Top critical review
Very Disappointing Series
Reviewed in the United States on December 8, 2020
In 2012, Geoff Johns wrote a new origin story for Shazam as a backup in Justice League. This was a new 52 origin which means it’s technically already dated since Rebirth, but I guess maybe his new origin carried over. The 2019 film was VERY closely based off Johns new origin with a few changes including the removal of Black Adam because the producers wanted to save him for a standalone film. The film wisely added more focus on the relationship between Freddy Freeman and Billy Batson (Captain Marvel). One could be forgiven for thinking that the 2018 Shazam! series is a continuation of the film, but it is actually a continuation of Johns 2012 story and there are some continuity inconsistencies between the film and 2018 comic, particularly as relates to Black Adam. There are also continuity inconsistencies with the 2012 series since Black Adam definitely died but returns with no explanation.
Shazam! is basically exhibit A in how difficult it is to create synergy between a superhero film and comic. Although the series is a continuation of the 2012 story, it is so similar to the film that most people will assume it’s a sequel. The first issue shipped a fairly decent 67k issues but dropped by 25k just one issue later and continued to fall with the last issue shipping less than 23k. There was no bump from the release of the film, and I assume that DC released the comic prior to the movie because they cared more about the comic bringing interest to the film than the film bringing interest to the comic. Suffice it to say, after a successful reboot and well regarded film, this series has to be considered a huge failure.
In a mid-credit sequence in the 2019 film, Sivana is shown to be in prison when Mr. Mind comes to him and tells them that the two will make the Seven Realms their own. This is very similar to the ending of the 2012 run although Sivana isn’t in prison and there is no mention of Seven Realms. In the film, we see dozens of portals from the Rock of Eternity and maybe the mention of Seven Realms was a late edition to tie into the comic. Either way, Geoff Johns took this idea of Seven Realms and made it the basis of his new series. Given the fact that his 2012 run essentially became the template for a successful film I suspect he was writing this new series as if it could be the plot for a sequel. Given how badly this series was received, I highly doubt this will be the path WB takes with regards to a possible sequel.
The big problem with the new series is what do you do with five foster kids with the power of Shazam. Since Captain Marvel is a Superman level character, did that mean that there were six Superman level characters or were their powers more specialized as it was implied. It was also implied that Captain Marvel was literally bestowing part of his power on others so did that mean he was now significantly weakened by dividing up his power?
I’d say that the main problem was taking Captain Marvel and the other kids out of the real world (called Earthlands) and putting them in the other Magic Lands. Essentially nothing mattered anymore. There powers would blink on and off. Since the realms are magical, the powers of the Shazam family are basically irrelevant since there are no rules for magic. If Johns decides their powers would stop working than they stop working. This series has probably the most plot convenience I’ve ever seen from a DC series. The Shazam family is trying to save the Magiclands but considering that they seem to be populated by unpleasant beings, I just can’t bring myself to care. Johns doesn’t even do any character building, so I don’t care about the Shazam kids. There seem to be no stakes in the story. Just things happening.
Shazam! lasted just 15 issues, never sold well and had mediocre scores with an average aggregate score of 8.1 on ComicBookRoundup from professional reviewers and the same score from Users. I think the problem is that Geoff Johns fundamentally misunderstood what people liked about the film. It was the idea of a child essentially gaining the power of a God and how he deals with it. The trailers focused on Captain Marvel and Freddy exploring his powers because that was the best part of the movie. It was as if Johns had painted himself into a corner and was never able to extract himself. The title of the movie sequel has been announced as ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’, so that doesn’t sound like something related to Magiclands which makes me hopeful because I’ve had enough of the Seven Realms.