He is simultaneously the Big Red Cheese who fought talking mescal worms with his gentleman tiger Tawky Tawny, while he is also the generic 1970s superhero who rode around the desert in a Winnebago punching dudes and talking to a big nipply globe on the dashboard, and at the same time he is the horribly damaged and tragic character who beat Superman to a standstill before sacrificing himself to save the world in Kingdom Come. Hell, there are times when I can’t think of the character without remembering my early 2000s drunken tirade that Dan DiDio should give Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham a million bucks a piece to complete their Miracleman story using Captain Marvel, since Miracleman was never anything but a royalty dodge on The Big Red Cheese anyway.
My point is, each version of Captain Marvel means something to somebody, and paying service to one means that you stand a real chance of alienating fans of the others. Slap a big C. C. Beck smile on Captain Marvel’s face and the Kingdom Come fans think you’re yanking their chain. Make him tortured over the adult horrors he’s witnessed as a superhero and you piss off the fans of the childlike original. Put him in a Winnebago out in the middle of the desert with a creepy old dude and you’ll never see the outside of a jail cell again.
This was the line that writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank were trying to negotiate with their Shazam backup story in Justice League for the past several months. And to be honest, when it started, I thought they botched it; Billy Batson was a petulant little bastard who I would have rather seen get scabies than superpowers. But that, however, was a while ago. This month’s Justice League #21 is devoted to the conclusion of the Shazam story… so the question is, not that it’s all said and done, who did Johns and Franks piss off?
Really, probably nobody. There’s enough elements of the classic kids’ Captain Marvel here to at least pay service to those fans, and enough modern realism so that he doesn’t stick out from the New 52 continuity. And the conclusion is, in fact, really pretty good. Not perfect, but fun enough to be worth the ride.
Although the people hoping for RVs and “Mentors” are gonna be furious… but seriously, fuck those people.