Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil

By Jeff Smith, coloured by Steve Hamaker (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1466-1 (HB)                    978-1-4012-0974-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Fight ‘n’ Tights Fiction for the Whole Family… 10/10

Superhero comics don’t get better than this.

No soft-soap, no easing you in. Jeff Smith (in a tale originally published as a 4-issue prestige format miniseries in 2007) came the closest yet to recapturing the naive yet knowing charm that made the World’s Mightiest Innocent far and away the most successful super-character of the Golden Age in this reworking of one of his greatest adventures.

So, with the latest screen interpretation set to bust blocks next year it’s well past time to take another look at the glorious beast – especially as its also available in assorted digital formats too. Now all we need is a sure-fire way to give eBooks as proper gifts…

Following an adulatory Introduction from Alex Ross, the trip back to our communal childhoods kicks off with a scene of appalling deprivation and terror…

Billy Batson is a little homeless kid with a murky past and a glorious destiny. One night he follows a mysterious figure into an abandoned subway station and meets the wizard Shazam, who gives him the ability to turn into a full-grown superhero called Captain Marvel. Gifted with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury, the lad is sent into the world to do good.

Accompanied by verbose tiger-spirit Mr. Tawky Tawny, Billy sets out to find a little sister he never knew he had, and even parlays himself into a job as a source for TV reporter Helen Fidelity

He sets to, fighting evils big and small, but at his heart he’s still just a kid. When he impetuously causes a ripple in the world’s magical fabric it causes cosmic conniptions that endanger the universe. When he finally tracks down his little sister, he accidentally shares his powers with her and suffers the ignominy of having her be better at the job than he is…

He also encounters evil genius Dr. Sivanna, US Attorney General and would-be ruler of the universe, and the deadly and hideous minions of the mysterious Mr. Mind, whose Monster Society of Evil is dedicated to wiping out humanity! Can he make amends and save the day…? Maybe, if Mary Marvel helps…

The original saga this gem is loosely based on ran from 1943-1946 in Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46: a boldly ambitious and captivating chapter-play in the manner of the popular movie serials of the day, and still regarded as one of the most memorable achievements of Golden Age comicbooks. It’s fairly safe to say that this reworking is going to stay in people’s hearts and minds for a good long time, too. It certainly spawned an excellent spin-off series which I’ll be covering next year some time, just to cash in on the movie…

Jeff Smith has accomplished the impossible here. He has created a superhero tale for all ages and hopefully returned some part of the genre to the children for whom it was originally intended. Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil is exciting, spectacular, moving and unselfconscious; revelling in the power of its own roots and the audience’s unbridled capacity for joy.

If you can track down the hardback volume, it’s stuffed with added features. The dust-jacket opens into a truly magical double-sided poster, there are sketch and script pages for the reader with industry aspirations, biographies and historical sections, a lavishly illustrated production journal, puzzles and even a modern version of the secret code used as a circulation builder in the 1940s. Most important though, and irrespective of what iteration you get, it is the mesmerising quality of the story and artwork that you’ll remember, forever.

Words are cheap and I’ve used enough: now go get this is a truly magical, utterly marvellous book.
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.