Book Review Wednesday: Shazam! by Geoff Johns (3 stars)

Posted: March 25, 2015 in Book Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

This one is a graphic novel, so if you aren’t a fan then turn away now. Or stick around, try something new. You might find something you like.

This one is decent, but in no way my favourite graphic novel. That title belongs either to the captivating Maus series (which follows the true story of a jewish couple in world war 2 Poland) or Matt Fraction’s entertaining version of Hawkeye.

If you’ve never read a graphic novel before and are currently pondering whether to give one a go, don’t start with Shazam unless you are already a fan of the comic book character. Maus is a great graphic novel for non graphic novel readers to start with. The artist depicts Jews as mice and Germans as cats in what sounds like an odd idea, but works really well to capture the poignancy of the story. The art captures the emotions of both the artist (who uses his art to bring his father’s story to life) and his father in a way I’m not sure words could manage.

Or, if you’re a fan of humor and the marvel avengers movies, then try out Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic. Some issues have been put together into a graphic novel. Words can’t describe how much I love this comic. The main character Clint (Hawkeye) is lovable, and kind of a hopeless case. He puts his heart and soul into everything he does, and usually makes a mess of things.

If you venture into this comic you have to stick around for issue 19. It’s amazing. Clint becomes deaf (which is something that happens in multiple versions of his character and something I wish they’d put into the movies) and Matt Fraction put so much work into depicting it accurately.

When Clint isn’t looking at a character when they’re talking, an empty speech bubble appears above his head. When he is looking at someone, bits of speech appear in the bubble and the rest is a gibberish mess – because unlike movies lip reading is never one hundred percent accurate. You get bits and pieces and have to work out from context what the person is saying. Likewise, the sign language isn’t translated.

Matt Fraction urged everyone reading the comic to read it first without the translation. He said that if someone had read it and was confused, then they had some idea what it’s like to be deaf. That’s what he wanted people to get out of it. Good representation of differences is so hard to come by, but this comic did such a good job. I just wish there was more of it.

Now my gushing is over, lets look at the graphic novel I actually wanted to review.

Ok, so Shazam doesn’t rack up against my greats. The art is oh so pretty, the story has a few laughs, but the plot line doesn’t have much to it. And it broke my character.

Shazam for those not in the know is often described as the superhero made to be a superman rip off. In a way that’s true, but not in the bad way people think. You see, essentially the original Shazam story is one of wish fulfillment.

A wise old man seeks to give all the powers of the gods to one pure of heart. Corny, yeah, but think about it. What would happen? That person with a pure heart is most likely to be a child who hasn’t become jaded yet to the cruelties of the world. Versions range in age, but Billy Batson is usually somewhere between six and ten when he first gets his powers.

When he calls out the wizard’s name ‘Shazam’ a lightning bolt hits him and he turns into a muscle-bound adult version of himself with superpowers. Superstrength, speed, he’s got it all. Only he still has his innocent child mind where all heroes save the day, and that ability to see the good in the world. (In most versions anyway. I ignore the other versions.)

That’s why I like the Shazam idea, because it asks the question ‘what if that sweet kid who wants to save the world from the bad guys actually has the power to do so?’ And it doesn’t answer with ‘well he’s a kid, so he’ll probably screw it up.’

This brings us to the main reason why I didn’t like this graphic novel. They broke Billy Batson. They made him into a troublemaking kid who has about one good trait for every five bad ones. And sure, it’s interesting at first. Then I quickly realised the reason why I like Billy Batson is because he is pure and good and knows how to have fun in a world of heroes who seem to do nothing but brood.

This new Billy Batson broods. He broods a lot.

So, no. Not a fan. I’ll stick to my sweetness and light version of Billy Batson, with all the strength of superman and the optimism of a child. Speaking of, if anyone comes across a good comic storyline with that version of the character, please tell me. I’d love to take a look.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17671918-shazam

P.S. I’ve heard they’re making a Shazam movie! Apparently it’s going to be a lot lighter than your usual superhero movie, so I’m hoping they use sweetness and light Billy Batson and have little to no brooding and lots of small child in a superhero’s body adventures. Here’s hoping!

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