By Steve Orlando, Scott Kolins, and Romula Faardo Jr.
How do you solve a problem like Shazam? That’s the issue that’s been weighing heavy on DC Comics for nearly a decade now as they’ve burned through so many variations and revisions of the character it’s become almost impossible to follow all of them. For the most part this is pretty understandable, Shazam didn’t start life as a DC Comics character, but as a competitor and a successful one at that. Most folks forget this now, but at the time of his inception Shazam proved a more popular character than DC’s Superman, to the point that DC ended up suing Shazam’s parent company, Fawcett, rather than trying to compete. That lawsuit was pretty much a success owing mainly to the fact that Shazam was a Superman rip-off character only done better thanks to the amazing writing of Otto Binder, one of the legends of comic books. That’s part of why it made so much sense at the time for DC Comics to hire Binder to touch-up Superman after they sued Fawcett Comics to high-heaven to keep them from printing Shazam books. Unfortunately this only served to make the two more similar, so when Fawcett inevitably went bust and DC purchased their superheroes, they were left with essentially two Supermen. While previous eras of DC writers and editors have been happy to just play and let live between the Man of Steel and Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, lately DC has been putting insane effort into separating the two and Justice League – Darkseid War – Shazam is the latest and easily the laziest attempt to do so.
Drawn from the already pretty abysmal Shazam reimagining from Geoff Johns that ran as a back up feature in Justice League while also working as a tie-in to the ongoing and decent event series Darkseid War, this comic is basically about Shazam becoming more of a God than he already was. The entire Darkseid War event has been based around turning the Justice League into literal Gods; Batman is the God of Knowledge, Flash is death, Lex Luthor is evil, so forth and so on. In Shazam’s case the opening text recap claims he’s become the “God of Gods,” which is already a pretty vague term, but the issue itself never actually indicates how Billy’s role in things is different now. He’s still channeling the power of six deities, still transforms from Billy Batson to Shazam by shouting his magic word, still has most of the same powers; really it’s business as usual but with some new God names filling out the Shazam acronym.
This one-shot is most reminiscent of the Trials of Shazam macro-series that came about in the wake of Infintie Crisis when Billy Batson became the new wizard of Shazam at the rock of Eternity and Freddy Freeman, former Captain Marvel Jr., became the new Shazam. The big difference is that Trials of Shazam had 12 issues to build up conflict and tension and focus on Freddy’s interactions with the various Gods he had to earn his powers from. In this one-shot, each new deity gets about a page and a half to introduce themselves, rattle off some exposition and then we’re whisked away to the next boring and undeveloped cosmic being. There’s just no identity to these characters. In previous iterations it was assumed that the Gods were either the actual lords of antiquity like Solomon, Mercury, and such or they were legitimately developed over the course of several issues. This comic wants to blitz us through a whole slew of new deities that aren’t from actual mythology and give them exactly no depth or identity beyond their visual design.
The visual designs may be the comic’s one saving grace as artist Scott Kolins and colorist Romulo Faardo Jr. do amazing work. Not a single page of this comic looks bad, every panel is easy on the eyes with a great blend of color and super imaginative design work. The new designs of the Shazam costume work well in creating the implication of a New God from Kirby’s Fourth World and the actual realms of the various deities are wonderfully envisioned and unique. There’s also a particularly excellent trick used while Billy is meeting the Gods within the Source where the white background around each panel is replaced with this amazing visual design that looks really spectacular. Kolins’ artwork really seems to be channeling John Romita Jr. which works great as the blockier characters and clean lines fit well with the nature of Shazam as a character.
Aside from the artwork though, this is a pretty disappointing issue. There’s the ghost of a good idea with the replacement Gods actually being drawn from DC cosmology (like H’ronmeer, Martian God of Death, is one of them) but it’s ultimately kind of a waste. Aside from H’ronmeer and an ending reveal, there’s not much else to the Gods, like two of them are new characters and the third, S’ivaa, is from a completely forgotten Superman story. What’s so frustrating is how lazy this comic feels. It’s painfully clear they went into this whole thing with a half-baked idea about the nature of Shazam’s powers and that it might have something to do with the New Gods, but nobody bothered to develop the concept beyond that point and it really shows. This isn’t some thrilling redefining of the character and it doesn’t add anything to mythos except unexplored concepts and empty conjecture. If there is any connection between Shazam’s old Gods and the Old Gods of Kirby’s Fourth World you aren’t finding it here, just a lot of disappointment and time-wasting, especially given how unlikely it is that any of these changes will actually last.