Whether you prefer to call him Shazam or Captain Marvel, Billy Batson and his alter-ego can be a fascinating character. This is quickly apparent in Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil by writer and artist Jeff Smith.
Smith tells a quick modern day origin for Shazam in this comic book series. It is a book that is clearly designed for all ages, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a kid to enjoy it.
This is a very fun and heartwarming book that helps us understand Billy’s character quickly and what makes him different from other heroes. This comic is recommended for young readers who want to try comics or adults who want to see some backstory on Shazam/Captain Marvel.
Comic Books Collected: Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil Issues #1-4
Written by: Jeff Smith
Artist: Jeff Smith
Introduction by: Alex Ross
Where to buy: Trade Paperback
Key Characters and Organizations:
Billy Batson/Shazam (Captain Marvel)
The official synopsis, from DC Comics:
“Remarkable . . . a comic book that can be savored and admired by everyone from kids to the most sophisticated graphic novel devotee.” — Entertainment Weekly. Jeff Smith, the award-winning creator of BONE, tells the story of young orphan Billy Batson who finds himself transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal whenever he says the magic word “Shazam!” In this new trade paperback edition collecting the acclaimed 4-issue miniseries at DC’s standard trim size, Billy must use these extraordinary abilities to face an invasion of alien creatures as well as stop mad scientist Dr. Sivana and his Monster Society of Evil from taking over the world!
Billy Batson’s origin into Shazam/Captain Marvel is quick, but very efficient. We get to see who Billy is before he becomes a superhero and why he is deserving to become one. Personally, I found it easy to root for Billy after seeing what he went through early in the book.
The superheroics come, but they are second to Billy’s personal journey. That doesn’t mean there is no action. We get to see plenty of “the big red cheese” suited up. Captain Marvel gets to fight talking animals and giant robots. The action is sometimes tense, but only for short periods and usually is played for humor.
The plot isn’t terribly detailed, as it is meant for young readers to be able to follow easily. If you are looking for a complex plot, this probably isn’t for you. While some might see this as a negative, I appreciate the focus on the characters and character development in this book. You might not remember everything about the story when this book is done, but you will certainly remember the characters.
While it would have been cool to see a reference to Black Adam, it probably wouldn’t fit within the story. He is much too powerful of a foe for Captain Marvel’s first go, and his story is much more somber than they were trying to portray in this series.
As I stated earlier, Billy’s journey is the clear focus of the story. His introduction is heartbreaking and it is easy to root for him. You first see him as a homeless boy who lost his parents when he was younger. He is trying to survive on his own.
Billy isn’t completely helpless, though. He is a crafty and intelligent boy who is able to take care of himself. He also gets plenty of help from the Wizard and Tawky Tawny. It also helps when you are given all the strength and power of Captain Marvel whenever you say the magic word.
Mary Marvel’s introduction to the story is very welcome. She adds a lot of fun and energy to the mix. Parts of her story are rushed through pretty quick, though. Still, it is very interesting to see the brother-sister dynamic between two children who have lost their parents and didn’t know the other existed.
The Wizard and Tawky Tawny are interesting characters. Billy does nice things for Tawky and in return is given even more back. The Wizard is a cool part of the story that is important for mythological reasons, but I feel his introduction could have been handled better.
Dr. Sivana makes for a worthy foil in the hero’s journey. Introduced as the new Attorney General of the United States, it is quickly apparent that he has sinister plans. While he doesn’t appear to be the most competent villain out there, he provides a big enough threat to get Shazam into action.
I was pleasantly surprised by the artwork in this book. It is clearly meant to be accessible for children, but it is quality art for all ages. The characters are all drawn clean and crisp. There are also bright and diverse colors used that make it easy to look at.
The story is also done in an easy-to-read way. The panels are done in a simple format that makes it easy to follow along. This makes it a great choice for young readers who aren’t quite sure how to follow along with more complicated comics.
It’s easy to see why Captain Marvel was once one of the most popular superhero comics available. The character’s origin is fascinating. What kid wouldn’t want yell “Shazam” and transform into an incredibly powerful superhero whenever they need to? With the right creative team in a regular book, this character could rise to prominence again.
This comic could provide a blueprint for what a modern live-action version of the character could be. Differentiating from more serious characters like Batman, Shazam should be able to bring more comedy and family fun to the equation. Dwayne Johnson could certainly provide a menacing Black Adam, but he is capable of balancing the character. He can provide a serious threat without taking it too dark.
Jeff Smith’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil collected edition is a great read for all ages and is a good intro to comics for young readers. This is a really fun and lighthearted book that is a great choice for anyone who wants to get to know the story of Billy Batson better.