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 upside for writers: Pretentious behavior is acceptable in an acceptable environment.
In the case Shazam’s New ChampionJosie Campbell, the writer, and Doc Shaner, the artist made a fun and engaging book feel more important.
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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 forJurassic World – Camp Cretaceous She-Ra and Princesses of Power). She approaches both the narrative and worldbuilding in her debut issue in an interesting way. It means that big moments such as Mary saying goodbye to her family or her clear desire for normality are highlighted with all the nuance and depth of a TV story.
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. Campbell is able to blur the boundaries between TV and comics, which are both visual media.
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?)
It looks gorgeous and glamorous at college, which makes it all the more captivating because so much of the core story happens 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 of this gives the book a sense of identity that connects it to the larger Shazam universe. 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. However, a talking rabbit could get boring real quick, and it may cause the book to drift away from sitcom-y tropes into a full-on love story that may be unwise. 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 be addressed in the next issue? 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.
The Campbell-Shaner connection is my favorite thing about this book. It was truly special due to their collaboration as well as their mutual love and admiration of the entire Shazam Family. Is there more to come in issue #2 and beyond? In that sense, issue 1 was just an appetizer. It was still so much more. Issue #1 accomplished some remarkable things in terms of storyline and design that make it possible to tell a truly 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.
‘The New Champion of Shazam’ #1 captures lightning in a bottle despite minor missteps
The New Champion of Shazam #1
This debut issue may be the beginning of a great hero’s story. It contains heartfelt magic, as well as a thoughtful approach to the design and narrative.
It’s a sitcom-style story that works well for the characters and material.
The book’s design and layout reflects the essence of humanity and rich fantasy.
Mary Bromfield is a story about a creative team working together.
Some issues, such as Mary’s rise to Shazam and the supporting characters, could prove to be a hindrance.
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