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Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil

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Howdy!  It’s Chad!  I’ve been promising Andy and Stew I would start posting blogs eventually…and sporadically…and not all that effectively, but nonetheless, postings shall be posted.  Here’s the first! Welcome to the inaugural edition of Chad’s Continuously Questionable Choices! I’ll pick a book/toy/product/pop culture proliferation, and we’ll see together if it is a worthwhile experience.  If not for me, then for whom?

Up first, a recent acquisition of a not-so-recent book….

 

Shazam!
The Monster Society of Evil

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The Basics

This is a prestige four issue story that was collected back in 2007. Jeff Smith handles story and art, with Steve Hamaker providing the colors. The fancypants hardcover collection includes an introduction from Alex Ross as well as extras in the back like character sketches, blue pencil pages, and story ideas from Jeff Smith himself.

Order Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil on Amazon.

Overview

Billy Batson, a young homeless boy scraping by and trying to survive the streets of New York City, stumbles upon a magical wizard who implores him to say the magic acronym:

Solomon for Wisdom!

Hercules for Strength!

Atlas for Stamina!

Zeus for Power!

Achilles for Courage!

Mercury for Speed!Shazam lightning

 

(I wonder if I’ll ever follow a Shazam book long enough to actually memorize that.)  With his newfound power and in true retro-comic fashion, Billy faces down the street bully looking to shake him down with the only possible explanation….JUDO!

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If judo is transforming into an entirely different, super powered hunkahunkaman–sign me up for judo!  The wife will be excited by my new moves, I’m sure ;-). Anywho, Captain Marvel and Billy continue to learn about their connection to each other throughout this four part tale.  On a visit to see the Wizard, Billy impulsively violates some magic mumbo jumbo, which causes all sorts of strange creatures to invade our world. These include but are not limited to alligator monsters, three giant robots that fill up with bugs, and the evil Mr. Mind. Mind rounds out the bad guys by manipulating the Attorney General of the United States, Dr. Sivana, into doing his evil bidding.  On the good guy side of the equation, Billy finds his lost sister, who turns into Mary Marvel, and he also finds his future professional partners in a tv reporter named Helen Fidelity and Mr. Morris, the owner of the local tv station. I almost forgot about Talky Tawny. He’s part hobo/part talking tiger/part black cat.

I’ll let him explain it.

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After exploring the dichotomy between Billy and Captain Marvel, the good guys find a way to beat the bad guys and become a family in the process.  It’s a Captain Marvel redux for a newer generation that introduces the fun and silliness of the character and his supporting cast.

Story Highlights

Jeff Smith (no relation) really does a great job capturing that sense of childlike wonder throughout the story. He definitely has a grasp on kid logic, which he demonstrates through Billy’s consistent impulsive behavior.  Billy tries to escape his life of squalor in the most kid-like way possible. My favorite of which is the declaration, “Circus life, here I come!” A sentiment echoed by Billy’s sister Mary, who also had a run of misfortune that would lead her to think that running away to the circus is a good idea.

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On that childish note (in a good way!), one of the first encounters Billy/CM have post-disobeying the wizard and unleashing the Magic paradox is at the circus.  Human sized alligators attack in a page that brought joy to my cold, blackened heart. It probably would have terrified me as a kid, too.

It’s during this encounter that Billy finds his long lost sister being terrorized by the alligator people. Imagine being 10 years old and facing down talking alligators. “…All we want…is the children! Ha! Ha! Ha! Tender, juicy children!”

How cool is that?  You’d have the best nightmares.

 

 

Another personal highlight was seeing Billy’s sister practicing her powers.  I know this is the kiddified version of the same scene in every super hero origin movie.  They put these scenes in because they work.

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Finally, to add to the fun, there’s a scene where Shazam becomes Shazamzilla-sized, just in time for the big monster fight! Tell me there’s a kid alive that doesn’t want to become a Godzilla-esque destruction machine and… I’ll be surprised.

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Criticisms:

Smith jumps so quickly into a whole Shazam loves hot dogs thing that it doesn’t really make sense. Maybe for longtime Shazammers, but I was taken aback.

My heart is sad this wasn’t a regular series that went on for at least four more trades. A 20-25 issue Jeff Smith Shazam run could fill one of those gaps that the superhero business suffers severely.  This book is kiddy-enough that kids would eat it up like candy if given the chance. At the same time, its charms appeal across the ages. It doesn’t talk down to kids, nor does it hold back because it’s for kids, either.  

Art Review

The majority of pages come in the form of 5-6 panel grids.  This larger, simpler, style lends itself to an easier reading experience, all while giving the dynamic art a chance to breathe. The joy of the experience, the thrill of the action scenes, the abject fun and weirdness of this book all shine thanks to the art. Smith’s cartooning simplicity combined with his masterful page design really make this something to behold.  He even knows when to pull back with the dialogue and just let the art speak for itself, something I’ve yet to master.

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Steve Hamaker is responsible for the beautiful coloring job here as well.  The art is a sight to behold and definitely a major selling point for this story.  All in all, this series is just plain illustrated fun in every fiber of its being, even down to the cool extras.

What extras?

Secret Code Chapter Titles!

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Super cool fold-out poster!

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There’s also tons of cool character sketches and story ideas in the back of the collected edition as well.

Who is this for?

  • People who like childlike fun and whimsy.
  • People who want to familiarize themselves with Shazam before the movie with the Rock and that guy from Chuck comes out.
  • Kids–especially those who might be prone to exclaim, “Circus life, here I come!” at some point in their lives.
  • Middle-aged men who write comic blogs and have never read a solo Shazam book.
  • Did you enjoy Jeff Smith’s Bone?  Of course you did. Read this, too. It’s for you.

Who is this not for?

  • Not my kiddo.  The 7 year old had no interest…yet.  I’ll sneak it into a bedtime story for him sooner or later, and he’ll love it–whether he wants to or not.  I get it, though; Shazam can be a hard sell.
  • People who get fussy when origin stories are updated and retold.
  • Black Adam fans.  I though every Captain Marvel  Shazam! story had B.A. in it.
  • People looking for the dark, grim, and grit-tacular adventures of anti-heroes traipsing about in the night.

Final Verdict

This book has so much going for it.  Clear, crisp, dynamic art. Fun, action, adventure, whimsy, and craziness mix with the sorrowful notes of these kids’ pre-super hero lives.  Andy once tried selling me on the fact that Captain Marvel is an even better wish-fulfillment character for little kids than Superman. After this story, I believe him. I love it. A+

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