Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Captain Marvel: The Trial (and Tweaking) of SHAZAM

Fair warning: Regular readers of FanBoyWonder will be shocked and alarmed and Hell indeed may freeze over following my announcement that I am both looking forward to and rooting for a Judd Winick comic book.

All but the most casual reader of FanBoyWonder knows that we hold Mr. Winick’s work is less than high esteem—yet we are intrigued and excited about what we’ve heard about his proposed Trials of Shazam, on sale next week, and his efforts to implement an extreme makeover to the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

Winick as writer, with Howard Porter (JLA) doing, art will attempt to do something that other vastly more talented comic book creators have failed—to make Captain Marvel modern, relevant and distinct. It’s not so much that we have faith in Winick (despite what even we admit is an engaging proposal) so much as we’re heartened that the powers that be at DC appear to really be getting behind the idea of elevating Captain Marvel to A-list status.

During various trade press interviews, Winick has expressed his desire to dramatically reinvent both the character and the concept of Captain Marvel. In interviews, like this one in Comic Book Resources http://www.comicbookresources.com/news/newsitem.cgi?id=8047 Winick makes the case that while all of the other major players in the DC Universe has been revamped and revised with the times over the decades, Captain Marvel has remained trapped in the 1940s. We agree.

Since DC’s revival of Captain Marvel in 1973 under the title Shazam, creators have attempted to catch magic lighting in a bottle again by attempting to replicate the “Big Red Cheese” paradigm. Since then, DC has tried and failed a number of times to showcase Captain Marvel in his own book-including Jerry Ordway’s Power of SHAZAM graphic novel and 47 issue series a decade ago.

We were among the fans of the book but it ultimately failed because Ordway, despite an admirable and at times clever explanations for old chestnuts like “Uncle Marvel” and Tawny the talking tiger, adhered too much to the “classic” vision instead of moving into (or being allowed to step into) the present.

To put a point on it: Superman Red and Superman Blue was an amusing story concept—in the 1950s, but it was an unmitigated disaster when it was tried again in the 1990s.

Speaking of Superman, Captain Marvel has been unfairly treated in the DCU as a Superman knock-off. Among the most intriguing of Winick’s proposals is to play up the magic aspect of Captain Marvel’s origin and make the World’s Mightiest Mortal the beat cop of Magic in the DC Universe.

In the Trials of Shazam: Following the death of the Wizard Shazam during last year’s Days of Vengeance mini-series, Billy Batson’s Captain Marvel must take the wizard’s place, leaving it to Freddy Freeman—Captain Marvel Jr. to step up. Freddy loses his powers and in the Trials of Shazam series, Freddie will have to earn back each of the powers of the gods to become the new Captain Marvel.

Even as we are rooting for Winick to succeed and help restore Captain Marvel to greatness, we are wary given our dislike of most everything else Winick has ever done, his handling of Superman/Shazam: First Thunder has prompted us to give him the benefit of the doubt (but he better not f**k this up).

Meanwhile, with all the changes going on to the Marvel Family in the DCU, it seems like the perfect time for us to suggest some improvements that we would implement if FanBoyWonder was given the Power of SHAZAM.

Eliminate the redundancy and accentuate the individuality: In a very real sense, Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. are redundant—three times over. They each possess identical powers—they all “only” possess the “standard” powers of flight, strength, invulnerability and speed.

It’s a problem similar to the Green Lantern Corps but even as each GL possesses the same power ring, the nature of their power allows each ring bearer to express themselves individually both in their skill with the ring and with the emerald energy constructs each GL creates.

The power envelope began to be tweaked by Alex Ross during the now classic Superman/Captain Marvel battle during Kingdom Come (1996) where Marvel summoned the magic lighting to strike Superman multiple times into near submission (we note this was AFTER Superman “cheated” by using his heat vision during the fight first).

In JSA, Geoff Johns and David Goyer continued the exploration of Marvel’s powers, particularly the Wisdom of Solomon, portraying it as an inner voice he hears.

Also there are two things that have never (as yet) been resolved regarding Black Adam:
1) If the Wizard Shazam gave Teth Adam his powers, why couldn’t he take those powers away?
2) Despite receiving his powers from the Egyptian “gods,” unlike the Marvel Family whose power comes from the Greek/Roman “elders,” how isit that Black Adam has the exact same powers at the same power level.

If FanBoyWonder were given the power (or at least editorial control) of SHAZAM, the changes/tweaks we would make include:

Note: We base our suggestions in part from info maintained on the Shazam page http://members.ozemail.com.au/~scunge/shazam/ and the Marvel Family Web http://www.marvelfamily.com/ both cool sites. Check them out.

We would still have Black Adam and the Marvels receive their power from Shazam as the magical conduit with the same “standard” powers, albeit at different levels but also able to channel the abilities and attributes of the different “gods.”
Example: Captain Marvel would remain the same:
Solomon—Wisdom; Hercules—Strength; Atlas—Stamina; Zeus—Power (there is a lot of room to work there); Achilles—Courage and Mercury—Speed/Flight.

For Mary Marvel—first we would change her name… “Lady” Marvel, “Marvel-ette”…anything but after 60 years, she deserves a real super-hero name.
But we digress, for Mary: Selena—Grace; Hippolyta—Strength, Ariadne—Skill; Zephyrus—Speed; Aurora—Beauty (kind of sexist, since she is the Roman Goddess of Dawn, perhaps some light powers?) and Minerva—Wisdom.

Another thing: There is no reason the wisdom of Minerva should be exactly the same as the wisdom of Solomon or for that matter Black Adam’s wisdom of Zehuti. It would be interesting to hear the difference “voices” and the types of wisdom dispensed.

For Captain Marvel Jr., since Freddie Freeman speaks the name “Captain Marvel” to call down the magic lightening, we would have his god patrons come from an amalgam of gods to spell “Marvel.” Junior would be as powerful as Captain Marvel but he would be powered by more gods and thus have more abilities.

That’s our two cents. If Trials of Shazam doesn’t work (and/or if Winick f**ks it up), DC is welcome to consider this “Plan B.”


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