I highly doubt anyone’s reading this review thinking, “I haven’t read the first eleven issues of this series, but I’m interested in reading the final issue to see what I’ve missed.” Most likely, you probably fall into one of the following camps: The Faithful (you’ve read the entire series, maybe because you really like the Marvel Family characters, and you’re curious about what another reader might say about the issue); The Forgotten (you might have checked out the first issue or two, but you abandoned this series long ago and probably had no idea it was still being published); The Disdainful (you can’t believe anyone actually read this series, and you want to see how ridiculous it sounds so you know you were right to mock it); and The Judd Winick Appreciation Society (you own every issue of “The Trials of Shazam” because DC sent them to you for free since you are the writer of the series, Judd Winick).
The problem with “The Trials of Shazam” is that it’s neither good enough nor bad enough to satisfy any of these groups. (I’ll let Judd Winick speak for himself, but does he really think this series, culminating here in issue #12, successfully established the importance of Shazam franchise within the DC Universe?)
“The Trials of Shazam” has told the belabored story of Freddy Freeman, the young man once known as Captain Marvel, Jr., and his ascendancy to the role of supreme guardian of magic in the universe. He spends issue after issue uncovering hidden gods and earning (or failing to earn) the powers once belonging to the entire Marvel family. It has been the Twelve Labors of Hercules with Joseph Campbell looking over his shoulder, except 50% less interesting than even that sounds.
And it all reaches a climax here, with skeletal demons attacking the planet and pithy dialogue from the humans like, “To understate the obvious, the vagarities put us at a tactical disadvantage in avoiding this,” and “Aliens you can talk to; these wackjobs, not a lot of discourse.” The first bit of verbosity comes from Batman, who is one of the many guest stars in this epic battle. Apparently, Winick thinks Batman should speak like a middle manager giving an impromptu lecture designed to fill about fifteen minutes before the coffee and donuts roll out. The second piece of dialogue comes from Zeus-in-diguise-as-a-cool-dude. You can tell he’s Zeus, because he uses the formal word “discourse,” and you can tell he’s a cool dude, because he uses hip slang like “wackjobs.” Estelle Getty, watch out! Zeus might win the coveted “Coolest Senior Citizen Ever” medallion.
This issue isn’t all poor dialogue and random acts of demonic violence. It features a final sequence in which Freddy Freeman becomes the new Shazam. Now, to be clear, Shazam was the old wizard who granted the original Captain Marvel his powers, but half the American populace seems to think Shazam is the name of the guy with the red suit and the lightning bolt. Trademarks and 1970s television shows will have that effect. So now Shazam is the guy in the red suit with the lightning bolt, only he’s played by a beefy Freddy Freeman with the luxurious mane of Fabio, circa 1989.
Artist Mauro Cascioli does his best job to bring some sense of importance to the events here, and he’s a far superior painter to original series artists Howard Porter, but even Cascioli can’t add the necessary grandeur to make this comic anything other than a disappointment.
The series may be over, finally, but its legacy lives on. In the “next issue” box at the end of the comic, we’re warned to “keep watching the DC Universe for more Shazam!” No thanks.