A Bit of Kid-Friendly Magic


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It is an established fact that in the halcyon days of the 1940’s, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel character outsold pretty much any other hero on the stands, including National’s Superman. The reason for this is simple, looking back. It was because of the kids.

Back then, there were more children reading comics than any other demographic. Captain Marvel was essentially wish fulfillment for them.

Billy Batson was a kid like they were. Yet, with one magic word, he could instantaneously turn himself into an adult. Not only did he become an adult, but also one who was superhumanly strong, who could have bullets bounce off him, and who could fly.

So, it was not hard to believe that when Captain Marvel fought monsters, mad scientists and killer robots, many of his young readers imagined they were fighting those foes themselves.

The charm and the whimsy of a boy magically becoming a man carried over to the stories themselves. Captain Marvel met a talking tiger who walked liked a man and an evil genius in the form of a lowly inch worm. These concepts caught the imagination of the children of the age.

However, it seemed that Fawcett had caught magic in a bottle. Future versions of the character, now published by Fawcett rival DC, never seemed to catch on. The story mostly remained the same, but elements were added to make it seem more realistic and adult. In the process, they lost what made Captain Marvel unique and moved the character away from what was once its target audience.

A return to basics happened in 2003, when it was announced that Jeff Smith will be writing a miniseries featuring Captain Marvel and his supporting cast. Smith is the creator of Bone, a title which captured a similar whimsical tone that the original Captain Marvel stories did.

Smith’s offering was the 2007 Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil miniseries. Granted, it wasn’t your grandfather’s Captain Marvel (Billy Batson starts off the story as being homeless, Dr. Sivana as the Attorney General of the United States), but it captured the spirit of original series. And much like Smith’s Bone, it was something that both kids and adults could enjoy, one demographic not alienated at the expense of the other.

Fans responded to the miniseries and DC started to consider spinning it off into a kid-friendly ongoing series as part of a push for its Johnny DC imprint. Jeff Smith was unavailable, having started work on his creator-owned, and more adult-aimed, series Rasl. But much like it did in finding Art Baltazar for its Tiny Titans series, DC looked to the world of independent books for Smith’s replacement.

Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid was a charming journey into childhood imagination. The adventures of a boy named Tyler and his magical stuffed bear, who could turn into the valiant Herobear, touched the hearts of fans and critics alike. The series was a two-time Eisner Award winner and was named to the American Library Association’s 2004 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list.

Kunkel excels in capturing the joy of childhood fantasy, a quality that will be well put to use in the world of Captain Marvel. A former animator for Disney, he has written for Johnny DC’s target audience before and surely will introduce Captain Marvel to a new generation of readers.

The grim and gritty version of Captain Marvel is still alive and well in the mainstream DC Universe, as witnessed in the recent Trials of Shazam series. But a talented creator is set to return a version of the character to its long forgotten audience. It would be nice if lightning could strike twice.   

Also out this week:

Secret Invasion: Front Line #1:

How would you react to an alien invasion? Not well, I’d imagine. But the residents of Marvel’s Earth have become accustomed to it. Heck, New York City is invaded almost every other week.

But what if these invaders could take the form of any human? They could be your boss, your mother or even your husband. And there is no way you could ever tell. That’s a different story. Would you be paranoid? Would you be scared? Would you be distrustful?

The ground’s-eye view of Marvel’s summer crossover events continues, with Brian Reed replacing Paul Jenkins.   As we see above, this particular event should be fodder for a pretty interesting story from the viewpoint of your average human being. 

Brian Reed (W), Marco Castiello (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

All-New Atom #25:

It used to be that a change in the creative team was viewed with a bit of uncertainty. The new creators could be good, they could be awful or they could be just so-so. But at least you could be certain that the title they took over would be around for the next creative change.

Not so much with DC Comics nowadays. More often than not, DC is bringing on new creative teams just to wind down the series, to line up all the toys, if you will, for the title’s eventual cancellation.

Such was the case with this title, which is a shame because Rick Remender is a good writer and a worthy successor to Gail Simone. It would have been interesting to seen where he would have taken the title if he was allow to run free.    

Rick Remender (W), Pat Olliffe (A), DC Comics, $2.99.  Final Issue.

