Review: March Comics (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

The Curse of Shazam! Part 1 (Justice League #7)

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An ordinary passerby recounts a surreal experience of getting into an elevator and being whisked away to a magical realm, where he is quickly deemed unworthy and returned to Earth. Several others recount similar experiences, collected together by the crazed Doctor Sivana, who believes them to be the evidence he needs to prove magic exists. Meanwhile, troubled young orphan Billy Batson puts on a happy face for a prospective foster family in a ruse to get out of the foster system, but higher powers have bigger things in mind for the mischievous young man.

I’ve never really been a fan of Captain Marvel, or “Shazam” as he’s being called now. As something of a Superman rip-off with a magical twist (according to the courts at least), the character never really seemed to stand out as much as he should have. The concept is interesting, but I found a lot of the so-called “high points” of the mythology, like Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam, or Jeff Smith’s Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil to be both horribly dated and nauseatingly childish. In my mind, Shazam needed this update.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised with the new take written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank. Billy Batson acts more like a real kid, and I loved the scene where he and the foster care lady worked together just so they could be rid of each other. It’s more interesting to have a kid be stuck in the foster care system on his own accord, rather than simply be homeless, down on his luck, and living in an abandoned apartment. I also like the Shazam’s new look (pictured above). The hood not only gives him a more magical sensibility, but also works as a way of eliminating the Superman comparisons, which the character incurred mostly as a result of his chiseled jaw, black hair, and winning smile.

Curse of Shazam is darker and more adult, both sorely needed alterations to an ailing character. Writer Geoff Johns explained to Newsarama, “Batman had Year One and Superman had Man of Steel, Wonder Woman had George Pérez, and all these characters kept evolving. And changing. Shazam didn’t really have that consistent publishing. A lot of great creators could have introduced some great takes on the character if he had.” My sentiments exactly, and though Curse of Shazam seems to be taking steps to eliminate some of the more ridiculous bits of the mythology, the story still manages to remain true to the heart of the character, an important part of modernization.

I do take issue with the fact that the villain Doctor Sivana literally looks and acts exactly like Lex Luthor. It really is best not to draw more Superman comparisons right when you’ve begun a whole new approach to Shazam. On the whole, though, Curse of Shazam is a great start to a much-needed update of the mythology, and DC would do well to consider giving the character a book of his own.

Recommended, if only for this story, not Justice League, because that shit sucks.

 

Superman #7

Superman is targeted by the demon Helspont and his army of daemonites, who challenge Superman on his home turf of Metropolis. After a short battle and annoyed by spectators and media types, Superman flies off, leaving the people to complain about having to pick up the damage left behind. Meanwhile, Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent struggles to balance his day-to-day job and his responsibilities as Superman.

Following in the footsteps of George Pérez, the book’s new creative team of Keith Giffen (co-writing) and former 90s Superman writer/artist Dan Jurgens (co-writing and pencils), and also carrying over Jesus Merino (finished art)from Pérez’s run, Superman #7 is another great jumping on point for new readers. Where Pérez effectively modernized Supes by placing him in a more cynical, media-based society, Jurgens and Giffen run with those same themes, portraying a Metropolis that isn’t overwhelmingly appreciative of the big blue boyscout, the reception to his heroics being decidedly mixed.

What I like about this issue specifically is that we finally get to see Clark in his ordinary routine at the Daily Planet for the first time in the New 52, just a normal guy in over his head and back to his old self after the events of Pérez’s run. Jurgen’s pencils in these Daily Planet scenes are a little more cartoony than I’d prefer – some panels make Clark look more like the Angry Video Game Nerd than a Man of Steel in disguise. Still, they get the job done, and at least now Perry White actually looks like Perry White, and not…well, how he was drawn in the first six issues.

A standout moment in Issue #7 is when we get to see Supes actually change into the new costume for the first time. A lot of fans, including myself, wondered how Clark could disguise the Superman armor under his normal civilian attire. Now, all is revealed and…well, you be the judge:

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(The above image belongs to DC Comics. I do not own, nor am I affiliated with DC/Time Warner)

And…I don’t like it. I’m all for modernization, but having Superman tear off his shirt, reveal the logo, and suddenly appear in the costume moments later is an iconic transformation and certainly not one worth changing in favor of…this. Of course it makes no sense for him to be wearing red boots under his clothes, it’s Superman, a property heavily reliant on suspension of disbelief. This “Kryptonian biotech” business just reeks of a bad 90s idea, a way of putting a new spin on the character that absolutely will not last. We don’t need some derivative, unnatural explanation for how Supes changes into his costume; getting caught up in petty details like that just takes me right out of the fantasy DC is constantly working to maintain.

