Friday, May 29, 2015

"Shazam" Convergence review part 2

Because nobody who reads comics can possibly expect anything in one comic book by one company to not affect anything in any other comic book by that company (and maybe other companies as well), when change happens, it happens big. Also, when you make a big change that affects every character in every book that you sell, everyone is going to have a reason to buy the book that month, and possibly other books as well.

This has been a guiding principle of the major companies that produce superhero comics since the 1980's; every few years try to raise the stakes and come up with the GREATEST, MOST AMAZING, REVOLUTIONARY, MIND-BLOWING CHANGE EVER! This week it was "Convergence."

So we got these 52 universes, right? So instead of letting them exist and visiting them occasionally, let's BLOW THEM ALL UP IN A MASSIVE CROSS-OVER BATTLE EPIC!

So DC has revived the heroes and villains of various past titles, storylines, and alternate universes in its history and mashed them together in titles that place them in conflict with each other. In the case of the classic Marvel Family (aka: "The Shazam Family") they get placed in conflict with the world of "Gotham by Gaslight," a late-Victorian version of Batman that has come to include such genres and tropes as Gothic horror, German expressionism, pulp adventure, and steampunk.




The two-part mini-series "Convergence: Shazam," written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Evan "Doc" Shaner, starts on Earth-S, or at least that's what it says inside the front cover of the comic. The world is much like that in the DC "Shazam!" stories between 1972 and 1985, with all the same characters (Billy, Mary, Freddy, Uncle, Mr. Morris, Tawny, etc) and there is plenty of "fan service" in things like brand names and background characters. The villains are classics, (Dr. Sivana, Mr. Atom, King Kull, Ibac), and reference is even made to the suspendium trap and the Marvels' 20-year absence.

There are differences, though. It is implied that Mr. Morris was not in the suspendium trap, while in fact, on Earth-S, he had been.  There was no Fawcett City on Earth-S (unless you count that one issue of "All Star Squadron" in which Roy Thomas first named Billy Batson's hometown), the original home of the Big Red Cheese was always unnamed, but assumed to be New York. But these are nit-picks that only some sadly over-passionate fan would care about or even notice...

The art is remarkable. It appears to be an almost photo-realistic interpretation of the original characters, but with enough detail left out to give the feeling of C.C. Beck's deceptively simple-looking art from the Fawcett days. As such it seems like a logical progression of where the art would be had the series continued under the same management over the decades (a look at recent versions of "Archie" shows a similar evolution, especially in certain "alt-Archies" like the zombie-horror series "Afterlife with Archie."). All the characters maintain their distinguishing characteristics and are instantly recognizable, but the drawings look like they were taken from life, as if they found the perfect actors for each character. This shows both the skill of the current artist and the brilliance of the original, to be able to interpret the cartoony drawings into recognizably realistic people and to create cartoony drawings that could be interpreted so.

The first issue stayed on this world, and the second one moved into the world of gaslight Gotham. But before it did, the first page of issue #2 declared that this world, that of Fawcett City, was Earth-5.

CONTINUITY VIOLATION ALERT!

EARTH-5 IS NOT EARTH-S!

As I mentioned in the first part of this review, It was publicly stated that Earth-5 is not Earth-S. This can be confirmed by looking up Wikipedia and DC Wiki (note the separate listings for Earth-S and Earth-5). A couple of notable but important differences are that in Earth-S Mary Marvel has a red costume, while in Earth-5 her dress is white, and that the "Seven Deadlies" in Shazam's throne room are "Enemies of Man," while on Earth-5 they are "Sins."

Speaking of Mary's costume, in the "Convergence" stories she is wearing a mid-length-skirted, short-sleeved dress in line with her costume in Jerry Ordway's "Power of Shazam" series that is a compromise between the short-skirted dress in which she originally appeared and the full-skirted, puffy-sleeved dress she wore for most of her Fawcett years. In any case, she is not wearing the short-skirted dress in which the Shazam-bolt descended from her neckline and the cape was mysteriously attached with no cord as she did in her later Fawcett years and all through her pre-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" tenure at DC, which is Earth-S, for all intents and purposes. She is also wearing boots, not slippers, as she would have in that period.

