DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as
Young Animal, Wildstorm, Jinxworld, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: Go deep on SHAZAM!
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Marco Santucci, Mayo “Sen” Naito
Colorist: Mike Atiyeh
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Geoff Johns has always been a builder. From his fabled work with the Lantern spectrum to his work refocusing characters like the Flash and Aquaman, Johns and his collaborators have always had an expansive take on DC’s Universe, introducing new worlds and concepts as a way of fleshing out the mythos of their series’ central characters. And now it’s all happening again in the world of Shazam!. And I love it.
Although historically, the title Shazam! has generally referred to stories starring the young Billy Batson and his super-powered adult alter ego, this Shazam! series has proven to be more of an ensemble piece. Rather than focus on Billy specifically, we have the chance to spend time with his foster siblings Freddy, Darla, Mary, Eugene, and Pedro as they all discover the intricacies, excitement, and dangers of the power word that unites them.
In this issue, the foster siblings find themselves in the Funlands, one of six magical worlds beyond their own that the siblings have gained access to via a subway station buried in the Rock of Eternity. The Funlands basically function like Peter Pan’s Neverland with the aesthetic of the Candy Land board game. Ruled over by a blue-haired teen who identifies himself as King Kid, the Funlands are a place where abandoned and abused children can escape to and find refuge from adults– whom are generally regarded as persona non grata. King Kid claims himself to be the seventh sibling that Billy and his fellow kids have always needed– as his logic goes, there are seven lands (including the Earthlands), so there must be seven protectors as well.
It’s clear that, despite the fact that the Funlands basically cribs its influences without twisting them very much, that the creative team of Shazam! had a lot of fun visualizing this world. There are multiple spreads throughout Shazam! #3 that give us an expansive look at this bright and colorful world. These pages overflow with detail, ranging from an incredibly overpopulated and crowded feast table to buildings made out of candy with rooms held up by pillars made of wrapped presents. On a creepier note, the buildings in the Funlands are filled to the brim with child workers wearing overalls and clown makeup. At this point, its almost a given that clown characters are going to be nefarious in storytelling, so its almost not even a twist when they gleefully start attacking Billy and his siblings after King Kid is rebuked from joining their super-powered family. Still though, their creepy grins haunt me.
More than just the look and feel of the world, however, I enjoyed this issue of Shazam! because for the first time, we got a strong sense of how this story will grow as it moves forward. Until now, we’ve mostly been spending time with our leads as a group. That’s fine to some extent, but it hasn’t left any of the individual kids a lot of room to develop beyond Billy being the source of their power and Mary being “the adult” in the room. By the end of this issue, however, we find the siblings separated. Mary and Billy are held captive in the Funlands. Eugene and Pedro have been thrown down a well into the Gamelands, a day-glo VR world with a point system, the whole concept of which seems to riff off of Ready Player One and Tron. Not to be left out, Darla and Freddy find themselves in the Wildlands, where they are immediately set upon by animal cops that proclaim that as humans, the children must be fed to the tigers.
Previous issues of Shazam! have set up plotlines on Earth including the return of Billy’s biological dad and the encroaching madness of Dr. Sivana, but I’m a lot more excited by the magical Game of Thrones style worldbuilding showcased in this issue. Now that the groups of main characters are smaller, we’ll get to spend more clearly delineated time with them, learning about what makes them tick. And that’s not even to speak of the worlds themselves, which seem to be built to play with various and disparate genre tropes– it all reminds me a bit of The Kamandi Challenge.
All in all, Shazam! is shaping up to be more than just a story about a boy who can magically become a man. It’s equally about his siblings and a brand new part of the DC Universe. It’s fun, lighthearted, and expansive in the way that the best DC stories are.
- Why can’t our heroes ever be happy? Heroes in Crisis #6 reframes the hug that set off Rebirth’s era of hope returning to the DC Universe as an existential hell for Wally West, who finds himself tormented by the fact that even though everyone around him is overjoyed to have him back, he feels out of place. He has no family. No love. It’s…a real bummer.
- Same goes for Detective Comics #999, which sees Batman fighting with himself within his mind. The big twist of this comic comes towards the end when its revealed that he simulates his own death every year. That’s a lot to process, and honestly a little beyond me at the moment!
- On the other hand, although the stakes keep rising, Action Comics #1008 continues to be a thrilling blast of a series. As Leviathan strikes to take out the heads of the various clandestine organizations in the DC Universe, Superman finds himself at the center of the conflict. But he can’t see who the enemy is– in fact, we don’t even know yet. All we know is that someone’s walking around and blowing up entire city blocks. Bendis has really taken the Superman corner of the DCU and made it his own, which I find very exciting. Respect.