Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Justice League 0, originally released September 19, 2012. Justice League 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Shelby: What makes a superhero so heroic? I’m not talking about the enhanced DNA/gadgets/magic powers, it’s easy to see where that comes from. It might not make a ton of sense (really, a different color sun?), but it’s easy to see the source. No, I want to know what makes a hero, what are the inherent traits that would make someone suddenly imbued with immense power decide to fight the good fight and try to save the world? The same question can be asked of the super villains our heroes fight. Are our heroes filled with a sense of responsibility to do what’s right? Do our villains feel they deserve more than they’ve got? Is it as simple as heroes are good people, and villains are bad? Well, what if you try to be good, but are also a smartass 15-year-old who thinks you know best and is kind of a dick? Where does that put you on the hero/villain scale?
When last we left Billy, he had been teleported to the Rock of Eternity, home of the Council of Wizards. Turns out, the Council created Black Adam in the first place, but then he killed all but one wizard, who imprisoned Black Adam and hid magic from the world. Anyway, he summoned Billy thinking he might be the one worthy of his lightning magic, the one who can defeat Black Adam. Billy is deemed not a “pure good person,” but apparently he’s close enough, because the wizard teaches him the magic word (hint: it’s Shazam). Once he says it, Billy is turned into a muscle-y mountain of a man. The wizard gives the standard warnings: don’t waste your powers, watch over your family, stand between Black Adam and the rest of the world, etc. Billy is teleported back to Freddy’s side, and the two of them smash cars and beat up muggers for money, because what else is a teenager with the power of a demigod going to do? In the epilogue, Pandora is trying to open the (her?) box to put the evils back inside. The wizard visits her and says only the strongest or darkest heart could open it. Meanwhile, someone has rescued the mayor’s daughter and left the kidnapper tied up with an insignia card bearing only a question mark.
I am on the fence about this issue. I’m glad to see Billy finally become Shazam, and I like the hint from the wizard about Billy being able to create his own family; we all know where that will lead. I also am intrigued by Billy being a non-traditional hero. He’s not totally good. There’s a conflict that will have to play out between the good in him and the dickishness he has been displaying, and that makes for some interesting stories. I liked the humor in this issue; it seemed like Geoff Johns and Gary Frank were poking fun at the somewhat ridiculous nature of the character Shazam; the look on Billy’s face after he first says “shazam” is hilarious.
The kid looks like he just got goosed, and it gives the reader this perfect false start moment: a little psych-out to build the up tension even more for the big reveal.
It’s that reveal that I have a problem with.
Kids with the bodies of adults are just not ok. Giving a kid the power of a regular adult is incredibly risky, let alone the power of a superpowered adult. I feel the same way about the movie Big; the thought of a child with the body of an adult just makes me really uncomfortable. Especially this body, Shazam is outrageously muscled. I’ve said before that women in comic books aren’t the only ones drawn hyper-sexualized. Comic books are fantasy, and the male characters are drawn as fantasies, too. Now we have a 15-year-old boy in the body of a ripped, fantasy male. That creeps me out. I would have had no problem with Billy being some sort of teen Shazam; hell, I would probably read a solo title of the adventures of the teen Marvels. I’m just not buying this fake adult Billy.
I’m still not sure where this title is going. The Justice League has been pretty disappointing as a team this last year. I’m intrigued by Shazam and the role he’s going to play, even though I don’t particularly like him as a character or the way he’s being depicted. I’m looking forward to the Trinity War playing out, but overall I just can’t seem to muster a ton of enthusiasm for this title. How about you, Patrick? Were you creeped to the point of distraction by suddenly adult Billy? Does this issue revive your excitement for the Trinity War and the Justice League?Patrick: Oh, Shelby, let’s not say anything about Big that we can’t take back. Shazam may be stupidly muscular, but like you say, it’s that usual superhero-level of ULTRAMUSCLE. The child-suddenly-in-the-body-of-adult thing doesn’t bother me at all — especially when you consider that Billy is 15 years old. All of those bypassing-puberty concerns — that I sense are at the heart of your objection — don’t really come into play here.
In fact, I was really impressed by how similar the characters of pre- and post-transformation Billy are. Obviously there’s no trick to writing them the same, Johns — perhaps empowered by his current position at DC — writes a kid with immeasurable power like it’s second nature. Billy smashes thrones, throws cars — even rescues someone from a mugger, just so long as he can also get a twenty, maybe? It’s cute and totally consistent with the character. But it’s the physical similarity between boy-Billy and man-Billy that I love the most. Look at these faces. Definitely the same person — just, y’know, superpowered and all-grown-up.
Johns has a real strength for expressing the humor inherent to his characters. That’s a component that’s been SEVERELY lacking from both Justice League and Aquaman — too many self-serious assholes to ever be funny. But there’s something wonderful about the chemistry between an immortal wizard and a petulant 15-year old boy. Plus, I let out a solid belly-laugh when Shazam decked that mugger.
That’s about as silly as anything we’re going to see in Dial H.
Actually, this issue plays to all of Johns’ strengths. His knack for mythology-building is on display throughout, but Billy’s little tour of the Rock of Eternity teases some really cool stuff. Billy walks by a gallery that projects images of personified sins. Later in their conversation, the wizard says that Shazam has to “stop [Black Adam] from awakening the Seven Deadly Sins of Man.” I love this idea. You’re telling me there might be a small army of magical creatures (representing the seven deadly sins) marching against our heroes? Hell yes, I’m in. We catch a glimpse of Pride, Envy, Wrath and Sloth and the designs all look great — full of personality. It reminds me of that page toward the end of the Sinestro Corps War that forecast the creation of the other emotional corps (years before they would be actively introduced into the pages of Green Lantern).
There’s also this mysterious thing happening with the wizard. It’s like there’s a second consciousness in there — a voice that speaks bold declarative statements and is singularly bent of reviving Shazam. So, what’s that voice? Between the Spectre appearing in Phantom Stranger and the mention of the sins here, basically any pillar of Christian mythology could be in play. It’s sorta funny that the power explicitly called “magic” is associated with all this monotheistic religious stuff. I once talked to a guy that was protesting the first Harry Potter movie because “God hates people who do magic.” Jokes on you, protester — DC Comics says it’s all magic.
The back-up is a little less fun, but still does some grade-A Johns teasing. I’m referring, of course, to The Question. It’s unclear when and how we’re going to see more of either Pandora or The Question, and it’s also not clear how big of a role the Three Sinners are going to play in the Trinity War. I’m starting to suspect that the Sinners are part of an even longer game than the simmering meta-human-conflict that starting to show itself now. I mean, right? If the JL and JLA are going to be locking horns, do we really need the universe-altering potential of Pandora’s box mucking up the works?
Hey and how about that banner at the top of the final page? “Hub City.” I had to look it up — it’s the home town of the original Question. I’m no Question-historian, but I believe that Hub City hasn’t been a card in the deck for like 20 years. Any one of our readers have any perspective on that?
I dunno, Shelby, I sorta loved this thing. It made me laugh and got me asking a lot of questions. And then it literally ended with a question mark. I hope the back-ups keep carrying the Shazam saga — it is reliably more interesting the main Justice League story.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?