Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shazam!: Monster Society of Evil Review

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil hardcover collection at the annual FallCon Comic Book Convention in Minneapolis a few weeks back. As a big fan of Smith’s Bone stories, I’ve been meaning to check out this book for some time. The series was a hit at the time of its release, but just how does this bold reinterpretation of the classic hero stand up? Check out my review after the jump to find out!
Written by Jeff Smith
Art by Jeff Smith and Steve Hamaker
Letters by Jeff Smith
Cover by Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil is a reimagining of Captain Marvel’s origins told through the unexpected lens of a post 9/11 world. The story begins close enough to the original origin story with the young orphan Billy Batson living on his own before he is lured to the Rock of Eternity where he meets the wizard Shazam and gains magical powers to become the hero Captain Marvel.

From there, Smith begins taking the Captain Marvel mythos in his own direction. Some changes are subtle, such as Mary Marvel being considerably younger than Billy retaining her age even after she gains her power. Others, however, are rather massive, such as Talky Tawny being a shape-shifting magical ally of the wizard Shazam that appears often as a tiger, but also as a black cat and, most prominently, a friendly hobo.

The most important changes, however, are those that reinforce the changes to the Monster Society plot. These include Dr. Sivana being the Secretary of State and the world’s leading arms manufacture, looking to use Mr. Mind’s monster attacks and America’s post-9/11 paranoia for financial gain; Sivana is no longer a mad scientist, but rather a war profiteer. Other changes include Billy’s curiosity and lack of discipline unleashing Mr. Mind upon the world through his irresponsible actions at the Rock of Eternity—an interesting tactic that allows for greater development of Billy’s character.

I must say that the thing that surprised me most about this story was how complex it was. Smith’s design style and overall approach to storytelling are very clean and basic; at first glance, you may think that this book was intended for the Johnny DC (DC’s all-ages line). However, as you dig deeper into the story, it becomes clear that the story is much heavier and clearly geared towards a more adult audience. The story explores themes of post-9/11 fear mongering, war profiteering, and the role of the modern news media. These are themes that aren’t your usual fair for the average superhero comic, let alone the average all-age superhero comics. I will give Smith credit on this, though, as the story isn’t so complex that it would alienate younger or more casual readers; it is just considerably more satisfying if you can understand the higher concepts that Smith is touching upon.

Unfortunately, as all the plot points come to a head, things get incredibly messy. The fourth act of the story, which finds Billy taking on both Sivana and Mr. Mind (who only appears at the tail end of the story), is incredibly rushed and forced. Smith does wrap up all of the plot points, but the rapid pace of the conclusion takes away the gravitas of the moment and shortchanges the brilliance of both villains. Given that the rest of the story moves at an incredibly methodical and sometimes glacial pace, the conclusion of the story is very off-putting. I finished the story wanting more, but not in the sense of future stories, but rather a better explanation of how the story I just read concluded.

In terms of character work, Smith does excel here. He approaches Captain Marvel and Billy as separate entities that are strongly connected, but retain their own personalities—though he does a great job of establishing the fact that both characters have their merits and are equal parts of the hero that they become. I was equally impressed with his handle on Mary who is a spunky rival of sorts to Billy. He is her caretaker, but also her competitor, which is an interesting twist on their relationship, especially considering that by being similar in age, Mary represents the childhood that Billy was robbed of.

The art has an old school look that should please fans of the C.C. Beck-era Captain Marvel incredibly happy, but with modern twists that keep it very fresh looking. Smith is extremely clean in his work as the art is free of superfluous details and unnecessary shading—he keeps the reader’s eye focused on the main characters and nothing more, which is very similar to his approach in the Bone books. The storytelling of the art is very clear and direct, which simultaneously compliments the simple approach to characterization and contrasts against the complexity of the nuanced story. Smith uses very large, open panels that emphasize how small Billy is in comparison to the world around him, which is a interesting choice.

While the majority of the characters are drawn with exaggerated features, a lot of the background and supporting characters are drawn in a more realistic style, which is oddly off-putting. Also, while the large open panels do work thematically with the story, they also cause a lot of the book to look very bland at times because of the minimal backgrounds and additional details. The art is often at times with torn between the whimsy and fun of Smith’s design style and a grittier outlook that the story demands.

In terms of extras, I really have to say this is one of the better non-Absolute hardcover collections that DC has produced. It features a great introduction by Alex Ross about the history of Captain Marvel and the uniqueness of Smith’s approach, which sets up the story nicely. This is balanced with an afterward by Smith that explains how the events of 9/11 guided the book. There is also a lengthy sketchbook of character designs, comparisons between classic Captain Marvel moments and Smith’s interpretation of them, and production notes on the 6 year history of the series. Plus, as very unique bonus, the dust jacket folds out to be a full-sized poster featuring all of the characters. With this, so that the book doesn’t look odd if you decide to display the poster, the cover of the book itself reprints the dust jacket design (much like the Infinite Crisis hardcover) rather than being a single color cover that only features the title (like the vast majority of DC’s hardcover collections).

