Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rayboy's Review: Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #21 (DC Comics)

Thanks to Free Comic Book Day 2010, I became a fan of a series that unfortunately just got cancelled. Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #21 is the final issue of one of DC Comics most unheralded titles. It was also one of their best!

I can't speak about the earliest issues of Billy Batson, when Mike Kunkel kicked things off with this interpretation. He left after the first four issues (other than a cover for #5). Kunkel's departure paved the way for Art Baltazar & Franco Aureliani to take over the writing duties with a couple of artists who, like Kunkel, didn't grab me at all. However, starting with issue #13, Mike Norton stepped up to bat as artist and that is an appropriate analogy. The potent combination of Baltazar, Franco (as Aureliani billed himself) and Norton knocked this "DC Kids" series out of the park. It's a darn shame that more people didn't discover how much fun this title became under these talented men. Thank god, DC included a chapter from this series in their "DC Kids Mega-Sampler 2010 on FCBD.

I had the privilege of telling Norton & Franco in person how much I enjoyed their "little" book at this summers Heroes Convention in Charlotte, NC. I also had a nice long chat with Mike about how his work on Billy Batson hit me the same way that the late Mike Parobeck's work did on The Batman Adventures back in the 1990's. Norton said that I wasn't the first person to cite Parobeck comparisons to Billy Batson. It was a do not miss title for me, in fact I am reviewing it today specifically because - although it hit the shops a few weeks ago - my copy finally came in the mail today. Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam was the first comic book series that I actually went to the trouble of subscribing to in decades - in fact since the late 1970's.

This issue closes out the title in excellent fashion. Billy's alter ego, Captain Marvel (aka The World's Mightiest Mortal) along with sister, Mary Marvel and recent addition, Captain Marvel Jr. take on one of the biggest baddies in the "Big Red Cheese's" rogues gallery, Black Adam. This storyline has played out over several issues and it ultimately resolves the mystery of the disappearance of the wizard, Shazam and how the Marvel Family puts the final kibosh on their ages old nemesis. The Justice League of America has a nice cameo near the end too, and their arrival coincides with a surprise offer that they extend to the Captain. How he responds to this situation comes as no surprise to readers who followed this book, and in case you missed it, look for the creative teams wonderful cameo in the last panel of the last page. No fanfare other that muted farewell to readers is included. No editorial page explanations, in fact nowhere in the book does it remind everybody that this is the end.

DC could have done much, much better by this fine book and I honestly believe that the "powers that be" either didn't know what kind of gem they had on their hands, or they simply botched their promotion of this super-special series.

Baltazar, Franco & Norton will rebound and are already moving on to another all-ages friendly book and no doubt their careers will be unimpeded by the cancellation. This time out, it's the fans who lose!

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