Thursday, March 22, 2012

Paul's Picks! - March 21, 2012

Well, it's that time again folks: Wednesday! And you know what Wednesday is?... Well, of course you do, you're reading a blog about comics, so you obviously know it's New Comics Day, a.k.a. Paul's favorite weekly holiday! And in celebration of this weekly, well, celebration, Paul is here to give you his favorite book of the week.

Welcome back friends! I hope your week has been amazing so far. Yesterday was one of those comic book days that make all of us readers and buyers glad to be a fan. Especially on the DC end of the market, three of the best titles hit shelves on the same day (JLA, Wonder Woman, and Batman or course), not to mention lots of other great stuff across the board. I knew when Wednesday rolled around that I would be facing a tough decision in terms of my pick. My wife and I recently obtained one of the new iPads last Friday, and I have since begun my trek into the world of digital comics, so this week's pick was not only affected by my stack of issues from the local shop, but also a handful of ancillary books that wound up in my Comixology app. I finished all of my issues yesterday afternoon, but it took me most of the night and this morning to finally decide on my chosen piece this week.

So what is it? Which book took the lead? In a way, no single issue did. I was (obviously) tempted to hand it over to Batman #7, which was obviously great, but in the end I decided to go with an unconventional choice: The Curse of Shazam! by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

... Chills. Nothin' but Chills...
Before you all start tossing tomatoes at my face, let me explain that I am certainly aware that this isn't actually an issue within itself. The fact is, after reading all the comics at my disposal this week, even with some fantastic titles like Hoax Hunters #0 from Image or Wonder Woman #7, this back-up story was still the best thing I read all week. I had high hopes for the beginning of the second arc of Justice League #7, featuring Gene Ha as a guest artist, but looking back, the best thing about this issue was the supplementary piece by Johns and Frank. This back-up was announced months ago, and I've personally had nothing but excitement for it since its conception. One character that I've always loved in comics is Captain Marvel (who will be referred to as Shazam from now on in the DCnU), and he seems to be right inside Johns' wheelhouse. The New 52 has been, in theory, based around the premise of reintroducing and revamping the characters we all know and love, and as much as I love Billy Batson as the magical hero, this is definitely a world that could use a refresher course. In an industry that seems to thrive on the "darker tone," a superhero that is actually an adolescent boy with a secret word may seem a little too campy for some. While I didn't know what to expect from this new story, I knew going in that these were two men who would certainly be giving this back-up the same love and devotion that they would any regular ongoing series.

After reading the 11 page story, I couldn't help but feel that this was some of the best stuff Johns has put out in ages. It has the heart and fire that we all know and love from the guy. The dialogue feels natural, the characters seem very real, and in a few short pages I've been given the perfect amount to pull me in for the long haul. Billy Batson is notoriously a bit of an immature character (after all, he's just a kid), who's maybe just a bit too happy-go-lucky. In this new rendition from Johns, we're given a look at Billy in the orphanage that is a far cry from campy. This is a kid who has been damaged by the foster system, who has nothing but contempt for the people who pass him from one house to the next. According to his caregiver, Mrs. Glover, sees him as an unpleasant boy who she can't wait to get rid of. On the other side of the story, we see an extremely different version of Dr. Sivana, Shazam's arch-nemisis. Sivana is obviously searching far and wide for Rock of Eternity, and the power of the wizard of Shazam. The good Doctor is typically a short, scrawny bald man with thick-rimmed glasses. His brains are always his power, since nature gave him very little in terms of strength or presence. In the DCnU, however, Dr. Sivana definitely came out on top, as a buff, tall bald man who looks like he could definitely pound some faces.
I wonder if he still has the nerdy voice?

I'm afraid this totally new look on Sivana may alienate some fans, but before you jump ship, hear me out as to why I think it's a good idea. Johns and Frank are trying to bring these characters forward enough that they can make a new impression in a new age. Changing Dr. Sivana into a much more demanding presence is a great way to do just that. Even without calling upon his magical abilities, the old-school Sivana wouldn't seem like much of a threat standing next to adolescent Billy Batson. This new look gives him the edge that he has to have in order to stand out as a real threat and a commanding villain. When it comes to comic books, I am perfectly fine with a little camp. I'm not one of these people who thinks there is no room for campy comics and heroes anymore. However, I certainly see the value in giving these characters we know and love a little more edge in an industry that requires it.

I certainly believe that Geoff Johns hit all the right notes in this book. But John's writing was only half the reason I couldn't wait for this story. Gary Frank is absolutely one of the best artists in the industry today, and he and Geoff seem to have a chemistry similar to other classic team-ups, such as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I have yet to read a single story from these guys that I didn't enjoy. Even the sub-par Superman: Secret Origin was worth reading, even if it wasn't that dynamic. Let me put it this way: if Gary Frank hadn't drawn these pages, I don't think it would've wound up on this column. He does such an amazing job conveying emotion and giving each of his characters the distinctive qualities that they need to stand out.

In closing, there is only one problem that I've found in this back-up: it's a back-up. After just one entry into the story, I am already sold to the point that I wish it was a 32 page book! I'm certainly excited for the coming months in which we will get the origin of Shazam, but I absolutely wish this was a monthly title all on its own. From the amazing art by Frank to the fantastic storytelling by Johns, this is one of the few stories that seems to be hitting in all the right spots. I loved this entry, and it is my hope that once the back-up is finished, DC will hand this team the reigns to their own ongoing series with these characters. Come on DC, you know what we want, now please give it to us!

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