Monday, July 14, 2008

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #1

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #1
by Mike Kunkel
DC Comics, 2008

Hillary Brown: Okay, so Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam is for kids, which is the most important thing to know up front. Otherwise, told to read it by someone like my friend Garrett here, you might page through with a puzzled look on your face for bit, especially with all the decoder ring stuff at the beginning. It's possible there were jokes hidden there, but three pages of code was more than even my patience could bear. That said, once you realize it's pitched in a Franklin Richards vein, it's actually pretty good. I didn't realize just how rusty I was on my Captain Marvel history, so I'm not sure I can say how well it fits into the previous incarnations of the characters, but it's fast-paced and it has a decent amount of Vice Versa- or Big-esque humor, what with the little boy in the body of a man, only plus superpowers in this case. I was pretty surprised how much I ended up enjoying it, considering that it's probably about geared to an eight-year-old. Heck, maybe younger. The thing is, I like the goony, cartoony art and the weird way Mike Kunkel will cram about three different versions of a character side by side in a single frame to suggest evolving reactions. This is a version of Captain Marvel as played by David Warburton, for sure, but, meh, I didn't think it was

Garrett Martin: Well, kids are the intended audience, but Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam is for everybody! Or at least everybody who enjoys fun, cutesy comics totally free of any disembowelments and/or rape threats. And this is exactly that. I love Kunkel's art, perfectly cartoony but without being as cloying as the (still awesome) stuff over in Tiny Titans, another recent Johnny DC book. His writing doesn't quite match the art's quality, but it's still good stuff, and funny without relying too much on obvious gags or one-liners. Kunkel nails the necessary tone of sweetness and innocence without any condescension or eye-winking. Not all of the big two's kids' comics do that. And don't worry about being rusty on your Captain Marvel; this book spins right out of Jeff Smith's series from last year, and neither are entirely faithful to the original comics. And there's nothing wrong with that, since both preserve the spirit of the originals. It is weird to have a first issue of a kids' comic that references previously published material and ends on a cliffhanger, but I'm not gonna complain if such a comic wants to be slightly more narratively complex than most.

HB: Yeah, I'd say it's a little more oriented toward kids than some other stuff that's more all-ages, like The Emperor's New Groove or Leave It to Beaver (no, I can't think of any examples in the field of comics), but it's not full of poo jokes or anything. Thank god. I think, yes, the jokes could use some polishing, and I don't know if it has the drama to hold my attention, but I was pretty happy with the experience.

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