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Graphic Novelty²

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May 2019

DC Bombshell Figurine Review – OG Poison Ivy and Deluxe Wonder Woman

Sorry for the change in schedule this week, folks! Nancy had to gently remind me that my queue of book reviews ran out 😅 We’ll be back to our regular post schedule next week. For now, I wanted to share two of the newest additions to my Bombshell collection this month!

We started this month with a killer find. OG Poison Ivy! She was released in one of the earliest waves of DC Bombshell figurines. As a Gotham City Siren and very popular villainess, she sold out relatively quickly, and is now hard to find and very expensive as a result. There is also risk of breakage from all the delicate parts, which will be explained momentarily. My fiancé found ours on eBay, unopened, for only retail price, and promptly scooped her up. Upon receiving her, it’s clear she would have sold out anyway, even if her character hadn’t been so popular.

She is STUNNING. In Ant Lucia’s original artwork, she is on the cover of a catalog for Gotham City Lingerie, and is modeling a new look ;D She’s easily got the most complex design and build of all those we own so far, but it pays off. Ivy herself comes attached to the base, along with the name plate, so you have to attach the vines to the base yourself. One of her vines, the one that wraps around her front, arrived broken. Flexible Styrofoam was wrapped around the “joint” of each vine, where a smaller vine shoots off from the main vine, and the break is at one such joint. It looks natural as is, so for now I’m keeping it that way. It’s a clean break and will be very easy to repair once I get around to it. My fiancé and I are in agreement that she is the crown jewel of our collection, even after picking up the sepia variant!

The deluxe Wonder Woman was at a low price on Amazon, so we picked her up as well. Though I do like the OG WW Bombshell figurine, her pose especially, her expression didn’t translate well from Ant Lucia’s art to the figurine. Her smile is a little wide and unnatural, almost Joker-esque.

The deluxe WW has a more natural expression. Her pose is just as dynamic too! She stands atop a tank, deflecting bullets off her shield and raising her sword in the air as if to say, “Let’s go!” She reminds me of the painting “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix.

The tank, though, I have issues with. It is COMICALLY small in comparison to Wonder Woman herself. It looks like it’s supposed to be crushed and sunken into the ground – but if that’s the case, why not dirty it up a bit? Paint some mud splatters on it, or maybe draw the build out a little bit in the back and around the sides to create a mud puddle? I understand why they didn’t do the second option, as it is already quite heavy… but a little paint would have gone a long way. It just looks too clean! Don’t worry though, I have some ideas to make it look more authentic once my fiancé and I have space to display them ;D

What do you guys think? Are these latest installments a hit or miss for you?

– Kathleen

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Comics Will Break Your Heart

I am a huge fan of Faith Erin Hicks- as I love her graphic novel Friends with Boys and her Nameless City trilogy, so when I saw that she had written her first YA chapter book, I jumped to read it.

Set in Canada (FEH’s home country) this sweet novel tackles first love, with a Romeo and Juliet framework for teens Miriam and Weldon. Years ago Miriam’s grandfather illustrated the comic book Tomorrow Men, but sold his rights to the author before it hit big, as happened IRL to too many artists back in the early days of DC and Marvel (as such the title is based off a quote from artist Jack Kirby who never made it as big as his sometimes writing partner Stan Lee). Now Weldon’s family is reaping the profits as the comic is poised to be the next big movie series, while Miriam’s family lives modestly even after a settlement was made in court. There has been bad blood between the families for decades when the teens meet and begin to fall for one another. I really appreciated there was no instant love, as far too many books use that trope, instead it was gradual and realistic steps towards romance with Weldon showing his interest first. While there was the obligatory misunderstanding that almost derails the relationship, the story ended on a good note at a big comic con which was apropos to the theme of the narrative. This novel gets a definite recommendation from me for it was a lovely ode to nerd culture and love.

The website AV Club had a great article and a FEH graphic to describe the book and the origin of Kirby’s supposed quote. Despite the publicity picture below, the only art is found on the front and back cover of the book. While I missed FEH’s illustrations, her story stood on it’s own!

