Weekly Comic 100s: Dr. Strange, Spider-Ham, Shazam!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As promised, this week I’ve padded the rather slim pickings from December 26 with some leftovers from December 19.

By the way, folks, I tried to read Incoming!, the big issue that’s supposed to lead us into what Marvel’s doing in 2020. But I couldn’t get through it. It’s all supposed to link back to a mysterious murder, which was intriguing enough. But the massive scope of the story, with all the different plot threads and characters, was just too much to follow.

Thankfully, Marvel is pretty well represented this week…

TITLE: Dr. Strange #1
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
ARTISTS: Kev Walker, Java Tartaglia (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer). Cover by Phil Noto.
RELEASED: December 26, 2019

The twist here is that Stephen Strange now has use of his hands again. Now he can resume his work as a surgeon, while continuing on as a master of the mystic arts.

I’m not much of a Doctor Strange fan. But I can’t find much to fault this issue for. The opening page is its best. It’s got a Twilight Zone feel to it, while also reminding me of one of the opening splash pages for an issue of Saga.

I don’t feel a huge pull to come back next issue. But what the hell? I won’t rule it out.

TITLE: Spider-Ham #1 (of 5)
AUTHOR:
Zeb Wells
ARTISTS:
Will Robson, Erick Arciniega (Colorist), Joe Caramagna (Letterer). Cover by Wendell Dalit.
RELEASED: December 26, 2019

For yours truly, the biggest surprise coming out of Spider-Ham #1 was that our titular character is on a team with other anthropomorphic animal heroes. Iron Mouse, Squawkeye, Quacksilver, etc. Basically the same Looney Tunes concept, but with the Avengers.

If you like this sort of thing, or enjoyed the character in Into the Spider-Verse, then this Spider-Ham miniseries should be right up your alley. Me? While the issue was fine, I’ll take a pass on this one.

TITLE: Shazam #9
AUTHOR:
Geoff Johns
ARTISTS: Marco Santucci, Scot Kolins, Dale Eaglesham, Michael Atiyeh (Colorist), Rob Leigh (Letterer). Variant cover by Kaare Andrews.
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

Most of this book takes place in the “Wozenderlands,” an amalgamation of the worlds of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. We’re told there was a “crisis,” and the worlds had to be merged. So essentially, it was Crisis on Infinite Earths, but with these fairy tale settings and characters.

That is so friggin’ random, that I absolutely love it. Who in the hell could have called this? All the while, we continue to advance the story of Billy Batson and his family. Truly, Shazam! has become one of the best books DC has right now.

TITLE: Batman/Superman #5
AUTHOR: Joshua Williamson
ARTISTS: David Marquez, Alejandro Sanchez (Colorist), John J. Hill (Letterer)
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

This whole “Secret Six” thing ended up not being the mystery I wanted it to be. And at times Williamson’s dialogue is a little awkward. But at the end of the day, this first story arc was fine. I did love the nice little “trust moment” he gave our titular characters in this issue.

I also feel like I haven’t heaped enough praise on David Marquez and Alejandro Sanchez. They’ve put together an absolutely beautiful book. Marquez can make virtually anything look good. Whether he’s working in the DC, Marvel, any other universe.

TITLE: Star Wars: Empire Ascendant
AUTHORS: Charles Soule, Greg Pak, Ethan Sacks, Simon Spurrier
ARTISTS: Luke Ross, Roland Boschi, Paolo Villanelli, Caspar Wijngaard. Cover by Ricardo Federici.
COLORISTS: Guru-eFX, Rachelle Rosenberg, Arif Prianto, Lee Loughridge
LETTERERS: Clayton Cowles, Travis Lanham
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

Empire Ascendant serves as a bridge into the four new Star Wars books Marvel’s releasing in the near future. Apparently they all take place after The Empire Strikes Back, as opposed to the previous ones, which were set beforehand.

We get four short stories set just before Empire. Not a lot from the main characters, Luke, Leia, etc. But if you give it a chance, this stuff actually has some meat to it. My personal favorite is the set-up for the Bounty Hunters series. I think The Mandalorian has wet the fandom’s collective appetite for more stuff like that.

TITLE: Family Tree #2
AUTHOR: Jeff Lemire
ARTISTS: Phil Hester, Eric Gapstur (Inker), Ryan Cody (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer)
RELEASED: December 18, 2019

Family Tree needs to be careful it doesn’t accidentally become a comedy.

It’s meant to be a horror/adventure comic about people being forcibly changed into trees. But there’s a flashback in this issue where Judd, the book’s resident grizzled old man character, is caring for a fully transformed…uh…tree person? When the tree tries to talk back to Judd, I couldn’t help it. My funny bone was tickled a bit. I still buy Family Tree as the horror story it’s trying to be. But sometimes there’s a thin like between horror and hilarity.

