Andy’s Read Pile: Shazam! A Celebration of 75 Years!

GhostAndy

IMG_5423Happy Labor Day, folks! Hope you are all enjoying those last cookouts and pool swims of the summer as I don’t care what the calendar says, once Labor Day ends, the summer season is officially over! And it’s with this in mind that yours truly is going to remind everyone of a blog I had back in June, where I gave a summer “To Do” list.

It was a lofty ambition of mine to complete all 10 items I listed over those two days, and I will say that although I did scratch off a couple, like reading Black Panther or beating Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I pretty much failed at most. Yup, I didn’t watch an episode of Jessica Jones (mainly because I was busy watching “The Boys”), I didn’t finally watch “Logan” (mainly because I was busy watching old kung fu movies), and I didn’t build a new computer (mainly because I’m really god damn lazy).

But my sense of pride would not allow for me not to at least complete the “Number 1” thing I listed on that “To Do” and that was to read and review “Shazam: A Celebration of 75 Years”, a book I picked up on discount at this year’s free Comic Book Day event. So given the summer doesn’t end until the stroke of midnight, I’m getting this review in under the wire for all of you to enjoy! How about that for bringing DA THUNDER! SHAZAM!

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Given that we have tons of different issues of Captain Marvel crammed into this anthology and they span such a wide cross sections of decades, it was hard for me to review this in terms of the individual tales. So unlike some of my other reviews which focused more on what I liked/disliked about a particular story, I’m going to frame this review as more of an overall take on the collection of stories itself.

Like did the editors pick the correct stories to include in a collection about the best Shazam has to offer after 75 years? What about the history bits in between stories, were those written well and added to the enjoyment with unique insights?

Let’s Read on to find out…

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Synopsis:

Shazam: A Celebration of 75 Years is a collection of some of the most important and interesting tales from the Big Red Cheese’s illustrious career in comics over the past 7 decades.

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Through the course of the 21 stories collected in this book, you get to see it Shazam through the ages, from his start as an orphaned kid who first boards the magic subway train and is whisked away by the wizard Shazam to gain the powers as the Earth’s mightiest mortal, through all of his brushes with some of his fiercest foes, and even the establishment of the Marvel Family, which in recent times looks very similar to how it was portrayed in the box office smash movie.

There are a lot of retellings of his origin, a lot of different takes on his character and his role as a super hero especially once he was absorbed into the DC universe continuity. However, what remains the same is that Shazam is a kids wish fulfillment story. It’s the experience of being young and helpless, but then saying a magic word and suddenly becoming strong and capable. It’s something we all can relate to from our youth and it’s why Shazam’s adventures will always resonate with readers.

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Things I Liked:

As I said back on our podcast review of the Shazam movie, I feel like most people out there aren’t going to read the really early adventures of Captain Marvel as they appeared in Whiz Comics. However, what I loved about this anthology is that the editors definitely made it as simple as possible to do that, with a great cross section of classic Shazam stories that really give you a feel for why this book was so beloved by comic readers back in the 1940s.

As I said above, you not only get the origin story, but the first appearance of Mary Marvel, solid stories with Captain Marvel Jr., and the great guest appearances of many of the members of Shazam’s Rogues gallery like Dr. Sivina, King Kull, Black Adam, and Mister Mind.

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In fact, with the Mister Mind appearance, it’s actually pulled from the massive multi issue story line “The Monster Society of Evil” which has been credited as being the first and longest serialized story arc in comic book history as it weaved its tale in almost of movie serial style format of monthly chapters over the course of two years. Personally, this was my favorite part of the book given I’m a comic historian buff as well as being a huge fan of the way C.C. Beck in particular drew Shazam. I honestly wish that the entire series was contained within this tome, but alas we only get a tantalizing glimpse.

As the book moved into the more modern tales of the character, I’m really glad they included some selections from Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam series, which I gained a healthy respect for after reading the original mini series in prep for our Shazam movie review. That’s a series I have to track down more issues of given I liked both the mini series as I said, as well as the couple issues contained here.

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I also for some bizarre reason really liked the inclusion of the “Shazam vs. Lobo” story which was in some ways a “throwaway tale” but one I found intensely fascinating. Maybe it’s the Alan Grant writing, maybe it’s fact that I dislike Lobo so much, or maybe it’s because I know what it’s like to be picked on by a crass low class bully, but Billy really does cut loose in terms of his full power in fighting with Lobo with a righteous fury that can only come from a school kid getting to wail on someone who glorified in sticking defenseless people’s heads in toilet bowls.