-Nancy

Sleepless

Sleepless is a lovely romantic fantasy story that transports you to a lush magical kingdom where intrigue abounds.

Written by Sarah Vaughn, the co-creator of Alex + Ada, this is another strong character driven narrative that quickly has you rooting for the the star crossed lovers Poppy and Cyrenic. Lady Pyppenia is the recently deceased king’s illegitimate daughter and struggles to know her place, as her mother has been called away to her home country. Sir Cyrenic is the knight who is bound to her by a magical oath, in which he never sleeps, as to better guard her. When Poppy’s uncle takes over the throne, Poppy’s place is uncertain as she has few allies, but needs to remain to avoid a political scandal. Attempts are made on Poppy’s life and there are a few candidates: Poppy’s cousin who will one day succeed the throne and worries Poppy could lay claim instead, as well as a pompous knight who is trying to curry favor with the new reining family.

The world building is strong, and despite the story dropping you into this magical realm, there is enough explanation to understand what is going on. I quickly compared it to the story arc of  Monstress, yet it is lighter and more enjoyable. While the romance angle is strong between Poppy and Cyrenic, there is more to the story with political intrigue and a dark aspect to magic.

The art by Leila del Duca is lovely. She creates a fully realized kingdom with detailed backgrounds that make looking at the panels a delight. The era has a Renaissance feel with deep jewel tones adding to the atmosphere. The kingdom’s inhabitants are drawn beautifully as is their courtly attire, and there is a welcome diversity. And, I have to give a shout out to Poppy’s pet companion Bini, the cutest animal ever! This fennec fox like creature is always by her side and gives her a clue that her food is poisoned at one point.

I read this book quickly and have enjoyed looking back at the illustrations throughout the week. I found out there is a volume two that wraps up the story and I have it ordered already! I now await for how Poppy’s and Cyrenic’s story will conclude…

-Nancy

Green Arrow (Return, Vol. 5): City Walls

The Riddler is loose in Star City. Apparently he’s decided to expand his franchise outside Gotham. But Green Arrow and Speedy soon discover that Riddler is a front, a distraction, for something bigger and badder. A millionaire named Davis wants to keep Star City safe, whatever it takes. He summons a magical barrier around Star City, one that even Superman can’t penetrate. No one can get in or out. What’s worse, he’s also summoned demons who uphold the law to the letter. These demons will appear to uphold the peace; from grand theft auto to a shove, nothing is above their notice. Green Arrow will have to break the spell, but he can’t possibly fight an army of demons all by himself, right?

… Man, I’m pretty done with this run. I don’t know if this volume was truly subpar or if I was reading it in the car on a road trip I didn’t want to take in the first place and was projecting =P I remember being frustrated with the last volume for some Women in Refrigerators plot points, and while this volume didn’t have as much of that, I still don’t think I’ll be continuing this run.

The art continues to be the reason I keep trying to read this arc. I’m a big fan of the bold lines and graphic style. However, it continues to be the only constantly good thing in the run.

The writing for the most part is solid. Most of the stories in this run have been compelling, especially those that are dealing with heavy character introspection and development. This kind of writing only seems to be reserved for the male characters, however. Mia Dearden finally put on a mask in this volume. I’d been waiting for it for a few volumes now, but couldn’t bring myself to get excited when it happened, because it felt like I’d slogged through too much male resistance to get there. Gee, that sounds pretty familiar in a Green Arrow story…

This run started with so much promise for me, but petered out quickly. Hit me up if there’s an iteration of Green Arrow that isn’t so macho manly man centered!

– Kathleen

Winick, Judd, and Phil Hester. Green Arrow (Return, Vol. 5): City Walls. 2005.

Hobo Mom

Hobo Mom– what a title, I had to read it just based off that. But I also read several positive reviews on this atypical story, so I decided to give this short 62 page graphic novel a try.

