“Justice League” is the main title of the DC Universe. They’ve got all the heavy hitters: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. The back of the book even reminds readers of the line up. Considering this, it’s strange not a single one of these gigantic characters appears in the pages of this #0 issue. “Justice League” #0 does a great job avoiding the Justice League entirely. Instead, it presents the new origin of Shazam, who is not currently on the team.
As a book beholden to the title and all it implies, “Justice League” #0 is a definite fail. However, as a book that could be handed to any new reader, there is a definite charm and hook. As an issue of sequential storytelling, there is enough here to enjoy that your money isn’t actually wasted. This feels like the sort of book many older readers began with decades ago. There’s enough teased here through some fun that readers can be drawn in. The charm of the book will entertain, even if it has its flaws.
There is much of Billy Batson’s original origin excised here. The story begins in media res and scrambles to catch up to what he’s doing and who he is. One of those questions is relatively explored while the other almost flatly ignored. Geoff Johns rushes to get Batson to the wizard, gain power and move forward. The back-story is dropped like old luggage in favor of playing with new toys. A quick succession of past-probing magic reveals a little but it’s all telling masquerading as showing. In the end, this kid feels lighter for it all and once he becomes power mad, he’s harder to follow and truly like.
Half the issue is concerned with mystical mumbo-jumbo and the rest with Shazam exploiting his power set — as a kid thrust into the body of a magically powered Adonis would likely do. He pulls a prank and then brutally slaughters a mugger by slapping him across the street through the window of a car. There is a speech balloon given to the defeated criminal that says “Ow,” but we are all adult enough to really know what physics would dictate just happened. The idea of Batson as a reckless hero rings true, but isn’t necessarily what I want to see.
Gary Frank’s art is fantastic. He draws a great Shazam and even does his best to model the kid as a younger version who grows into the physicality of the role. The magic and shadows of this issue are effectively built. He works with faces, Shazam’s in particular, to play alongside the scenes and give a real set up and reaction to the characters.
Ethan Van Sciver draws the back up tale, which features Pandora dropping some exposition and then doing something incredibly stupid. The final page will be what excites most as a new character introduction is teased quite effectively. People will want to know where the new origin for this character will go.
“Justice League” #0 is a strange issue in that it features no current Justice League characters. This is really a Shazam #0 issue and as such it meets its mark there. As a “Justice League” issue, it’s not a great lure for new readers. The childlike hero and intensely enjoyable art will bring in some, but is sadly not enough to keep others. Seeing a young boy become a muscle-bound magical hero only to use his powers to keep being the prankster rapscallion he always was might not be grandly eloquent, but it should yield a progressive arc moving forward.