In Shazam! #1, writer Tim Sheridan is breaking out of the pages of his Teen Titans Academy, continuing the mysteries he set up in Future State: Shazam! earlier this year. If you had read the latter series, you’re already one step ahead of this issue. Despite knowing where things wind up, Sheridan’s plotting and strong characterization are a huge pull to this new limited series.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Shazam! #1!
Shazam’s powers are on the fritz and it’s causing a lot of anxiety for Billy Batson. Billy feels that at some point, he may be stuck as Shazam permanently. He gets kind, but mostly useless, words from Nightwing: “That’s what growing up is, Billy. Sooner or later, we all have to do it.” It’s great to see the elder Titans in these mentor roles, and seeing them from Billy’s perspective adds another wrinkle to the story.
Billy wants his Shazam issues solved, and he doesn’t know how to do it on his own. But when the adults in the room can’t meet his expectations, Billy retreats, running from his problems. More specifically, he’s running from his family. He’s ignoring texts from his foster siblings Freddy and Mary, who have both lost their Shazam abilities when Billy’s own started acting strange.
The new status quo puts the three Shazam siblings in painful positions. “I don’t know what to do,” Billy says, tears running down his face. “Yes you do,” replies Mary, holding and trying to comfort him. It’s at this point we realize, maybe Nightwing’s words weren’t as empty as they seemed.
While this issue is mainly focused on Billy and the Shazam family, there are plenty of cameos from the other students at Titans Academy. On one hand, it’s interesting to see Billy’s place among the students, but on the other hand it makes Shazam! feel like just another issue of Teen Titans Academy. It’s a testament to Sheridan’s storytelling abilities that the scope of his mysteries can’t be resolved in just one series, but Shazam! doesn’t have its own unique identity just yet.
The cartoony and emotionally expressive artwork from Clayton Henry doesn’t stray far from the look of Teen Titans Academy as established by Rafa Sandoval. Henry’s art has a heft to it. Shazam’s punches feel powerful in the opening pages, when he knocks Chemo into the air. And later, when Superman (a quick Jon Kent cameo) catches Billy midair, you can sense the momentum of the save.
Henry also excels at backgrounds. The Titans Academy scenes are richly detailed and the staging of each panel is consistently dynamic. Small details like books in a locker and the campus outside of a dorm window sell the Academy as a real, lived-in place. Plus, Henry’s two-page spreads with the New York skyline in the background are simply gorgeous.
With colors by Marcelo Maiolo, Shazam! #1 is about as bright and colorful as superhero comics come. Between Henry’s weight and Maiolo’s color, magic abilities from Shazam, Raven and newcomer Dane are brilliant and powerful. As the story progresses in upcoming issues, I’m really looking forward to seeing how more powerful magic manifests itself in the art.
Sheridan also does an admirable job of tying Shazam! in with the other Justice League line of books. In a brief scene featuring Doctor Fate, he specifically calls out the goings on of Justice League Dark, Green Lantern, and The Flash. “…a massive celestial ‘event,’” as Fate calls it. DC editorial’s commitment to keeping all of their books in line has been really rewarding in moments like this.
Overall, Shazam! #1 serves as an expansion of the themes and mysteries previously seen in Tim Sheridan’s DC work from earlier this year. With strong characterization and artwork, this limited series has the potential to tell a compelling Shazam! tale, but this first issue doesn’t do much to establish its own identity.
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