Monday, December 01, 2014

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil

In Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, Jeff Smith reimagines Captain Marvel’s origins, drawing not only from the Fawcett canon, but also from more incongruous sources such as Middle-Eastern myths and popular physics. These many inspirations are largely ornamental and do not crowd out a story that reads like an urban fairytale. While we do get the sense that the plot takes place in a world which extends beyond the story’s purview, the writer/artist does not presume our prior acquaintance with the characters; all of the narrative threads are neatly contained within the book's 206 pages. Smith’s retelling is eminently accessible, vibrant with character and raw energy.

Despite the tale’s light-hearted, child-friendly tone, Smith manages to throw some strong emotional punches. Captain Marvel’s struggle is not primarily with the cosmic but rather with the mundane; it is the day-to-day troubles of Billy Batson’s life on the streets which stir up the most pathos.

It is much to Smith’s credit that this all-ages title does not shy away from politics: considering it was written in the aftermath of 9-11, the reinterpretation of Marvel’s nemesis Doctor Sivana as the attorney general of “heartland” security can be read as a particularly audacious indictment of anti-terrorist paranoia.

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