When the story moves to Gotham (or, as the promotional blurb would have it, "Shazam meets steampunk"), Shaner's graphic style and the colors by Jordie Belaire effectively convey the Gothic Victorian gloom of the gaslight city. There is fan-service galore, if you know what to look for, all through the story, from Mary Marvel catching a bomb to Killer Crock hurting himself trying to attack Captain Marvel (geek points if you can name the inspirations of those references). The story spends precious little time in that world, however, and almost no time with Batman. It's as if the ostensible co-star of the whole two-issue story was really more of a guest-star, a supporting character, barely more than a cameo.

But the unexpected money-shot for me was one two page spread in which Captain Marvel and Billy Batson spoke to each other in the instant between the transformation.

The hero had been zapped by electrically-produced lightning from gaslight Gotham. Apparently the charge, though not magical, was strong enough to effect the change. In a conversation that must have been going on inside their minds, the two characters, the hero and the boy, recognize the situation and try to figure out what to do about it. This established what I had always believed, and what was clearly intended, for the characters from the beginning: Billy Batson and Captain Marvel are separate characters. They share memories, but they are each distinct personalities. The Shazam/Captain Marvel concept is not "Big" as a superhero, it is a boy who has the ability to transform into an adult superhero by saying a magic word.

This was the high point of the story as a piece of superheroic fantasy for me. But sadly, beyond that, it was pretty much by the numbers. This is unfortunate, as there was so much more that could have been explored with this combination of elements... (to be continued)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Shazam" Convergence Review, part 1

After having been out of the comic book market for a month and a half due to my trip to the medieval combat world championships (my documentary of the USA Knights is coming soon) so I finally got a chance to catch up on the whole "Convergence" thing happening with DC Comics and the role of the original Captain Marvel in it.

It started, if you will, with the "Multiversity" event, a storyline in which the different universes of the "New 52" were explored, some being developments of "Elseworlds" concepts from years ago, some being brand new interpretations of DC characters and superhero tropes, and one being a new interpretation of the classic hero and his word from Fawcett Comics.

As regular readers of this blog know, the original Captain Marvel was acquired by DC Comics in 1972 and his stories began pretty much where they left off, with an explanation of how the Big Red Cheese, Junior, Mary, the Sivanas, and most of the other back-up characters had been trapped in a vessel of "suspendium" for 20 years. DC also explained that these characters existed on "Earth S," a parallel Earth in which the regular DC characters did not exist. After the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of 1986, all the alternate universes were combined into one, and some major characters, including the Big Red Cheese, were "rebooted" and given slightly different interpretations.

Then the New 52 hit in 2012, and DC rebooted their entire universe and every character in it. They established that there are 52 alternate universes and implied that there was an "Earth 5" that appeared to be a copy of Earth S (5 = S, get it?).  It was stated publicly, however, that Earth 5 was not Earth S and that we would find out, someday, what it was.

What it was was revealed in the Multiversity one-shot "Thunderworld." This was a fun, entertaining romp written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Cameron Stewart that introduced the world of Earth 5, in which the Marvel Family, with the help of Tawny, Uncle, and the Lieutenant Marvels defended Fawcett City from the Sivana Family and the Monster Society, as Dr. Sivana captured the Rock of Eternity and stole enough suspendium with the help of alternate-universe Sivanas to create an 8th day of the week. It was a brilliant combination of the hokey ficto-science and adventure of the classic Fawcett stories with multi-cosmic and, frankly, disturbing elements of Multiverse.



In "Thunderworld," the re-interpretations of certain classic elements (The Lieutenant Marvels now included Uncle and Tawny and were a uniformed, rocket-packed, sci-fi-weapon-bearing squadron, and Billy used a cell phone with his updated backpack broadcasting equipment) were handled lightly and not out of character with what one might expect from an organic progression of the characters from the 1940's. Dr. Sivana's motivations were consistent with the character, making him the perfect character to begin to explore the evil implications of a multiverse. The conclusion gave us a perfectly satisfactory twist and a closing that was consistent with anything Otto Binder ever wrote. The whole story was applauded by the great majority of fans of the World's Mightiest Mortal, and we all wanted to see more.


