Review: Superman/Shazam: First Thunder trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Superman/Shazam: First Thunder is a trade paperback engaging for adults, but one that you wouldn't have to worry about the content if you gave it to your child (for the most part. There's a scene of graphic violence, but no language, sex, or mature themes).

To be honest, I have to say I'm a little surprised at all the flak Judd Winick's receiving lately (see the Newsarama announcement of Titans East for instance, further discussed here on Collected Editions). Sure, Outsiders is a little racy, but as an adult of appropriate age, I enjoy the mature humor and themes in Outsiders--and, we should all acknowledge, what Winick has done in Outsiders is quite specifically what he was charged to do when Dan Didio and DC Comics management came up with Outsiders, no less. But to think that Winick is going to turn Titans East into some Titans hentai orgy, just because Outsiders is at times, well, an orgy, is a little ridiculous. If Winick could write Pedro and Me and Superman/Shazam: First Thunder on one hand, and Outsiders on the other, I have to think he's versatile enough to handle Titans East in the manner it's intended. My two cents.

First Thunder, frankly, gives me a lot more hope for DC's new kids line. I'm skeptical that there's really an audience out there for comics that skew as young as Tiny Titans and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, as opposed to the current Johnny DC lineup, and I'm equally skeptical that there's an adult audience that will support those titles simply for the joy of them. But if, and that's a big IF, the Billy Batson title is anywhere as good as First Thunder, maybe the whole thing has a chance.

To the review, then. Much of what I enjoyed about First Thunder is my sense that Judd Winick really "got" the characters--especially Clark Kent, who at this point is just starting out and is relatively new to the Superman persona--and that Winick understood the inherit contradictions built in to the identity of Captain Marvel--that, when you're talking to Superman, you at least know you're talking to a grown man, whereas Marvel appears to be a grown man but is really a boy.

Winick shows a Billy Batson ecstatic over getting to meet his idol Superman, and a young Clark Kent starting to let his guard down around other superheroes; the scene where finds himself accidentally mentioning Smallville is especially touching. When Billy's identity is revealed, however, Superman does not feel betrayed; instead, he challenges how the wizard Shazam could endanger a child in this way. The dichotomy between Captain Marvel's appearance and his age is most often played for romantic laughs, and the way Winick's unique usage here--showing especially both Superman's strengths and vulnerabilities is especially good.

Additionally, Josh Middleton's art is highly appropriate for this story. There's a quality to it that's not cartoony, per se, but instead resembles cells from an animated cartoon, much like Rob Haynes in the Superman/Superboy: Sins of Youth story. Middleton's figures are almost caricatures, with Captain Marvel's face appearing rubbery at times, but the hero's over-large chin and eyebrows work well to suggest the boy behind the man. Middleton's Eclipso here is traditional to the villain's roots, and the simple impishness of Eclipso versus his Jean-Loring purple-deco costume is refreshing.

[Contains full covers. Trade Paperback Slugfest: First Thunder is good, but it doesn't carry the powerful emotion of Gotham Central. Can anything beat Unresolved Targets? We'll see!]

I re-read the Superman/Shazam story in Day of Vengeance (see our review) just after I finished First Thunder and there's some thematic elements that carry from one story to the next, though First Thunder is certainly the stronger of the two. But we're on a magic kick now here at Collected Editions--keep watching for Trials of Shazam, Shadowpact, and more. Ciao!
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