When people ask me what issues I have with the New 52 I can point to this latest issue of Justice League which is a microcosm for all that’s wrong with DC Comics’ current direction.
The Shazam back-up story takes center stage as Billy Batson meets the wizard Shazam for the first time and turns into… Booster Gold (with Freddy Freeman standing in for Ted Kord)? Captain Marvel, a character who has delighted comic readers almost as long as Superman as a noble, if naive, paragon of virtue finds the last shreds of his origins shredded.
We’d already seen in the previous issues of Justice League that DC Editorial threw out the original character in favor of a street-tough grifter, and now they do the same with his super-powered alter-ego.
Bestowed the magical powers by the wizard Shazam, who couldn’t be bothered to find anyone worthy of them (sigh, it’s Kyle Rayner‘s origin all over again), Billy is transformed into a immensely powerful figure who, let’s just say, is seriously lacking the wisdom of Solomon.
What does Billy do with his new found power? Smash Shazam’s throne and start shaking down people for money with Freddie’s help after saving them with his new powers. In creating a new version of the character DC Editorial and writer Geoff Johns have so completely screwed-up the basics of Captain Marvel to make him unrecognizable to fans.
Billy Batson was a good kid with a hard luck story. Orphaned and living on the streets, Billy, despite the hand he was dealt, was still a good person who was chosen by the wizard to be given the wisdom of Solomon, the the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. A rival in power to Superman, what made Captain Marvel different was the character’s simple view of right and wrong, and the wonder of a child.
This new version is just another gritty street punk (something the New 52 certainly isn’t lacking) who was granted his powers not because he deserved them, or might use them for a greater purpose, but only because the wizard had to bestow them to someone, anyone, before his death. I was incredibly angry with DC with renaming Captain Marvel “Shazam” when they planned to reintroduce him (making him the only character who can never introduce himself to others), but now I’m kind of glad because this new Shazam is certainly no Captain Marvel.
The back-up story features Pandora, meaning it’s all but totally forgettable, but it does introduce The Question (complete with trenchcoat and fedora). Although the character’s street-level crimefighting and conspiracy theories seem to have been kept, this newer version is something much different than just a former investigative journalist. Pass.