As DC's Year of the Villain continues, the spotlight has turned from newly upgraded classic DC Universe villains to superheroes corrupted by the Batman Who Laughs. Their stories are the focus of a new line of special one-shots under the banner, The Infected. The first of these issues, by Sina Grace and Joe Bennett, focuses on one of the most prominent heroes turned by the deranged Caped Crusader from the Dark Multiverse: Shazam. In doing so, the creative team craft an action-heavy tale showing the twisted Mightiest Mortal's power but not all that much else.
Picking up from the shocking revelation in the pages of Batman/Superman that Billy Batson is the latest DC superhero perverted by the evil Dark Knight, the corrosive influence of the corruption bleeds into Billy's home life. After a bitter, heated argument with his foster parents and adopted sister Mary Bromfield, Billy sets out to test his might against the pantheon of gods active in the DC Universe. Meanwhile, the rest of the Shazam Family race to stop him before their twisted sibling takes things too far.
Sina Grace -- in his debut writing for DC Comics -- uses the issue to show just how dangerously unstoppable the corrupted young hero truly is. He cuts a swath through godly figures in the DCU, including several deities more closely associated with the Marvel Universe -- perhaps as a veiled dig at Grace's old employer. In doing so, Grace has devoted virtually the entire issue to fighting, with only a handful of quieter moments focusing on the rest of Billy's family as they follow his destructive trail while attempting to determine what exactly has become of him.
This certainly isn't to say the issue is a bad one. There are some genuine emotional moments scattered throughout, largely centering on Mary's concern for her little brother. Grace's acclaimed creator-owned work had largely focused on the ennui of his daily life, and when the focus turns to Billy's family, that emotional catharsis really shines and elevates the material. The fighting itself is largely perfunctory and repetitive, as one deity after another gets violently dunked on by the Big Red Cheese, and a fair bit of the inciting action takes place off-panel.
Bringing this rampage world tour to visual life is Joe Bennett -- fresh off a stint on Detective Comics -- joined by inkers Belardino Brabo and Matt Santorelli, and colorist Hi-Fi. The art team's work is vaguely reminiscent of the artwork on the ongoing Shazam! comic book series by Dale Eaglesham. That said, the art team makes the visuals here all their own in an issue that has them go heavy with electric fisticuffs and the welcome return of a classic Jack Kirby creation -- if only to get thoroughly stunted on by Shazam. Just as with Grace's writing, the art team really excels when they focus on emotion, in particular that of the conflicted Mary searching for her brother.
The Infected special issues give creators the chance to explore the insidious effects of the Batman Who Laughs' toxic influence spreading across the DC Universe to its most beloved heroes. King Shazam starts with a look at the Earth's Mightiest Mortal but the superhero has always worked best when the focus has been on his family -- that's the central theme and beating heart of the fan-favorite character. When Grace and the art team lean into this aspect of the story and less into the action, they really do deliver, and Grace captures each of the disparate voices well. However, when the issue focuses on traditional superhero action, though competently done, something gets a little lost in the mix.