Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mauro Cascioli Does the Art on TRIALS OF SHAZAM #10

With issue #10 of TRIALS OF SHAZAM, Mauro Cascioli provides both the interior and cover art. The question is this... is he a permanent replacement for Howard Porter (as permanent as 2 remaining issues can be) or is he simply giving Porter some breathing room to finish up the last two issues of this long, drawn-out (pun intended) story?

Porter has been the shining star of TRIALS OF SHAZAM, an ill-conceived updating/continuation/adultification of the Marvel Family mythos. Judd Winick's story provides little excitement as Freddy Freeman tries to prove himself worthy of the title of Shazam. Winick's Freeman is bland. I can't imagine that even the fans who claim to enjoy this story can find Freddy very appealing. He is a one-dimensional character who, incredibly, is out-shone by the equally bland villainess of the tale.

Perhaps that is about to change as Cascioli's cover conveys a sense of real menace to Freddy's opposite number, Sabina. Cascioli's cover of Sabina has eschewed Porter's suburban Mean Girls persona of the character into one that looks genuinely frightening. And that's an unfortunate criticism of Porter's work as there wasn't anything truly scary in TRIALS OF SHAZAM up to this point (well, other than the trampling over of the Marvel Family cast of characters).

If Winick's intent was to Vertigo-ify the Marvel Family mythos with monsters and goblins, Porter's artwork seemed to work against that. It seems like Cascioli may bring that unease to the series.

That's not to say that I'm hoping for that. I would prefer nothing better than for TRIALS OF SHAZAM to fade away like a bad dream in the light of day. Because really, the Marvel Family were born to be bright, shining stars ... super-heroes ... not characters who could give John Constantine a run for his money.

The solicitation of TRIALS OF SHAZAM #11 will reveal if Howard Porter is coming back to the title. I don't know what caused the long delay between issues, perhaps he couldn't find inspiration in Winick's script or maybe he misjudged how long it would take him to complete each issue but if it is illness or personal problems, I certainly hope that Mr. Porter recovers.

Written by Judd Winick; Art and Cover by Mauro Cascioli

Sabina and Freddy race to find the hidden Mercury…as this test is about gaining his speed ability! And if Sabina finds him first, she'll be equal to Freddy in the ultimate Trials for Shazam's power!

DC Universe 32pg. Color $2.99 US

On Sale November 28, 2007

Thursday, August 9, 2007


BLACK ADAM: THE DARK AGE #1 - Doug Mahnke coverWith one issue, writer Peter Tomasi and artists Doug Mahnke with Christian Alamy & Norm Rapmund have blown Judd Winick and Howard Porter's TRIALS OF SHAZAM clear out of the water. This first of a six issue mini-series has more story to it than the 7 issues of TRIALS OF SHAZAM combined.
Tomasi wastes no time getting us introduced to Teth-Adam — the mortal host of the villainous Black Adam who was left depowered by the end of 52 at the hands of Captain Marvel. Adam's a wanted man for the genocide he committed on the country of Bialya. His despiration and mental imbalance is evident from the very first page as he endures a brutal beating so that he can walk the streets of his adopted country, Kahndaq, unmolested. It's clear that Adam doesn't fear the reprisal of the country and citizens he embarassed and abandoned. He is a man with a mission and for that he must be unrecognizable.

Adam's mission is to retrieve the remains of his dead wife, Isis. It is a mission fraught with danger, intrique, death, and self-relience. Tomasi, a former DC Comics editor, has written a page-turner that contains very little lolly-gagging - the most notable being the scenes with the JSA on his trail.

BLACK ADAM: THE DARK AGE #1 - Alex Ross variantFortunately, DC paired Tomasi's story with an artist that could do it true justice. Doug Mahnke has a unique style that stands out from the rest of his peers. I've been a admirer of Mahnke's work since discovering it on Dark Horse's THE MASK with writer John Arcudi. Mahnke also paired with Arcudi on DC's MAJOR BUMMER — a wonderful little comic that was, unfortunately, short-lived. Here in Adam's tale, Mahnke takes us to the darkest corner's of a man's soul. Mahnke doesn't shy away from some of the grittier scenes provided by Tomasi: brutal beatings, gun-shot wounds to the head, and cannabalism. But Mahnke's beautiful last page more than makes up for the carnage that preceeded it.

The gore-level isn't for everyone but this is Black Adam at his baddest and teen-agers should eat it right up ... pun intended!

BLACK ADAM: THE DARK AGE #1 is a perfect primer for how a comic book should be written. It draws you in with its compressed story-telling and marvelous artwork. It's a shame, however, that although DC understands Black Adam so well, after 7 issues of TRIALS OF SHAZAM still doesn't get the magic of Captain Marvel.