This subversive tale flips gender norms, by having the mother Tasha be the parent that walked out on her spouse and child. Her ex-husband Tom is a locksmith who is a caring and kind man and has a close relationship with his daughter Sissy. We begin the story by witnessing Tasha ride the rails and her attack by a man that makes her reconsider her travels. She wants to get to know her daughter, who has no memory of her, so obviously Tasha has been gone for years at this point.

*Spoilers* Tom is reluctant to welcome her back, and only agrees if Tasha does not reveal to Sissy that she is her mother. Sissy enjoys Tasha’s company, but never picks up that Tasha is her mother, although she does realize that Tasha makes Tom uncomfortable. Tom tries to forgive Tasha and wants her to stay, and there is a very graphic adult interlude at one point. But Tasha’s wanderlust proves too strong, and off she goes again leaving a trail of pain behind her.

While the book cover was in full color, the illustrations are in black and white except for some slight pink shading done in dot matrix, with simple clean lines.  Although the art was uncomplicated it still was able to convey intense feelings, especially through Tom. The last pages showing Tasha’s thoughts was especially effective as she dreamed of getting away when she was with her family, yet thought of them when she left.

We never find out why Tasha does what she does for with the story’s short length, this really is more a slice-of-life tale, we don’t truly understand the motivations or background of either parent. As a mother myself, I struggled with Tasha’s choices, finding them incredibly selfish- for I think “finding your best self” can be self indulgent in real life. While I never want people to feel trapped and unhappy, I feel there is worth in holding yourself accountable to others.

-Nancy

Criminal (Vol. 1): Coward

I recently read My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, and was impressed by it. It is a spin-off of this series, Criminal, by the same creative team: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This is the first volume of that series, which I was eager to get started.

Leo is a criminal who plans a score from the first second down to the last wisp of exhaust from the getaway car. He’s the best at what he does, but he doesn’t do it anymore. Not after the Salt Bay job, where his best friend was killed and his father went to prison. Leo won’t end up in prison. He knows it’s exactly where he belongs, but what is life without freedom? When he is approached by an old colleague about a diamond heist, it’s five years after the Salt Bay job, and Leo is clean, but struggling. He’s caring for Ivan, a father figure with Alzheimer’s, and money is tight. Reluctantly, he agrees. When inevitably things go south, just as Leo planned, will he make it out alive and free?

I’m a little torn on this one. The story is compelling. We get a glimpse of what Leo is truly scared of at the end, which makes me want to read more. The whole read is an adrenaline rush. You wonder how could these characters possibly be more screwed up, how they could possibly get out of the trouble they’ve gotten into.

However, it was a bit too graphic for me. It seems I like psychological thrillers, like My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, more than this hard-boiled stuff. There is strong language, which I don’t mind, but the violence and drug use was too much. It is well-suited to the story, as we are reading about, well, criminals, but after a certain point it just turns me off to it. I’m not the right reader for this story, but I can see the appeal for others with stronger stomachs than I!

The art was well-rendered and appropriate for the story. It reminded me of The Wolf Among Us, the Telltale video game based on the Fables series, with the stark lighting and strong shadows on characters’ faces (leaving the reader to guess at their intentions; man I just LOVE THAT), but without the neon ’80s color palette. No, this story is situated in the real world, and the art reflects that with a murky palette instead.

I’m unsure if I’ll continue this series, but I can see why it’s considered an excellent example of a crime graphic novel series. The main character is mysterious, compelling, and while I haven’t read much crime, he seems like he’s a different sort of main character in a crime series. The writing is tight, tense, and fast-paced. The art ties it all together with dramatic lighting and a subdued palette. Kudos to Brubaker and Phillips!

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. Criminal (Vol. 1): Coward. 2015.

Free Comic Book Day 2019

For the fifth year in a row, I have brought Free Comic Book Day to my library. I pick up a good selection of titles from my favorite comic book store, Graham Crackers, and offer them to the library patrons when they come in. I also had some Star Wars and superhero crafts available for kids to do as well. I know, I know…I’m pretty awesome to offer such epicness to my library community, and this year we had the biggest crowd yet. As an added bonus, I love getting a sneak peek of the titles, and this year I choose seven.

