Friday, 11 October 2013


It's been a couple of years now since DC revitalised, to mixed success and with mixed results, its superhero continuity by starting afresh. Some titles (mostly the several featuring Batman) continued more or less unchanged with their individual continuity now compressed to fit into five years (a period before the new titles began). Some characters disappeared like the Stephanie Brown incarnation of Batgirl and Barbara Gordon (now recovered from being crippled by the Joker) back in the role.

The Justice League is back with its core heroes -Batman, Superman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman -and Cyborg who was now never in the Teen Titans (it seems). Written by Geoff Johns and now with dynamic detailed art by Ivan Reis (replacing superstar Jim Lee) it continues to be a highly entertaining action-packed superhero title. This collection has two storylines: the League versus a newly empowered Cheetah (the old Wonder Woman villainess) and the League vs Atlantis in a crossover with Aquaman. It's a lot of fun.

And she has an unfortunate effect on Superman.

Batwoman, who only appeared not long before the new continuity, is more or less unchanged and is the most artistically successful being co-written (by the character's co-creator) and illustrated by the same, genius artist JH Williams III. This, however, is about to change as he quite after DC management refused to let Batwoman marry her girlfriend. It wasn't personal but policy as none of the characters are allowed to be married.

This collection is mostly a team-up with Wonder Woman, who's appearing a lot in this post, and it's probably the weakest installment so far. Which isn't to say it's bad by any means, it just isn't quite up to the high standard already set.

In Wonder Woman there's a lot of focus on the Greek Gods, an important part of her continuity but not one I've ever cared for. However, writer Brian Azzarello with artist Cliff Chiang has scrapped the old ancient Greece look and made them move with the times. No more armour and flowing hair (the men), but jeans, open necked shirts, and Jack Daniels.

This volume continues the ongoing story of Diana (WW) trying to save the life of a baby (one of like, WW herself, Zeus's children spawned on a human) who is under threat, along with the mother, from jealous wife Hera. There's a lot more to it than that but I can't be arsed to go there. Despite the sketchy art which I'm not keen on, it's a good refreshing take on the character.

And there's an appearance by super tough guy Orion of the New Gods who gets his arse handed to him by Diana.

But this is the title I really wanted to write about.

This character has a long but not complicated history. 

For a start, he wasn't called Shazam but Captain Marvel. Co-created by artist CC Beck for Fawcett Comics, he appeared not long after Superman and became very popular until, some years later, DC sued Fawcett by claiming he was a copy of Superman. This was patently ridiculous but DC still won, Fawcett collapsed and DC took over ownership of the character.

By the time they decided to use him, Marvel had already copyrighted the name Captain Marvel so DC were not allowed to use that name on the cover of any comic featuring the character though the character kept that name. Shazam! is the magic word he used to transform himself from the adolescent Billy Batson into the world's mightiest mortal.

Note the word magic in there. This was already one significant difference between him and Superman. Neither did he have Superman's range of powers. Cap was basically incredibly strong, invulnerable, clever, very fast, and could fly. Basically, like the man of steel himself, Cap was what became accepted as one of an archetype -the super-man. 

Also different from Superman, his adventures were more naive, cartoony in visual style, and full of charming absurdities like Tawky Tawny the intelligent tiger. He also had a super 'family' who shared his powers to a lesser degree and included Captain Marvel Jnr aka the crippled kid Freddy Freeman, Mary Marvel, and the non-powered Uncle Dudley Marvel.

Heading towards the millennium, DC took the character more seriously as they integrated him into their own continuity -for years he was in a parallel world until the Crisis On Infinite Earths got rid of the multiverse.

Now writer Geoff Johns has recreated the character for DC's revised continuity and he has done a very clever and interesting job of it in collaboration with the excellent artist Gary Frank. Somehow Johns has managed to keep much of the mythos of the character while updating it for a modern audience. A lot has changed since 1939. You can see him above. Below is what he used to look like.

Okay. Alter ego Billy Batson is no longer a naive kid who wants to do good but a 15 year old who's been in care and foster homes all his life and has become cynical, manipulative, and out for himself though, under the right circumstances, he can do the right thing. His name is now Shazam after his magic word which was given to him by a wizard (this origin remains virtually unchanged) who looks a bit like a grizzled Australian aborigine rather than the long white haired white man.

He's taken in by a decent couple who already have several foster children who he wants nothing to do with. Needless to say, this changes. On getting his powers he uses them to get money for food and beer and also, almost inadvertently do some good deeds.

Also reborn is his nemesis Black Adam who goes looking for Shazam to extremely violent effect.

I'll skip the details as I don't want to spoil it for you. The content of this graphic novel originally appeared as as a series of short in the back of the Justice League comic but they don't read like that. What you get is a full blown origin story that touches all the bases, while updating it in an interesting way. Shazam now has his own title and I'm looking forward to the first trade. Meanwhile check out the samples below.

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