4 out of 5
Around the time that Grant Morrison was 52’ing the DC Universe, writing Captain Marvel into things in his own zesty fashion, Jeff Smith sidled into the background with a retelling / updating of the Big Red Cheese’s start, told across four prestige issues and done up with the bright and warm hues of his colorist, Steven Hamaker. Fresh off of my first read of Bone, at the time, I was admittedly disappointed: the large scale events felt sloppily drawn compared to Bone’s meticulous paneling, and I had no awareness of the Marvel history to determine if what I was reading was a clever variation or just kinda silly. My appreciation of this more poppy type of Golden / Silver Age comic writing hadn’t really developed yet. And so, alas, I didn’t think much of the series.
In the time since, Smith has given us the complex and dramatic Rasl – drawn with a similar looseness to this Shazam book – and started us out on the adventures of Tuki, which had a lot of Bone-type promise before going on what seems to be an unfortunate hiatus. Thanks to these other projects, I’ve been able to more fully appreciate Smith’s skills, and see how they were applied to Bone – that is, we have a creator of many talents, and he worked in a style that made sense for that project. And here, he worked with a loopy, imbalanced line that functions similarly: Shazam! is damned goofy, and yeah, is reticent of the character’s origins, which were goofy as all get out. Smith kicks this to modern times with some light political and social quips – though nothing grating and nothing that feels out of place in his story – and then grounds the quirks just enough with some blue language and by making boy-Shazamed-to-hero Billy Batson homeless so that the inclusion of talking tigers and ghost wizards and giant-skulled mad scientists is a juxtaposed hoot.
It’s a bit of stretch trying to work in maybe too many elements – Mary Marvel, two villains – and we get a taste of the mystical stuff with the Rock of Eternity that’s way too interesting for the short extent to which it’s featured, but Smith’s introduction to the Monster Society is otherwise a great ride of smart humor, flowing dialogue, classic art stylings, and a general ‘what can happen next?’ sense of fun that makes a league of talking cockroaches – an important plot point, that – seem like a good ol’ time.