Hope proved to be my favorite of the seven stories I picked up. It introduced the story about Julie, a mother who is secretly an Ultra and keeping her secret hero identity even from her husband and daughter. When a car accident with her family reveals her secret, Julie’s life is upended and her daughter is taken from her. This was strong introduction with very promising story lines, in addition to the bright clean art. Perhaps because I am a mom myself, I could imagine myself in her shoes (plus who doesn’t wonder what they’d do if they unexpectedly obtained super powers).

As soon as I saw a pug on the front cover, I knew immediately that Mike Norton of Revival fame was the illustrator, so this was a must read for me. This story is mash up of two existing comics- Grumble, with a physic and wisecracking pug, plus The Goon, a muscled fighter of supernatural creatures. It was odd pairing of characters, definitely more geared for existing fans of either series vs a new reader like myself. At the end there was a reprint of the story Hillbilly.

My Favorite Things Is Monsters took the comic world by storm and for good reason: the author/illustrator Emil Ferris is crazy talented. In this comic three vignettes are offered- one that describes Ferris’s path to publication, a short about Karen and her brother Deeze talking to neighbors and a how-to-draw-a-monster segment.

In this issue we get a small, touching scene between Nancy and Steve, as Nancy is concerned her little brother Mike is not coping well after their monstrous adventures. They try to draw him out by encouraging him to return to his involvement with his role playing games. There is an additional Black Hammer story afterwards, which introduced me to Madame Dragonfly.

This issue had a few Marvel stories in them, and like I said after reading last year’s FCBD issue, it can be hard for someone who is mostly a fan through the movies to connect with these stories that vary in author voice, illustration style and time period. The first story had some heroes that I don’t usually associate with the Avengers, such as Ghost Rider and Blade, so that was amusing at one level. The second story, The Savage Avengers, had a much grittier vibe and featured Wolverine.

This issue contains two stories- one about Venom and his reemergence, and the second one is a light hearted romp between original Spider-Man Peter and the younger Miles. The first story is very dark and violent, so I found it interesting that they paired it with the next story that was all about the two Spideys arguing over pizza and could be read by a younger demographic than the first story.

Blood Shot gets yet another revamp, this time under author Tim Seeley. I read Bloodshot: Salvation for the first time last year, and was intrigued by this soldier of fortune, who would just like to be free of the shadowy agency Project Rising Spirit and the super powers he had forced on him that transform him. In this story, he saves a scientist from a dangerous cult and it serves as a prequel to the upcoming series.

All in all, I felt I picked up some strong titles. I was most intrigued with Hope, and liked the peeks into Stranger Things and My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. The others were good reading, but the free issues won’t make me pursue the series.

-Nancy

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Wendy Torrance

The last of our planned eight piece series on Fiction’s Fearless Females is here! In celebration of Women’s History Month and beyond, both of us here at Graphic Novelty² joined forces with some amazing bloggers to celebrate women. Kalie of Just Dread-full features Wendy Torrance, the scream queen of the Stephen King movie The Shining, and brings us home with her post. While Wendy might seem an atypical choice for this series, Kalie expertly shows how Wendy persevered despite her fear. And while you are checking out Kalie’s post, make sure you read the rest of her blog about horror books and movies, for her writing is dread-fully insightful!

Guest Blogger: Kalie of Just Dread-full

Photo Credit — The Shining

One of my favorite scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a two or three second shock during which a series of terrifying events happen.  At this point in the film, Danny has been replaced by Tony, who’s saying “Redrum” in a voice that’s robotic at first and amplifies in intensity and urgency as Jack’s presence gets closer.  As Danny—or “Tony,” his psychic alter-ego—screams “Redrum,” Wendy reads the words backward in the mirror.  The camera pans in on the word “murder” written in childish handwriting with blood-red lipstick.  Almost as soon as we, the viewers, read “murder” in the mirror, we hear the unnerving sound of an ax chopping through wood and the camera moves to Jack, who wields the huge, sharp, silver device and uses it to slice through the wooden door of the caretaker’s quarters, where Danny and Wendy reside.  As if this nexus of sensation weren’t enough to alarm us, the viewers, and pull as even a little more deeply into The Shining’s sinister, unpredictable world, Wendy’s voice intercepts this moment with a simultaneously frenetic and bone-chilling scream—a scream that we’ll hear different variations of for the rest of the movie.  In turn, we, as the viewers—at least a little bit—start feeling Wendy’s maddening fear, and our cognition is ultimately forced to accept a mis-en-scene and narrative moment that’s eliminated anything reassuring or comforting for us to latch onto.  We are, in a sense, in the void, and we are there with Wendy.