So when "Convergence" was announced, we waited with bated breath to see how it would turn out...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Marvel's Captain Marvel movie gets writers! - Clickbait roundup


The latest clickbait roundup is, for a change, about actual news. Marvel's "Captain Marvel" movie has got scriptwriters!

About 4 weeks ago, Rob Keys on ScreenRant.com posted a roundup of the rumors that had been circulating about this project, but none of these rumors had anything to do with the writers.

On April 13, Borys Kit in the Hollywood Reporter posted a very journalistic article on reports that Marvel was considering the two writers for the movie, and a link to a safely broad but accurate history of the character (though when they mention the original Captain Marvel, they neglect to add Bill Parker's name to C.C. Beck's as creator).

The very same day,  Clark Allen on The Tracking Board apparently breaks the news in what is posted as the "exclusive" story that Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve are in advanced talks to write . The article very responsibly gives  brief but insightful backgrounds on the character and the two writers.

Jeff Sneider on The Wrap.com then reported on that "Nicole Perlman (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Meg LeFauve (Pixar’s “Inside Out”) are nearing a deal to co-write “Captain Marvel” for Disney and Marvel, an individual familiar with the project has told TheWrap." He then goes on to add the rumor that Michelle MacLaren was to direct, making all sound like he has some exlusive insider info. The article credits Tracking Board with breaking the news, and was updated on April 20 with Marvel's official announcement.

Apparently later the same day, however, Albert King on Comic Book Resources had posted the big news that Michelle MacLaren had left Wonder Woman, and, in the relatively in-depth article, also mentioned The Wrap's rumor of her working on "Capain Marvel" and names Perlman and LeFauve as writers as if it is confirmed fact.

Also on CBR, Megan Damore reports that Perlman and LeFauve are "in talks, but the headline says that the writers are "signed."

Though the piece is undated, the comments on Sean FitzGerald's one-paragraph report on Vulture.com indicate that it was posted on April 14. It reports that "Guardians of the Galaxy's Nicole Perlman and Inside Out's Meg LeFauve are close to inking a deal to co-write Disney and Marvel's forthcoming Captain Marvel project, according to the Wrap."It is notable that in those comments, someone points out that "You've, ehm, got the wrong Captain Marvel up there in your image. The wrong publisher, in fact." Either that commenter was mistaken, or they changed the picture, because the picture shows the now-common picture of Carol Danvers pulling on her glove.

On that same day Justin Kroll on Variety.com posted an industry-targeted announcement of the report, claiming that it had been confirmed by a source.

Matt Key of Geek Girl Authority also reports on the article from The Wrap, adding little more than pictures of the two writers.

There is a lengthy discussion board about the MacLaren news that includes quotes from CBR about MacLaren and the Perlman and LeFauve rumor at http://rocketf.org/thepond/showthread.php?tid=792

On April 20, 2016, Marvel officially broke the news that 'Nicole Perlman & Meg LeFauve will together write Marvel’s “Captain Marvel,” in theaters November 2, 2018, bringing Carol Danvers to the big screen in her first solo cinematic adventure.' And the clickbait reports began.

A surprisingly concise-yet-thorough writeup of the whole situation was done by Andrew Dyce on ScreenRant on April 20, apparently before the news broke, and added a link to the Marvel announcement as an update.

Max Nicholson on IGN.com writes the briefest of all possible reports on the news and then pads the story with a surprisingly accurate video about the history of the character that annoyingly calls her "Miss Marvel" instead of "Ms."

Mike Cecchini on DenOfGeek.us adds just a little insight and opinion in his brief report.

Dan Van Winkle on TheMarySue.com reports the news briefly and with barely any real insight or depth.

Reviewer Drew McWeeny writes an opinionated piece for Hitfix.com. He believes that gender-equality justice would be served if as many tasks in the movie. from the writer to the best boy, were given to women. He does make a convincing point.

Brendon Connoly writes an undated piece for WhatCulture.com that nicely but briefly sums up the situations of the writers.

...and you know what, my life is so busy, it took over a month to get this posted. I may just give up on these clickbait roundups...