Written by Peter J. Tomasi; Pencils by Doug Mahnke; Inks by Christian Alamy and Norm Rapmund; Cover by Mahnke; Variant cover by Alex Ross

Spinning out of the weekly series 52 comes an epic 8-issue mini-series that follows Black Adam, the new ├╝ber-villain of the DCU!

With the power of the gods stripped from him, Teth-Adam is on a quest to find not only the magical word that will restore him as Black Adam, but also the one thing that always kept his heart from turning completely black with rage.

Black Adam is a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Bialyan citizens and wide spread destruction across the globe. He is a man on the run from Earth's heroes, who want to see him brought to justice. Some want him tried before a world court, while others want retribution; to exact a pound of flesh for the lives he has snuffed out. And some simply want him dead as quickly and as quietly as possible.

DC Universe • 32pg. • Color • $2.99 US

On Sale August 8, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

TRIALS OF SHAZAM #10 - Missing in Action Part II

As you probably guessed, yesterday's solicitation for TRIALS OF SHAZAM #10 was a joke at the expense of artist Howard Porter. I don't know if the blame lies at his feet for the delays in getting TRIALS OF SHAZAM to market, but I hope he has a sense of humor and that there are no personal issues or illnesses that are holding him up. If so, I apologize right now! Howard's artwork is the bright spot in the otherwise banal and insulting morass that is TRIALS OF SHAZAM.

No matter what the cause, it still remains that TRIALS OF SHAZAM is notoriously late. Sure, it's not as late as ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN, ULTIMATES, ULTIMATES 2, DAREDEVIL: FATHER or CAMELOT 3000 to name a few of the famous laggards, but it continues to be late by missing shipping dates and failing to show up in solicitations. By anyone's measure, it's unofficially a bi-monthly book. As it stands as of today, TRIALS OF SHAZAM #8 is scheduled for release Wednesday, August 8. TRIALS OF SHAZAM #9 is scheduled for release a mere three weeks later on Wednesday, August 29. If TRIALS OF SHAZAM #9 holds to the schedule then it will be at least two months before TRIALS OF SHAZAM #10 is released because as mentioned in my previous post that issue was neither solicited for the months of September or October 2007.

At this point, DC should hold the release of TRIALS OF SHAZAM #9 until at least mid-September to prevent an even longer lag between issues 9 and 10. These delays are, of course, a sshame for fans of the series because each new delay causes the title to lose momentum and traction in a fickle comic book marketplace. Regardless of what you think of TRIALS OF SHAZAM, it is the best selling title of the wave of titles that followed the wake of INFINITE CRISIS and washed ashore with BRAVE NEW WORLD. But it is slipping in sales, losing 4K of its readership with issues 5 and 6. If DC's goal with TRIALS OF SHAZAM was to bolster the popularity of Captain Marvel, it appears headed for failure especially if the readership decline continues over the next few issues.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

TRIALS OF SHAZAM #10 - Missing in Action!

OK, I promised that this blog entry would be on INFINITE CRISIS but instead I want to talk about the long delays between issues of TRIALS OF SHAZAM. If you're a regular reader of TRIALS OF SHAZAM or even if you just wish the series would finish up and go quietly into the night, you've probably noticed the wait time is increasing between issues.

There have been various rumors concerning the delays from Judd Winick's slow delivery of scripts to having had all the scripts in the can months ago to Howard Porter's underestimating how long it would take to apply his new computer-enhanced style to his art.

On Monday, DC released its solicitation information for product it will publish in October 2007. For many fans of TRIALS OF SHAZAM, it was cause for concern as it was the second straight month without a solicitation for the book. It looked like TOS, as its known to fans, had stalled with issue #9.

But that's not the case. In what looks like a happy coincidence, it appears that the script for #10 calls for much of the issue to take place in the frigid no man's land of Antartica. Since most of the sequences are snow bound, there will be plenty of pages that are essentially blank with only Winick's script to fill the reader in on the action. Porter is hard at work on #11. Word is that #11 takes place mostly at night in a subterranean cave with Freddie trying to acquire the power of Zeus.

So fear not regular readers of TOS! Although TRIALS OF SHAZAM #10 won't ship until December, the Trials of a Shazam Reader brings you an exclusive look at the cover and solicitation text from the December 2007 DC Solicitations...

Written by Judd Winick; Art and Cover by Howard Porter

In the blinding wasteland of Antartica, Freddie must defeat Sabina and the angry inhabitants of the coldest level of hell ... or lose his bid to gain the speed of Mercury!

DC Universe • 32 pg. • B&W • $2.99 • US

On Sale December 26, 2007

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Purpose of this Blog

So what does this image have to do with Captain Marvel, or Shazam if you will? It's the thing that's prompted me to sit down and start writing about DC's perpetual failure in reviving Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family.

