Story Title: “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” Published: December 1941 Writer: Ed Herron Artists: C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy
The Background: After National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics) saw incredible success with their flagship superheroes, Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications desired to get in on the fad with their own colourful superheroes. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, each with the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, Ralph Daigh made the executive decision to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. This magical superhero originally went by “Captain Thunder” and debuted in a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics, however trademark issues saw Pete Costanza rechristening him as “Captain Marvelous”, which soon became Captain Marvel, and the character was a big success for the publisher. It wouldn’t be long before the initial concept of a team of magically-empowered heroes soon came to pass with the creation of the the Lieutenant Marvels; soon, though, Captain Marvel was sharing his powers with a colourful extended family, including his bungling uncle and a talking tiger, of all things, butit all began with a young boy named Freddy Freeman. It was editor Ed Herron who wanted Captain Marvel to have a teenage sidekick, and Freddy was purposefully written to shout his idol’s name every time he transformed to remind kids to buy Fawcett’s comics. Unlike Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr. remained a teenager even when transformed and is rendered a cripple in his mortal form, making him slightly more reliant on his superpowers. Captain Marvel Jr. has forged a pretty decent legacy for himself, serving on teams such as the Outsiders and the Teen Titans. He even once graduated (albeit all-too-briefly) into the role of Captain Marvel, was one of many inspirations for Elvis Presley, made a handful of appearances in DC’s animated ventures, and was portrayed by Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody in the critical and financial success that was Shazam!(Sandberg, 2019)
The Review: The big story of “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” is the reign of terror being perpetrated by Master Comics’ Albrecht Krieger/Captain Nazi, a supercriminal whose powers are apparently comparable to those of Bill Batson/Captain Marvel and who has been “cutting a path of sabotage and destruction” ever since he “[smashed] his way in” from Master Comics. Plucky boy reporter Billy is in the middle of informing the audience (both inter- and metatextual) of Captain Marvel’s previous entanglements with the superpowered Nazi when his broadcast is interrupted by Sterling Morris, the head of Whiz radio station, who dashes in in a panic because Captain Nazi is at their sending station! In the time between Captain Marvel’s debut appearance and this story, it appears that Morris has been clued in on Billy’s dual identity as Billy transforms into Captain Marvel with his magic word (“Shazam!”) right in front of his boss. That’s not the only think that’s changed, though, as Captain Marvel can now fly at supersonic speeds, which means he’s able to dash over to the sending station in a flash and, once there, he finds that Captain Nazi is delivering an ominous threat over the airwaves to every superpowered do-gooder out there.
In a bid to disrupt Captain Nazi’s hate-mongering message, Billy’s fearless co-worker, Whitey Murphy, climbs up the broadcast tower, only to, of course, immediately be victimised by the garishly-clad and unnecessarily theatrical villain. As Captain Marvel flies up to rescue Whitey, Captain Nazi hurls his hostage right at the Big Red Cheese like a projectile, but luckily the white-haired newshound is only stunned (even though, realistically, he should’ve been mushed to paste as it’s not like Captain Marvel actually caught him…) Despite Whitey’s conviction and Captain Marvel’s resolve to make his rival pay, Captain Navi is long gone by the time our hero gets his ass back up there and, after a brief search, decides to simply wait for the villain to show himself again. After a couple of days without any sight or sound of the “One-Man-Blitz”, Billy can only speculate about when or where Captain Nazi will strike next, which just so happens to be at the activation ceremony of a new hydroelectric dam, an event that Billy (oddly dressed in blue for one panel…) just happens to be covering. Captain Nazi sabotages the turbines, causing them to rage out of control, and Captain Marvel finally manages to confront the maniac, who shows no fear and is unimpressed with his rival’s threats because he knows that Captain Marvel won’t waste time fighting him when hundreds of lives and millions of dollars are at stake. With the speed of Mercury, Captain Marvel bursts into dam and uses the mighty strength of Zeus to grind the out of control turbines to a halt; he even apologises for the damage he caused in the process, though the Major is more than grateful for the lives the Big Red Cheese saved. Although Captain Nazi managed to escape again, he strikes once more during a test flight for a new secret fighter plane and, wouldn’t you know it, Billy’s on scene again when Captain Nazi starts throttling the pilot and putting the plane in a death dive!
This time, Captain Marvel is able to correct the plane’s descent, levelling it out and causing Captain Nazi to black out from the sudden force. Finally getting his hands on the One-Man-Blitz, Captain Marvel sends his unconscious foe flying with a powerful uppercut. Unfortunately, Captain Nazi lands in the nearby bay and is hauled out by a kindly old man who’s out fishing with his grandson, Frederick “Freddy” Freeman. The old man’s kindness is repaid with a superpowered bitch slap that sends him tumbling into the water, fatally it turns out; when Freddy tries to attack Captain Nazi in a fight of rage, he too is smacked aside like a gnat. Thankfully, Freddy’s unconscious body is found by Captain Marvel, who spirits him to a hospital, barging right through the wall when a doctor denies him entry! After an indeterminate amount of time waiting to hear about Freddy’s condition, Billy is horrified to learn that the lad’s back is broken and that he’s expected to either be a cripple for the rest of his life or to pass away during the night. Perhaps feeling responsible for Freddy’s gruesome fate (and rightfully so), Billy steals him away in the middle of the night (despite the fact that his manhandling of Freddy would probably exacerbate the boy’s condition…) and takes him, via the strange subway train, to the ancient cavern of the wizard Shazam. Conjuring the spirit of the ages-old sorcerer, Billy begs the wizard to intervene and help save Freddy’s life and, while he can’t undo what Captain Nazi has done, the old sage bids Billy to speak his magic word and, when Freddy sets his eyes on the Mightiest Man in the World and speaks his name, he’s transformed into a similarly-clad teenage superhero. Restored to full health and gifted with the same powers as Captain Marvel (the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury), Freddy is dubbed Captain Marvel, Jr and (between panels) made privy to Billy’s secret identity. Although Freddy’s human form is still stunted by a crippled leg, Captain Marvel charges his young ward with joining him in the battle against evil and offers to send him over to Master Comics to confront and defeat Captain Nazi once and for all.
The Summary: “The Origin of Captain Marvel, Jr.” was part of a crossover event that depicted the efforts of Captain Nazi to cause chaos and destruction all across Fawcett’s publications. As a result, the story really doesn’t delve too deeply into Captain Nazi’s name, origin, or even his powers; he’s apparently able to fly and is definitely depicted as having superhuman strength and resilience, but the limits of his abilities or how he came to be are not answered in this story. I feel that’s a moot point, though, as a supervillain carrying the name “Captain Nazi” really doesn’t need much clarifying. He’s the superpowered arm of the Third Reich, vehemently opposed to good and justice in all its forms and intent on proving the superiority of the Axis Powers using his superior strength. However, this does fall apart a little bit throughout this particular story; Captain Nazi takes control of the airwaves (something that seems to be a running theme in Captain Marvel’s comics….) to deliver empty threats and his plan to destroy the dam is easily thwarted. It might’ve been better if he’d destroyed the radio tower, killing some innocents, and then burst open the dam himself, rather than sending the turbines out of control; his attempt to down the test plane also lacked some agency to me, but there’s no doubt that he’s a violent and unhinged psychopath. Captain Nazi killed at least two people in this story, almost killed a third, and threatened countless lives at the dam, but then again he did also black out after a shift in gravity so…
Once again, the artwork is pretty stellar in this story. There’s a simplicity to C.C. Beck and Mac Raboy’s style that, again, falters with backgrounds (especially Shazam’s cave) but shines in characters and their Max Fleischer-esque facial expressions. Captain Nazi might not be blessed with the most intimidating outfit (a pitch-black Schutzstaffel uniform with blood-red accents would’ve been far better in my opinion) but Captain Marvel has improved a lot from his debut; now showcasing his mighty speed and strength, he’s a well-known and beloved superhero. The “wisdom of Solomon” appears to extend to him sounding more like an adult when transformed, referring to Freddy as a “youngster” and echoing the trustworthiness of Superman, though he’s still a bit impulsive and reckless. This is best reflected in him just punting Captain Nazi away without thought to the damage he could cause, which directly impacts poor Freddy. It’s bad enough that Freddy doesn’t actually get a name in this story, but he has to watch his grandfather be murdered before his eyes and is then left at death’s door or facing a life as an invalid. Thankfully, he’s renewed by Shazam’s magic, transforming into a blue facsimile of Captain Marvel and ready to get a measure of revenge against Captain Nazi. Captain Marvel, Jr has always been a bit of an oddity to me; it’s not explained why he remains a teenager when transformed (I’d assume it’s because he only has a portion of Shazam’s powers, or received them second-hand, but the story explicitly states that he has “all the powers [Captain Marvel] has”) and this kind of flies in the face of the wish fulfilment that’s central to Captain Marvel (say a magic word and a small child, the target audience, becomes an all-powerful, adult superman). I guess it speaks to a different kind of wish fulfilment, though; the youngers reading the comics want to emulate their heroes so it makes sense to have teenaged superheroes, and Freddy’s lame leg adds a level of representation that’s rare for comics from this era. Overall, this is an enjoyable enough story; it’s more like a series of madcap vignettes as Captain Marvel tries to defeat the sadistic Captain Nazi and the appearance of Captain Marvel, Jr comes far too late for it to properly have as much impact as it could but it’s very colourful and we get to see a Nazi scumbag get punched in the face!
