As a character, Mary Bromfield has existed for some 80 years (debuting way back in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 from December 1942). And while she’s also been an essential ally to Billy Batson/Shazam and their entire mega family, she’s never truly gotten the spotlight for herself. Until now, of course.
On August 2, Mary makes her solo debut with the four-issue miniseries The New Champion of Shazam! Written by Josie Campbell (Future State: Green Lantern) and with art by Evan “Doc” Shaner (Convergence: Shazam), the story takes place in the aftermath of Billy becoming stuck in the Rock of Eternity. As she tries to build a new life, including moving away to college, Mary is called back (by a magic rabbit, no less) into superheroics to become the all-new champion of Shazam. The series — originally slated for February before being pushed back — asks important questions about identity and responsibility as we explore a truly vital and dynamic member of the Shazam family.
Ahead of the FOC (that’d be this Sunday, July 10), we caught up with both Campbell and Shaner via Zoom earlier this week. There, we talked about developing Mary’s look and her larger narrative, their collaborative process, and what comes next for the new Shazam, among many other tidbits.
AIPT: Doc, you’ve done work with Shazam in the past — what’s it like to be back in this part of the DC Universe?
Doc Shaner: Oh, it’s a dream. I am so glad to come back to it. Because it’s something that I didn’t think I had anything else to say about. When Jeff [Parker] and I did that two issue thing for [Convergence: Shazam], we worked really hard to pack everything into it that we had to say about classic Fawcett Captain Marvel. And I left everything on the floor there, and so when we finished it, I really felt like well that was it. That’s all I had to say about Shazam. I’d been pretty clear that if I were to come back, it would need to be something dramatically different. It’s a blast being back in this corner because there’s still so much I love about it. Even if at the time I didn’t have as much to say about it.
AIPT: There’s just so much lore and history about Shazam. How do you go about referencing or touching on all these things and still make it accessible for someone who doesn’t know 900 years of Shazam history.
Josie Campbell: A lot of my career has been taking an IP that existed before that I love and putting a new spin on it. I think with Mary, we’ve got a really great opportunity. Because, at the end of Teen Titans Academy, Billy’s gone, and the powers are gone. And she’s really starting a clean slate. So the way I approached it was to have fun and I’ve definitely pulled things from the old Fawcett comics and pulled things from Jeff [Parker’s] run, but put it together in such a way that if you know the material, that’s an Easter egg. And if not, there’s a new meaning to it. There’s a new reason it’s here.
She’s starting fresh, and so it’s basically treating her like she’s a new superhero. She’s starting out again, and she’s really figuring out what her life is going to be. She’s got a new rogues gallery coming into this book. So I definitely tried to take the approach of if you recognize it, that’s a plus, and if you don’t, there’s a really fun or dangerous or dramatic reason why this person or this thing is here.
AIPT: Given that, I wanted to talk more about Mary’s personality. How would you describe her characterization here? She’s obviously been through a lot, and she’s just trying to find that balance.
JC: Well, for me, it was it was the fact that it was this moment in her life, where things are turned upside down for her again. She’s got a bunch of decisions, which sort of encapsulates what mary is like, this joy and the determination combined.
In the old comics, she was this delightful character who could knock you out with one blow. For me, this Mary is somebody who she’s a little older, but she’s still she’s still got that sense of humor, and she’s still got that sense of fun about her, but that determination is there to make her life her own. What was exciting for me about writing her was it’s something that I think sets her apart from the other Shazam family members. It’s not something that Billy has had to grapple with. It’s not something that Freddie or Eugene or Darla or Pedro have had to do. This really sets her apart. And again, it’s another great jumping on point for somebody who doesn’t know her history, but knows she’s fun and funny. She is going to go to college and save the day. She’s going to figure it all out.
AIPT: What I like about Mary is she knows she needs to be a hero, but she’s also ready to get away from all this madness and have a normal life away from it all.
So, given that, I’m more curious about her design and the look of Mary as Shazam. Were there any particular reference points for you, Doc?
DS: When I first started taking apart Mary, I thought what are what are things that I want to keep? And what do I want to change? What am I going to throw out? Little bits and pieces from all across her history come into play here.
There were elements that I liked from the original design, the Marc Swayze design, and it hit me part way through this first issue, but the way he drew Mary’s hair kind of looks like clouds, and it’s lightly waving. And so then it that kind of came into play. As I was drawing her more and more, her hair is kind of flowing a little bit at all times.
There’s aspects like her boots, and I pulled from the kind of ballet flats she wore in the ’70s. But, you know, updated into full length boots. There’s stuff from the next movie, when they leaked or put out those stills of Mary’s new costume, and the broad strokes of it I just loved.
But there were a lot of broad strokes to it that I thought, ‘Oh, this is great for a new Mary costume. So I wanted to try and bring a little of that in while kind of further simplifying, where we’d come from Gary Frank’s design for Shazam and The New 52 to what Clayton Henry was doing on Tim Sheridan’s book before us.
I think a lot of people don’t realize, because it was so subtle and over a long stretch of time, how much simpler and simpler Shazam was getting. But I just wanted to keep going with that while also making it. definitely Mary’s costume. This is a Mary Marvel costume, but it’s also a Captain Marvel costume.
