Monday, April 30, 2012

Reinventing "Shazam!": Another bad gamble from DC

40 years ago, DC Comics launched Shazam!, and welcomed the former Fawcett Comics icon, Captain Marvel, whom they had put out of commission some years earlier with a lawsuit alleging that Fawcett had infringed on DC's copyrights for Superman. Of course, Superman and Captain Marvel would meet a few times before the decade was over, and Shazam! ended its run after 5 years, right around the same time its TV spinoff for CBS ended. Since that time, DC has tinkered with the classic tale of Billy Batson, boy newsreader, and "The Big Red Cheese", but not to the extremes that they have now, in a serial running in the back pages of the current Justice League series.

Geoff Johns' plot carries over a concept introduced in last year's Flashpoint "event", in that Batson spent some time in foster homes before his fateful visit to a subway station and destiny. Now, I cannot say for sure that Billy will still take that walk into the subway terminal, but where I have a problem is with the attitude Johns has given the lad. Belligerent, self-centered, mean-spirited. Kind of the opposite of the Billy we've known for years. The foster home where Billy was placed in the beginning of the story, as I've discovered, has the same group of kids that appeared in Flashpoint, and they happen to be a diverse group, including an African-American girl who has an immediate crush on Billy, only to be sent running in tears when Billy lashes out at her.

I get what Johns is trying to accomplish here, putting some meat behind the original tale, and giving Billy some character depth, but the angry young man attitude doesn't fit Billy, and never really has. The other mistake is titling the serial, "The Curse of Shazam!". Curse? Somehow, I doubt that very seriously.

There is an old expression more commonly associated with Spider-Man: "With great power comes great responsibility". Billy Batson will learn that lesson before this story is over, but the radical reboot of the Captain Marvel/Shazam! mythos is just too much for me to have to deal with. There is another old expression I'd like to apply here. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. In this writer's opinion, Captain Marvel wasn't broken, from a creative standpoint, and the "Marvel Family" is meant to be just Billy, his sister Mary, and their friend, disabled newsboy Freddy Freeman. Why can't they just leave it that way? Again, I get the need for cultural diversity in the 21st century, but why mess with an icon?


magicdog said...

I didn't know about Captain Marvel's personality change.

Definitely a bad move to make him a more surly child, as Billy was an eternal optimist despite his tough background. It was precisely because he wasn't an angry, unhappy kid that Shazam chose him to be Captain Marvel in the first place!

Also agreed on believing the Shazam "cursed" him! It was a great gift Billy recognized early on. He took being a hero seriously!

Sorry Geoff Johns, you goofed up here.

hobbyfan said...

He's writing for the fanboys still obsessed with dark heroes with attitudes.

Like, he's also made Green Lantern (Hal Jordan, at least) out to be a tool. It's like plugging in square pegs in round holes even though they don't really fit.

Chris said...

I hate how everyone has jumped to conclusions regarding Billy's behaviour, after only 20 pages into the series, with nothing else revealed.
Billy has been portrayed as a youth with extreme optimism, in past.
But if one would read each interpretation of Captain Marvel, he actually is a rough child prior to meeting the Wizard. The original Whiz Comics release started with him at the Subway station, so no evidence of his demeanour is seen. All other accounts (Shazam: The New Beginning, Power of Shazam), have Billy acting a little more aggressive.
This seems to be logical considering the character's back story of a foster-child raised by the system/ or street kid.
If anything, Johns has achieved in capturing the appropriate emotion, of someone who has been jaded in the past, while still HOPEFUL and Honest, which is truly what Captain Marvel has represented over the years.
Let the series gain some legs before passing judgement.
I'm a huge Red Cheese fan, I've read anything to do with Cap! I willing to give Johns and Frank a shot, until something truly doesn't feel right. I was impressed with Johns ability to incorporate a reference to Hoppy and Tawny, and Frank's artwork to display a visual connection between Billy and Mary.

hobbyfan said...

Don't get me wrong, Chris, I like the artwork, too. I read a reprint of the original Whiz Comics tale back in the day, and there was no sign of negative demeanor on Billy that I can recall. Writers in recent years, from Nelson Bridwell to Roy Thomas to Jerry Ordway and now Geoff Johns have tried to bolster the backstory, but by implementing the Flashpoint version of events, overpopulating the cast as a result, Johns may be fulfilling his mission of filling the blanks at the risk of alienating older readers accustomed to the perpetually cheerful Billy that most of them have seen since he was brought back 40 years ago.