Rating: 3 out of 5.
What did you think to Captain Marvel, Jr’s debut story? Did you like the idea of boy/man superhero Captain Marvel having a teen sidekick? What did you think to Captain Nazi as a villain and the evil acts he perpetrated in this story, and the crossover? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Captain Marvel, Jr stories and moments? Whatever your thoughts Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.
Story Title: “Introducing Captain Marvel!” (or simply just “Capt. Marvel!”) Published: February 1940 Writer: Bill Parker Artists: C.C. Beck
The Background: After DC Comics (then known as National Comics) saw incredible success with their benchmark superheroes, Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, the comic book industry was ripe for a whole slew of new costumed heroes to take the stage. Not wanting to miss out on the action, Fawcett Publications set about establishing their own colourful superheroes, each sporting the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, but it was Ralph Daigh who decided to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman, which he initially dubbed “Captain Thunder”. Taken by the concept, both writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck saw the concept as a chance to tell a story that hearkened back to the folk-tales and myths of old. Initially, Captain Thunder debuted in the pages of a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics but, when trademark issues arose concerning all of these names, artist Pete Costanza suggested the alternative name of “Captain Marvelous”, soon shortened to Captain Marvel, and the Big Red Cheese proved to be a massive success when his debut issue sold over 500,000 copies. Sadly, legal issues would continue to dog the character even after Fawcett was absorbed into DC Comics and Captain Marvel started rubbing shoulders with the Man of Steel and the Justice League, creating some confusion about the character’s name since Marvel Comics had since established their own Captain Marvel, leading to the Big Red Cheese often being dubbed “Shazam” instead. Whatever you want to call him, Captain Marvel has quite the legacy; he’s shared his powers with a colourful extended family (including a bumbling uncle and a talking tiger!), clashed with Superman and been involved in some of DC’s biggest crossover and Crisis events, and his phenomenal success on the big screen in 2019 led to not only a sequel and a spin-off but a newfound surge in popularity for the magical man/boy superhero.
The Review: Our story begins with a youngster in a bright red jumper and jeans hanging around outside the city subway trying to sell newspapers. He’s approached by a mysterious man in a black overcoat and fedora and we learn that, despite his clean-cut appearance, the boy is homeless and sleeps in the subway to stay warm. The mystery man bids the lad to follow him into a danky subway tunnel and, naïve as he is, the boy goes along; there, he boards a strangely garish-looking subway car and thinks absolutely nothing of it when he’s transported to an ominous subterranean cavern. Seriously, the boy barely says a word and seems perfectly happy to be whisked away by this darkly-garbed figure to the bowls of the city. His youthful trust (or stupidity, you decide) leads to him entering a vast underground hall where crude, cartoonish carvings of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness, and Injustice) adorn the walls of the cavern, which is lit only by flaming torches and home to an enigmatic, heavily bearded old man who sits on a huge marble throne. The old man (who bares more than a passing resemblance to God) introduces himself as Shazam and demonstrates his all-knowing demeanour by identifying the boy as Billy Batson. Even more incredibly, upon speaking his name, Shazam causes a bolt of lighting to fill the cave and the names of six Gods and their attributes to magically appear on the wall behind him: Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed).
Shazam explains that he has utilised the powers of these Gods to defend the Earth from the forces of evil for three-thousand years; in that time, he claims to have “seen everything – known everything” and, rather than using his incredible magic to prove this, falls back on a “historama” – a “super-television screen capable of depicting past, present and future events” – to show how Shazam watched as Billy was driven from his childhood home after the death of his parents by his wicked uncle, who sought to get his grubby hands on the money and bonds Billy was willed by his father. This is, apparently, enough of an explanation as to why Shazam brought Billy to his mysterious cave; after battling injustice and cruelty for centuries, Shazam is looking for a successor to carry on his work as “the strongest and mightiest man in the world”, Captain Marvel. Upon speaking the old man’s name, Billy is transformed by a magical lightning bolt into a tall, physically powerful adult male in a bright red costume and fancy side-cape and unquestionably pledges to continue Shazam’s legacy. After Captain Marvel speaks the magic word once more, however, Shazam appears to be crushed under a massive granite block that’s randomly suspended over his head. Okay… Anyway, in a flash of lightning, Billy’s back to his normal self and outside the subway with his newspapers, and left thinking that it was all a dream. The next morning, a couple of no-good gangsters buy one of Billy’s papers to read up on their boss’s handiwork: a madman known as “The Phantom Scientist” has threatened the United States radio system and is demanding $50,000,000 for…something. Suspecting the two, Billy follows the gangsters to “the swanky Skytower apartments” but is turned away by a pushy doorman. He then tries to get word to the radio “head”, Sterling Morris, by dashing into his office after the receptionist tries to shoo him away. Unfortunately, Morris dismisses Billy’s story as hogwash simply because the gangsters are holed up at somewhere as reputable the Skytower apartments.
Undeterred, Billy vows to find the Phantom’s laboratory and even manages to convince Morris to award him a job as a radio announcer if he succeeds in this goal. Since he can’t enter Skytower apartments directly, he takes the elevator to the rooftop of the nearby office building and, deciding that he didn’t dream up his extraordinary encounter the other night after all, transforms to Captain Marvel with his magic word. Captain Marvel easily clears the gap between the two buildings with a mighty leap (like Superman in his first appearance, the Big Red Cheese can’t fly yet) and, in an astounding piece of luck, finds himself right outside of the Phantom’s laboratory. Inside, he learns of the Phantom’s true identity: he’s Sivana, a balding, gnarled little man who operates through a number of hired goons and plans to put an end to any and all radio broadcasts at midnight unless his hefty ransom is paid. Having seen enough, Captain Marvel bursts in, hurling one of Sivana’s men into his complex “radio-silencer” machine, smashing it to smithereens. The other man flees to a private elevator but to no avail; Captain Marvel rips the door from its hinges and then hauls the elevator up with his incredible strength, laying the goon out with a wallop to the back of his head. With the mooks tied up, Captain Marvel addresses Sivana directly using the mad scientist’s gigantic television screen, with both vowing to confront each other again…though only Captain Marvel delivers a death threat to the odd little madman. With Sivana’s plan thwarted, Captain Marvel turns back to Billy and calls Morris over; though perplexed, Morris is suitably impressed by Billy’s actions and the plucky boy earns himself a job as a radio reporter, while also vowing to continue fighting the good fight as Captain Marvel!
