Overview

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #1

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Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #1

Credits

  • Words: Jeff Smith
  • Art: Jeff Smith
  • Inks: Jeff Smith
  • Colors: Steve Hamaker
  • Story Title: Yroob Szh S Hvxivg!*
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $5.99
  • Release Date: Feb 7, 2007

Jeff Smith’s long-awaited Shazam! series is finally here, proving that an innocent and whimsical take on Captain Marvel beats the "grim and gritty" every time!

Ever since it was announced a few years back that Jeff Smith, the award-winning creator of the much-lauded Bone, was working on a Captain Marvel project, fandom has been eagerly anticipating this four-issue Prestige Format series. For those uneasy with DC’s recent use of the Shazam mythos, and an updating of the Marvel Family that seems to have stripped all the charm from the characters, this book seemed to be a potentially welcome return to a more retro-style, classic version of Captain Marvel.

This speedily-paced first issue is essentially concerned with a retelling of Captain Marvel’s beginnings. Youngster Billy Batson’s life on the streets revolves around his friendship with homeless old man Talky and avoiding bullying fellow vagrant LaGreen. When he follows a mysterious stranger, who resembles his dead father, onto the subway he finds himself transported to the home of the mysterious wizard Shazam and his shared destiny with the heroic Captain Marvel is revealed.

If you’re expecting a straight back-to-basics retelling of Captain Marvel’s origins you may be initially disappointed. But only initially. While Smith retains all the magic of the Big Red Cheese he does so with a number of twists on the established lore. Make no mistake, this is a re-imagining of Captain Marvel and his colourful cast, but it’s one that stays true throughout to the essence of the hero, with scattered clues for longer-term readers as to the roles some of the supporting players may take.

Some of these tweaks to the established legend may seem a little strange at first but will no doubt be fleshed out over the next three issues. Billy and Cap being portrayed as different characters entirely for example (Billy is the host for Captain Marvel), rather than one being the grown-up version of the other, was a little jarring at first. Where Jeff Smith is concerned though, such is the reader’s implicit trust in his storytelling that instead of resenting this change to the status quo you find yourself instantly immersed in it and the dramatic possibilities it represents.

The narrative in this first part jumps mysteriously in places, effectively drawing you further into the mystery of the relationship between Captain Marvel and Billy Batson. Again there are shades of Smith’s work on Bone here with tantalising hints as to the true nature of events being slowly provided. This is one of those projects you just know you should be reading all in one sitting, making the wait between issues over the next few months all the more difficult to endure!

If ever there was a contemporary creator born to illustrate Captain Marvel, it’s Jeff Smith. For the first third of the book you’re eagerly flipping the pages awaiting his first rendition of Shazam, the Rock of Eternity and the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s almost redundant to even mention it but his deceptively cartoony style, capable of conveying so much in terms of drama and emotion, is ideally matched to the tone of the subject matter.

Black and white purists may be lining up to form a lynch mob when I say this but it’s a real treat to see Jeff Smith art that was designed for color from the outset and Steve Hamaker does on a top-notch job on this front.

Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil gives a classic feeling Captain Marvel with a modern sensibility. Charming, magical and with an appeal to all ages. This near middle-aged reader loved it and knows his nine-year-old niece will feel similarly when she opens the collected edition on her birthday this year.

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