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Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve said many times on the podcast that I’m not a fan of the fact that Shazam ended up in the DC Universe. I personally don’t think he fits, nor will he ever be able to reach the heights of popularity he could otherwise, and it’s all because of one simple thing.

He has to coexist in the same universe with Superman.

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Yep, if Shazam had ended up over at Marvel (which is where he fits better in my opinion), he would have been seen as somewhat of a “Superman Clone” but at least he would be have been the “Superman” of a different comic universe. With Shazam being in the same universe as Superman, you don’t even have that buffer to counteract the glaring notion that they are pretty much the same character. Worst of all, you have to endure constant fights between the two characters over “Which one is better?” most of which Supes wins…’cause he’s Supes and why wouldn’t DC book their poster boy to win!?!

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So I was pretty cheesed that a lot of this book were various retellings of the same battles between Supes and Shazam, starting with this weird first one where I guess the rights to the character hadn’t been worked out yet so they had to call Shazam “Captain Thunder” This is followed by more slugfests including them having to team up against Black Adam, and a “Day in the life” kind of story from the more early 2000s  Joe Kelley run of Action Comics.

They even included all the issues specifically with covers that showed Superman either “introducing” Captain Marvel or “overly praising” Shazam, to make it clear that “Hey, this is the Man of Steel’s territory! Here’s your second banana!”

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Again maybe that’s just me being sensitive and sticking up for a hero I think is a thousand times more interesting than Supes, but I really didn’t need close to a third of my Shazam book being taken up with stories that hyped Superman at the expense of the title character. Especially when it was coupled with stories of how DC took Fawcett Comics to court and that killed Captain Marvel to begin with. Whether it was the reality or not, it just seemed to be rubbing salt in a wound for me.

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Fun Facts:

I’ve already discussed this on a previous blog when I was talking about fantastic old movie serials that would still appeal to modern comic book fans, if you haven’t checked out the original “Adventures of Captain Marvel” movie serial from Republic Pictures, brother, you are definitely missing out!

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The exciting 12 part story relates Captain Marvel’s struggles to stop an evil mastermind named the Scorpion, from reassembling a powerful ancient artifact which among other things can turn ordinary rocks into gold and can disintegrate solid matter.

Largely considered one of the very first “Superhero” movies, Captain Marvel contains many of the tropes that would become hallmarks of this genre, including the origin story, a super villain nemesis, and non stop action.

Plus, unlike the Superman serial that they made several years later with the help of animation, all of the flying special effects in Captain Marvel are done practically with the ingenious use of dummies on a series of pullies inter-spliced with rear projection and carefully choreographed stunt landings.

The overall effect, albeit “crude” in comparison to modern day CGI, was incredibly effective, especially in showing Shazam flying up to the top of tall buildings.

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The serial was so well known that years later, Jerry Ordway used it as the initial inspiration for the aforementioned “Power of Shazam” book that debuted at DC in the 90s.

However, this blog is not an installment of Insomniac Cult Movie Theater, so I’m not going to go into a full dissection of this historic film series. Instead, here’s the first chapter of the serial courtesy of our friends over at YouTube, which I hope my loyal readers will check out at their leisure!

 

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Final Thoughts:

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the collection contained here, although I will knit pick a bit. Mainly I did feel like some of the story selections here were some what off, personal feelings on the Superman issues aside.

For example, I’m not sure why the Hoppy the Bunny story was included as it didn’t really serve a purpose other that to show that Shazam was so popular at a time that other comic characters spoofed or emulated his exploits.

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There was also the inclusion of the random JSA story, which although I understand why a JSA story was included in principle given Shazam was on that team, the strange hike through the Shadowverse with Stargirl, just didn’t go anywhere.

However, for every story like that, there was also a seemingly random inclusion that really worked. For example, I loved the story where they pretty much anthropomorphized the entire planet Earth and made it out to be some sort of crotchety cantankerous person, which whom Shazam battles to set the cosmic balance right again. That was just the right mix of bizarre concept and campy fun that made for a really enjoyable comic.

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Same thing goes for the inclusion of a issue of Jeff Smith’s run on the character from his “Monster Society of Evil” remake. Making Billy a true little kid in that was tremendous and really does show the range of what you can do with this concept.  But don’t take my word for it. Go read my fellow Ghost, Chad Smith’s, review of that book in its entirety.

So yeah, although the book is somewhat of a hodge podge, there are definitely more good stories than bad ones included so I definitely feel that if you are someone like me who has recently rediscovered his love of Captain Marvel since the movie, or if you are someone that has been spurred to read Shazam for the first time for the same reason, I would highly recommend picking up this book and giving it a solid read through!

 

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Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B+

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