TITLE: The Low, Low Woods #1
AUTHOR: Carmen Maria Machado
ARTISTS:
Dani, Tamra Bonvillain (Colorist), Steve Wands (Letterer). Cover by J.A.W. Cooper.
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

This feels like a Stephen King story. (Heh…)

The Low, Low Woods takes place in 1997, which hits a nostalgic soft spot for me. There’s a lot of exposition in this issue. We learn about a small town forever changed by a raging fire, and two teenage girls who discover some gory surprises.

If you like this sort of thing, I’d definitely recommend it. For me personally, this issue is a little low on intrigue. But the characters and the setting are interesting enough to at least get me to consider coming back for issue #2.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A Shazam! Vol. 1 Review – The Latest Jump-Start

Shazam! Vol. 1 TITLE: Shazam! Vol. 1
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Gary Frank
COLLECTS: Justice League #0, 21, Back up stories from Justice League #7-11 14-16, 18-20
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: September 25, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Remember in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her group finally arrived at the Emerald City, and the various workers and beauticians essentially gave them all makeovers to prepare them for their visit with the Wizard? At various points in his career, Geoff Johns has been called upon to be the Emerald City of DC Comics. Over the years, characters like the Flash, Green Lantern, the Teen Titans, Aquaman, and even Superman have been summoned under Johns’ pen to be freshened up and sent back to readers.

Johns’ newest character project is Shazam, a.k.a. the superhero formerly known as Captain Marvel. And this time, he and frequent collaborator Gary Frank have a whole new continuity to work with, and very few restrictions on what they can and can’t do. That freedom is very apparent in what we see from our new Billy Batson.

Shazam! Vol. 1, character revealThe Billy we meet in Shazam is a razor-tongued, cynical 15-year-old who has been bounced between foster homes most of his life. Billy’s new home is with a young couple who have five other adopted children (among whom are the New 52 incarnations of Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel). Their disposition is generally pretty rosey, but the bad tempered Billy isn’t buying it. Soon, Billy has other issues to deal with. A mystical subway ride brings him face-to-face with an old, dying wizard. Desperate to find someone to take on his power, the wizard senses good in Billy, and grants him the power to become Shazam, a fully grown adult superhero, and guardian of the world of magic.

Meanwhile, desperate to save his family, a scientist named Dr. Sivana releases the evil Black Adam after centuries of imprisonment. Now Shazam and Black Adam are on a collision course. But of course, our young friend is in way over his head.

I’ll rarely complain about Gary Frank’s art. Even when he’s drawing a story I hate, his art is still a joy to look at. His faces are always very lifelike, distinct, and expressive. He’s the perfect artist to draw young Billy’s youthful, exuberant expressions on the adult face of Shazam. And unlike a lot of artists, his superheroes don’t always look like jacked up bodybuilders. Granted, Shazam’s body is pretty muscled, but I think we can chalk that up to Frank creating a greater contrast between Billy and his magical counterpart. All in all, Shazam is gorgeous from an artistic standpoint.

Shazam!, Vol. 1 family, Gary FrankThe incorporation of Billy’s foster siblings, Mary, Freddy, Pedro, Eugene and Darla is a carryover from Flashpoint. I’m a huge fan. In one fell swoop, our hero now has a fully functioning supporting cast. Some are more developed than others, namely Freddy. But at the very least, we’ve got a good snapshot of each. And the way they all factor into Billy’s new powers (I’m not spoiling it!) opens some pretty interesting doors. There’s a lot of intrigue and potential wrapped up in Billy’s new foster family.

In releasing Black Adam, Dr. Sivana gets a glowing lightning bolt star across the right side of his face (Harry Potter much?). This allows him to “see” magic. No complaints here, and later it does pave the way for the rodent-like appearance we’re used to seeing from the character. But what does irk me is that Sivana is trying to harness the power of magic to “save his family.” But we never actually see any family, and he doesn’t mention specifics of any kind. I can only assume this is an idea Johns and Frank didn’t have time to dive further into, and intend to revisit later. C’mon guys! Don’t leave us hangin’!

DC has tried numerous times over the years to jump-start Captain Marvel/Shazam, and perhaps make him a marquee player in the shared universe. Shazam is a perfectly suitable, and wonderfully drawn beginning to a new continuity for the character. But as is the case with many new beginnings, what really matters is how they’re followed up on. Shazam was front and center in Trinity War, which was a good start. But of course, what we’re really waiting for is a Shazam ongoing series, which will hopefully reunite Johns and Frank. We’re ready when you guys are…

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from multiversitycomics.com. Image 2 from everydayislikewednesday.blogspot.com.

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