Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! # 1-4

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! # 1-4 (DC, 2008-09).

I'm not really sure what happened and what went wrong with this comic book. DC announced Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!, written and drawn by Mike Kunkel, as part of their kid-friendly, all-ages line - and you can draw your own conclusions as to what the hell is wrong with that publisher that they have to have a separate, kid-friendly, all-ages line when they are in the business of selling superhero funnybooks - but it fell off the rails almost immediately. It appears that it took Kunkel the better part of seven months to complete four issues, so DC took him off the title and it continued for another 17 issues without him. DC canceled the book at the end of 2010.

Kunkel's take on Captain Marvel is following in the footsteps of Jeff Smith. A couple of years prior to this, that artist, best known for his cute Bone series, did a really fun Captain Marvel adventure for DC, updating the classic "Monster Society of Evil" storyline and bringing a fresh redesign to the classic hero. Smith's eye was exactly what Captain Marvel needed, and he did a perfect job using the character as a timeless hero of kids' fiction, totally divorced from the last several decades of navel-gazing superhero continuity.

Kunkel starts his ongoing story a few days after the events of "The Monster Society of Evil," drawing equal parts inspiration from Smith's take and from the Pixar film The Incredibles. He just has a brilliant eye for movement and posing; his Captain Marvel is a shoulder-heavy dynamo of power, and little sister Mary is an explosion of energy and speed. Frankly, you could fill his word balloons with solid black and this would still be a very fun comic to look at.

The story of these four issues concerns the return of Theo Adam, an evildoer with Captain Marvel's powers, given them centuries ago as a champion of Shazam but who went bad and has been in suspended animation ever since. Now reincarnated as a kid in Billy and Mary Batson's school, he instantly becomes an antagonist bully, intent on learning the Marvels' magic word.

I liked everything about this storyline, from the fun, kid-friendly setting of an elementary school to the mass destruction and calamity of these characters matching wits and quickly learning they can't hurt each other. Theo has just the right mix of classic villainy and modern obnoxiousness, and it's all drawn with a style and flair that's often missing from contemporary comics. It's a real shame that Kunkel only managed to contribute four issues; this should have been an ongoing winner. Recommended.


Captain Comics said...

Hey Hipster Dad!

Would you be willing to share this article with our blog? It would make a great guest review or some fun comics that we haven't had a chance to talk about yet.

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

Possibly! Drop me a line (gmslegion at gmail dot com ) and let me know what you have in mind.

Captain Comics said...

Line has been dropped!