Review: Shazam!: To Hell and Back trade paperback (DC Comics)


Shazam!: To Hell and Back

Tim Sheridan’s Shazam!: To Hell and Back is a strange one. On one hand, I appreciate a Captain Marvel story1 that is less concerned than most of late with the larger Marvel family; Sheridan’s Marvel iteration is less bratty vagabond Billy Batson and more superhero-with-a-long-history. Also, after a time as a Justice League property and a time as a Justice Society property, it’s interesting to see Captain Marvel stretch his legs as a Teen Titans property, spinning off of Sheridan’s Teen Titans Academy.

On the other hand, as mentioned, Hell and Back is a strange one, with each issue pitting Billy against a different threat as he moves closer to his goal without ever resolving the previous one. It does appear as though at least some of this continues into Teen Titans Academy later on, but that book’s gain is this miniseries' loss, failing to conclude in its own right, plus a key Future State story is absent. Possibly with that missing piece and the followup from Academy, this could be republished as a more solid book overall.

[Review contains spoilers]

Hell and Back, as the name implies, sees Billy going to the underworld to seek the fallen Rock of Eternity, toward regaining his missing powers and sharing them with the dying Freddy Freeman. The miniseries is nicely four issues, something we don’t see that often anymore, but which shakes out to an issue of setup, an issue of Billy and friend Dane fighting the demon Sulibak, an issue of Billy and Dane dealing with Neron, and then an issue of Billy and a transformed Black Adam battling the sin Pride. Sulibak essentially disappears, Neron is unceremoniously vanquished by Raven, and the book ends before Billy and Black Adam resurrect the Rock (no pun intended).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Again, my understanding is this is to be continued in the pages of Academy, though the book doesn’t say so. As such, this feels like a Shazam! romp without much point, a series of starts to stories without any endings. For an informed reader, that’s passingly OK, but for a movie fan who picked this up, DC would just have to hope that all the mentions of the Teen Titans would be enough to happen to draw the audience over there.

Matter of fact, the most prominent time Hell and Back directs a reader to another book is to note that the Future State: Shazam! two-parter also collected here continues into Future State: Black Adam, which is not included (both of those stories are together in the Future State: Suicide Squad collection). Insofar as either story is really relevant to the events of Hell, the Black Adam of Future State actually appears in this book, shunted from the future, whereas the Future State: Shazam! story is more of a “what if” take on these events. This book of six issues would have been enhanced by making it eight (except, perhaps, then DC would owe royalties to a second writer).

Though there’s something relatively serious at Hell’s core — Freddy Freeman, comics star for 80 years, is dying — Sheridan’s tone overall is light. First Billy makes eyes at a devil’s daughter against a Las Vegas hellscape backdrop (complete with groan-worthy gambling puns), then Neron wheedles and chews scenery (buffeted by artist Clayton Henry’s lanky, rubbery figures), and then we meet “Teddy,” the bizarrely pleasant teenage Black Adam. Though on the whole I’d rather Neron terrifying than jocular, Sheridan’s bits land well, between the Cafe of Eternity, Billy begging for the puns to stop, and the ongoing brimstone gag.

And, as mentioned, I like Sheridan’s take on Captain Marvel. The Marvel family, such that appears here, is reduced just to Billy, Mary, and Freddy, with nary a mention of Geoff Johns' new characters. I like all of that well enough, but Johns' Billy is often concerned with trying to understand his powers, negotiate the wants of the wizard, and so on — to an extent, a Harry Potter-tinged take on Captain Marvel — where Sheridan’s is more superheroic, less mythos-driven. It’s an approach I enjoy, though I think it’s destined to be the exception and not the rule for this family of characters.

Notably we don’t actually see Freddy Freeman die in Hell and I’d be surprised if he actually ever does — I expect a miraculous recovery in the pages of Teen Titans Academy — given if nothing else the character’s movie prominence. At the same time, I know DC’s next Shazam! miniseries won’t even star Billy, so perhaps they’re not so concerned with their comics matching the movies. (I am astounded Black Adam isn’t shown on the front nor mentioned on the back of this trade.)



Tim Sheridan’s Shazam!: To Hell and Back is an entertaining tangent, but a tangent indeed, with all that implies.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches by Clayton Henry]

  1. I'm sanguine about the Captain Marvel to Shazam! switch, but at the same time it feels silly referring to the character as Shazam! for an entire review.  ↩

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Great review. This series was so disappointing for me (especially after Geoff John's run). The original Captain Marvel....Shazam is one my favorite characters and there is so much potential with this character....that's only been realized here and there (Jerry Ordway's the Power of Shazam, JLI, JSA, Geoff's Shazam miniseries/series). This was such a disjointed mini-series that really does nothing to add to the character.....Perhaps I was expecting too much, but I guess I will have to wait longer for a good Shazam story.

    1. I'll be curious to see whether the upcoming Mary Marvel miniseries has more staying power; I agree a "new classic" approach like Power of Shazam is what the character needs. And what with a forthcoming movie, I'd hope DC has a series planned.


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