Well, with Shazam #14 done the first major storyarc of the series is over . . . and apparently the only storyarc because with issue 15 the series will come to a close. And issue 15 is a filler issue written by a different creative team. Exactly like issue 12 was. And for completion's sake, I'm going to include my thoughts here:
Ares wrote: ↑
Tue Jun 09, 2020 6:09 pm
So they finally released a new issue of the Shazam
series, and while I'm not a fan of the book at all, I have to admit I was curious how Johns was going to resolve the crisis he set up and I'm even slightly curious how the whole Superboy Prime thing would go down.
So how does it all get resolved?
It doesn't. Issue 12 is a fill-in issue that takes place before the first issue, and is . . . well, it's terrible. It takes the fun concept of Billy teaming up with Batman and just completely wastes it.
The issue opens up with one of the Crocodile Men (Golden Age Captain Marvel foes that are actually aliens) showing up and threatening people. Billy and Freddy are there, and Billy transforms to fight the alien. The fight is over shortly, and Freddy comments about how Billy's villains are lame. Billy defends himself and says that his enemies are cool, to which Freddy says "You have two cool villains: Dr. Sivana and Black Adam."
"What about Mr. Mind?"
"You fight a smart bug. Do you want that to count?"
And Freddy then goes on to say how Batman, Superman and even Wonder Woman has better villains than Billy.
This . . . actually made me mad. I looked up the writer, Jeff Loveness, and shock of shocks, he wrote for Jimmy Kimmel
and Rick and Morty
. It comes off as mean-spirited, but I will agree. Nu-Shazam has terrible villains. Meanwhile I'd argue Captain Marvel has a collection of villains at least as good as Superman or Wonder Woman, if not better.
In any case, Freddy tells Billy that he has lame villains because he never really does anything with his powers, and that he needs to grow up. So Billy decides to go to Gotham to show what he can do against some "real" villains. Freddy calls him on the phone, they have banter about how "it's against the rules to just go fight crime in another hero's city", and Billy winds up looking like an idiot because he apparently doesn't go on patrols or now how to look for a crime.
Eventually he finds the Scarecrow, who's set a trap for Batman. Billy just barges in and gets a face full of Fear Gas, which makes Billy start to hallucinate.
I remind you, Billy's powerset includes "The Courage of Achilles". He should be immune to this.
Batman shows up, and Billy's freak out distracts Batman enough that the Scarecrow can hit Batman with the fear gas too.
Billy is shown drowning in his fear, but somehow he's able to "connect" with Bruce, see Bruce's own fear, and feeding off of each other, the pair are able to overcome the fear and defeat Scarecrow.
Afterwards they have a heart to heart, with Billy again talking about how lame it was that all he did was punch a crocodile man. Batman tells Billy that he fights a crocodile man (Killer Croc) all the time. But more to the point, Batman talks about how when he lost his parents, he felt like he was forced to grow up and become who he is, and that Billy should take his time to decide what he wants to be.
Billy agrees, then asks if this counts as a team up. Batman says "no" and leaves, while Billy says "Definitely counts as a team up".
I get what they were trying for, but it's again really sad how a direct to video LEGO movie does a better job of capturing the character than professional writers. Heck, the team-up with Billy and Batman is better in the movie as well.
This was just bad.
Back to the current issue.
The storyarc ends with Superboy Prime of all people showing up and having a fight with Billy and Black Adam, making his usual snide remarks, being a stand in for the fans that hate the new Shazam status quo, and tries to give Billy some closure to the issue with his dad. It turns out that, yes, in this continuity, Billy's dad is a terrible person that abandoned him. But hey, happy ending because the 7th champion was really Black Adam all along, and Billy's true success was in redeeming him back into being a hero. Now the Shazam Family gets to go on all kind of adventures in the Seven Magic Lands. And I will say that Billy keeping his word and saving Adam's life? One of the most Captain Marvel things this version of Billy ever did.
I'd like to say that with this series Geoff Johns completely changed my mind about his take on the Shazam mythos, that he re-invented them in a new and engaging way that will be an instant classic for decades to come, and that he's won me over to the idea of calling Captain Marvel 'Shazam'.
Instead, all I can say is "Thank goodness that mess is over".
The really sad thing? The coolest thing about the issue was that they name dropped The Atari Force at one point. How frickin sad is that?
This book is a real disappointment. Especially since it's clear Geoff Johns was clearly trying to make this version of the Marvel Family stick, and to his credit he did actually try flesh out this idea. He made his version of Billy much closer to the classic version of the character, and he tried to give the new Shazam Family individual personalities as well. He treated the Rock of Eternity like it was Billy's version of the Fortress of Solitude or the Batcave, something a lot of creators forget. He used the Rock to travel to other dimensions, which is something it hadn't been used for in decades. He tried to be creative in ways to introduce older aspects of the Marvel Family Mythos like Mr. Tawney. And he really did try to make the focus about family.
Unfortunately, Johns just couldn't pull it all together in any meaningful way.
