STORY: Geoff Johns
ART: Gary Frank
Before the reboot, Billy Batson was the world’s most perfect kid – he listened to his parents, did his homework, was kind to everyone he met, and generally didn’t have a bad thought in his head. It was for this sterling character that Billy was chosen to be Captain Marvel, the scion of the wizard Shazam. And even though the Captain saw his fair share of evil throughout his adventures, Billy never stopped being that perfect little boy. Now, in the ‘New 52, he’s a brat and a jerk – he can’t seem to get along with anyone, and he actively works against others whenever he can. A lot (and I mean a lot) of comic book news outlets have painted the recent Shazam back-up stories in Justice League as a terrible reintroduction to one of DC’s most iconic and long-lasting characters. On the contrary, I think it’s one of the wisest and most interesting changes made yet.
The ‘New 52’ is supposed to be about making things new, and what better way than to make the most unrelatable character in the DC universe just a bit more realistic? While many long-time comic book fans want to hold their beloved characters in a time-lock – never allowing for them to grow or change – it’s a pipe dream, and one that the hardcore crowd is going to have to get over as comic books continue to move into newer, bolder territories. Similarly, some Marvel fans are up in arms about a book with the title Uncanny Avengers that features Rogue and Thor on the same team. So what?
As you guessed, Justice League #0 focuses on Billy and his transformation into
Captain Marvel Shazam. Yes, this is the second big change to the character: Captain Marvel is now called Shazam, and the wizard once called Shazam is now simply “The Wizard”, as there don’t seem to be too many of them running around. I guess DC just got tired of lording the trademark over Marvel’s head. Either way, it makes a lot more sense to call the superhero Shazam – there wasn’t any real reason for the name ‘Captain Marvel’ in the first place.
I really do love Billy’s new personality. He’s an orphan whose been forced to grow up much faster than he should have. It’s a sad but real problem in the world, today, that more and more children are made to raise themselves. The silver lining, of course, is that Billy understands the world much more than most other 15 year olds, and he proves it. The Wizard has been searching for centuries to find a “purely good” person on which to bestow his powers, only to come up empty-handed. “No one is pure good,” explains Billy to a baffled, millennia-old wizard. Billy sees the situation for what it is: an over-romanticism of a certain, unattainable goal that would solve every problem ever and bring peace to mankind. The Wizard wants so much to believe that there must be a person who is pure good, that he’s wasted eons searching for it, even though it doesn’t exist. Quite eloquently, Billy goes on about bad encompassing the good in the world, no matter what. And while it seems that young Batson might be without hope, the Wizard looks into his soul a second time and finds the good buried beneath layers and layers of bad. In the end, it is the potential for good that will defeat the evil.
Gary Frank’s art is fantastic. His work in the “Shazam” back-ups was good, but it feels like he put extra time and effort into these pages, as they feel more emotional, more vibrant, and more expressive than ever. His facial expressions are pure genius – Billy’s being the obvious best – but he also knows how to draw bodies to convey an idea. The Wizard’s slouch gives you the feeling he has been burdened by so much for so long that his guilt is literally crushing him.
Justice League #0 was a gamble. For a general public that doesn’t read a lot of comic books, making this “Issue Zero” a Shazam-only story could be bad for the bottom line. Literally nowhere in theses pages are the actual Leaguers featured. Johns and Frank dedicate this issue to Shazam, giving him a damn fine introduction as he gets ready to join the League proper starting in 2013. Before the reboot last year, Captain Marvel was always the boy scout, more so even than Superman. He never erred, rarely faltered, and was liked by all. He was a bit more sickeningly perfect than Superman, which was hard to do. Now, we have a dynamic character who actually has depth, who really does have a reason for acting beyond a surface-level desire to uphold truth, justice, and the American way. Now, we have a real Shazam.