The Summary: I’ve not read much of Captain Marvel. I think the only solo stuff of his I’ve read prior to this was the initial Power of Shazam (Ordway, et al, 1995 to 1999) run. Other than that, he’s rarely cropped up in other DC stories and crossovers I’ve read, but I’ve always wanted to read a little more from the character as I find him pretty interesting as a source of wish fulfilment. What kid hasn’t wanted to become a superhero, after all, and the idea of a homeless little boy suddenly being able to transform into a literal superman has a great deal of appeal. As ever with Captain Marvel’s stories, the art is of a slightly different calibre to his contemporaries, favouring a more whimsical and cartoonish style that, for all the colour and pop-art appeal, really falls flat when it comes to portraying backgrounds and environments. Shazam’s cave, for example, is quite poorly rendered compared to the other, more realistic locations. C.C. Beck shines in rendering facial expressions, his work being very reminiscent of pulp stories and characters like Samuel Bradley/Sam Bradley, and he even brings to like quasi-science-fiction elements like Sivana’s technology in adorable detail that is perfectly in keeping with the technology of the time, but just a touch more fanciful but not in a way that’s needlessly overdesigned like some of Jack Kirby’s work.
Narratively, Captain Marvel’s debut is a bit wonky, however. We don’t really get to learn much about Billy beyond what Shazam shows us with his “historama” and it’s really odd that he so willingly went along with the dark stranger. Who even was that, anyway? He just disappeared once they got to Shazam’s cave and there was no real explanation behind him. I think having it be Shazam himself might’ve been a little better, but it kind of made Billy look like a naïve fool. His reaction to meeting Shazam is also very one-sided in the old man’s favour; Billy questions none of it, instantly accepts his new mission, and yet doesn’t even explore his superpowers since he dismisses it all as a dream. He has some pep to him, I’ll give him that, in the way he barges in to see Morris and hoodwinks the guy into giving him a job, but there’s not much to Billy and no personality shift between the boy and his superpowered alter ego. Captain Marvel himself looks great, but we don’t really see many of his powers on show; he does a leap, tosses some goons around, and that’s it, so he’s hardly on par with Superman in terms of abilities in the context of this issue. Sivana’s plot was also a bit low-key; I mean, disrupting radio stations for money? Is that really the best he can come up with? Overall, though, I did enjoy it, even if the narrative is a bit scattered and questionable; I definitely think subsequent retellings and revisions have made Captain Marvel’s origin and personality more interesting and diverse, though.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Were you a fan of Captain Marvel’s debut story? What did you think Billy’s presentation and the depiction of his first meeting with Shazam? Were you impressed by Captain Marvel’s powers and costume? What did you think to Sivana’s threat? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Captain Marvel stories and moments? Whatever your thoughts Captain Marvel, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.
Released: 21 October 2022 Director: Jaume Collet-Serra Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Budget: $195 to 200 million Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Marwan Kenzari, Sarah Shahi, Bodhi Sabongui, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, and Pierce Brosnan
The Plot: After nearly five thousand years of imprisonment, Teth-Adam (Johnson), an ancient magical champion said to have liberated Kahndaq, is unleashed into modern times. His brutal form of justice attracts the attention of the Justice Society of America (JSA), who try to stop his rampage and bring him into custody whilee investigating a centuries-old evil force whose power matches that of Teth-Adam.
The Review: What a strange, long, and winding road this film has been on; it’s been in production for so long that I was starting to wonder if it would ever come out, especially after the character failed to appear in Shazam! I kinda get why he didn’t; it’s possible that the Rock’s star power would’ve dwarfed that movie’s heart-warming, handholding introduction to this side of the DCEU and people always complain that superhero films rely on the dark doppelgänger trope too much, which I get, but I think the contrast between Black Adam and Captain Marvel helps to elevate the latter into a more wholesome hero. Black Adam also would’ve been a great fit for either of the Suicide Squad films, especially the God-awful first one, but I do understand the idea of capitalising on the Rock’s star power to give him his own feature film, even if I don’t fully agree with it or his insistence on hyping up a clash between him and Superman (Henry Cavill) rather than him and Shazam, which would be my first choice, but maybe all three could meet up in a future movie, that would be a happy compromise. I am pretty familiar with Black Adam, though; I’ve read a bunch of his stories, especially during his time on the JSA, and really dig his no-nonsense attitude and the complex relationship he has with Captain Marvel, which is aways one clash of ideals away from degenerating into all-out war. I also really hope that the Rock is committed enough to the role that he sticks around for a bit; obviously, Dwayne Johnson is a massive Hollywood star and is in high demand so I do wonder about his longevity in the DCEU, especially considering how quickly Ben Affleck burned out (and I was worried that he would when he was cast), but he’s pursued the role for a good ten years and really threw himself into the marketing so I’m hoping he gets to reappear a few more times, though I do somewhat disagree with the idea of rebuilding the DCEU entirely around a character like Black Adam instead of, say, Superman. Black Adam gets off to a shaky start, with a ten-to-fifteen-minute opening and narration that rushes through the titular anti-hero’s origins in ancient Kahndaq and sets up the McGuffin that much of the film’s plot revolves around. Centuries ago, a tyrant named Ahk-Ton (Kenzari) enslaved Kahndaq and forced its people to dig for a rare and incredibly powerful mineral known as “Eternium”, the only material powerful enough to force the Crown of Sabbac, an item powerful by six demonic entities from what can only be described as Hell.
Kahndaq’s spirit was well and truly broken but one boy, Hurut (Jalon Christian), dared to try and inspire an uprising. For this, he was sentenced to public execution but, at the last second, was spirited away to the Rock of Eternity and infused with the stamina of Shu, the speed of Horus, the strength of Amon, the wisdom of Zehuti, the power of Aten, and the courage of Mehen by the Council of Wizards. The legend becomes sketchy after the defeat of Ahk-Ton, but Kahndaq has revered their Champion ever since, with great statues erected celebrating their saviour; in modern day Kahndaq, their symbolism has all but faded thanks to the oppression of Intergang, a mercenary military force that has imposed martial law throughout the city and is seeking to strip it of all its natural resources. With Kahndaq virtually a police state, young Amon Tomaz (Sabongui) echoes the rebellious spirit of Hurut in his desire to fight back against their oppressors, but his mother, Adrianna (Shahi), is more concerned with keeping him safe from reprisals and tracking down the legendary and forgotten Crown of Sabbac to keep it out of Intergang’s hands. Here efforts lead her, her bumbling technician brother Karim (Mo Amer), and Ishmael Gregor (Kenzari) to a mountain where they successfully recover the crown but, after being accosted by Intergang’s forces, Adrianna speaks the magical word of Shazam to awaken the Champion from his long slumber. Thus, Teth-Adam arrives, garbed in a form-fitting black suit and sporting both the Wizard’s (Djimon Hounsou) lightning symbol and a hooded cape and immediately dispatches the Intergang thugs without mercy or quarter. His superhuman speed, strength, and command over lightning make him virtually indestructible to all man-made weapons; his skin is only pierced by Eternium, and his powers even allow him to cauterise and recover from wounds in moments. Bulletproof and capable of reducing a man to a chargrilled skeleton or a pile of ashes with a single bolt of lightning, Teth-Adam lays wastes to the armed thugs but, in the chaos, notably makes the effort to save Adrianna from being crushed by a falling boulder. A stoic, grim-faced man, Teth-Adam tears through Intergang with ease, mocking their “weak magic”, catching bullets, and swatting aside missiles like they were nothing. When he’s injured by an Eternium blast, Adrianna and Karim take him back to their flat to recuperate; there, he quickly learns English (how is never explained but I’ll assume it was through the wisdom of Zehuti) and is accosted by Amon, who very much fills a similar role to Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) in Shazam; he’s an absolute superhero nut, with posters and comics and action figures of all of DC’s heroes plastered around his bedroom, and enthusiastically runs down the gamut of Teth-Adam’s powers and tries to teach him to embrace his role as a superhero, somewhat similar to young John Connor’s (Eddie Furlong) relationship with the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). However, Teth-Adam has about as much interest in being a hero as he does using doors or being polite; he simply floats and flies around, barging through walls, spouting his dogma regarding lethal force to Amon, and rejecting claims that he’s Kahndaq’s fabled Champion. Despite this, he does have something of a moral code; when Intergang arrive looking for the crown and put Amon in danger, Teth-Adam continues his merciless slaughter, amusingly struggling to deliver the-ass one-liner Amon taught him as he kills people too quickly for such traditions and attracting the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).
