Shazam has always been a character of two minds that presents an interesting dichotomy: a childlike innocence accompanies god-like powers. Future State: Shazam! #1 shows the aftermath of Dark Nights: Death Metal and narratively asks, “what if”? What if Billy Batson finally comes face to face with Shazam? What if the two were separated for good? What happens when one of DC’s oldest heroes, a figurative moral compass, makes a deal with the devil, both figuratively and literally? Tim Sheridan and Eduardo Pansica’s Shazam story’s first issue presents more questions than answers, but doesn’t leave readers wanting. Instead, we await the next issue to discover how things came to be and where they are going.
DC describes the issue thusly:
No one’s seen Billy Batson in years—not since the incident known as the Final Battle of Titans Island. Now leading a small band of heroes, even his allies have begun to ask who’s controlling Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. In a story set years after Future State’s events: Teen Titans, learn the truth behind the sacrifice Billy made to imprison an ultimate evil even he couldn’t destroy.
The superb artwork in Future State: Shazam! #1 pops off the page. Eduardo Pansica’s art, Julio Ferreira’s inks, and Marcello Maiollo’s colors work in perfect unison to bring lush art to every page, panel, and splash. The layout and natural flow from one panel to the next are seamless. It might be easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it, but that is part of the magic, creating beautiful art that doesn’t detract from the story but supports it. The narrative is steeped in mystery, and there is a darkness in Shazam that is visually evident. Heavy shadows hide Shazam’s eyes, for example, a visible reflection of the dark thoughts, or more accurately, the secret hidden within his mind. We get a worm’s eye view when a character is imposing and opening shots that layout the scene before diving into the scene’s action/tension. I’ve always enjoyed Pansica’s work and look forward to the next issue of art, considering where the story appears to be leading.
In terms of story, this isn’t the Shazam fans might expect, but that isn’t negligence on writer Tim Sheridan’s part. Instead, Shazam’s obvious character turn is at the heart of the story. The final battle of Titans Island has changed what remains of the JLA for good. The Question, Vixen, Bunker, Miss Martian, and Power House are the greater team’s remnants. Throughout the issue, Shazam shows signs of turmoil. He ignores calls from Mary and refuses to be called Billy. His actions don’t go unnoticed as the Question has been digging into his whereabouts. Early on, Sheridan plants the seeds of doubt and descent among the team. It works to build the tension throughout the issue and foreshadow the climax the issue inevitably leaves off on.
The plot only thickens when a breakout attempt at Iron Heights penitentiary goes bad. Giganta and Manhunter Robot try to free the Creeper. There are a few of DC’s rogues gallery here, providing more callbacks and nuggets of the narrative. We get glimpses of well-known characters in ominous states, only raising more interest in what leads to current events. The scene serves two functions: to provide a much-needed action-filled location, but more importantly, to establish the plot that a serial killer is on the loose, taking out villains for several months. I’ll refrain from spoiling where this leads, but you get an answer by the end of the issue.
In terms of pacing, Sheridan fills every scene with tension and agency. If the screenwriting motto of “get in late, and get out early” holds for comics, then Sheridan hit the nail on the head. We never linger too long in any scene, and yet, we get just enough information to inform the reader of what they need while moving on to the next scene in an effortless fashion.
A personal pet peeve is exposition dumps, characters spewing information for the sake of providing to the reader, but it never feels true to the scene, character, or story at hand. Questions inherent paranoia perfectly suits the role of “reader informant”; he is intrinsically inquisitive. His investigation into Billy Batson’s strange behavior is a cohesive plot point that serves the narrative and provides reader information, and moves the story along. If that isn’t enough, the age-old writing tool of “show, don’t tell” is in full effect. How do we know Shazam is avoiding Mary? By showing him clearly seeing her name show up on his caller ID and avoiding the call altogether.
If there is any qualm with Shazam’s future state, it feels too soon for emotional attachments. As interesting as the story is so far (seriously, stick around to the end), I still don’t feel completely invested. Interested, but not invested. But that seems more to do with this being the first Shazam Future State issue more than anything else. Not to mention some of the other Future State titles have stronger themes and characters we’ve invested in for years. That said, Future State: Shazam! #1 is a genuinely good first issue with enough breadcrumbs and reveals to warrant picking up the second issue to see the outcome of this story.
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