Jeff Smith’s long-awaited Captain Marvel mini-series is finally out, and it completely lives up to the massive expectations we have all placed upon it in our minds, as Smith basically addresses two of the biggest problems that have befallen the Captain Marvel property, which is A. It isn’t directed towards children and B. Captain Marvel isn’t taken seriously. Smith creates here a comic that, while truly being “All Ages,” is directed at children while taking Captain Marvel seriously.
It is a joy to read.
Smith approaches the comic book, artistically, in the style of a children’s book. It works quite well, and I am particularly impressed with the economy of imagery that he uses. He comes up with a number of creative visual ideas, but confines them mostly to regular panels, which means that, when he DOES do a double-page splash, it is that much more awe-inspiring. For example, when Billy Batson is lured to an underground subway station following a man who looks like his father, a gigantic red and gold, electricity-trimmed subway train shows up at the station. Pretty cool idea, no? Well, that visual is done in a small panel…so then, when, a page or so later, Billy encounters the lair of the wizard, Shazam, the double-page splash presents to the reader the idea, “Yeah, you’re darn tootin’ this is something special you’re seeing here!”
I enjoyed the way in which Smith does not attempt to sugar-coat Billy’s living conditions, showing the sheer terror that he lives in (as he’s a homeless youth). One of the ideas that I never understood was that we should shield children from scary thoughts in their fiction. That seems silly to me. So long as the scary imagery is not over the top, I do not see an issue with it. I mean, Captain Hook was pretty darn scary, wasn’t he? So I think Smith does a nice job showing the squalor and fear that Billy Batson lived in prior to coming into contact with the wizard Shazam.
Smith made a good move in going back to the original approach on the relationship of Billy and Captain Marvel, presenting the two as two separate entities, just with Billy being Captain Marvel’s mortal host body. I think part of the whole “Captain Marvel is just a silly goofball” tied into the idea of presenting Billy Batson, a child, as the personality of Captain Marvel, which led to a child-like Captain Marvel, which led to a goofy Captain Marvel. This separate relationship still presents opportunities for lighthearted humor, like when Billy buys Captain Marvel a hot dog before he transforms into him.
There are other lighthearted moments in the book. A favorite of mine is when Billy and Captain Marvel are zapped by static electricity – Billy’s hair stands on end, but Cap’s doesn’t move at all! Ha!
The villain set-up in the book was handled well, with a (quite understandable) rash decision by Billy leading to unpredictable consequences. And bad guys who look like giant crocodiles are always fun. Even Mr. Mind is given a nice makeover, in that he appears mysterious in his absence. Nice dramatic touch by Smith.
All in all, this was a very well drawn book by Smith with a great deal of joy and action and FUN. Well worth the wait.
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