Photo Credit — The Shining

Wendy may seem like an unusual choice to write about for a series entitled “Fiction’s Fearless Females,” for as any cursory fan of The Shining knows, Wendy—played by scream queen Shelly Duvall—is a flawed, often anxious character who lapses into a state of unbridled, near hysterical terror as the horror in The Overlook Hotel intensifies.  It occurred to me shortly after electing my character for this series that I may have chosen a character who I happen to love, but who doesn’t quite qualify as “fearless.”  Isn’t fearlessness something like maintaining impeccable sangfroid in the face of sometimes unspeakably horrifying, life-or-death situations?  Maybe fearlessness is only Princess Leia’s impressive, almost unwavering calmness and confidence, despite every obstacle she faces, in Episodes IV-VI of Star Wars.  Maybe fearlessness is only Ripley’s stolid leadership and remarkable competence as large, gooey, sharp-toothed, aggressive otherworldly beings invade a vulnerable ship floating around in outer-space.  Maybe—as some of my students suggested when we watched The Shining in my Reading the Monster class—maybe Wendy reifies some stereotypes of the quintessential “hysterical” woman.  Maybe she exercises bad judgement when she stays in the hotel with Danny as long as she does.  Maybe she exercises bad judgement because she’s stayed with Jack for so long, period.  Maybe she’s a door-mat.  Maybe she’s a chicken-shit.

Photo Credit — The Shining

Maybe.  The aforementioned observations are all compelling ones.  Reasonable minds could agree with all of them.  Most reasonable minds might agree with some of them.  For myself, personally, I’m inclined to think that by the time Wendy has reason to make her way down a mountain in what kind of equals a glorified snowmobile, Jack has annihilated all her escape options.  And it’s quite possible that she’s been emotionally abused by Jack throughout their whole marriage—at least, in Kubrick’s rendition of King’s story—and therefore is trapped in a typical cycle of abuse, a cycle that often precludes even the “strongest” women from breaking free as soon as they otherwise could or as soon as we often estimate they should.  What’s more, when it comes down to it, Wendy is plenty willing to sacrifice Jack to save herself and Danny.  After all, she conks Jack over the head with a bat and locks him in a freezer, with the intent of leaving him there while she escapes from The Overlook with Danny on a trip down a mountain, in the snow-cat, in the middle of fierce Colorado winter. And she befriends a sizeable kitchen knife during her ordeals so that she can stave off her raving husband by any means necessary.  So, we may be able to argue against some assertions that would make us question Wendy’s alleged “strength.”  But despite all of the possible arguments and counter-arguments about Wendy’s fortitude, at the end of the day, I’m not so sure any of it matters.  Wendy is evidently under insuperable distress.  In some ways, she’s a little bit of a mess before and during this distress.  Therein, I argue, lies not only her charm, but her ticket into this series.

Photo Credit – The Shining

I was having a conversation about courage once a long time ago.  One wise friend asserted that courage is that calm feeling of reassurance you have in your heart, the absence of fear in the face of incredible f***ing danger.  Shit, I thought to myself, in that case, I don’t know that I’ve ever had courage in my life. Luckily for me, another friend interjected and argued that courage was the decision to move forward, to take action, no matter how afraid you are.  Fearlessness, in this analysis—however paradoxically—lies not so much in the absence of fear, per se, but in the ability to push through that fear and act, no matter how much trepidation lies in your heart, no matter how riled up you might appear.  It is the refusal to let fear stop you when you’re called to action, and to perform the action anyway.  This definition, I’ll admit, I much preferred as I listened to the conversation, and it’s the one I tend to adopt in my life, though not always successfully.  It turns out that even being “fearless” in this way—demonstrating fearlessness by acting, no matter how scared you are—is a fairly daunting goal—as anyone who’s lived a few years on this earth can probably understand.  But it is this sort of fearlessness that Wendy accomplishes, despite whatever flaws she may have, despite her indisputably evident outward terror—and that, I think, is why I love her.

