Review: Shazam! and the Seven Magic Lands trade paperback (DC Comics)

December 16, 2020

 ·  1 comment

As with too many other Geoff Johns projects lately, it feels as though the vagaries of events elsewhere torpedoed Johns' Shazam! series almost before it started. Certainly delays didn't help, nor even a fairly good movie. One gets the sense of Johns and Gary Frank's oft-reprinted Shazam! backup series from the New 52 Justice League as being something Johns gave a lot of effort, and too his Shazam! and the Seven Magic Lands is also enjoyable, if not wholly up to par with its predecessor. The two books deserve to be collected together, two epic bookend stories, in a Shazam! by Geoff Johns package; who knows what's going on with DC right now, whether books like Shazam! simply serve as fodder for the movies and then fade away, but I'd be happy to see Johns pop up now and then with more graphic novel-esque stories of this Shazam! family, 12-issue and done "seasons" without the promises unfulfilled of ongoing series.

[Review contains spoilers (also for the Shazam! movie)]

Perhaps it's the presence of artist Dale Eaglesham, but Shazam! and the Seven Magic Lands reminds me very much of Johns' JSA and Justice Society of America work, particularly his considerably long-form Thy Kingdom Come with Eaglesham. That is, we've got a team, and we've got various locations and each of those locations have their own individual threats, and the team splits up for a while to handle those until it all starts to bleed back in to one another. The storytelling feels like classic Johns, different than Batman: Earth One or Batman: Three Jokers. We also see something of a classic Johns template in that there's (ultimately) seven heroes, seven magic lands, seven histories, seven particular power sets coinciding with each land, offering years of storytelling potential a la the seven colors of Johns' various Lantern corps, the proposed "seven seas" from Johns' Aquaman run, seven main speedsters in Johns' Flash: Rebirth (and something there about colors), too, and so on. One senses Johns ramping up for something much longer than the 13 issues he got.

There are a lot of storylines going on within Magic Lands, and though it's hard to say what was planned for the start, the answer seems like it's not all of them. In and of itself, the Shazam! family's venture to "Funland" and discovery that something's rotten with the ruler King Kid could have been the first six-issue arc all on its own, and that's before we throw in visits to all the other six lands; the return of Black Adam; Tawky Tawny; Dr. Sivana, Mr. Mind, and the Monster Society of Evil; the return of the Wizard and the arrival of Billy Batson's dad; and Superboy-Prime, for gosh sakes.

Not that I'm complaining about a well-packed book, but that Billy Batson battling Superboy-Prime should be relegated to eight pages of this book's final chapter ought tell anyone just about everything they need to know about something getting truncated somewhere. Magic Lands is less effective than Johns' original Shazam! because of all that's going on; the earlier Shazam! felt like an origin movie (and actually became one), singular in its focus, whereas Magic Lands is frenetic, looking everywhere at once, working hard to set up a variety of things that now apparently won't ever come to fruition.

Among those things, one I found particularly interesting was the arrival of Billy's father. I admit, I'd forgotten about Billy's father being in prison in the Shazam! movie, and when he shows up at the Vasquez' door I felt like I'd seen a ghost, being most familiar with C.C. Batson having been killed as of Jerry Ordway's The Power of Shazam!. A big conceit of Magic Lands is that there's not six members of the Shazam! family as previously indicated (S-H-A-Z-A-M), but rather seven (including the exclamation point). I didn't see the Mr. Mind twist coming, and knowing there's some precedent for an adult member of the Shazam! family a la Uncle Dudley, Johns did have me wondering if this brand-new "Dad Marvel" might become a permanent fixture in the title.

Also, Johns goes pretty meta continuity-wise in ways that had me both surprised and curious. I can't begin to explain it, but when Billy is in the "Darklands," he encounters a family of ghosts that rise out of gravestones clearly marked "Captain Marvel," a moniker that, at least outside this title, it had appeared DC all but abandoned. It seemed perhaps these were some old-continuity iterations of the Marvel family, and I wondered if Johns planned to have the Shazam! family meet the Marvel family at some point, as if "Captain Marvel" might remain a character even with Shazam! in the spotlight. Second, Johns' continuity-hopping Superboy-Prime even refers to the Shazam! family as Marvels and comments on Mr. Mind having been from Venus in the old continuity and from the Wildlands here — that is, even in the midst of telling one story, Johns has characters in play wholly cognizant that what's going on here doesn't match up with previous versions of the franchise.

Whether that's wise or not, I'm undecided. I appreciate the sheer wonkiness of it, though I worry for the new reader who's just trying to enjoy a story without a character popping up in-story to say, "This book isn't as good as that old book" (though at least this doesn't take up nearly as much of the story as in Greg Rucka's Lois Lane: Enemy of the State). Whenever we see Superboy-Prime, of course, Johns gets his licks in, with Superboy staring straight at the reader and grousing, "After everything they've done, I can't believe you're all still here." No tortured writer crying out behind the scenes — I'm sure this is all done in full view of the editors with a wink and a nod or least a heavy dose of kayfabe — but this sure is a book with a fourth wall pushed to its breaking point.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Shazam! and the Seven Magic Lands



Shazam! and the Seven Magic Lands pairs Geoff Johns with Dale Eaglesham, as mentioned, and also his Flash artist Scott Kolins. It really is nice to have these teams back together and also there's great use of these artists each drawing a different storyline in the book, often spliced together on the same page. Eaglesham does at times draw members of the powered-up Shazam! family as older than Gary Frank did, and his depiction of Victor Vasquez gets weirdly distorted at times; Kolins' work too comes off a bit melodramatic toward the end, but in the main I was pleased with the art all around. Again, I'd be happy to see Johns come around to all of this again; after all, he's still got that Shazam!/Atari Force team-up to deliver.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. You know, I'm still kinda surprised this got collected as a trade paperback rather than as a hardcover -- especially with the deluxe edition reprint of the New 52 backups recently.

    Johns is still one of DC's golden gooses and normally merits a hardback release. So it's strange -- unless, like you said, DC's planning a combined omnibus release down the road.


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