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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 08/30/06
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Each week we look through the upcoming releases to offer our two cents as to what's hot and what's not. You can agree with us or not, but spend your money wisely.

The Trials of Shazam #1
writer: Judd Winick
artist: Howard Porter

To get into this book, you have to throw away two preconceived notions: what you think Captain Marvel should be like, and what you think Howard Porter's art looks like. The Trials of Shazam may change your opinion.

The original Captain Marvel (as DC used to bill him) has a special place in the hearts of almost every major creator you could ask. Everybody has a favorite Captain Marvel story from the Golden Age, or they just love that strange combination of power of a god with the heart of a child. Yet nobody seems to know a way to make the character stick with the masses in any meaningful (read: financially successful) way today.

Jerry Ordway came close in the nineties with The Power Of Shazam. Certainly the rethinking he did of the concept still has resonance today. Ordway's vision of Black Adam has a powerful presence right now, most obviously in 52. As for Captain Marvel himself, Ordway managed to find a balance between Billy Batson's adolescent enthusiasm and the seriousness of the threats the World's Mightiest Mortal must face.

However, if we have to acknowledge some passage of time in a character's continuity, the idea of a twelve year old boy with that much power works for only so long. Everybody has to grow up some time.

At least, that's what Judd Winick seems to be saying with The Trials of Shazam, and whether you agree or not with the premise, he sets it up fairly. In the aftermath of the Crisis, with "wild magic" roaming the Earth, Captain Marvel seems pretty confident in his place in the scheme of things.

What he seems to be ignoring is that wild magic might apply to the lightning, too. His appearance here seems to be after the events of the Brave New World one-shot, but Winick doesn't mention the cliffhangers he left Mary and Junior in that story. Instead, we get the groundwork for Junior to step up, possibly because the whole family is about to get promoted a rank.

And no, that doesn't mean we're going to see the Lieutenant Marvels, though Winick has said he will make it clear why not. On a side note, though, it's okay to strip away some of those more outright silly elements - though Fat Billy always gave me hope. Just leave Tawky Tawny alone.

The Shazam mythos isn't the only thing that changes with this book. Artist Porter changes up his style, and it's for the better. Despite his run on some acclaimed books, his art has always left me cold. What he's doing here, though, has my interest. His figure construction is still a bit angular, but the stylization seems more purposeful, and he's either inking himself or coloring directly on his pencils for a cool softer tone effect.

It gives the book the look of illustrations from children's adventure story books from fifties. Somehow, it's like we're peeking into somebody's view of modern mythology unfolding - appropriate, as Winick is lifting his structure from the labors of Hercules.

With Winick, you'll still get some whimsy. It's one of his strengths. But it's clearly not intended to be one of the features; this take is more serious.

I'm keeping a cynical eye on this one, just because I think there's still room for the innocence of Captain Marvel's original personality and look forward to Jeff Smith's still in the works Shazam! project. But with this first issue, Winick and Porter have made me take notice, offer respect, and want to see where they're going with this.

Also on the Stands:

The American Way #7: In troubled times, we claim we want a hero. John Ridley and Georges Jeanty have gone to an earlier troubled time and showing us the consequences of that wish. Some of the plot turns have gone from surprising to sadly realistic, and though some of the characters created here are clever and well-drawn, it's clear that they exist for the context of this story, and shouldn't go on. This is one neat self-contained mini-series, and it's going to make one heck of a strong trade paperback.

JLA Classified #26: Howard Chaykin goes to the geopolitical well, trying to make the late run of JLA be fish and fowl. Forbidden to interfere in a conflict between two nations, the League goes undercover and splits within itself when it's clear that metahumans are being bred for conflict. At some points, it almost reads like an early Authority story, but Chaykin is too smart for that. His League remains the League, and for a few pages, he even makes the "Waterbearer" Aquaman a bit interesting. Ultimately, though, the scope is so big this could leave readers cold.

Man-Bat #5: Trying to reposition Man-Bat for the twenty-first century, this mini-series just falls flat. Some of the most excessive villains of the last few years get together to essentially make Kirk Langstrom one of their own, and Bruce Jones thinks he's moving the character forward. Instead, it's just a slight variation on what we've seen before from back when Man-Bat first appeared. The art feels klunky and lacks any real frightening impact, and in the end, it's just a Batman story in which Man-Bat is one of the menaces the Dark Knight has to fight.

Solo #12: Brendan McCarthy will make your head hurt, in a good way. Throughout these pages, he twists superhero ideas on their head, redefining The Flash and the Legion of Super-Heroes in layer after layer of meta-fictional conceit. You'll have to read it a few times; heck, you'll want to. Writing with Tom O'Connor, McCarthy takes the JSA villain Johnny Sorrow and reimagines it into a feature I want to see again. In small doses, with aspirin and a cool cloth to put over my forehead after I lie down to think about it.

Strange Girl #10: Nick Stakal's art strikes me as interesting but undisciplined, and that lack of discipline does not seem to be part of the storytelling intent. What keeps me coming back is Rick Remender, a writer that I hope never goes mainstream, because he's too good at discussing important ideas here in the gutters of genre fiction. There's some honest philosophical debate going on among demons and rapture survivors, provoking thought even while providing plenty of adventure.

Teen Titans Go! #34: Not having watched the show, it's hard to say if this fits in continuity. But it gets readers right into the action, explains enough so nobody feels lost and moves forward at a breakneck speed. Sure, fans of the animated series might settle for it as cold comfort, but kids should eat this up. Pay attention to these DC Kids books; they're doing good work.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #2: The paranoid DC Universe America here doesn't seem to jibe with any of the other books right now. Getting that out of the way, though, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have started justifying the view of the book, and if we could just return to multiple earths and put the Freedom Fighters back on Earth X, this would be awesome and not vaguely irritating. They've definitely done more to develop Uncle Sam as a character with this issue than anyone else has in a long time. Daniel Acuna's really stands out, though sometimes Uncle Sam looks like an anorexic Jack Black doing a Mr. Show sketch.

Sight Unseen:

All-Star Superman #5: With all due respect to the creators slaving away on the regular Superman books, this book kicks all their butts. Grant Morrison writes a Superman so cool, it makes me love Frank Quitely's art.

Doc Frankenstein #5: This might be my favorite book, if I could remember what happened last issue and why I liked it.

Snakes On A Plane #1: Did anybody know DC was going to adapt this? Will anyone care at this point?

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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