JC: Britney [Holzherr, editor at DC Comics] had emailed me and a doc when we first started the book, and doc emailed right away saying, ‘OK, here’s four variations that are fully colored that I already have.’ And I thought these all look so good.
DS: I couldn’t believe how much they were willing to let go of. The first few designs I sent in still had the hood. They still had the very complicated boots and had the double-clasp cape and everything because I assumed that those were things that DC was going keep. I don’t know what Brittany did to convince them that we didn’t. Immediately Brittany was like, ‘No, we don’t need any of that throw out.’
AIPT: Like, ‘we just need a lighting bolt, folks!’
Does that maybe speak something larger that’s going on with Shazam-centric stories that they’re maybe becoming a little more human. And we’re delving more and more into the essence of these people. Mary’s a great focal point for that — she’s got a great head on her shoulders and she’s still trying to sort of figure things out, despite everything she’s gone through.
JC: I mean, I like that thought.
DS: That’s what we’re going to say from now on.
JC: This is a very smart idea that we just came up with.
But I think with Mary, what I was trying to do was pay honor to what’s come before but, again, make her modern and change her up.
I think every every version of her that we’ve mentioned, our version, just like what Gary Frank and Jeff Parker were doing, the original version has something that speaks to the moment. And I think right now, what especially what interests me in writing these heroes is not just the power set, but why they’re doing things? What’s the drive behind them? What’s the morality behind them? What’s the their sense of right and wrong? This book, especially because it was Mary, and it’s the focus on her — and it’s the first time in decades its been focused just on her — I really wanted to dive into her family life, her character, her personality, and tie things together. It’s not just crime fighting; it’s crime fighting that is tied to her identity very strongly.
AIPT: Perhaps building off that, I’m curious about how much of the book is engaging directly with Billy’s situation of being stuck in the Rock of Eternity. Is that going to be a central thing of, effectively, ‘Why isn’t that big idiot doing what he’s supposed to be doing?’
DS: I think the question gets raised, but I’m not the writer.
JC: I think there is a question there. But it’s a little bit more twisted into Mary having a little bit more agency. She has the question of ‘How would would Billy handle this?’ But it’s not her being, ‘Oh, I can’t wait until I can get him back out of the rock and hand this responsibility to him.’ She’s a character that tries to push it away, but when push comes to shove, she will be responsible and she will be a hero, and she’s going to figure it out and figure out what that means for her.
And so I think identity — who I am, aside from who I am as Shazam and different from how Billy did it and how I worked in the past — is a question for her. But I think she’s being much more active, and she’s taking the reins and she’s not going to wait around for her brother to come rescue her. She is going to do this on her own, and she’s going be her own hero.
AIPT: Josie, you’re maybe best known for writing TV/animation. Does having that background make you a different sort of writer. And, Doc, what’s it like to work with someone who doesn’t come from that traditional comics background?
DS: That is part of what I’m enjoying about this book. I haven’t worked with somebody who strictly came from animation. I’ve worked with writers who have also dabbled in screenwriting, but they came from comics. And their primary job is writing comics.
But working with someone from animation — or just working with Josie, ’cause I don’t want to blanket statement animation writers — but I’ve worked with Hollywood folks before and I hated it. I knew that animation and comics are so much closer, though, then the Hollywood side.
I knew that after reading the first issue and the second issue, that Josie had a strong sense of the voices for these characters, which I think is sometimes a struggle for comics writers. Just because of the nature of what we do, and how it’s made, I think we sometimes struggle to build a cohesive voice or, frankly, cohesive themes for a story.
As much as I would love to do more of this, I think it’s been nice to have a four-issue thing built into this have an end goal to run to. I’ve worked on so many books where it was the middle of something or was a one-off in the middle of something. As the artist, it’s so frustrating to work on because you never feel like you get that ending. But t know and to feel as I’m drawing this book, where it’s going and knowing how this informs what comes later, has been great. And I think that is unique to folks who work in animation.
JC: For me, I don’t know what the normal is. Hopefully my scripts were clear,
because I don’t know what a normal one looks like. I’m just going to write this like I would writing a TV script, which is very detailed and with action description in every single panel.
But for me, one of the things, and I don’t remember who said it, but my whole career has also been streaming, which is all been, like, very short runs — we may never get another episode, so build to an end and make it one thing.
That’s sort of the attitude I brought into this: I know what the end goal is. It’d be great if there’s more issues and it’d be great if they said, ‘Do a whole series or another miniseries.’ But we’re telling a solid story over four issues. We’re going to dive into their characters and we’re going to arc this out over the four and I was a almost approaching like eight episodes of [Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous] or ten-episode seasons of [She-Ra and the Princesses of Power]. I knew as long as I knew what the end goal was, working towards it was a dream.
AIPT: Wrapping up super quickly, and as in few words as possible, why should anyone pick up issue #1.
JC: It’s funny, it’s fast-paced, it’s action-packed, and it’s going to knock your socks off. Writing!
The following variant covers are courtesy of Gary Frank and Dan Hipp.
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