Oddly, Waller’s first port of call isn’t the Suicide Squad or the Justice League, but Carter Hall/Hawkman (Hodge) of the JSA; it seems Waller has been reconfigured into a character more akin to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), someone who recruits and directs a variety of metahumans, which I find is an ill-fitting role for her and I would’ve preferred to see her interaction with Hawkman tweaked or removed entirely and saved her appearance for when they bring the depowered Teth-Adam into custody later in the film. Regardless, Hawkman recruits his old friend and team mate Hector Hall/Doctor Fate (Brosnan) and two rookie metahumans, Albert “Al” Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Centineo) and Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Swindell), to intercept and subdue Teth-Adam in Kahndaq. I really like the inclusion of the JSA here; it’s fitting, given that Black Adam spent some time with the team in the comics, and helps to open up the DC Universe to new heroes and stories, while also not overshadowing Teth-Adam with more recognisable heroes. Unfortunately, we don’t learn a great deal about them; Atom Smasher and Cyclone are relatively one-dimensional, despite a budding attraction, Al’s need to consume food to maintain his size-changing abilities and desire to live up to his uncle’s (Henry Winkler) legacy and a brief mention of Cyclone’s traumatic background. Similarly, there’s a history and a strong bond between Hawkman and the mysterious Dr. Fate that is only briefly touched upon; we learn nothing about their origins, the nature of their powers, or even their limits. Dr. Fate is able to see visions of the future through his magical, alien helmet and conjures doubles of himself, mystical barriers, and crystalline weapons and Hawkman clearly has some form of superhuman durability since he can go toe-to-toe with Teth-Adam, as well as sporting his trademark wings and mace, but Black Adam doesn’t waste any time digging into the depths of the JSA’s background. Instead, they’re there as a peacekeeping force, one who strive to set an example to the world and their peers by upholding justice and sparing lives, rather than taking them. This not only contrasts with Teth-Adam’s more totalitarian methods and leads to many a conflict, both physical and philosophical, with the team (especially the proud and hot-headed Hawkman) but also raises the ire of Adrianna and Kahndaq. After decades of oppression and being left to fend for themselves, she and her fellow countrymen reject the JSA’s involvement and holier-than-thou attitude, especially as Hawkman’s temper and Atom Smasher’s inexperience leads to more damage to their country. Indeed, Kahndaq openly cheers for Teth-Adam, revering him as their Champion and approving of his more direct, lethal measures, a feeling Adrianna also shares despite her wishes to spare Amon from inflicting violence upon others. Teth-Adam is doing what needs to be done and actually fighting back against the likes of Intergang, whereas the JSA and the wider world simply ignored Kahndaq’s problems, thus casting the JSA in an interestingly villainous role as they go to great lengths to try and end Teth-Adam’s rampage before his rage gets out of control.
Their justification comes from having access to ancient texts that detail that Teth-Adam isn’t as righteous as Kahndaq believes; it turns out that, while Hurut was celebrated as Kahndaq’s Champion (Uli Latukefu), Teth-Adam and his wife, Shiruta (Odelya Halevi), paid the price with their lives. When Hurut shared his powers with his father to spare his life, he left himself vulnerable and was killed by Ahk-Ton’s assassins, driving Teth-Adam into a murderous rage so severe that the Wizard was forced to imprison him to contain his power and anger. Now unleashed into the world, the JSA bsaelieves that it’s only a matter of time before history repeats itself and, when Hawkman’s attempts to instil qualities of mercy into Teth-Adam fail (despite almost all of DC’s superheroes having a notable body count), the JSA attempt to force him into submission or to speak his magic word so he can be delivered into Waller’s custody. Ultimately, it’s Teth-Adam’s rage that sees him willing return to his mortal form (Benjamin Patterson) and be taken into custody after he accidentally injures Amon with his powers. With Teth-Adam left in suspended animation and unable to speak his magic word, the JSA believe they’ve accomplished their mission but a greater threat emerges from their conflict with Intergang. While Intergang aren’t really much to shout about, being simply a military force to intimidates Kahndaq’s citizenship, they do inexplicably wield Eternium weapons and hoverbikes, though none of this really matter sin the face of Teth-Adam’s awesome power. They’re the very definition of nameless, faceless, disposable goons for Teth-Adam to tear through; I quickly lost count of how many he turns to ash and bones and the film makes his toying with their lives into a bit of a gag. Intergang also disappear for the film’s final act, their threat and control over Kahndaq forgotten in favour of the power of the Crown of Sabbac, a power that Ishmael craves so badly that he not only aligned with Intergang, but betrayed Adrianna, shot Karim (though, thankfully, he doesn’t kill him as Karim is one of the film’s comedic highlights), and purposely put Amon in danger all to claim the crown for himself and to make Teth-Adam so bad that he would kill him. Sadly, for all the gravitas Pierce Brosnan brings to the film and the awesome, charismatic presence of The Rock, Ishmael ends up being a pretty weak villain; I literally forgot he was even in it for big chunks of the movie, and you can see his heel turn coming a mile away. His transformation into a literal devil for the finale isn’t exactly inspiring either, and his final confrontation with Teth-Adam is very similar to the ending of Shazam!, though the primary focus of Black Adam is on exploring Teth-Adam’s morality and methods and this is a very interesting and entertaining aspect of the film so I can ignore the lame villain, though I do think the film would’ve benefitted from someone like Arnold Vosloo in the role instead.
The Nitty-Gritty: It’s these themes of morality that form the heart of Black Adam; having witnessed the enslavement and subjugation of his people, the death of his beloved wife and child, and the hypocrisy of the Wizard and the Gods, Teth-Adam has been left a cold, emotionless, rage-filled force of nature. This is a very different role for The Rock, one that downplays his usual affable nature in favour of a more stoic demeanour, one that showcases a different side of his charisma. He still has a presence and a biting wit, but it’s one seeped in rage and tragedy; initially, Teth-Adam was a mere powerless slave, one who tried to keep his son from speaking of rebellion, but he was driven into a fury after losing everything and has no qualms about lashing out at those who seek to harm or oppress others. His no-nonsense morality most notably conflicts with Hawkman, who believes heroes shouldn’t kill and tries to emphasise the benefits of sparing lives as it allows one to learn information about their enemy or objective. Teth-Adam is much more direct; even when he begrudgingly teams up with the JSA to rescue Amon, he just flies off and storms Ahk-Ton’s ruins, completely ignoring Hawkman’s plan of attack, an approach that works perfectly well for him as he’s functionally invulnerable. There are some interesting dichotomies at work in Black Adam; Hawkman coms across as a bit of a hypocrite because, while he’s all about saving lives, he does put people in danger with his insistence on beating Teth-Adam into submission and there’s a grey question mark hovering over the JSA’s moral high ground since they only came to Kahndaq’s aid once a superhuman presence emerged there. Similarly, Teth-Adam never harms or kills innocent people; he might claim to have no interest or care for the lives of mortals, but he repeatedly goes out of his way to help Adrianna and Amon and only kills Intergang’s mercenaries, something that the people of Kahndaq naturally cheer for as they just want to be free of their oppressors.