Photo Credit – The Shining

It would be easy, after all, to give up in Wendy’s situation.  She’s in a secluded hotel in the middle of the winter, and I would be inclined to argue that not only does she have a psychic son who’s a partial victim of his own power, not only is she warring against a mad husband who is malicious and mean beyond reason, to the point of murderous nefariousness, but she has—as I view the film—an entire, active pantheon of ghosts, an essentially vengeful, psychic hotel that encapsulates a wide range of unhappy spirits, acting against her.  It’s a force that exists beyond human force, a force that wants to kill her, a force that wants to subsume her husband and eliminate that pesky psychic son.  The situation is, in some senses, hopeless.  But, as the saying goes, “nevertheless, she persisted.”  Wendy shrieks and jumps and screams and cries and fights, and she plans and she reasons and she fights some more, and she puts Danny’s life first while simultaneously trying to preserve her own, if, primarily, for his well-being.  In fact, I’d argue that in the midst of traumatizing absolute terror, she makes smart decision after smart decision, and as a result, she and her unusually smart son beat the hotel at its own game.

Photo Credit — The Shining

Wendy is a jolting, electric force without being perfect, and I like that about her because in my own life, I find that coveting perfection can be beneficial, but it can also be counterproductive.  I often envision a more organized self who moves effortlessly and quickly through her PhD program, who is a dynamic, engaging teacher every single day and at the same time a perfect friend, girlfriend, sister and daughter – someone with strong convictions and a good heart, who keeps a meticulous house and eats leafy greens with every meal.  I want to be a grad student who’s always dressed impeccably and stylishly, but whose savings account is always ample as well.  I want to be centered and peaceful, to create the perfect interior and exterior—and maybe, if I have time, the perfect social media persona.  Sometimes, in fact, my ideal self becomes so exhausting to think about (and so far from the real story) that it’s no wonder I resent perfection. It definitely has its place in film; there are a lot of almost “perfect” film characters that I adore—and I certainly believe in striving to be better in my own life, despite how I might meander, at times—but good God, trying to live up to my own ideal of perfection is exhausting.  And I think that’s kind of how perfection works for most of us—the desire to improve is a motivator, for sure, but taken to extremes, visions of perfection can also be barriers to fulfillment.

Photo Credit – The Shining

Jacques Lacan said that human existence is defined by lack. This is how I understand his point: To some extent, our inner selves are always consciously seeking a more perfect version of the ego, a better “self” to replace the self that we perceive doesn’t have enough of one quality or another.  When I first heard this concept, it really resonated with me, because I think I’m someone who’s always been far quicker to register what she lacks than what she possesses.  But to Lacan, this is a universal element of being human; we all wish we had certain attributes that we don’t, and so we define ourselves by what we aren’t, instead of what we are.  This is the appeal of characters like Wendy, characters who don’t embody complete perfection.  As someone who tends to wish she were a little more “calm and collected,” a little more pulled together than she is, I get Wendy when she’s screaming and crying and wheezing while she’s trying to stave off her maniacal, murdering husband, even though I could never fully imagine being in an ordeal like hers.  And I doubt, most of the times, that I’d be doing her job as competently as she does it toward the conclusion of Kubrick’s film.  She is a spasmodic mess at points in the film, but she gets the job done—and she’s a good person, on top of it all.

