REVIEW: Shazam #1, by any name, is still an adorable comic about family and fantasy

Shazam! #1 is out 12/5.

By Zack Quaintance — Geoff Johns had a huge week. At least in terms of writing top-notch comics. He had a pair of titles come out that couldn’t be more different—one part eight of a 12-part miniseries that has been running for a full year now; the other the launch of a new title starring a character we haven’t seen in a while before he gets a movie—and they both accomplished exactly what the creators, publisher, and fans hoped they would do.

The first of the aforementioned titles is (obviously) Doomsday Clock #8, and this is a Shazam! review, so we won’t belabor the talk of that one except to say we liked it...a lot. It’s finally living up to the Watchman characters it somewhat arrogantly set out to use, doing so with a mix of slow-burning and tense storytelling with socio-political commentary bubbling under its surface. It’s good, please go read it, and excuse us while we move on to Shazam!

Shazam #1, on which Johns is joined by artist Dale Eaglesham (and later by artist Mayo “Sen” Naito, who draws the backup story), is as cute as superhero comics get without doing that Fraction/Aja Hawkeye-inspired recent Marvel thing where they tip a bit into self parody (Hawkeye never did that, but boy have its many imitators done that often in the last three years or so). No, Shazam! reads with all the seriousness of most main universe DC comics. The reason it hits such cuteness heights is entirely due to the enthusiasm with which it explores the core strengths of this character: fantasy and family (plus a subtraction of some of the grit and angst that marked the New 52 version).

Yes indeed, Shazam #1 is quite high on both of those, becoming in some ways the perfect comic that adult readers assume they would have enjoyed as a kid, which then has the effect of us enjoying it now because, let’s face it, part of the appeal of corporate superhero comics is feeling just a tinge sentimental about bygone days. Johns lands this comic perfectly in that sweet nostalgic spot, crafting a story with a likable child protagonist, whose problems come as much from bad guys as they do from the rules of his well-intentioned-but-square caretakers...and with him always is the Shazam! family. Yes, in this debut issue young Billy Bastion has it all, unconditional friendship, adventure, and a mystery that comes to find him.

Eaglesham’s artwork renders it perfectly, equal parts sharp and kinetic. He gets the kids moods and faces as right as he does the giant set-pieces that erupt every time the magic word (which is also the book’s title) is uttered, leading to the arrival of mystic lightening. Other strengths of this book include the orienting two-page spread Johns opens with to remind us what this book’s deal is, the ending that seeds the group’s ongoing adventures, and the backup comic that ends the whole deal by straight-up melting your god-danged heart. Oh yeah, and there’s also a great joke that nods to when the character used to be known as Captain Mar—

Overall: Shazam! #1 soars to impressive cuteness heights without ever tipping into self parody, doing so by embracing the two most prominent core tenants of an all-time great character: family and fantasy. Come for the childlike adventure and stay for the promise of much more to come. I have a hard time imagining that very many readers will dislike this comic. 9.5/10

Shazam #1
Geoff Johns
Artist: Dale Eaglesham & Mayo “Sen” Naito (backup story)
Colorist: Mike Atiyeh
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99

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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete his first.