Visually, Black Adam is quite the spectacle; the whole movie is shot beautifully, and the costume design is absolutely on-point. The Rock looks like a walking mountain of ashen black in his comic-accurate costume and even the always-ridiculous Hawkman ends up being realised very well onscreen, though I could’ve done without the nanotechnology that allows his helmet to magically form over his head and his wings to fold away. Dr. Fate looks magnificent, if a little rubbery at times since he’s a mostly CGI creation, but the effects fall apart a little when bringing the gigantic Atom Smasher and the wind-bending Cyclone to life; I applaud the filmmakers for choosing such effects-heavy characters but I do think the film might’ve benefitted from picking less visually demanding characters since Atom Smasher doesn’t really get a lot of play (and is portrayed as a bit of a buffoon) and Cyclone just dances around in slow motion whipping up projectiles and dirt. There’s a surprising amount of slow motion here, almost Zack Snyder levels of the effect, as Black Adam goes out of its way to emphasise Teth-Adam’s incredible superhuman speed; for the most part, it works, though some parts that are clearly supposed to be dramatic can come off as a little hokey thanks to The Rock’s grimacing or screaming face lunging at the camera in su-u-per sl-lo-ow mo-tion. Mostly, though, the effects are pretty good; the sequence where the JSA’s futuristic place takes off is a bit over the top and the final form of Sabbac is disappointingly underwhelming, but Teth-Adam’s many fight scenes against Intergang and the JSA work really well. Similar to some surprisingly violent scenes in Shazam!, there’s a level of violence in Black Adam that nicely skirts the limits of what’s acceptable for a 12A film; while there’s no gore or blood splattering everywhere, Teth-Adam rams grenades in people’s mouths, causes aircraft to collide in mid-air, and indiscriminately blasts at his enemies with his lightning and comically sends them flying into the sea or across the screen. Charbroiled skeletons, ashes, and even severed limbs are all over the film as Teth-Adam tears through his opponents without remorse, culminating in a pretty gruesome end for Sabbac when Teth-Adam rips him in two, spilling not blood but molten lava.
All throughout the movie, Dr. Fate is haunted by a vision of the future in which the world is reduced to a burning cinder, presumably because of Teth-Adam’s rage, and his good friend Hawkman is killed in conflict. When Teth-Adam finally surrenders and his threat is naturalised, Dr. Fate is disturbed to find his vision remains unchanged; this is because they were too slow to realise that Ishmael’s plan all along was to die at Teth-Adam’s hands so he could meet the six demons of Sabbac in Hell and become their demonic champion. Imbued with their demonic power, Ishmael returns to life as Sabbac, a literal horned demon with a pentagram carved into his chest and with designs of claiming his birth right as Kahndaq’s true ruler (since he’s the last living descendant of Ahk-Ton). Thanks to the demons’ powers, Sabbac sports all the same abilities as Teth-Adam but wielding fire instead of lightning; Ishmael’s humanity is completely consumed by this underwhelming CGI form, which has little motivation other than death and destruction. Although they’re able to battle Teth-Adam and even Sabbac on equal ground thanks to their superhuman powers, the JSA are no match for either of them; in a bid to change the future and save his friend’s life, Dr. Fate willingly meets Sabbac head on and sacrifices himself to free Teth-Adam from his confinement and convince him to live up to Hurut’s example by becoming the world’s saviour. What follows is a pretty intense brawl between Sabbac and Teth-Adam; since both are capable of hurting the other, and yet are also equally matched, there’s a degree of uncertainty about the battle but, thanks to Dr. Fate’s words, Teth-Adam learns to co-operate with the JSA, setting aside his differences with Hawkman long enough for the latter to use Dr. Fate’s helmet to distract Sabbac and allow Teth-Adam to deliver not only his one-liner but a killing blow to the raging demon. In the aftermath, a begrudging respect between Teth-Adam and the JSA is acknowledged, though Hawkman warns him not to step out of line, and Teth-Adam adamantly rejects Kahndaq’s throne and vows to instead be the country’s protector. A mid-credits scene then sees Amanda Waller also warning Teth-Adam, now rechristened as “Black Adam”, against stepping out of Kahndaq; she even calls in a favour and sends Superman to have a chat with him, returning not only Henry Cavill to the DC Universe but also John Williams’ iconic theme, and setting the stage for a showdown between the two that I can only hope will not forget about Shazam.
The Summary: Truthfully, I was unsure about Black Adam; I still maintain that it’s a little self-indulgent to give him his own solo movie simply because of The Rock’s star power and he’s a strange character to rebuild the mess that is the DCEU around since there’s only so much you can do with him. However, I am a big fan of the character, and The Rock, and was excited by the trailers and the hype surrounding the film, and to see the JSA and Pierce Brosnan in a superhero film. Despite a troublesome start, which rushes through what seems like a whole movie’s worth of story, Black Adam soon found its groove and settled into an enjoyable action romp designed to showcase a meaner side of The Rock, who is clearly enjoying himself in revelling in Teth-Adam’s power. I enjoyed the complexity of Teth-Adam’s character; he’s burdened by loss and rage and not only feels like he has no place in the world but also that he’s unworthy of his powers since his first instinct is the hurt and kill others. The entire film is geared around showing him that he can just as easily b the saviour of humanity, but there’s still a question about his motivations by the finale; he seems content to remain in Kahndaq as its defender, but there’s literally nothing stopping him going out and enforcing his will in the wider world. The JSA came off really well; while we don’t learn much about them and I think I would’ve preferred Atom Smasher and Cyclone to be a little more experienced, they added some visual variety to the fight sequences and nicely opened up the DCEU to new superpowered characters, as well as helping to set an example for the violent anti-hero. While the villains weren’t much of a threat, or very interesting even when turned into a literal demon, but I can overlook that (and some of the wonkier CGI) because of The Rock’s undeniable charisma. The jury’s out on what’s next for Black Adam and how his presence will really affect the hierarchy of the DC Universe, but this was an entertaining spectacle that I enjoyed far more than I expected to.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Did you enjoy Black Adam? Do you think the character deserved his own solo movie, one that skipped over his relationship with Shazam? What did you think to The Rock’s portrayal of the character, his violent tendencies, and the realisation of his powers and costume? Were you also disappointed by the villains? What did you think to the JSA? Would you have liked to learn more about them, and which member of the team was your favourite? What did you think to Henry Cavill’s long-awaited return to the DCEU and where do you think Black Adam will go next? Whatever your opinions on Black Adam, feel free to share your thoughts down below or leave a comment on my social media.
Story Title: “The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!” Published: December 1945 Writer: Otto Binder Artists: C.C. Beck
The Background: Following the incredible success of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman over in National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics), Fawcett Publications desired their own colourful superheroes to get in on the new craze. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, each sporting the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, Ralph Daigh made the executive decision to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. Originally dubbed “Captain Thunder” and debuting in a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics, trademark issues led to artist Pete Costanza suggesting the alternative name of “Captain Marvelous”, soon shortened to Captain Marvel, and the character was a big success for the publisher. Captain Marvel soon became a franchise all unto himself thanks to sharing his powers with a colourful extended family and, about six years after his debut, he and his Marvel Family met their dark opposite in the form of Teth-Adam/Black Adam, who had the same magical as the Big Red Cheese but was corrupted by greed and power. In his original form, Black Adam only appeared once in Fawcett’s original run but saw a new lease of life after the publisher was absorbed into DC Comics; under the direction of the likes of Jerry Ordway, Geoff Johns, and Peter J. Tomasi, Black Adam became a complex and aggressive anti-hero, one who was at times as reprehensible as the villains he opposed, and who was capable of great love and loyalty but also nigh-unstoppable wrath. Ranked as one of the most interesting anti-heroes in comicdom, Black Adam has also featured in many of DC’s animated ventures and, after nearly twenty years of Development Hell, finally set to make his live-action debut in 2022 with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the role.