Photo Credit — The Shining

When we walk away from Kubrick’s narrative, after all, we leave behind a Jack Torrance who’s an opaque shade of candy-colored white-blue, sitting, frozen stiff, in the cold.  Wendy and Danny have escaped.  We’ve seen them run to the snow cat that Dick Halloran drove when he demonstrated his own act of fearlessness and traveled to The Overlook to try and help the family.  The blustery winter is still formidable, and it may well be a symbolic harbinger of the blustering winter that lies ahead for Wendy and Danny—a life that will never feel completely safe or comfortable, a life without Jack, a life that will never be the same since madness and malice have further disrupted their already seemingly tumultuous relationships.  After all, any realistic viewer knows when they watch Wendy and Danny run through the snow to the snow cat, that should they make it down the mountain, it’s not the whimsical happily ever after that I perhaps imagined when I first watched the movie at age eleven and sighed with a sort of exultant relief at their surprising escape.  Life, which is just sort of inherently hard, will be harder for them, yet.  And still, they are alive.  And they are still alive, in large part, because of Wendy—a Wendy who emits maddening screams and tears, a Wendy who has her own flaws, a Wendy who can be hysterical to the point of spastic, but a Wendy perseveres and ultimately triumphs.

[Kalie’s Note: I wrote this piece as part of an epic blog team-up aimed at celebrating Fiction’s Fearless Females. The series launched on International Women’s Day and continues through…my belated post. Other awesome bloggers in this super-awesome series include: Kathleen and Nancy of Graphic Novelty2 , Green Onion of The Green Onion Blog, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, Michael of My Comic Relief, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, and Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous. ]

Catch up on all the other Fiction’s Fearless Females:

Ellen Ripley

Captain Janeway

Amy Pond

Wonder Woman

Scarlett

Princess Leia

Rey 

 

Shazam!

***There are minor spoilers ahead***

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve learned the hard way to go into a DC movie with low expectations. My fiancé and I’ve endured too much: trudged through too many sluggish, gritty, grey overtoned color palettes; winced through too many poorly-written, edgy, grimdark facades of the characters we know and love; and pointed out so many potholes, the whole DCEU could easily be mistaken for one of many poorly-maintained streets in the major city nearest us. To say DC movies have been a slog to sit through is a major understatement.

It was with this mindset that I sat down in the theater with my fiancé and ordered my dessert. The trailers had looked good, much better in my humble opinion than those of Shazam’s Marvel counterpart, Captain Marvel (and made me laugh at the use of Eminem’s “My Name Is” in one of the trailers; after the use of “Without Me” in Suicide Squad, it makes me wonder exactly how much of a hard-on DC’s marketing team has for the rapper’s old hits), but if I was optimistic it was cautiously so.

Billy Batson is a 14-year old foster kid. He’s been shunted from home to home, because he keeps running away. Billy is on a mission to find his mom. When he was very little, he and his mom got separated at a carnival. He’s tracked down half a notebook’s worth of female Batsons in the Philadelphia area, but none of them are his mother. Nevertheless, he’s determined to find her, whatever it takes.

A couple named Rosa and Victor Vazquez are the next family to take Billy in. They foster five other children who have been difficult like Billy has been, or have special needs. The Vazquez’ are a loving couple, who were foster kids when they were younger, so they know the ropes and are confident Billy will fit in well and become part of the family. All the children take to him: Freddy Freeman, his new roommate and superhero enthusiast, most of all. Billy, however, doesn’t really want anything to do with anyone in the house; to him, it feels like they’re keeping him from finding his mother, from his real family.

While plotting to run away again to chase down the next Batson on his list, Billy is summoned to a mystical cave. A very old wizard named Shazam tells Billy he has been chosen to become the next champion to protect the world from the manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins. Out of everyone else in the world, Billy has been chosen because he has the purest heart. Billy is skeptical; there are no truly good people left in the world, right? And he can’t possibly be one of them, right? But the wizard is adamant, and Billy lays his hand on the mystical staff and shouts, “Shazam!”

A crack of thunder, a flash of lightning, and Billy is transformed into an adult superhero. The wizard fades away, his quest fulfilled, leaving Billy alone and very confused. He makes his way back home to Freddy, the superhero expert, and together they test the limits of Billy’s powers, film them, and post them on the internet. He immediately becomes a viral sensation, and Billy soon starts using his powers not for good, but to show off and make money. When the Seven Deadly Sins escape and a threat arises, can a teenaged and untrained Billy even rise to the challenge? Will he keep chasing the mother who gave him up for adoption, or learn the true meaning of family?

