The power of a magic acronym

Originally posted at Pop Quiz, Hotshot! for The York Dispatch.

In this week’s batch of new comic-book arrivals is “SHAZAM! The Monster Society of Evil,” a rebooting of a world-famous superhero.

Written and drawn by Jeff Smith (“Bone”), this origin tale gives a slightly new twist to the old story of Captain Marvel.

Who’s Captain Marvel? Well, that’s the superhero most people call Shazam. He’s pretty much a carbon copy of Superman, except that rather than changing into Clark Kent when all the bad guys are locked up, Captain Marvel becomes youngster Bill Batson, an orphan runaway who lives on the bleak streets of the big city.

“SHAZAM!” is the acronym Billy shouts to the heavens so he can be transformed into his super-powered alter-ego. Each letter stands for a legendary or historic figure from whom he pulls his multitude of superpowers — 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.

This new book cleans up his origin story while providing a few new neat details about familiar old conventions of the story.

Most importantly though, the book, which is in continuity with the rest of the DC Comics Universe, sets a few things straight about exactly who Captain Marvel is in relation to Billy. For comic-book fans, there’s been a long running debate as to who he is: Billy from the future? The ghost of Billy’s father? An entirely magical entity? A hyper-idealized vision of Billy? … Or is Captain Marvel something else all together?

Even better, this easy-going but compelling read is perfect for kids (because not all comics are anymore) and could easily serve as a storyboard for the Shazam! movie Hollywood has been promising us for so long.


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