The Review: By the time of this story, Captain Marvel had already shared his awesome powers (which grant him the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury whenever he shouts the magic word “Shazam!”) with his crippled friend, Freddie Freeman, his long-lost sister, Mary Bromfield to create a superhero family with them as the similarly powered and attired Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel alongside former con artist Dudley H. Dudley as the non-powered Uncle Marvel. As the story progresses, we’re treated to a recap of how this is possible but it’s basically thanks to the blessing of the Wizard, himself also called Shazam, who resides in a magical realm known as the Rock of Eternity. Billy’s first encounter with the Wizard literally amounted to him being summoned there, being bestowed with God-like powers, and then being directed by the Wizard’s spirit to put those powers to good use as Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. After saving Freddie’s life, Billy brought him to the Wizard and he was similarly empowered, while Mary was just able to transform simply because she shared Billy’s bloodline and the trio accepted Uncle Marvel as an honorary member/mascot because he means well despite his lack of superpowers. Quite how the Wizard is able to carve Captain Marvel’s continued adventures despite being a ghost is beyond me, but the mysterious old mystic also carries the burden of failure from his first champion, whom he called Mighty Adam before he turned to evil, was rechristened Black Adam, and banished to “the farthest star” for his crimes.
Before that can come back to bite Captain Marvel in the ass, though, our story switches over to the Big Red Cheese’s youthful alter ego, star child newscaster Billy Batson, who’s sent to the “astronomical observatory” to investigate reports of an unidentified object that’s hurtling its way towards Earth. While viewing the object (which is apparently traveling at the speed of light, which seems like something you wouldn’t be able to tell with a telescope such as this), Billy is forced to transform into Captain Marvel to save the astronomers life when his damaged telescope threatens to crush him. Freddie then returns the favour by saving Billy from being run over by a couple when they’re distracted by something flying overheard, which turns out to be the sinister Black Adam. Garbed in a black version of Captain Marvel’s costume (sans the cape) and sporting a widow’s peak and a permanent scowl, Black Adam has returned to Earth after five-thousand years of space travel hell-bent on conquering the planet. He wastes no time in causing an affray, blocking traffic, swiping aside cops, proving impervious to gunfire, and even breaking a cop’s back over his knee before Captain Marvel Jr. intercepts him. though momentarily amazed by the flying boy’s appearance, both Black Adam and Captain Marvel Jr. are stunned to find their powers are equally matched; when Captain Marvel joins the fray, his punch does stagger Black Adam but that’s about it as the three are equally matched in terms of power. Shocked to find that he’s no longer the most powerful man on Earth, Black Adam chooses to lose himself in the passing crowd so he can rethink his strategy and, after witnessing the two Marvels transform back and head to the Wizard for council, follows the two to get the revenge he has craved for centuries.
The Wizard’s spirit is distraught to learn of Black Adam’s return and regretfully tells them the story of how, five-thousand years ago, he bestowed the power of the Gods upon Teth-Adam and charged him with fighting the evils of the world as Might Adam. However, the Wizard chose poorly; the power immediately corrupted Mighty Adam, easily allowing him to overpower the Pharaoh’s guards and then snap his neck to claim himself ruler of Egypt! Mighty Adam’s reign was ridiculously short-lived, however, as the Wizard immediately showed up, dubbed him Black Adam, and banished him from Earth. It took the Wizard five-thousand years to figure out that his mistake was empowering a man, rather than a pure-hearted child, and he also underestimated Black Adam’s ability to breathe and fly through space, meaning it now falls to the Marvels to undo the Wizard’s mistakes. Unfortunately for the boys, Black Adam strikes at that very moment, choosing to bound and gag them and then plan to kill them to stick it to the Wizard (again, kind of daft as he could’ve just killed them on the spot but then we wouldn’t have a story, I guess…). However, after learning of Billy and Freddie’s disappearance, Mary and Dudley decide to ask the Wizard for help and arrive just in time to help fight with Black Adam; although Uncle Marvel is no match for Black Adam, he does untie the boys while Mary tries to fight him but Black Adam remains unfazed even when all three of them attack him at once! In the end, though, it’s Uncle Marvel who saves the day; after the Wizard relates that the only way to stop Black Adam is to force him to say his magic word, Uncle Marvel’s buffoonery is enough to trick Black Adam into doing so! Captain Marvel then delivers a good wallop to Teth-Adam’s face and the Marvels look on as the would-be tyrant’s body withers and decays before their eyes, apparently ending Black Adam’s threat once and for all.
The Summary: One of the big appealing factors of Captain Marvel’s comics from this time was the artwork; C.C. Beck employs a cartoony, almost “rubber hose” style aesthetic that really helps the art and characters to pop out almost as much as their brightly coloured costumes, though the backgrounds and level of detail are noticeably lacking. This isn’t unusual for comic books of this time, but it is quite noticeable here, especially in the Rock of Eternity, which is an especially bland and lifeless environment save for the ridiculous depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins and the crude explanation of Shazam’s powers carved into the wall. Interestingly, if you’ve never read a Captain Marvel story before, “The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!” is actually a good place to start as the story wastes quite a bit of time recapping Billy, Freddie, and Mary’s origins when it could have been showcasing the villain of the piece a little more.
Black Adam is built up reasonably well; right from the beginning, it’s clear that the Wizard carries a great deal of shame and regret for having made a mistake in empowering Teth-Adam and his looming threat remains in the background amidst such hijinks as a collapsing telescope and inattentive driver. Once he arrives, he certainly makes a visual impression; I always like it when a villain or anti-hero wears a dark version of a hero’s costume and the black really works for Black Adam. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really do all that much; he just kind stands around, laughing and mocking any attempts to harm him and easily manhandling any mortals who stand in his way. He does, however, show a mean streak that was actually rather shocking, even considering how morally ambiguous comics could be back then; Black Adam snaps a guy’s spine and breaks a guy’s neck, which is pretty brutal considering he uses his bare hands, but sadly that’s about as far as his actions go. He’s banished by the Wizard as soon as he seizes the throne and there isn’t really a proper fight between him and the Marvels since none of them can really harm or even faze the other, meaning he has to be duped into depowering himself, which seems like something even the arrogant and haughty Black Adam just wouldn’t fall for. I guess it works as a comedic twist of fate to have the bungling Uncle Marvel stumble upon the solution, but I also feel like there could’ve been a better way to neutralise Black Adam’s threat.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Were you a fan of Black Adam’s debut story? What did you think to the way he was portrayed, and defeated? Do you agree that the story was unnecessarily padded? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Black Adam stories and moments? Are you excited for Black Adam’s live-action debut? Whatever your thoughts on Black Adam and Captain Marvel, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.
In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this conceptagain and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Released: 16 April 2013 Developer: NetherRealm Studios Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U
The Background: When it was first released, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway because of its focus on gore and violence, and it offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior(Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. For a time, the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming but struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and Mortal Kombat seemed to be in jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. The main reason for this was the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the first collaboration between Midway’s Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics characters owned by Warner Bros. Interactive, which was hampered by age-related restrictions.
Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track; Mortal Kombat(NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was subsequently very well-received for its “back to basics” approach and, bolstered by the reboot’s success and eager to take advantage of the vast library of characters of their parent company, NetherRealm Studios sought to expand upon the game’s mechanics with a new, all-DC brawler. Although the game wasn’t as bloody and violentas its sister series, Injustice: Gods Among Us was a massive critical and commercial success that was followed up by not only a bunch of additional fighters and skins added as downloadable content (DLC) but also a sequel in 2017 and a critically-acclaimed comic book series.
The Plot: In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.
Gameplay: Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.
If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).
Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).
In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X(NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.
As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.
You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.
Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.
Graphics and Sound: Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.
Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.
Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman(Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!
Enemies and Bosses: Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.
Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).
Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.
Additional Features: There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.
Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.
When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).
The Summary: Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!