As usual, the good first:

Guys. GUYS. GUYS. THIS is what a superhero movie should be. Shazam! was everything I had previously been missing from the DCEU, and more.

The difference with this movie was, it felt like they finally just let loose and had FUN with it. They took the concept “what would a 14 year old boy do if he suddenly got superpowers?” and really rolled with it. Of course he would not know how to pee while in costume! Of course he would film himself showing off his powers to become famous! Of course he would try to buy beer while in his older disguise!

What would you have done if you acquired superpowers at that age? Probably about the same stuff, if you’re being honest with yourself! I know I might have ;D Billy behaved exactly as I would expect any 14 year old to, as I would have expected myself to at that age. It was for that reason that the entire theater was in stitches for what I’d say was the first third of the movie.

For all the laughs it provided, it has soul too. Billy has a good heart and is worthy of the mantle of Shazam, though he doesn’t believe it and doesn’t show us at first. It’s over the course of the movie that we, and him, learn it. Rosa and Victor, though they have limited screen time, are obviously loving and caring parents for their foster children. I wish they were my parents! Freddy has a physical disability, for which he has to use a crutch to walk, but his knowledge of superheroes is encyclopedic, and he at turns acts as Billy’s conscience and rival, much as real brothers would.

For all their faults, the DCEU sure knows how to cast. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are perfect for the roles of Billy/Shazam. Angel is quick on his feet and unafraid to show deep emotion, allowing him to bounce from sarcastic joking to disbelief to fear all in the same sentence. He’s so young, but obviously an artist to watch. Levi, maybe pulling from his own childhood fantasies of gaining superpowers, gives a hilarious and believable performance as adult Shazam. The character fumbles a bit at first, but soon finds his stride, much as a teenager really would.

The bad? There isn’t much. I’ve been mulling it over for a few weeks, and really my one big nitpick is that Billy went from typical teenager in a costume to a hero too fast. That character development was saved only for the third act. At that point you’ve sat through the hilarity of the first act, the very middle-y and bogged down second act during which the Big Bad gets a lot of attention and Billy’s antics have gotten kind of old, before getting to any “meat.” A two-hour movie isn’t a long time for significant character development, but a little bit more of a gradual uptick in hero-ness as the film went on would have been appreciated.

Oh, more of Mary would have been most welcome too. She’s an American treasure, a sweet baby, and must be protected. The cameo right at the end could have been expanded upon a tiny bit more, buuut I suppose there was a good reason, so I can let it slide =P

Overall, Shazam! is a genuinely funny romp through finding the true meaning of family, and back through childhood dreams of becoming a hero. All through the hilarious first act (and at the very end!), we the audience are also back in Billy’s shoes as children, longing for superpowers of our own. To see our wishes fulfilled through Asher Angel and Zachary Levi’s Billy Batson on the big screen is truly fun and heartwarming. I stated in my Aquaman review that it was DC’s best since Wonder Woman, and while nothing DC does can ever top Wonder Woman for me, I feel Shazam! was leaps and bounds above what Aquaman accomplished. Shazam! had more consistent characterization (despite my above nitpick), a main character you truly saw yourself reflected in, and overall, superior writing, a bit of a tighter plot, and a better time at the theater. I appreciate that the DCEU is letting lesser-known characters come out to play… if the rest of it (though I’ll settle for a spin-off series) could be Shazam Family Shenanigans, I would be very satisfied indeed ;D

After Justice League was yet another disappointment, I gave the DCEU three chances to redeem itself in my eyes. With Aquaman and Shazam!, it used two of those chances, the third being Wonder Woman 1984. I mean, I’ve never doubted WW84 would be good, but now I truly have hope for the rest of the DCEU going forward. Don’t screw it up, DC!!!

– Kathleen

Sandberg, David F. Shazam! 2019.

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