Today sees the release of "Shazam!" Volume 1 from DC Comics. The hardcover book collects the Shazam! back up feature from the "Justice League" series and stars the New 52 version of Shazam, the super-hero formerly known as Captain Marvel. The collection is written by DC Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, and art by Gary Frank. The pair previously collaborated on "Batman: Earth 2" and a number of Superman stories, including "Superman: Secret Origin."
"Shazam!" Volume 1 marks the New 52 debut of Billy Batson and his alter ego of the Mightiest Mortal, Shazam. When the wizard Shazam's champion, Black Adam, went rogue centuries ago, the Council of Wizards locked him away, along with all the magic in the world. When Black Adam is freed, Shazam, now the last surviving member of the Council, must choose a new champion.
Johns and Frank do an excellent job of re-introducing Billy Batson and the Marvel Family in a way that will appeal to long time and new fans of the characters. The creators gradually lay the foundation in order for new fans to get acquainted with all the characters and concepts, but, at the same time, die hard fans will pick up on the hints of things to come. In fact, the pacing, as a whole, is incredibly well done considering the book is a collection of many short installments. The book reads as one continuous narrative. Much like Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead," readers will be too engaged to recognize when one chapter ends and the next begins. Of course, the trade off there is that readers must patiently wait for all the punching to start.
As with most of DC's characters in the New 52 DC Universe, Shazam is an updated version of the character. Most notably among the changes is, obviously, the name. In order to do away with any confusion with Marvel's "Captain Marvel" trademark, DC has chosen to refer to the Big Red Cheese as Shazam both on the cover and within its pages.
Additionally, Batson is an orphan from Philadelphia, rather than Fawcett City. Unfortunately, Johns and Frank do not make Philly as much a character in their tale as Cullen Bunn and artists did in the pages of "Venom." It is a treat to see that landmark skyline rendered by Frank, though. The Fawcett name still makes its way in, as Billy and his fellow orphans attend Fawcett High School.
It is Johns' signature to take a classic character, emphasize its most notable components and then modernize the approach to them. The model is very much the same with Shazam. Taking a page out of his "Green Lantern: Rebirth" playbook, where Green Lanterns went from having "no fear" to the much more realistic "ability to overcome fear," rather than Batson being someone of pure good, he has the potential to be good. Billy's new characterization may be the one element that sticks in the craw of die hard fans, but it does make him a more well rounded character and allows Batson to grow into his new role of super hero.
As seen in "JSA," Johns is great at playing at the boy pretending to be an adult aspect of the character and he steps it up even further here. Frank is right along side him too. Just look at the first meeting of Billy as Shazam and Freddy Freeman. Frank's mastery of facial expressions and emotions really drives that moment home. Not many other artists could capture that subtlety.
By the end, Shazam and the rest of the Marvel Family of been established, as well as Shazam's major villains with plenty of potential moving forward with Billy as the first in a new Council of Wizards and magic released back out into the world. Hopefully, it is not long before the arrival of a new Black Bison, the North American representative in the Council.