Charming. That’s very much how this new Shazam! run comes across. And it’s certainly fitting. Going back to the very early Fawcett roots of the character, it’s a property that’s always been filled with a wonderful sense of whimsy, charm and fun. Imagination, adventure and the absurdly fantastical, as presented by the likes of Otto Binder and C.C Beck, formed the back bone of a lot of what superhero comics are and grew to become from The Golden Age onwards. We still rely on and utilize the mechanics of superhero comics that those early issues came up with, even if most don’t realize that they did. Whether it be Super-families, super-pets, super-sidekicks, villain-legions or more, it’s all in there.
And the new run by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham, Marco Santucci, SEN, Mike Atiyeh and Rob Leigh very much taps into those foundations. Recasting the franchise once more in that kids fantasy adventure mold, the book has once more discovered that ancient working formula to get the property going. In the previous installments, the series saw the six children discover The Station, a space full of railways and magic trains that gave way to six magic lands, which including Earth, add up to a good ol’ Geoff Johns seven. Seven is very much a number Johns is fond of across all his work and there may be no book that best encapsulates his love for it better than Shazam. And it does fit, given seven is considered a magical number and Captain Marvel’s very much magic. With their discovery of this magic train station, the kids chose to explore the magic lands and ventured out through a train into The Funlands, a realm of eternal parties and child holidays. And there they met its mysterious ruler, King Kid, who the new issue revolves around.
Opening on a wondrous splash page of The Funlands, the book immediately sets up the outrageous setting of the story. Popping with the bright Mike Atiyeh colors and Eaglesham’s dynamism and expressiveness, it’s a striking image. Johns and Eaglesham litter the page with excess, featuring giant lollipops, large yoyos which operate as clocks, giant icecreams and a girl fishing in the air for a butterfly. Immediately you’re given a good sense of this place, as it bustles with activity, both on and off the page, shown and implied and Eaglesham’s skill at pulling off Eisner-ian body language comes in handy here, as he’s able to convey very much with very little. Leigh’s lettering is given a chance to cut loose as well, as he has a blast with all the typefaces that the book permits with its rich contexts and expansive mythology. But the book doesn’t stop there, as the next page is an elaborate double-page spread, with the creative team effectively effectively showcasing that the wildness and impossibility of the previous page is merely a small fraction of the real excess and outrageousness that occurs in this land. This isn’t just a place of theme-parks that baffle, gifts that shock and food that leaves you in awe, they’re all fragments, for it’s all of that and more.
We’re treated to Leigh’s fantastic lettering, which pops here more than ever, alongside the deliciously rendered array of dishes and other magical goodies that litter tables, due to the artistic wizardry of Eaglesham and Atiyeh. Contrasting the typical Shazam logo with the twirling, loose and busy title, with notable spacing between the ‘Seven’ and the line underneath most of ‘Magic Lands’, whilst a black circle envelopes the connecting ‘And the’, Leigh immediately gives you a sense of what this story is. Here you have the big, bold, powerful symbol that is thick and seemingly immovable and here’s this collection of elements that make for a greater whole but all differ and are active in their own distinct way and that’s very much what the tale, Shazam and the Seven Magic Lands is. Eaglesham draws up a scroll for the reader to be re-familiarized with the main cast of characters, in what is very much a classic tradition for superhero team books. It feels retro, but with the choice of a scroll, which fits the magic motif, it feels needed. There’s always been an old-timey sense of ancient wonder to Captain Marvel and it’s indeed even reflected in the names the hero’s acronym stems from.
Johns and Eaglesham also manage to succinctly sum up their characters and establish them through this single, striking image. Billy and Freddie share in their joy and dig in, while Mary watches on, distant. Pedro revels, unchained, alongside all others, while Darla exclaims in sheer happiness, glad to just be here, with Eugene humbly observing with a grin, involved but not too deeply. Atiyeh throws the eye-popping color and lights up the page with overwhelming activity, ensuring the reader gets a sense of where the characters are who they are, to convey maximum clarity.
From there on, the entire issue is played as a back and forth between the Shazam family and the aforementioned King Kid. Kid gives them a brief history of the Magiclands and informs them that the pathways were all closed and things were inactive until the kids came along. Telling the tale of the seven wizards who were the champions of the seven lands, protecting them against the wrath of Mister Mind and his monsters. Now, with the wizards all gone, it falls to the kids to be the champions. Yet, there are only six in the family and Kid hopes to become the seventh champion by obtaining the magic word and power the kids share.
There’s definitely an almost Willy Wonka aspect to Kid, who represents the epitome of childlike thinking and is an orphan himself. The book flashbacks to showcase us his origin story and shifts to SEN’s artwork. It’s radically different, tapping into the more cartoony, less-detailed and manga look and it’s one that really fits to contrast the current events and the rest of the book, while fitting into its core sensibility. The core story of Billy Batson, his family and the magic word has always been about youth, innocence pit up against adulthood, from Black Adam’s corruption to Sivana’s obsessions and more. King Kid, a new addition, is a corrupted look at youth, a logical extreme of the kid who loathes adults and is bratty enough to only ever have things go his way. He’s also an orphaned child that cannot stand the notion of living with parents. It’s a fun and obvious choice for an antagonist that feels very Geoff Johns and works naturally in the core thematics of the story.
Utilizing 9-panel grids, titled panels and splash imagery, the book weaves through a whole set of scenarios as the family’s situation with Kid escalates. SEN’s flashback itself is a fun display, as Kid is placed outside the grid the moment he holds his magic wishing stick, conveying power and freedom beyond his restrictions. It’s a book firmly steeped in theme of family and freedom and Kid’s the flip side of that. With things taking a turn for the worse, the book splits the cast across realms and we’re given our first look at the aforementioned Wildlands and Gamelands. The story also reveals to us that the last and the seventh land is dubbed Wozenderlands but it’s still a place steeped in mystery.
Shazam! is an interesting ride thus far. Johns is certainly doing work that plays to a lot of his strengths, where in he lays foundations, adds mythos, builds up a rogues gallery and establishes mechanics, all the while being full of charm, humor and fun. Eaglesham’s return to the book is a delight and his work, alongside Santucci’s ends up feeling seamless on a read-through, both distinct in their own right, but never taking the reader out. SEN’s own flashback contributions are a joy to see and give the book a lovely flavor and vibe, while Atiyeh knocks it out of the park with his use of color. Leigh very much also emerges triumphant throughout, from cursive and ancient-looking typeface to blocky and bold sci-fi fonts all being packed in beautifully, elevating the book and giving it that expansive, fantastical sense of texture it so deserves to have. There’s a lot of magic in here and it’s a grand old time.