captain Marvel concept, and it’s a smart move. As much as I enjoyed Porter’s art, though, it boasts a darker, edgier feel that’s not always in keeping with the script. The artist is not to be faulted for it, though, and the mismatch doesn’t overwhelming the storytelling. I wonder if that imbalance will continue to plague the book or if the story will gradually synch up with the moodier visuals.
Superman fights bad guys and saves the day, smiles for the camera and symbolizes that all is right with the world. Captain Marvel used to do the same thing, but Winick has changed that. Now, he’s fighting unseen battles against evils the world knows nothing about and shouldn’t know about. Captain Marvel doesn’t live among us, blending in until the call to action sounds. Now, he sits above and watches for warning signs. It’s a significant change in the character and one that offers a lot of promise. Others have condemned the shift in direction, and I can understand why. The campiness of the Marvel Family is lost with this new take on the property, but I was never particularly taken with the saccharine qualities of traditional Shazam storytelling anyway. 7/10