Verdict: Buy It. Jeff Smith’s vision of Captain Marvel is a fun and unique approach to a character that enjoys one of the richest mythos and histories of any DC character, but is often one of the most poorly-used characters owned by the company. The story of Monster Society of Evil is an interesting mix of political commentary and whimsical superhero action, which is a fun concept that falters a bit in execution thanks to the very rushed final chapter. In the end, the good outweighs the bad though, and Smith has created an enduring reinterpretation that I’d love to see him return to at some point in the future.

Interested in Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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The Dangster said...

I got the 4 issues for this series. I was surprised by this book, never having read Bone. I loved it. I thought the book could've been a part of Johnny DC if they replaced some of the language. I did enjoy the danger Billy faced in mortal form, the art work really showed the menace in his situations.

I suggest Superman/Shazam: First Thunder as a good Marvel book because of the art.

Primewax said...

I truly enjoyed this book. I felt the end was a bit abrupt also, but it didn't keep me from loving the book. Good stuff. Now I gotta check out Bone.

Anonymous said...

beautiful book. Loved every bit of it.

How did you enjoy Mnpls? I was there as well


Ryan Schrodt said...

@Yank - Minneapolis was a great time. This is actually the second time I attended the show (I went in 2007, but missed last year because my wedding was just a few weeks afterward). For the size of the show, they pull in amazing talent and everything is incredibly organized. I highly recommend it to all.

Matt Ampersand said...

Is this the book that has the crocodiles shouting "They have found us! Eat the children!" line? Because I might buy it just for that.

Anonymous said...

IMO Bone is the greatest Fantasy Comic ever and one of the top 10 series ever.

Read it and love it.


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نبضة قلب said...

يحتاج الى مكافحة متخصصة لانها حشرة عنيدة وتختبأ في اماكن يصعب الوصول اليها ويحتاج الى رش المنزل واحيانا المنازل المجاورة لضمان عدم تواجدها في محيط المنزل ومعادة الاصابة بها الاول تستخدم افضل مبيدات مكافحة بق الفراش وتضمن لك القضاء النهائي عليه فالاول تعرف بانها اشهر شركة مكافحة البق بالرياض واشهر شركة مكافحة البق بجدة واشهر شركة مكافحة البق بمكة
شركة مكافحة بق الفراش بجدة
شركة مكافحة العته بمكة شركة مكافحة البق بالقصيم
- الفئران
تعد من اكثر القوارض خطورة على الانسان لانها ناقلة لامراض خطيرة كالسل والطاعون ولابد من مكافحتها على يد متخصص فهى تجيد الاختباء وتتكاثر بسرعة عاليةوتنتشر في شبكات الصرف الصحى ويتم مكافحتها بعدة طرق بافضل مبيدات وطرق مكافحة الفئران فالاول تعرف بانها افضل شركة مكافحة الفئران بالرياض وافضل شركة مكافحة الفئران بجدة وافضل شركة مكافحة الفئران بمكة وافضل شركة مكافحة الفئران بالخبر وافضل شركة مكافحة الفئران بالقصيم وافضل شركة مكافحة الفئران بالمدينة المنورة
شركة مكافحة الفئران بالجبيل
- مكافحة الثعابين
تنتشر الثعابين في المملكة فهى اكثر من 55 نوعا وهى اغلبها سام ويؤدى الى الوفاة في الحال يمكنك الاستعانة بافضل شركة مكافحة الثعابين بالرياض و بجدة وبمكة والخبر وغيرها من المناطق

نبضة قلب said...

تعد شركة البيت الافضل افضل الشركات العامة في الخدمات المنزلية تقدم افضل الخدمات باعلى جودة وباقل الاسعار
شركة تخزين عفش بالرياض
شركة نظافة بالرياض
شركة غسيل خزانات بالرياض
شركة مكافحة الحشرات بالدمام
بالاضافة الى خدماتنا الاخرى مثل :
شركة شراء اثاث مستعمل بالرياض
كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض
شركة تنظيف بيوت بالرياض
ونتميز في جميع الخدمات بان اسعارنا تعد ارخص الاسعار بالمقارنة مع الشركات الاخرى
شركة نقل عفش بالرياض
رش مبيدات بالرياض
شركة مكافحة الحشرات بالرياض
شركة تنظيف مجالس بالرياض

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