I get that most fans only get to read single issues and then decide if they’re on board or not. But one of the upsides of being a writer is that we often get to talk to the creators around the same time — that conversation often informs if a book lands or belly-flops in the shallow end. (Another writer upside? Having an acceptable place to behave pretentiously.)
In the case of The New Champion of Shazam, my chat with writer Josie Campbell and artist Doc Shaner made a fun book feel all the more important and compelling.
If you’re not up to date on Shazam lore, Billy Batson has effectively locked himself in the Rock of Eternity, leaving the rest of his family “depowered” and free to live their lives. Mary Bromfield, arguably Shazam’s most vital ally, embraces the opportunity by leaving home for college. Until she meets a magic bunny (that’d be Hoppy) and is pulled back into her old life.
If that storyline feels especially sitcom-y (given comics can sometimes feel a little sitcom-adjacent), that’s because Campbell comes from streaming TV (she’s written for Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power). So, she approaches the narrative and the worldbuilding in this debut issue in a really interesting way. That means heaps of emphasis on letting big emotional moments (like Mary saying goodbye to her family, or her clear desire to be a normal person) land with the depth and nuance of a proper TV treatment.
The same goes with the overall sense of pacing — there’s a momentum here that feels like a great, wondrously cheesy ‘90s sitcom (see Mary during her orientation events), and it really helps get the story going without feeling overly bogged down by the actual process of setting it all up. At the same time, though, Campbell knows this is comics, and she makes decisions — like balancing narration and dialogue — that respect the boundaries of what makes the medium so vital. TV and comics are both visual media, and Campbell knows the two enough to blur the lines in the very best way.
And if we’re talking about this being grounded as a proper comics story (i.e., something that utilizes every one of its available tools to tell a great story), then a lot of the credit has to go to Shaner. He’s clearly a huge fan of Shazam, and got to spread his wings a bit during the Convergence storyline. This time around, he facilitates a lot of the same emphasis, making Mary and her college life feel grounded and charming while playing up the sheer majesty and romance that happens when she, um, Shazams out (that’s a thing, yeah?)
The stuff at college looks sleek and glamorous, and thus it feels all the more compelling as so much of the core narrative happens right there. The superhero stuff, then, is both bright and shiny, but there’s some up close, more intimate shots that show how vital and powerful Mary is. All that together gives this book a dynamic sense of identity while also connecting it to the larger Shazam canon. Shaner’s admiration of the character/material really matters, and he knows how to balance both the rich humanity and playful fantasy in a way to perpetuate the whole story.
As much as I genuinely enjoyed the book, there’s some things that left me pondering — and maybe not for the better. For example, Hoppy — as Mary’s new “sidekick,” there’s some real comedy relief there, and it’s a great feature of issue #1. Still, maybe a talking rabbit might get old real fast, and that small element may drag the book from flirting with sitcom-y tropes to a full-on love affair that could be somewhat ill-advised. And there’s also an appearance by Disaster Master, who is played like a one-off test for Mary’s “return” but may also be part of a larger threat (it has something to do with weirdo tech on his chest). That’s unclear, and while it will likely be resolved down the line, that question still hangs heavily enough in the air.
But those are mostly minor issues, and I think the bigger concern here is how Mary’s being treated thus far as the new Champion of Shazam. For one, she learns about it from Hoppy, and there’s not nearly enough fan fare before she just jumps right into the fray. It could be a way to keep the focus on Mary’s little world, but it didn’t feel deliberate enough to know entirely for sure. Could this also be addressed or resolved in subsequent issues? I hope so, especially as this whole book/series is meant to be about Mary grappling with a fate she doesn’t really want but knows she must accept regardless.
But in issue #1, that lack of pomp and circumstance lessens some of the importance of a moment that’s been 80-something years in the making. She’s Shazam, for crying out loud, and I want to savor her rise before we use it to explore ideas of legacy and responsibility and even growing up.
In a lot of ways, I think the thing I liked most about this book thus far is the Campbell-Shaner connection. Their collaboration, as well as their individual love and admiration for the entire Shazam Family, made this book feel truly special. Are bigger things bound to happen in #2 and beyond? Yeah, and in that sense, issue #1 was a mere appetizer of sorts. But it was also still so much more, and #1 did some impressive things from a storyline and design perspective that easily paves the way for a genuinely great story.
Even if you can’t talk with the duo yourself, their collective message is pretty clear: prepare yourself for a warm slice of pure comics magic.
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