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Mild Mannered Reviews - Specials

Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #2

Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #2

Scheduled to arrive in stores: October 5, 2005

Cover date: December 2005

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Joshua Middleton
Inker: Joshua Middleton

Chapter Two: "Odd Couples"

Reviewed by: Barry Freiman

Click to enlarge

A week before we left off on the action from last issue, Sivana visited Luthor. Though the pair of bald baddies despise each other, they hate their flying foes more. Luthor offers up someone named "Spec" to trail Captain Marvel and find out everything there is to find out about him. In exchange, Lex wants the 80,000 shares of Lexcorp stock that Sivana has secretly been purchasing in the hopes of a hostile take-over.

Spec - apparently a metahuman - follows Captain Marvel and discovers his Billy Batson identity.

A week later, things continue where they had left off between Superman and Captain Marvel. They team up to battle the two gooey monsters. One monster spits something at Superman that traps the Man of Steel in a crystal cage.

Meanwhile, the museum robbers continue stealing artifacts. A bearded bad guy places a telephone call. Somewhere, his allies have kidnapped someone named Timothy Barnes because he is the descendant of the Bagdan line. As the bad guys at the museum finish up, the bearded leader tells the kidnappers on the telephone that they should inform Sivana they have what they need and will begin in an hour.

Captain Marvel smashes the crystal cage off Superman with one punch. Superman uses his super-breath and freezes one of the monsters.

The remaining monster spits another crystal cage but Captain Marvel deflects it with his chest. Superman then freezes the second monster.

Captain Marvel is impressed with Superman's super-breath. He tells Superman that the monsters were Mallus Trolls and they excrete waste in the form of a crystalline force beam (something Cap knew through the Wisdom of Solomon). Captain Marvel asks Superman if he has time to talk.

Shortly, on top of Mount Everest, Superman and Captain Marvel get to know each other. Captain Marvel is impressed with Superman's sensory powers like x-ray vision and super breath. Superman is impressed with Cap's seeming invulnerability to magic.

Superman gets caught up talking to Captain Marvel about his first excursion into outer space and realizes he is sharing too much information when he mentions his father. He tells Cap that he keeps his life outside the Superman costume separate and prefers not to discuss specifics of what he does when he isn't Superman. Captain Marvel understands but thinks it stinks.

Sivana receives a call from Mr. Heath, the high Priest of the Temple of Bagdan, who tells Sivana's assistant that they're starting their assignment of taking care of Bruce Gordon.

In a hidden sanctuary, a strange ceremony takes place. Timothy Barnes, in the middle of a summoning circle, is instructed to say his magic word - Sabbac. There's an explosion and Mr. Heath is pleased that they've succeeded in delivering to the world a "second great evil."

At the Fawcett City Solar Center construction site, something strange begins to happen in the sky and Bruce Gordon's face begins to change.

At Mount Everest, Superman and Captain Marvel continue their chat. Superman's super hearing picks up trouble back in Fawcett City.

Back in Fawcett City, there is trouble - Sabbac and Eclipso.

2Story - 2: If the current DCU is about anything, it's about taking creative risks. So then why is this mini-series so predictably dull?

I've always had great affection for Captain Marvel, I suspect in large part because I was always aware that his popularity rivaled Superman's back in the day. Had the Captain, published by Fawcett from his inception through 1953, not been super-popular, DC would never have spent years in court claiming he copied Superman; and Fawcett perhaps wouldn't have been so financially drained by the lawsuits that they wouldn't have left the comic book business.

Later, of course, DC bought the Fawcett library, turning its former competitor into an ally. Now if I were the type of superstitious person who believed in things like the Superman curse - and I don't - I might think DC's cursed with an inability to creatively transform Captain Marvel into the iconic and profitable heroes that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are.

Billy Batson may be perpetually shy of college but you can't say he hasn't given it the old college try since he's been a member of the DC family. There have been at least two regular comic series ("Shazam" and "Power of Shazam") and each achieved their own measure of success for a time. Still, it doesn't help that his alter ego's name can never be on the cover of a comic book published by DC because Marvel Comics created a Captain Marvel of their own during the two decades or so that Cap was out of print. Or that his principal lieutenant, Captain Marvel Junior, can't even say his own name without turning into "lame newsboy Freddy Freeman".

There's one aspect of DC's Captain Marvel that does consistently draw attention and that's his relationship with Superman. DC wisely held off on teaming Superman and Captain Marvel for the first few years that the Captain was a DC property; in fact, when there was a Multiverse, an entire Earth-S separated them. The first mingling of their universes was a brief team-up between Lex Luthor and Mr. Mind in a 1970's Shazam 100 Page Super Spectacular.

Superman and Captain Marvel met briefly in the third part of a JLA/JSA crossover. In JLA #137 (1976), Superman was in a red-kryptonite induced rage so, naturally, they fought till Superman regained his senses.

Two years after that brief encounter, there was "Superman versus Shazam", a tabloid sized book that also had the first meeting of Mary Marvel and Supergirl. In the years since, the meetings happened more often, especially since the first Crisis as Captain Marvel and Superman now share a single Earth-DC (for the time being). But their combined adventures have always remained crowd-pleasers.

I really wanted to love this series. It isn't that I don't like it. I just wanted to be a lot more impressed with this great first meeting than I'm turning out to be.

Sivana and Luthor act like eighth-graders and maybe that's the point - except I know that's a hallmark of Winick's writing and he either can't help it or doesn't want to. Making both Sivana and Luthor megalomaniacal businessmen is unimaginative.

This issue's pacing is all off. I was immediately struck by the first caption in the issue: "One week ago." This book is set in the past so that's the past minus an additional seven days. I get it. It's just a little confusing and it almost makes the reader forget this book is set in the past, something that Winick hammered home in the first issue.

When I first heard about this miniseries, I wondered why no one tried this before. The answer is obvious now. The super boys spend all their time this issue discovering things about each other that comic geeks have debated ad nauseum. For that reason, Winick gets one thing right and that's how excruciatingly dull that first conversation between Superman and Captain Marvel would necessarily be for anyone with a passing knowledge of both characters.

Cap: So you can freeze stuff.

Supes: And you're magic.

Cap: Wish I could see through stuff.

Supes: My Mom made my cape.

Cap: Mine's just there when I say "Shazam".

Supes: Well I guess we're not all that similar after all -- hey kid, where'd Captain Marvel go?

Well you get the point.

Worse yet, the story is just slow. It took one full issue for the protagonists to meet. Their super-challenges don't even present themselves till the last page of this second issue. There's a difference between teasing the reader with cliffhangers and generating filler material. Winick, his story, and we readers would all have been better served by forcing this story into a one-shot rather than a full-blown miniseries.

2Art - 2: I know there are those out there who think Middleton's art is all that and a bag of chips. I don't. I feel he's the wrong artist for these heroes. His style is too abstract, his backgrounds too bare-looking for something that's supposed to feel monumental. He makes what should be the fantastic worlds of Superman and Captain Marvel into something literally and figuratively colorless.

3Cover Art - 3: Again, Middleton's covers work better for me than the actual story pages. Perhaps it's the gloss of the cover that makes his work here seem more energetic than what is on the inside.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2005

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