Yes, Johns spends a lot of time talking about family. In fact, he overdoes it on family to the point that it's annoying. It's the least subtle message about "family being who supports you, not who your blood is", and we get beaten over the head with it over and over and over again. And it's completely undermined with the idea that the second Billy goes to a foster home, he gets the perfect family fully of perfect people who instantly teach him the true meaning of Christmas over a couple of issues, and they're all worthy of the power, same as him.
I actually like the idea of an expanded Marvel Family roster. I've championed the idea myself, it's a core part of the relaunch I've pitched. But having them just all be in the same house and handed to him is too . . . easy. Back in the day, Billy had to spend time as a solo hero for a bit, learning the ropes and figuring out who he was, and then he started to build up his family over time. He chose Freddy to be a part of his family and he re-discovered his link to Mary, and invited Uncle Dudley and Mr. Tawney to likewise be a part of his family. It was something that grew organically, and new additions should happen just as organically, even if they do all get introduced over the course of a single storyline.
A big problem is that the new kids really don't have much of a personality. Billy and Mary are the only ones that feel like characters. Everyone else is pretty one-note. Freddy is a sarcastic smartass. Darla is bubbly and nice. Pedro is reliable and straightforward. Eugene is smart and a geek. That's about it. They've got less personality than the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Johns also discovered a Shyamalan style twist about magic. Namely, by making the entire book about magic, he sucked all of the magic out of franchise. What made the pre-Nu-52 Marvel Family stories "magical" was that anything could happen. Captain Marvel was a teenager with a magic word that made him one of the most powerful superheroes in the world. His base was a mountain that sat in the center of space and time that let him travel anywhere and anywhen. One of his best friends was a humanoid tiger man. Anything could happen. One adventure could be thwarting Dr. Sivana's attempt to create a ray that sapped everyone's willpower, another could be traveling to another dimension to fight techno-wizards, another could be fighting literal Satan himself, another could be helping a centaur, a satyr, a mermaid and a fawn adjust to modern life, etc.
By making the series just about the 7 Magic Lands and all of the enemies Magic based, Johns limited the storytelling potential rather than expanded on it. It didn't help that the 7 Magic Lands were all VERY cliche. One land was literally a hybrid of Oz and Wonderland. Another was Video Game land. Another was Talking Animal land. Instead of an infinite number of dimensions with any possibility, we get seven lands that just aren't very interesting. Is ANYONE going to want to have a Justice League story where they head over to Ozderland? No, that's what the Queen of Fables is for. In fact, the Queen of Fables would have made for a much better Captain Marvel villain than what we saw.
But it wasn't just the places they went. Dr. Sivana, the iconic mad scientist? A magician. Mr. Mind, the alien super-intelligent worm with psychic powers who could assemble a literal society of villains and monsters? A literal bookworm that casts magic spells. King Kull, Conan the Barbarian meets Vandal Savage with actual superhuman strength and weird, alien technology? Just a brutish thug who shows up once. Mr. Atom, Ultron before Ultron, only more powerful? Just a refugee from Video Game Land.
I've maintained that Captain Marvel has an AMAZING rogue's gallery, despite what issue 12 said. But this series did every villain a major disservice. Even Superboy Prime shows up just to act as his usual Bad Fan mouthpiece and to showcase that maybe Nu-Shazam isn't as big a wimp as everyone thinks. And Black Adam, the one villain allowed to keep some dignity in this mess? Well he gets redeemed! He's the 7th Champion the kids were searching for! He wasn't really that bad a guy at all . . . even though the Nu-52 version is WAY less sympathetic than the Pre-Flashpoint Black Adam.
So yeah, the "fight" between Billy and Mr. Mind is basically a magical duel with both of them throwing spells at each other. I just . . . Mr. Mind was a SCIENTIST! A scientist ALIEN WORM WITH PSYCHIC POWERS! NOT A MAGE. Neither is Captain Marvel a spellcaster! Any magic he uses should be the Wisdom of Solomon pulling off a ritual with circles on the ground and spell components. Spellcasting should be limited to the Wizard Shazam because . . . and here's the thing . . . he's an actual WIZARD. Captain Marvel is a superhero whose power source is magic.
And what's really sad? In 14 issues, Johns STILL didn't give Billy and the family any kind of official superhero names. When Billy is in his Shazam form and speaking with his dad, he introduces himself as "The Local Superhero". By teasing that they couldn't say Shazam casually anymore I thought we were going to at the very least get a Captain Thunder rebranding, or a confirmation that his name is Shazam, and we got several teases about him going back to Captain Marvel. But no, we get nothing.
So yeah. I'm really disappointed in this series. Every good step forward was followed by several flips backwards. Geoff Johns just doesn't get the Marvel Family. And he only "gets" Black Adam because Johns loves his villains and tends to make all of his bad guys "somewhat sympathetic well-intentioned extremists".
A really good Marvel Family book should feel like you're reading a great adaptation of a fantastic cartoon. It should be like the DCAU meets Gargoyles meets Batman: The Brave and the Bold meets Avatar: The Last Airbender. Recognizable characters, amazing world building, solid character building, exciting action and fun adventures.
This book had none of those things. And all I can say is that I'm relieved it's over.