Trials of Shazam! #1 (October, 2006)
“The boy & the MAN”
Writer – Judd Winick
Artist – Howard Porter
Letterer – Rob Leigh
Associate Editor – Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor – Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $2.99
It’s interesting… the deeper I delve into Captain Marvel/SHAZAM! lore, the more convinced I am that nobody really seems to know what to do with him. Please keep in mind that I say this without reading Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam! series that actually does appear to have a consistent narrative… but other than that, everything is a new/amended.updated origin or some sort of reimagining. Really not sure where I’m headed with this spiel, just what kept popping into my head while I read through this issue.
This maxi-series (were we still calling them that in 2006?) looks to handle some of the post-Brave New World and Day of Vengeance spin-off/fallout. It’s been awhile since I read either of those, but if I’m not mistaken, the jist is that the Wizard Shazam has died, and the Marvel family (outside of Cap) is now powerless. This series is called “Trials of…” so I would imagine Billy’s gonna have to make a Herculean effort to get through this one.
We open in Norway. There is a truck loaded with young people being transported by a pair of goons. They express that those they hold captive are there for their “cleanliness”… they have “untainted” blood and are “unsullied” virgins. Sure sounds like a Captain Marvel story so far!
One of their captives is the young Billy Batson. He appears to be the oldest of the flock, and one of the goons removes his gag to ask him his age. Rather than tell him, he mutters that magic word… Shazam (with a period, no exclamation)…
The familiar bolt of lightning falls from the heavens above and transforms the young fella into Earth’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel (with bonus white streak in his hair!).
The goons take great offense to this, and do some transforming of their own. They each grip a glowing orb and morph into hulking Hell-beasts. They pounce on Captain Marvel, one vomits a viscous green fluid all over him. Cap don’t dig that one bit, and as such he punches him all the way into a nearby temple.
Inside that temple, an odd tattooed man called Rimeen lurks. He approaches Cap’s latest victim, and is shocked to see that he’s taken his “dark form”. Rimeen states that there will be a sacrifice this day, he raises his sword and transforms into a giant frog-beast, larger than the temple itself.
We flash back nearly a day in the past. We’re in New York City with Zatanna as she battles a beastie of her own. Try as she might, and magick as she does, she cannot seem to get the better of this creature. Lucky for her Captain Marvel is in the neighborhood… he smashes the critter, and informs Zatanna of it’s aversion to water.
The two talk… a bit awkwardly… about recent events concerning magical beasts becoming more and more prevalent. After telling her she wouldn’t understand, Cap finally relents and offers that the Books of Magic have been rewritten… and that it’s a brand new world for those in the magic community.
Captain Marvel flies off, heading straight for the Rock of Eternity. It looks a bit different from the last time we visited. He Shazams back into his Billy Batson form, and magicks himself up an easy chair and television set. He appears to be somewhat surprised how easy it has become for him to wield magic, in and out of his Captain Marvel form. While there, he learns of the plot that’s about to go down in Norway, and decides his best course of action would be to get involved in his more youthful form.
Back in the present, Captain Marvel is in the midst of battle with the giant frog. He flies up and comes crashing down at the Earth, fist-first. This causes a frog-frying lightning storm to whip up and renders the beast back into its more humanoid form.
Satisfied with a job well done, and a new-found assuredness that he can be a protector to this “brave new world”, he decides to Shazam down… only, this time instead of transforming back into Billy… he changes into something quite different indeed…
Okay, well I’m not totally sure how I feel about this one. This seems like a much darker story that I would imagine when I think of Captain Marvel. I mean, it starts out with him being captured for his untainted virgin blood. I guess it’s a sign of the times, or just a result of Winickian writing… but, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I really prefer my Captain Marvel/Marvel Family stories to be more on the light side. I don’t need them to be fluffy, or Saturday morning cartoony… but, definitely not this dark.
The dialogue came across as noticeably stunted. Not natural at all… which is strange, as one of Winick’s strengths (at least in my opinion) is his dialogue. The scene between Zatanna and Cap didn’t read comfortably. I’m not sure if there was supposed to be any tension (sexual or otherwise) between the two… but it just didn’t work for me. The virgin-seeking thugs spoke oddly as well, although perhaps they were trying to affect a sort of ESL speech pattern for them.
I thought the art was really nice. I’m not used to seeing Howard Porter handle the complete art chores, and he really shines here. I’ve read plenty of work featuring his pencils, and have enjoyed that… but here? This is a whole other level for the man. It gives a magical residue feeling, which is just about as perfect as you can get for this tale.
Recommended? I dunno. I’d say grab it for the Porter art… the story, however, I’m really not comfortable saying one way or another. This is one of them new millennium books, where story and information are on a slow-drip… and written to be best read in collected format. This series was collected into two volumes… and can be found at fairly deep discounts at both Amazon and Instocktrades.