“All aboard The Funlands Express!”
The Station. The secret space inside The Rock of Eternity, leading to six magical worlds. It’s where Billy Batson, Mary Bromfield, Freddie Freeman, Eugene Choi, Pedro Peña and Darla Dudley find themselves at the beginning of the story, picking up from the last issue. They’re examining the massive map of The Seven Magiclands and wondering what they should do and what path to take. With the exception of Mary, almost everyone else is very much into the idea of exploring these lands. There’s an inquisitive spirit and a youthful exuberance to the group and their general enthusiasm is infectious. And in a lot of ways, this opening scene is a perfect summation of the book itself. It’s finding yourself at crossroads of possibility and jumping on board a train to venture out, beyond that which is ordinary and familiar.
The series is strongly reminiscent of kids fantasy works and mystery books, where in a small gang of youths get up to all sorts of mischief and adventure. The dynamics are all laid out especially clearly, playing into classic archetypes and creating good framework for any and all creators to work off of. Billy’s the neutral protagonist, making balanced choices and leading the gang, Mary’s the conservative and reserved mature figure, Freddie’s the daring and brash youth, Darla is the innocent and naive child, while Eugene is the informed nerd, with Pedro being the silent follower of the pack.
Discussing the pros and cons of actually getting on the trains and exploring the lands beyond, the kids decide to follow Freddie’s incentive and get on The Funlands express. The train, a kid’s dream, is packed with all sorts of, well, fun machines, from old-school arcade games to popcorn machines and soda machines. As Freddie puts it, ‘It’s Disneyland on steroids!’. Hitting the big, green go button of the train, they’re off to explore.
Meanwhile, we finally catch up with Dr. Sivana. It’s his debut in the current ongoing as we meet him at a doctor’s waiting room. Holding a thick magic book in golden binding, whilst consistently talking to someone, Sivana is a strange sight. It’s no later, however, that we find out he’s speaking to the dangerous Mister Mind. Finally revamped in a proper fashion, he’s set to menace Billy Batson and his family once more. And with Sivana’s aid, they make a deadly pair. Mind reveals that they’re here to acquire the tongue of a medicine man for a magic spell, with Sivana lunging to attack the poor Doctor who patiently receives him. This is a duo set on a mission and a dangerous one at that, which a double page spread of Sivana’s book teases. The pages are opened to a detailed section on Mister Mind, in which we learn his new backstory. It’s an absolutely stand out piece of artwork and Santucci does a fantastic job pulling it off, with Atiyeh’s colors coming through to provide appropriate texture and lighting while Leigh’s careful lettering delivers to make an utterly awesome image. Positioned as an age old foe of The Council of Eternity, Mind is destined for big things and it’s a fittingly grand role to grant the villain, considering his rich history.
At the same time, we reunite with the kids in The Funlands, a realm of perpetual celebration, where joy and festivity are never ending. Birthdays, parties, you name it, it’s always happening all the time, one way or another. In classic tradition the kids split off, until Billy and Freddie run off and come across a boy on a throne perched above everyone. Sporting turquoise hair, a golden cane embedded with jewels, an extravagant crown and cloak, the boy exclaims that he’s King Kid and is the ruler of The Funlands. But going further than that, he ends that he is also the missing seventh member of the family. And it’s at that cliffhanger that the book leaves us.
Beyond all this book also reveals the aforementioned and much teased Seven Magiclands to us in the issue, all save for the seventh and last. They go as follows: The Earthlands, The Funlands, The Wildlands, The Gamelands, The Darklands and The Monsterlands. Each bears a clear name indicating what one might expect from each, with Earthlands being our world, The Funlands being a world of perpetual parties, The Gamelands being a world of eternal games, The Wildlands being home to highly intelligent societies of traditionally wild animals (ostensibly the home of Tawky Tawny), The Darklands being home to dark and evil things and the Monsterlands being the haven of all kinds of monstrosities. What the 7th is, we’ll likely find out soon enough.
The issue’s biggest problem is definitely losing the artist it had on #1 and that lack of consistently is certainly a factor that can pull you out of the story. Santucci, while a good artist, isn’t Eaglesham and the switch happening one issue in does feel jarring. Nevertheless, he does his best and does deliver a good issue, finding his own rhythm with the rest of the creative team and the story. His characters are expressive, his spreads full of lovely detail and great framing and his settings feel rich and textured. Atiyeh being the one consistent colorist to seamlessly maintain the palette and general tone and aesthetic certainly helps in this regard, as he gives the book a sense of much needed continuity despite the shift. It still feels like it’s all happening in the same aesthetic and world laid out by the first issue, rather than it being vastly different.
Shazam #2 is another solid installment in the series. While it suffers from an art shift, it’s still a charming all-ages adventure story of magic, wonder and mystery that feels much needed. It feels true to the hero’s Fawcett roots while also being fresh and for the contemporary era, which is fitting. The mythology and general expansions it brings to the franchise also feel meaningful and understandable, as they lay out clear story mechanics and provide an engine to propel the entire thing forward. Much like the ride to The Funlands, this is a fun one. You might wanna hop on, after all, the journey’s just begun.