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Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #1
posted February 27, 2007
 

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Creator: Jeff Smith
Publishing Information: DC Comics, Comic Book, 48 pages, January 2007, $5.99
Ordering Numbers:

Bone cartoonist Jeff Smith has by now been interviewed any number of times about his work on the DC Limited Series and soon to be perennial trade Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, so much so that it's hard to add insight as to what he's doing with the project and why. Since none of the relentlessly dreary attempts to update the character and place Captain Marvel in the "modern DC universe" or whatever they call it has really captured the comics reading public's imagination, Smith gets a concept that's probably closer to its original, unfettered wish-fulfillment glory than any recognizable super-commodity going. Captain Marvel is about a little boy that changes into the most powerful man in the world, and how the little boy and the magic hero work together to negotiate our supposedly modern world.

Smith's maturity as a cartoonist results in a half-dozen lovely moments. He knows that silent action is more dramatic than expository dialog, and gives each character a moment to move and act and shine that way, particularly his Billy Batson, and most memorably in a moment where Billy takes his shoes off. Smith knows that fairy tale moments are at least half-scary, and a lot of what's fun about the first issue is the sheer inexplicable nature of half of what we encounter, the certainty of a set of rules that really makes no sense. Smith has a wider variety of influences when it comes to drawing action than most superhero artists, and it's a blast to see Captain Marvel do things like run up a mountain path legs bowed out like a Wally Wood character from MAD, or to see Billy Batson fly through the air, frozen in amber, like a freeze-framed cartoon.

Most of all, I think that what Jeff Smith fans will take away from the project is a keener understanding of how Smith grasps onto a concept and kind of teases out its more interesting, more entertaining aspects. What's left for the rest of the series is to see how Smith brings in his story's other fantasy elements, his character's combatants and the Talky Tawny character. By working in modern times, Smith loses the bigger world of sixty years ago that gave those Binder/Beck stories a spine through suggestion that what was unfamiliar to a child's grasp of the world was connected by whimsy and monsters and a family in brightly-colored costumes. If he succeeds at all in this follow through, perhaps he can suggest another course to modern superhero creators, a connection to primary metaphors that draws its richer aspects from somewhere other than the easily graspable real world.