Released: 5 April 2019 Director: David F. Sandberg Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Budget: $80 to 100 million Stars: Asher Angel, Zachary Levi, Mark Strong,Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, and Djimon Hounsou
Plot: Billy Batson (Angel), an abandoned boy searching for his missing mother, is suddenly bestowed with magical superpowers, transforming him into an adult superhero (Levi) with the mindset of a teenager. When Doctor Thaddeus Sivana (Strong) attains equal power through possession of the seven Deadly Sins, Billy is suddenly faced with putting aside his personal issues and becoming a fully-fledged superhero.
The Review: Shazam! was released at a time when the DCEU was in a very chaotic flux; it’s not much better these days, to be fair, but back in 2019 we were still in the murky depths of the whole “Release the Snydercut” movement that saw a very vocal and very toxic splinter cell of “fans” decry anything and everything that wasn’t spearheaded by Zack Snyder. Consequently, I’ve seen discussions online trying to claim Shazam! isn’t canon to the DCEU films that came before it simply because Superman (Ryan Hadley) is wearing a blue suit instead of a black one…like he couldn’t just change his bloody costume! Well, I’m sorry to tell you but, at this point, Shazam! is more canon than the bloated and over-rated Zack Snyder’s Justice League(ibid, 2021) and different superheroes in the same shared universe can have different tones to their movies; if you don’t want to look at Marvel’s movies for proof of this, maybe try comparing Man of Steel (ibid, 2013) to Wonder Woman(Jenkins, 2017) and then each of those to Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016) and Aquaman(Wan, 2018), four films that most definitely are a part of Snyder’s flawed vision of DC’s most famous characters. For me, Shazam! represented a shift towards telling more light-hearted, comic-accurate, and action-packed stories that focused on getting to the heart of these beloved characters rather than muting and saturating them or making them unnecessarily grim; Snyder extremists may lose their nut when Batman (Ben Affleck) mercilessly slaughters people and swears like he’s Frank Castle/The Punisher, but that’s not true to Batman’s character at all so I saw Shazam! as a bit of a course correction for the DCEU towards a less ridiculously serious take on these characters.
I feel it’s important for me to point out that I haven’t read any of the New 52 comics featuring Billy/Shazam’s altered background and extended family; I’m vaguely aware that his origin and situation were changed and updated somewhat, but I’m much more familiar with his classic comics and his appearance throughout the mid-nineties as a budding kid reporter and the “Big Red Cheese” who goofed about on the Justice League International team. I was therefore amused and intrigued to find Billy portrayed not a newspaper boy living on the streets with aspirations of working in radio, but instead as a streetwise orphan with a reputation for causing trouble with both his foster families and the cops and businesses of Philadelphia. Billy is a lot more in common with young John Connor (Edward Furlong) in that he resents being placed in the care of others, prefers to rely on his own wiles to get by, and frequently scams his way into police databases to track down his birth mother, Marilyn (Caroline Palmer), who he became separated from at a carnival ten years previously. Although he’s a rebellious kid who actively rejects assistance and affection for others, there’s a real tragedy to Billy; he believes he has a “real” family and mother out there waiting for him, refuses to entertain the notion that Marylin isn’t interested in finding him, and is desperate to be reunited with her and feel that sense of belonging once more. Unfortunately for him, he’s only fourteen and therefore legal mandated to be placed into foster care; having run away from good families before and been rejected because of it, he’s placed into the care of the lovable Víctor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vásquez (Marta Milans), who shelter a whole troupe of foster kids of all ages. Since he’s a self-sufficient kid who doesn’t see the point in connecting with others because he’s trying to get back to his real mother, Billy is unimpressed by the Vásquez’s friendliness and the mixture of personalities in their household.
As in the source material, Billy is approached by the aging wizard Shazam (Hounsou), here depicted as a desperate demigod seeking to pass his great powers on to a suitable heir before his time ends. Djimon Hounsou is a great choice for this role; his gravely voice oozes a perfect mixture of menace, authority, and despair. Burdened by the guilt of having misplaced his trust in a previous Champion and witnessing the deaths of his fellow Council of Wizards, the Wizard is determined that his next Champion be pure of heart in order to fend off the influence of the Seven Deadly Sins (Steve Blum, Darin De Paul, and Fred Tatasciore) but is forced to rely on the reluctant Billy after the Seven Deadly Sins are freed from their prison. By speaking the Wizard’s name, Billy is transformed into an adult form sporting one of the best and most comic-accurate costumes ever put to cinema; the effort sees the Wizard crumble to ash but empowers Billy with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Whenever he utters his name, Billy becomes a boy trapped in a man’s body, leading to many humorous moments such as him struggling to navigate the world now he’s a six-foot, musclebound man, him learning the alcohol usually tastes terrible, and his awkward attempts to exude authority as a superhero. Zachary Levi shines in the role, though it can’t be overlooked that Billy seems to act more immature as Shazam than he does as a kid, somewhat negating whatever influence the Wisdom of Solomon is supposed to have on him; however, I would chalk this up to the freedom and power offered by his adult form and superpowers and it results in some of the film’s best moments as he and Freddy test Shazam’s limits, try to think up a suitable superhero moniker, and attempt to become social media celebrities by recording his feats of power and heroism.
The Vasquez house shelters five kids of various ages, including avid gamer Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), the enthusiastic, the overly affectionate and chatty Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), introverted workout aficionado Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand). While Darla steals every scene she’s in with her endless excitement and Billy can’t help but be taken by her childish positivity, it’s cripple Freddy Freeman (Grazer) and academic prodigy Mary Bromfield (Fulton) whom Billy spends the most time with. A superhero fanboy who’s constantly wearing Justice League t-shirts, showing off his Superman memorabilia, and rattling off Justice League statistics and abilities as Billy explores his powers. While Freddy’s nonstop chatter quickly exasperates Billy, the self-styled loner can’t help but step in when the snarky Freddy is set upon by a couple of douchebag jocks; Freddy’s a bit of an odd duck, one who sports a dark sense of humour, chatters incessantly, and struggles to maintain his boundaries. It’s lucky for Freddy that Shazam’s powers are so formidable as he doesn’t hold back in putting him through his paces; he actively encourages armed thugs to shoot him in the face, secretly sets him on fire, and delights in watching him barrel into buildings and fall from great heights in his attempts to fly. Eventually, however, a rift forms between them that only grows wider when Billy chooses to goof off as Shazam rather than show appreciation for Freddy’s assistance; even Eugene and Pedro question Shazam’s heroism as he’s more concerned with grifting and showing off. Although Shazam’s able to pull off and impressive physical feat and save a busload of civilians from certain death, Freddy chastises him for causing the accident in the first place and chews him out for not appreciating how lucky he is to have such incredible powers.
Billy is put to the test, however, by Dr. Sivana, who we first meet as a little boy (Ethan Pugiotto) suffering emotional abuse at the hands of his strict father, business tycoon Mr. Sivana (John Glover), and his obnoxious older brother, Sid (Landon Doak). Although seemingly a more playful and less repugnant individual compared to his domineering elders, young Thaddeus is a perfect cause of nurture over nature; when he’s magically transported to the Rock of Eternity and offered the chance to become the Wizard’s Champion, he’s easily swayed by the influence of the Seven Deadly Sins, who offer him the power he needs to prove his strength to his father by claiming the Eye of Sin rather than the Wizard’s staff. Deemed unworthy because of his impure heart, young Thaddeus is rejected by the Wizard and his subsequent outburst causes a car crash that sees his father paralysed from the waist down and sets the boy on a lifelong quest to research the Wizard and his other rejected attempts to find a Champion in order to force his way back into the Rock of Eternity, confront the Wizard’s rebuff, and become the vessel for the destructive power of the Seven Deadly Sins. Largely represented as grotesque gargoyle-like creatures comprised of rock and smoke, the Seven Deadly Sins imbue Dr. Sivana with power to rival that of Shazam, which is a far cry from the mad scientist he was in the original comics but, as I understand it, is more in-line with his New 52 counterpart and allows Dr. Sivana to pose a physical challenge to the titular demigod. Composed, spiteful, and revelling in his dark powers, Dr. Sivana is the polar opposite of Shazam, who takes far longer to reconcile his immaturity with his magical adulthood and to realise the potential of his superpowers; it’s telling that Dr. Sivana can both fly and throw more effective punches in their first encounter, such is the benefit of his lifelong quest for the Wizard’s power, and he doesn’t hesitate to use every advantage at his disposal, even threatening Billy’s foster family, to add Shazam’s power to his own.
