In what seems like a concerted effort to not just have a Shazam ongoing but also have one that will allow the character to play well with the rest of the DC Universe, Mark Waid and Dan Mora’s series is really hitting its stride by not forgetting that Billy Batson is a kid.
Written by Mark Waid
Illustrated by Dan Mora
Colored by Alejandro Sanchez
Lettered by Troy Peteri
Shadiness. Hatefulness. Arrogance. Zeal. Anger. Malice. These are the new powers of Shazam-and if Billy doesn’t find a way to get them under control, the lives of everyone around him will be forever destroyed!
The key aspect of Captain Marvel/Shazam is that it is pure wish fulfillment. A kid says a magic word and turns into a hulking superhero. Too many times, this essential truth has not be present in the way the character is presented, but in the most recent “Shazam” series, Waid never lets us go too far without remembering that fact. The best Shazam stories balance the childlike nature of Billy with the power of the gods in Captain Marvel, but Waid has also flipped that on its ear: what if the gods can’t be trusted to be the voices of reason? What if Billy is the more mindful and responsible partner in this balancing act?
It’s a really fun take on the character that allows the book to keep the light tone but also weaponize its humor. When the Captain (ugh, I’ll never get used to this) is talking with Queen Bee, through Dan Mora’s expressive facial expressions, Billy lose control and the gods take over. It’s not quite a Two-Face split-personality situation, but there’s a real sense of Billy and the gods playing tug of war over the Captain’s words. Mora is able to strike just the right tone with this, too. His ‘flirty Captain’ is so over the top, oozing machismo and clearly thinking with his little Captain. You can tell instantly who is in charge by the posture, the position of his hands, and the dumb look on his face.
But Mora also packs the book with action. He really needs to thank Waid for the opportunity to draw things like Gorillas in spacesuits firing machine guns on the moon and a dinosaur in a monocle, but he takes those opportunities and runs with them. Mora’s art jumps off the page in a way that suggests youthful energy which for Shazam is a perfect fit. His characters have a nervous energy and you can practically see their eyes darting back and forth as they try to figure out what the hell is going on. Because of that, when we see the other Shazamily (Jesus Christ, that’s worse than the Captain) members doing paperwork, Mora is able to take what might look like a relatively staid scene and give it an undercurrent of life by drawing Darla’s eyes comically heavy and the piles of paperwork literally reaching to the ceiling. The extra touches really make the scene come alive.
But what Waid is doing best here is his integration of the past few Shazam status quos into one book. Mary’s off doing her thing, but we’ve got the rest of the family involved, even though Billy is the only one currently with any magic. We’re getting stuff from the Rock of Eternity, and nothing that’s happening here seems to contradict anything we saw from the Tim Sheridan run or the Geoff Johns aborted ongoing. But it, like the first issue of Si Spurrier’s “The Flash,” also doesn’t seem beholden to any of that. Waid and Mora are telling a story that has hints of the character’s recent past, but is something new and different. There’s a sense that Waid doesn’t see the past as an enemy, like so many writers do, but as a foundation to build on.
And on that same note, the comic also isn’t afraid to be similar, in parts, to the two Shazam films. Aside from the occasional Mora-drawn Captain face being a little too much like Zachary Levi for comfort, that is never the primary influence, nor do I think that Waid is trying to actively reference the film. But there’s a sense of peace when things are similar to the film that other books would either lean way too heavily into or run away from screaming. Waid and Mora seem happy to let you remember there was a Shazam film that you sort of liked, and one you probably didn’t see.
Final Verdict: 8.1 – Two modern masters of comics making a really fun, exciting comic.