[Contains spoilers for the second volume of Trials of Shazam]
As before, The Trials of Shazam is not the previous generation's Captain Marvel. Matter of fact, in the second volume, Cap's Billy Batson identity never even appears. I enjoyed the story, and it's obvious why DC Comics made the decision to make such a radical departure from the Captain Marvel mythos, though I can't help but think it ultimately robs Captain Marvel of some of what makes him special.
By the end of this volume, Freddy Freeman is now the hero known as Shazam, while Captain Marvel takes the previous Shazam's place on the Rock of Eternity. In this way, should the new Shazam become a breakout character, DC can give him a titular series without the copyright issues that Captain Marvel brings. And I would be willing to read more about Freddy; writer Judd Winick offers a plucky, hip, determined Freddy who's a little overwhelmed but otherwise good-hearted, and with enough everyman in him to make the magic aspects of the series accessible.
The issue, of course, is that when Freddy says the name "Shazam," he goes from being college-age Freddy Freeman to college-age Shazam. There's no more here of young Billy Batson becoming adult Captain Marvel, with all the challenges and power-fantasies that entails. Freddy's just another super-powered kid; though his adventures tend to be more supernatural, essentially there's not a lot of difference between Freddy Freeman and Blue Beetle. Unfortunately, that makes me think it's only a matter of time before DC returns the Marvel mythos to status quo (Shazam: Rebirth, anyone?), and I hate to think of the retcons necessary to fix all this.
The upside of Trials of Shazam is that Winick writes his head off here. Between Winick's crass spy-thriller Outsiders and his bow-slinging Green Arrow, who knew Winick could write swords and sorcery? Most of the magic creatures and secret weapons in this tale are complete nonsense without any ties to established DC Comics stories (the Books of Magic have been rewritten, as the characters remind us ad nauseum); as such, Winick makes up concept after concept, and the sheer creativity of it is thrilling. I enjoyed watching Freddy throw spells at the latest slimy monster without having to worry that I didn't know the "rules" of the magic he used.
Winick also did a nice job making me care about the various characters. Winick offers a new take on the mythological Atlas here in a chapter that's just riveting; the god Apollo's reluctance to take Atlas's place is equally compelling. Winick also provides more details about the magician Sabina, Freddy's equivalent of Black Adam; I'm still not quite clear on why Sabina is the natural inheritor of the Marvel power, but her origin made her a complelling foe for Freddy. And don't miss the Tawky Tawny cameo in this volume, either; even as it seems like DC's setting aside all the "silly" Marvel characters, Tawny returns in a great sequence with Sabina.
[Contains full covers, "What Came Before."]
I read an interview with James Robinson about his upcoming Justice League series that suggests he might undo most of what Winick established in Trials of Shazam (putting Freddy back in his old costume, for instance); personally, I hope not. The changes DC has wrought with Freddy can't last forever, I'm sure, but it'd be a shame to see Trials of Shazam overturned so quickly.
New reviews coming soon!