The first issue of The Trials of Shazam is quite interesting, in that the basic concept behind the book is quite fun. Billy Batson has inherited the role of the wizard Shazam, and meanwhile, he is keeping himself very busy dealing with all the new magic problems, particularly because, after the events of Infinite Crisis, magic in the DC Universe is broken, so the old ways of doing things might not (and in fact, probably WILL not) work now. So Billy does his best to stem the tide of all this crazy magic, but suddenly finds himself in an awkward situation - he thought he just got to keep Shazam's powers, but instead, he learns that he has to EARN the power of Shazam, presumably through the title of the comic (trials, et al). That sounds good, doesn't it? An interesting mini-series concept, at least, I think. However, writer Judd Winick packages the comic in such a greasy, slimy manner that it really hides the nice, classic story underneath the grime, and throughout the story, all I could think was "Wow, he had to make it a point to make that scene grimy" and "He had to work to make this scene come off so 'gritty'." All in all, it ended up pulling this particular story down to the point where I don't think I'd recommend it, but I think that, seeing as how it is so easy to avoid the aggravating aspects of the story, that Winick could very easily make the future issues a good deal mroe appealing. He did a great job on the hard part - the plot. Now all he has to do is fix the packaging.
The book opens with these two psychos collecting a bunch of young teens to use in a blood sacrifice. I'll give Winick credit, he does get in a pretty funny line about how they got almost twice as many children as they needed for the blood sacrifice because, "Yeah, but with kids these days..." Here is where the preview pages showed up that caused so much distress for people, where Billy (who is undercover as one of the kids) has the following thought captions, as he calls Shazam and brings lightning down to strike the bad guys - "I bring it down hard. I can do that now. I can summon the lightning and make it tangible. I can make them feel it. And I wanted these guys to feel it...to feel the power of the gods." See? That's just lame. WAAY too serious.
The rest of the scenes with the psychos reads just like the issue of Outsiders (also by Winick) where Sabbac slaughters a bus filled with people - there is not the same level of gore as there was in that comic, but the same basic concept.
The bad guy transforms into a giant frog - that sort of scene SHOULD be kinda funny, but instead, it is depicted dead serious - which is just way too silly. Yes, Billy remarks on the absurdity of fighting a giant frog, but it is never treated like a FUN thing - always serious. It was way too weird.
There is a good flashback scene with Billy and Zatanna, as we see how much magic has changed, and we see how Billy lives nowadays. I liked those pages - they were fun.
Howard Porter is trying a brand new style here, using a digital painting approach. I like it a lot better than his older work, but it is plainly obvious that his art style is a work in progress. I think it will look a whole lot better by the end of the series. For now? It's a bit disjointed. And the redesign of Captain Marvel is hideous - but I presume (hope?) that it is only temporary.
Coming into this issue, I was expecting the worst. Judd Winick impressed me by coming up with a nice concept for the series that completely clashed with his "let's do an edgier Captain Marvel" sound bits, but the manner of delivery the nice concept is right in tune with those sound bites, which I just hated.
So, for this first issue, I am in the not recommended camp, but I think the set-up here COULD be done very well for future issues, so I remain hopeful!!
Thanks to DC Comics for the review copy.