The Nitty-Gritty: Some of you reading this may question why I’ve included Shazam! in my Christmas Countdown series considering it’s not a “typical” Christmas movie. Well, for me, the reason is very simple: the film is largely set around the festive season, Christmas songs, trees, and lights are all over the place, as is snow and a general sense of festive anticipation in the air and, while Christmas might not be at the heart of the narrative, this is enough for me to justify it being a Christmas movie. Plus, why not take the opportunity to slap on a fun or enjoyable film around Christmas even if it isn’t a focal point of the movie? A common criticism I have of early Shazam! comics is the depiction of the Rock of Eternity; it would take some decades for artists to render it in a way that felt both grandiose, fantastical, and foreboding and to not simply have cartoonish writing all over the walls to explain to kids what was happening. Thankfully, Shazam! addresses this issue, depicting the Rock of Eternity as a cavernous labyrinthine temple home to the aging Wizard and seven thrones where his peers once sat. The Seven Deadly Sins are also entombed there and, while they do have their name sand natures etched into their rocky surfaces, they’re far more monstrous and impressive than in those early comics; the Rock of Eternity is also home to various other magical doorways and artefacts that effectively lay the groundwork for future films, villains, and characters.
Family plays a central role in the film; as indicated, the influence of Mr. Sivana and Sid has a lasting effect on Dr. Sivana’s nature and life, with every action he takes in his quest for power, both magical and otherwise, motivated by a need to prove himself worthy and superior to his father and older brother. Billy holds his last memories of her close in his heart, remembering her as a kind-hearted and loving mother who did her best and gifted him with a compass so that he could always find his way, and he both dreams and actively rehearses what he’ll say when they’re reunited after they got lost in a bustling crowd. It’s therefore all the more heart-breaking when Billy does eventually track her down and learns not only that his memories of this event were skewed by his childish perception, but that Marylin chose to abandon him as she couldn’t cope with the pressure of being a mother. Asher Angel absolutely sells Billy’s dejection at this revelation as he realises that his whole life has been a lie, that this perfect memory and vision of a loving mother was far from the actual truth, and that his mother dropped him at the first chance she got rather than try to live up to her responsibilities. Despite his earlier reservations, this means that Billy comes to recognise the importance of his true family; while he’s spent much of the film pushing others away and only reluctantly accepting Freddy’s help in discovering the limits of his superpowers, the Vásquez’s and their foster kids have been nothing but warm, welcoming, and understanding to Billy. When he first meets them, the family is coming to terms with Mary’s impending departure for the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), a move which is encouraged but also a subject of sadness, especially for the emotional Darcy. After saving her as Shazam, Billy relates his belief that family is for those who can’t take care of themselves and encourages her to make it on her own and, similarly, early on, refuses to say grace over dinner or join hands with his foster family. However, when Dr. Sivana threatens his adopted family, Shazam agrees to hand himself over in exchange for their lives, finally seeing himself as their brother, and later turns to his adopted siblings for help by sharing his magical powers in much the same way as Victor and Rosa share their love.
Although their power is primarily embodied through Dr. Sivana, the Seven Deadly Sins make a hell of an impression, delivering some disturbing PG violence that’s more than on par with the explicit brutality of previous DCEU films. Dr. Sivana barely flinches when his assistant (Lotta Losten) turns to ash before his eyes, launches Sid (Wayne Ward) out of a window, and unleashes the monstrous Seven Deadly Sins upon his father and his board members, whom they slaughter with an unexpected malice for an otherwise kid-friendly film. Although he can easily manhandle Shazam thanks to his composed nature, Dr. Sivana covets the Wizard’s magic above all and takes advantage of Freddy’s very public relationship with Shazam to hold his foster family hostage in exchange for Shazam’s powers. Their loyalty to Billy sees the kids come to his aid and reveals a glaring weakness in Dr. Sivana’s otherwise formidable powers; he becomes more vulnerable as the Seven Deadly Sins expel from his body, so Billy shares his powers, transforming his foster siblings into their own adult, superhero forms to divide the Seven Deadly Sins and weaken Dr. Sivana. While it’s convenient that Lady Shazam (Michelle Borth), Shazam Jr. (Adam Brody), and the others are all able to master their abilities faster than Billy, it leads to a fun and explosive finale as Freddy revels in finally having the superpowers he’s long idolised, Pedro Shazam (D. J. Cotrona) marvels at his physical stature and finally finds his confidence, Eugene Shazam (Ross Butler) delights in spouting videogame catchphrases to match his powers, and Darla Shazam (Meagan Good) retaining her childish exuberance. Although the Seven Deadly Sins and the Shazam Family are technically evenly matched in their strength and durability, Shazam’s able to render Dr. Sivana powerless by goading Envy into leaving his body. He then saves Dr. Sivana from certain death and forcibly extracts the Eye of Sin from his head, imprisoning the Seven Deadly Sins once more, though Dr. Sivana is approached by another potential villainous ally, the hyper-intelligent caterpillar Mister mind (David F. Sandberg) while languishing in prison. Having now found a safe, loving home and family to share his life and powers with, Billy chooses to stay with the Vasquez’s, joins them in their family traditions, and establishes himself and the other Shazams as the new keepers of the Rock of Eternity. He’s even able to bolster Freddy’s credibility at school by joining him for lunch as Shazam and alongside an awkwardly-framed Superman (seriously, it would’ve been just as good, if not better, to show Superman from behind and floating outside the window).
The Summary: It can be difficult to craft a truly original superhero origin movie; even I’ll admit it’s usually better to fast-track or skip the origin entirely, especially for more well-known superheroes, but Shazam does a great job of establishing its world and Shazam’s powers through well-paced exposition and different means. Rather than opening with a voiceover explaining everything to us and then having that information repeated later, we see the conflict between the Wizard and the Seven Deadly Sins and how that influences Dr. Sivana and, when Billy first gets his powers, he’s completely clueless how to use them and is forced to turn to superhero nut Freddy for help. Seeing the kids become their own magical superheroes was a blast as all the adult actors equally conveyed their thrill at their newfound abilities and I really enjoyed the film’s humour, especially in the man-child personification of Shazam and his not being able to hear Dr. Sivana’s villain monologue. Seeing Billy grow from a damaged loner to truly accepting his foster family and his newfound powers was a charming development after the utter gut-punch delivered by his mother; Mark Strong was, ever, a deliciously scene-stealing villain and I absolutely loved the costume design and presentation of the film. Infused with exactly the right balance of action, comedy, and heart that’s often sorely lacking in the DCEU, Shazam! is a hugely enjoyable romp that’s got just enough Christmas spirit laced throughout it to justify an annual watch every festive season regardless of how much of a hard-on you have for Snyder’s grim and gritty perversion of DC’s characters.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Did you enjoy Shazam!? Are you a fan of the comic books and, if so, were you happy with the way it adapted the source material? What did you think to Billy’s characterisation, his mother’s true nature, and his acceptance of his foster family? Which of his siblings was your favourite and did you enjoy seeing them get a share Shazam’s power? What did you think to Dr. Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins? Are there any Shazam characters, villains, or story arcs you’d like to see adapted one day? Do you prefer the grim and gritty DCEU or its more light-hearted side? Whatever your thoughts on Shazam!, feel free to drop them below or leave a comment on my social media.
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