That above image alone says volumes of Issue #7’s underlying feeling of being at odds with itself. Sure, we still get a look at the classic shirt-tear in the upper right-hand panel, but the assimilation of the actual suit that follows feels altogether different and poorly designed, like a compromise between two writers locked in a game of tug-of-war (both Giffen and Jurgens readily admit their differing visions here).

Overall, I didn’t care for this issue as much as I did any of the first six issues, but Superman #7 is still worth checking out, I suppose, if only to see where the new team may be taking the book from here on out.

Recommended.

 

The Flash #7

The Flash continues battling the evil Captain Cold, saving the lives of people plummeting towards an icy abyss in the process. But after defeating Cold and rescuing the citizens, including alter-ego Barry Allen’s girlfriend Patty, Flash discovers that by exceeding his set speed boundaries, he inadvertently opened a wormhole that sucked more people, among them reporter Iris West, into another dimension. In addition, Patty now believes Barry to be dead, blaming The Flash for the incident. Flash must now create a new wormhole to get Iris and the others back, but will Central City turn on the Scarlet Speedster by the time he returns?

I have never followed a series authored and illustrated by the exact same people with such glaring inconsistency in writing quality. The new Flash series has had so many varying ups and downs that each issue is a toss-up for passable writing. Luckily, this time the coin has landed right-side up, finally giving readers some significant superheroics that have been sorely missed in the series so far.

Supported by some decent writing this time around, the artwork is, as always, quite stunning. The blank whiteness of the cold setting is a great contrast to Flash’s bright red-and-yellow color scheme. I like the new characterization for Cold – he’s much more of a serious threat to Flash than in previous years, receiving updates in appearance, powers, and overall dangerousness. Despite Geoff Johns’ pushing Professor Zoom on readers in recent years, I’ll always see Cold as the Joker to Flash’s Batman, and this issue really makes a solid case for that notion.

I’d prefer to see a better, more consistent writer on the book, but on the whole, I like seeing the new, revitalized Rogues in action, and I may yet stick around for the upcoming arc featuring Gorilla Grodd.

Recommended.

 

All-Star Western #7

Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham are welcomed into the city of New Orleans with a bang – literally. A nearby building blows up and catches fire, forcing Hex to leap into action to save a little girl from the flames. Hex’s antics attract the attention of Nighthawk and Cinnamon, two crusading cowpolks who enlist Hex’s help in tracking down the bombers. As Hex is snooping around a gladiatorial stadium, he gets caught up in his own ring fight to the death.

All-Star Western once again proves itself to be a consistently good book, and Issue #7 is no exception. As I’ve mentioned before, in the more-than-capable hands of Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and artist Moriart, the book remains one of the best New 52 titles on the market.

There’s an amusing scene where Nighthawk and Cinammon are getting suited up, and they ask Arkham if he has any masked vigilantes back in Gotham, to which Arkham brands the mere notion ridiculous and unnecessary. One wonders how the present-day Caped Crusader would respond to such a notion.

But as fun a read as All-Star Western is, I’m torn on how much longer I’ll continue following it. I’m a bit burned out on Jonah Hex for now, and I did mention in my January comic review post that I wasn’t planning on sticking around for much longer. That said, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Issue #7, though I do miss Arkham’s internal monologues on Hex’s behavior, like the one in Issue #1. A similar analysis of the anti-hero’s behavior could’ve certainly made this issue’s opening scene more meaningful.

Still, there’s little to complain about in this week’s All-Star Western, and I’d be remiss to let my own feelings on the mythology to keep me from recommending a solid, well-written, and great-looking issue.

Recommended.

 

That’s all for this month. In April, I’ll be posting about Green Lantern: the Animated Series, reviewing the first issues of the upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men event, and hopefully taking a look at the new Ultimate Spider-Man show. Stay tuned!

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