Hyperkinetic #1:

Being a bounty hunter is tough. You hunt nasty, dangerous individuals and every mission could be your last. Being a female bounty hunter is worse, because people never take you as seriously as they do your male counterparts. And being an intergalactic female bounty hunter is worst of all because there is a whole universe your perp can hide in.

So, the last thing these four, intergalactic, female bounty hunters needed was to be sucked into that wormhole and land on a weird, alien planet. Now they have to stay alive while battling killer robots and alien creatures. And not getting paid for one moment of it. Unless, of course, they find the bad guy they were chasing before he gets eaten by giant cat. 

Howard M. Shum (W), Matteo Scalera (A), Image Comics, $3.50.  Four-Issue Miniseries.

G.I. Joe: America's Elite #36:

It had to happen. In every game of cat-and-mouse, the feline eventually comes face-to-face with the rodent. Now, G.I. Joe finally comes face-to-face with Cobra. The years and years of sabotage, battles, and sneak attacks comes to a head on a common battlefield. A lot of bad blood will be settled—and spilled—before the war is over, and the war won’t be over until the last man is standing.

This issue marks and end to the “World War III” arc, the America’s Elite series, and G.I. Joe’s tenure at Devil’s Due. It will soon join its Hasbro stable mate Transformers over at IDW.  But Devil’s Due is sure to end its involvement with a bang!

Mark Powers (W), Mike Bear (A), Devil’s Due Publishing, $5.50. Final Issue.

Squadron Supreme 2 #1:

When we last saw the Squadron Supreme, they were reeling from a meeting with the Ultimate Universe that almost destroyed their world. But the damage caused by Dr. Doom wasn’t just to lives or property. It has affected reality as they knew it. Now, strange new superhumans are appearing, totally unfamiliar to anyone on Earth. Anyone, that is, other than Ultimate Universe castaway Nick Fury.

It’s a renewed look at the ersatz version of the Justice League, and it appears that ersatz versions of the Marvel heroes are joining in. It looks like all the fans clamoring for an intercompany crossover might get their wish, sort of. And it will be in the hands of comic legend Howard Chaykin, so you know it will be good.

Howard Chaykin (W), Marco Turini (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Jonah Hex #33:

Jonah Hex is a perennial entry in our New Year’s Resolution list. It’s stand-alone stories are of such a consistently high quality that we wish more people would check it out. This week, one of comic’s greatest modern artists might help us get our wish.

Superstar creator Darwyn Cooke joins the title for a special one issue stint as Hex treks up to Cooke’s native Canada, chasing a bounty. The ice and snow aren’t the only things standing in the way of Hex and his prey. Canada’s finest, the Mounties, are not taking Hex’s intrusion of their borders kindly. Now, the race is on. Will Hex catch his target, or get caught himself?

If you liked Cooke’s work on Catwoman or DC:The New Frontier, give this special issue a shot. You might be glad you did.

Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray (W), Darwyn Cooke (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #16:

Joss Whedon may have wrapped up his commitments to Marvel Comics in the last several months, but that doesn’t mean he’s done with comics entirely. This week, he returns to this title, and introduces the famous Vampire Slayer he created for the movies and TV to the infamous Slayer he created for the comic books.

The last several months involved Buffy retrieving her scythe from a bunch of Japanese vampires. What makes the weapon so special? Buffy and Willow go to Manhattan to find that out. But their trip gets waylaid into the future, where they come across the Slayer who will wield the scythe years from now, the woman they call Fray.

Joss Whedon (W), Karl Moline (A), Dark Horse Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Storming Paradise #1:

The United States dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two of the most horrific acts of war known to man. 220,000 people died by the end of 1945 as a result of the bombings—almost 400,000 total if you continue counting casualties to the present day.

People to this day debate whether or not the U.S. should have released “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on their wartime enemy. One of the arguments used in support of this action was that it helped avoid a land invasion of the Japanese island, an invasion which would have been much more prolonged and cost many more lives in the process.

This miniseries examines this point of view. Set in an alternate reality where the U.S.’s atomic program never got off the ground, it details “Operation Olympus,” the full scale invasion of Japan.

Chuck Dixon (W), Butch Guice (A), DC/Wildstorm Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.


William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a freequent contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.


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