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.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Checkmate Help Wanted and 'Future Boy' cashes in his chips

While FanBoyWonder was waiting for Comedy Central’s Roast of William Shatner to come on (We Shat you not!), we thought we’d go ahead and share our pics and pans of the week. Enjoy.

Checkmate #5

The upshot from DC Comics: Three candidates compete to become Black Queen's Knight in the sensational stand-alone tale "Selection."

Talk about your job interview from hell. This issue features the selection process to find the individual who would become Checkmate’s Black Queen’s Knight—i.e. the “button man” for the black ops side of the agency. A few beatings and some torture later, we have a winner but it’s the selection process of the new Knight that is most telling—it’s all about the gray, the moral no-man’s land that these people must live in to do their jobs.

We really enjoyed the interaction between Mr. Terrific and Alan Scott/Green Lantern, the outgoing White King. Last issue, Alan was fired as White King when his reappointment by the U.N. Security Council was vetoed by the U.S. as a political payback.

We were glad to see Alan Scott on this title—it was one of the biggest reasons we came to the book—but now we’re glad he is leaving. First and foremost he belongs with the Justice Society. But we also weren’t crazy about writer Greg Rucka’s handle on the Alan Scott character.

Specifically, despite the well scripted jousting between Alan and Amanda Waller, we haven’t liked how Alan has been boxed in as the World War II/”Greatest Generation” era anachronism—ergo by demanding accountability and following the rules that he’s too old fashioned to understand the reality of the “real world” of meta-human espionage and counter-intelligence.

When you possess the power of the Starheart/Green Flame and are one of the most powerful men on Earth this side of the Last Son of Krypton, adhering to a code of conduct should not be considered a character flaw.

That said, Checkmate is by far one of the best books in the current DC line up. But it is also the most dense and the most frustrating.

Writer Rucka demands a lot of the reader without a lot of access to new readers or those who don’t know every little thing of background about Checkmate’s history and of the characters.

Example: Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux. Unless you happened to be reading some 2-3 years back Rucka’s run on Detective Comics, you wouldn’t know that Sasha was Bruce Wayne’s one-time bodyguard who discovered his Batman identity, was framed along with Wayne during the “Bruce Wayne Murderer” story arc, had her death faked while in prison and recruited by Checkmate. And that’s not even getting into how she was infected by the Brother Eye nano-virus, the evidence of which is still seen on her face and arms.

The providing of background on this pivotal character was an error that dates all the way back to last year’s OMAC mini-series and it needs to be corrected or else this high caliber book risks becoming too smart for its own good and making it too much trouble for new readers to jump on board.

The art by Jesus Saiz is also top shelf as usual. We admit we were not instant fans of his visual style but there is no denying his craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Best of all, we’re already up to issue five and there hasn’t been a fill-in artist and each issue has been on time. Not too long ago, that would have been considered damning by faint praise but these days its complement of the highest order.

‘Tis a sad commentary on the current state of candy-ass artists when being complemented on meeting a deadline and consistent quality work would earn conspicuous praise.

Green Lantern Corps # 3

The upshot from DC: The explosive conclusion of the 3-part "To Be a Lantern!" On Oa, a murderer is brought to justice and a Lantern is laid to rest, while on Thanagar, a brave warrior's life is changed, perhaps forever.

We are glad to have this second monthly Green Lantern title and we like it both for its focus away from Earth and on the rest of the Universe, as well as the book as a showcase for Green Lantern Guy Gardner—at last earning well deserved respect.

This title and issue # 3 is not without its rough patches. There’s a whole lot of story going on in this issue and both the script and art, while superior overall, don’t make it totally accessible or easy to keep track of all that’s going on.

Writer Dave Gibbons is still finding his way as a solo writer—The GLC mini-series was co-written by Gibbons and Geoff Johns. Without meaning it as a vote of no-confidence on Gibbons’ part, it might not be a bad idea to consider another co-writer for Gibbons or someone to script Gibbons’ plots. In any event, there’s no doubting Gibbons’ love for these characters or his commitment to this series.

We really like the continued evolution of Soranik Natu, the one-time reluctant Green Lantern, native of the planet Korguar, home of the renegade Green Lantern Sinestro.

Natu, like everyone else on Korguar, saw the Green Lantern Corps following Sinestro as a force of oppression and the Green Lantern symbol not unlike the swastika. She accepted the power ring that sought her out to save a life and believed she damned herself. Yet, she has slowly come to embrace her role as a cosmic beat-cop, even if it meant virtual exile from her people.

We applaud the addition of one of the strongest female Green Lantern characters to come along in a long time and we definitely want to see more of her.

52 Week 15

The upshot from DC: It's the death you never expected in WEEK 15.

Unexpected but frankly not unwelcome. Booster Gold is dead—make no mistake; we’ve all see his body.

The “hero” who was a failure in his native 25th century and who came back in time to cash-in by using his future tech to play the hero died as he lived—being a showboating ass—trying to save lives and letting everyone know he was doing it. Didn’t see that one coming did you Future Boy???

When he was first introduced 20 years ago by creator Dan Jergens, Booster Gold was a unique and truly original idea. A definite sign of the times (the I’ve got mine and F**k everybody else 1980s—like times have changed that much), Booster was selfish, vein, greedy and wanted fame and fortune…to him, virtue was definitely NOT its own reward.

Jergens did the best he could with this character and made us like the guy despite himself. Booster Gold lasted only 24 issues and perhaps would have faded into limbo if he had not been picked up by the Justice League during Giffen/DeMatteis era.

Unfortunately for the Booster Gold character, that was a mixed blessing as Booster, like the League during those days, became more and more of a parody. We all should have seen this coming during the 80’s Justice League revival by Giffen and DeMatteis a couple years back with their “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Justice League”…the jokes just didn’t seem funny anymore—gone the same way as the Mullet.

With Booster’s glory days at the League closed behind him and with him incapable of any meaningful growth… he had to die. 52 allows DC to kill off an anachronism (Wow! Twice in the same blog entry… and it’s not even the word of the day or anything) yet appear to be shocking and daring while doing it.

At least Booster’s death clears his story off the table and will hopefully allow the other story lines to unfold. Among the questions to be answered is how Future Boy couldn’t see his own death coming…as his actions in our present appears to be screwing up future history. Stay tuned.

Nightwing # 123

The upshot from DC: Featuring guest art by Robert Teranishi (SAGA OF SEVEN SUNS: VEILED ALLIANCES)! There's a fire-throwing killer on the streets, targeting the few people Nightwing can trust. The race is on for Nightwing to stop the fires while dodging the bullets and spotlights of the NYPD!

Just when we thought that this book couldn’t get any worse, the art by “guest” artist Robert Teranishi is nothing less than terrible. The visuals start at Opaque and get worse from there. Get a coffee pot with fresh brewed java, hold it up to the light and attempt to read by looking through the pot and you have an idea what it’s like trying to endure these crappy visuals.

Meanwhile, Bruce Jones continues is dismantling of the coolest character in the DCU by simultaneously making Nightwing a doormat for a high-maintenance floozy (the alleged new “love interest”), as well as a rank amateur unable to stop a three-watt bulb arson crook.

One has to wonder if Jones knew if he was being fired at this point and was just phoning it in or if this is the best he’s got. Either way, just one more issue until Nightwing co-creator Marv Wolfman takes over.

Marv, please in the name of God, let the first two pages of your run have Dick waking up and pronouncing the previous 8 issues just a dream or an imaginary story….or even Hypertime.
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