THIS WEEK: Mary Bromfield heads to college and steals a rabbit in The New Champion of Shazam! #1.
Note: the review below contains 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 verdicts.
The New Champion of Shazam! #1
Writers: Josie Campbell
Artist and Cover: Evan “Doc” Shaner
Letterer: Becca Carey
I’ve always wanted to like Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, but it’s been tough to find that right entry point, mostly because for a good chunk of my reading lifetime he was relegated to being in mini-series or just showing up in crossovers. The last series by Geoff Johns seemed like it was going to be a great entry point, but that series really fell apart fast after a strong start.
That’s part of why I’ve been so excited for The New Champion of Shazam! The new direction the solicit seemed great, and Evan “Doc” Shaner on a Shazam! project is a dream come true. But then the delays started. Mostly it seems this book fell victim to another book being delayed repeatedly, as it relies heavily on status quo set up by Teen Titans Academy. Don’t worry, you don’t need to actually read that series to read this, as this issue does do a good job of explaining where we’re at with the status quo. Basically, Billy Batson has replaced the Wizard Shazam in the Rock of Eternity (again) and in doing so the rest of the Shazam! family has lost their powers and are trying to live normal lives again.
I think the biggest strength of The New Champion of Shazam! #1 is that the story has a lot of heart. You had me sold on the series with Shaner art and Mary as a lead, but the opening pages turned it into a “top of the stack every month” read for me. This is a series about self-discovery and personal growth, and that’s really illustrated in just the first four pages. Mary explains how she’s gotten to this point in her life as she’s leaving for college, going off on her own and leaving the family that found her and loved her behind for a bit.
I don’t hesitate to say that those opening pages made me cry. “But this time they chose me. This time I was wanted.” just tugged at the heart strings and really set up the reveal at the end of the issue remarkably well. The tears rolling down Darla’s face as she pretends to be asleep so she doesn’t have to say goodbye again also really sold the emotional impact of the opening pages as well.
Once Mary (or Marina if you will) gets to college, this issue reminds me very favorably of one of my favorite series of all time, The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl. Both books involve a teenage super-heroine heading off to a new city to go to college to find herself, and both do a fantastic job of setting up new supporting casts for that new setting. I actually think New Champion of Shazam! does it a little better, but that’s just because it’s less dated than a book from the early 1980s.
Josie Campbell does a fantastic job of selling Mary’s anxieties as we set the stage for this new period of Mary’s life. For the first time she’s somewhere where she can really make a new impression that isn’t couched in expectations from her circumstances, and she’s really nervous about it. She’s at college now, she can be anyone she wants to be. And along with the inner monologue that shows us her fears, we get the fantastic face acting from Doc Shaner. The “Oh my god Mary, you’re an idiot.” panel is immediately going into my reactions folder. Shaner brings joy and life to these characters throughout the issue.
Along with the heart, this issue also has a lot of really good humor, most of it revolving around the messenger of Shazam, Mary’s roommate’s pet bunny Hoppy. Hoppy smuggles himself into Mary’s bag to convince her to act as the titular New Champion, and while Mary does foil a bank robbery as Mary Marvel, she also insists that right now she doesn’t want that life. She just wants to be regular college girl, Marina Bromfield, though how well she’ll pull that off after the “bunny napping” remains to be seen.
The reveal at the end of the book makes that decision for her, which is understandable because, as much as I personally would love four issues of mostly college shenanigans, that’s not what will be selling this series to others. But that doesn’t mean I want the college portions to fall into the background as I believe this issue showed it is very possible to balance both the superheroics and the college drama with ease.
My biggest disappointment with this series remains that it is in fact just a four-issue mini-series. Let’s hope it does well enough to garner a new ongoing series with Mary as a lead when it concludes.
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