I don’t want to make this the Captain Marvel Grumbles, but I can’t let Billy Batson’s first full issue in the New 52 pass by unmentioned. JLA #0 is the first issue of the New 52 that I’ve purchased since this podcast. The reason being this amazing Gary Frank cover:
Before I go any further, let me recap: Captain Marvel was a superhero created in the 40s who, for a time, was more popular than Superman. Eventually, because of lawsuits and societal pressures, Fawcett Comics stopped publishing his books. The entire line was bought by DC who did nothing with the characters for decades. Marvel created their own Captain Marvel to secure the trademark, so when DC did start publishing the OG Cap the comic had to be called Shazam. (…which is the magic word that Billy Batson says to transform into Captain Marvel.)
So, with that out of the way, let’s get to this reboot of the once beloved character. My one word review is: awful. It strips all of the fun and joy out of the character and pumps him full of 80s era angst and grit. Sure, in the original he was an orphan. But, he didn’t seem to give a hoot about it. In his first appearance, he gets a job as a roving reporter on the radio by scamming/charming the station’s owner. His main villain is Dr. Sivana, a mad scientist who’s pretty terrible at being a bad guy.
This new version of the hero is more of a dick than Dr. Sivana ever was. When the wizard Shazam brings him to his underground home he just bitches at him. This is a guy who wants to give him super powers and all he can say is, “Listen, Chester, that stuff might work like candy on six-year-olds, but you come any closer and I’ll knock out the last of your teeth.”
That’s right. He said Chester. As an insult. Seriously. And it actually gets worse from there. His first act as a superhero is to trash a random guy’s car, knock a mugger through a car, and then take money from the woman he saved. Now, I understand that people want more realism from their superheroes these days. You can see the seams on all the DC character’s costumes now. Green Lantern hits on Wonder Woman the first time he sees her. Batman spent an issue doing his taxes. But, Captain Marvel is not that kind of character.
First off, other (better) writers have done gritty Captain Marvel-style stories. Alan Moore did it with his run on Britain’s Marvelman. More recently, Mark Millar did it in his mini-series Superior. The thing that would actually make Captain Marvel interesting again is a return to his roots. There are very few superhero comics these days that have the unbridled silliness that set the Captain apart in the first place.
Let me give you an example of the kind of storytelling they were doing back then. This is a page from Whiz Comics #3.
In the span of three panels, a poorly disguised Dr. Sivana refuses to let Billy Batson boy reporter on to his rocket ship to Venus, and then launches the rocket with him and Billy on board with barely any explanation at all. Then they land on Venus and get attacked by a Venusian dragon. It’s like one of those dreams where you are in one place, and then for no reason at all you’re in a completely different one. In the dream it makes sense, but when you wake up it’s baffling.
THAT is what Captain Marvel should be. THAT is what made him so popular in the 40s. When you get away from that core innocence and weirdness, he becomes as generic and boring as Justice League #0.
Graham Becksted is way too into Captain Marvel. He is also the author of Graham’s Grumbles the second blog by that name that is listed in Google results when you search for Graham’s Grumbles. If you would like to be his 70th follower (thank you, bots), he can be followed on Twitter @GrahamBecksted.