Review: 'Shazam!' #1 Is Fun, Smart... And Did We Mention Fun?

Geoff Johns returns to Shazam! for the second time in the last decade, and does so while teaming with artist Dale Eaglesham, who worked with Johns on his beloved JSA run. The result is a comic that works with mathematical precision, creating one emotionally resonant page after another, and delivering exactly the fun, zany adventure that fans are expecting after seeing the trailer for the forthcoming movie of the same name.

The issue kicks off with a brief-but-detailed breakdown of how Billy Batson became the champion of the wizard Shazam, and while fans who read Johns' Shazam! story with artist Gary Frank (which was published in the back of Johns' Justice League run during The New 52) will find it unnecessary, it is a useful way to get new readers up to speed -- and presumably, there will be plenty of new readers, since the Shazam! movie has engaged a lot of people, and Johns' presence on the book will likely draw some curiosity as well. This is, after all, the superstar writer's first ongoing series since he left comics to go work on film and TV projects for Warner Bros. after DC Universe: Rebirth #1.

While there are few artists in comics who are better draftsmen than Gary Frank, who drew Geoff Johns’s first go-‘round with Shazam!, the expressive faces and strong storytelling chops of Dale Eaglesham make him the perfect choice for a comic filled with young, energetic kids. Emotion practically drips off these characters, making it clear from their first panels what it is you should know about each of the heroes who transform into the Shazam family, which is a name they take quite a bit of time arriving at, by the way.

shazam preview page
(Photo: DC Entertainment)

Like the upcoming feature film, Johns’ Shazam! is set in Philadelphia. Fear not, though; it’s still Fawcett High School, so the Fawcett City connection is not entirely lost. Philly, of course, has some history with lightning (think Benjamin Franklin), and also serves as a pretty good example of a lower-middle-class city that tracks with the backstory Billy has in most versions of the tale.

From what little we have seen in the trailer and online, it is clear that elements of the Rock of Eternity and the foster home are ripped from the film and deposited straight into Eaglesham’s art. Recently, star DC artist Patrick Zircher said on Twitter that he believed comics should be more like the movies they inspire, and it certainly seems like Shazam will be a step in that direction.

Colorist Mike Atiyeh is asked to do a lot of heavy lifting, and colorists don't get nearly enough love, so it is difficult to deliver much in the way of criticism, although it seems like the subdued palette of the issue does not serve the family of rowdy teenage superheroes. That said, anybody who manages to effectively capture the lightning and lighting effects this script calls for, along with the shading and shadows that those things result in, deserves a lot of credit.

Letterer Rob Leigh also deserves a lot of credit. This is a book that relies heavily on solid lettering, since we have a wide variety of characters (kids, ancient wizards) with somewhat specialized lettering needs, but it would be easy to go over the top differentiating those "voices" visually, and Leigh resists that urge, going "big" every now and again when it really suits the story but doing so rarely.

A backup by Johns and Mayo "Sen" Naito, with letters by Leigh, feels like a story that would be perfectly at home in a more arty anthology series or an indie book. It's beautifully illustrated, with the kind of dreamy colors and over-the-top letters that feel perfectly at home with the chibi/anime-inspired art. It will be a little less accessible to the traditional comic shop audience, but it is a great addition to the story, and helps round out the world by giving Darla, Mary, and... one other character... a bit more to do than we see in the main tale.

All in all, Shazam! #1 is one of DC's best new launches in some time, and a perfect jumping on point for fans who are excited about the movie.

Published by DC Comics

On December 5, 2018

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Dale Eaglesham

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Colors by Mike Atiyeh

Letters by Rob Leigh