What you see is DC Comics' teaser image for FINAL CRISIS -- due to hit stores in May 2008. It's a striking image and it's made ever more so by its total lack of any Marvel Family character. Over the past year and a half, DC Comics has made a lot of noise of their plans to increase the popularity of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family and bring them back to promience in the DC Universe. From the looks of the teaser image, DC hasn't hit its goal. Surely no universe-crackling teaser image would be complete without DC's Holy Trinity: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and I have no issue with Green Lantern and Flash being there either. But where is Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, or even the new Shazam, Freddy Freeman? Who knows? All that's important is that none of them are in that teaser image. It appears that Captain Marvel is not one of the "legends [who will] live forever," instead that would be Hawkman!

So, what's the problem, you might ask? Captain Marvel is a C-Lister at best, you could add. Anyone who knows even a tiny bit of Captain Marvel lore knows that the Big Red Cheese, as he's fondly called by his fans, was THE number one best-selling super-hero of the 1940s. Yes, that was a long time ago; so long ago that I hadn't even been born yet, but the fact remains that the World's Mightiest Mortal was the number-one superhero around the world.

So what happened? Captain Marvel's fame was cut short in 1953 by a decade long legal battle with National Periodical Publications (DC Comics' former corporate name) and a dwindling-audience for super-hero fare. In 1973, DC Comics revived its old rival superhero in a thirty-five issue long series titled SHAZAM! due to Marvel Comics swooping and snatching up the Captain Marvel name. While the title was ultimately cancelled, our hero took it on the chin and was awarded the clean-up spot in WORLD'S FINEST COMICS for a roughly 30 issue run when it went dollar-size.

And then he was off the newsstands only to make occasional guest-star spots before getting a quick shot at fame in both the LEGENDS mini-series and the four-issue SHAZAM!: THE NEW BEGINNING as well as an insulting six-issue stint as a member of JUSTICE LEAGUE. It wasn't until 1994 that Cap would get a shot again in Jerry Ordway's THE POWER OF SHAZAM! graphic novel and a series the following year. Ordway's THE POWER OF SHAZAM! monthly series ran 48 issues before succumbing to cancellation.

Captain Marvel's star started to rise again when David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns added Cap's old foe, Black Adam, to the membership of the JSA and ultimately Cap was awarded a role as well. With his popularity on the rise and his frequent appearances in the DC Universe there were rumblings that Cap might be in line for another series try. In fact, a mini-series by acclaimed writer/artist Jeff Smith was announced in 2003 but remained on the back burner until this year and just finished its four-issue run today.

During the long years between the Smith announcement and mini-series, Cap kept making appearances around the DC and talks of another series started to rise again. Captain Marvel appeared in a successful three-issue crossover in the Superman line of titles by Judd Winick and Ian Churchill and also co-starred his Superman in the well-received SUPERMAN/SHAZAM!: FIRST THUNDER four-issue mini-series by Winick and Josh Middleton. Again there were rumblings of on ongoing series to spin out of DC's hugely popular INFINITE CRISIS company-wide crossover book. But the excitement was short lived as the old wizard Shazam was destroyed along with the Rock of Eternity. Fortunately, the Rock of Eternity was put back together but the same couldn't be said for Shazam. Captain Marvel took Shazam's place on the Rock t act as its guardian and to prevent the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man and the Three Faces of Evil from escaping its prison.

Shortly thereafter a twelve issue mini-series was announced that would feature Captain Marvel. It would follow close on the heels of a special preview in the $1 80-Page Giant titled BRAVE NEW WORLD.

On August 31, 2007 DC Comics launched the twelve issue mini-series titled TRIALS OF SHAZAM - an attempt to modernize and popularize the Marvel Family cast of characters. The intent of this blog is to both criticize and review the series and the decision making that guided the launch as well as DC's recent handling of the Marvel Family as a whole. The next blog entry will focus on INFINITE CRISIS and its crossovers while subsequent entries will tackle BRAVE NEW WORLD and the TRIALS OF SHAZAM series itself. Along the way, assorted entries will also focus on the individual characters that make up the Marvel Family.

The criticism will focus on the missteps DC has made with the Marvel Family post-INFINITE CRISIS. Unfortunately, a lot of that criticism will fall on the shoulders of self-proclaimed Captain Marvel fan and TRIALS OF SHAZAM writer, Judd Winick and DC Comics' Senior-VP Executive Editor, Dan DiDio.

Perhaps the FINAL CRISIS of the teaser image will be a massive reboot of the DC Universe and wash away the aftertaste of TRIALS OF SHAZAM and that we get a renewed and invigorted Captain Marvel. I would like to hope that this blog will provide a small resource to any new writer taking on a SHAZAM project so that the mistakes of TRIALS OF SHAZAM can be prevented in a future series.