Monday, April 8, 2019

Shazam: Power of Hope

Naturally, after I watched the new Shazam movie, I reviewed it. Then, I scoured some of my comic boxes for some Captain Marvel material to re-read. I didn't deep dive into the boxes, but came away with a handful of World's Finest from the late 70s and early 80s and this wonderful treasury sized one-shot.

Oversized Issues for Big Stories

From 1999 to 2001, artist Alex Ross and writer Paul Dini teamed up for a series of one-shots featuring Superman, Batman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman. Unlike your typical comic book with word balloons, Dini's words were presented purely as text in the panels, paving the way for the beauty of Ross's painted images to come alive on a larger canvas. I think we all know Ross's art and can recognize it instantly. I showed my wife this issue and even she was impressed by the majesty of the art. Ross's comic book art makes you almost believe these heroes are real.

But the art is only half the story. Dini's tale digs deep into what makes Shazam special: his youthful spirit. What's missing on these pages are battles with super-villains.Yes, they're there, but all told in flashbacks. The Captain's focus here are kids in the hospital with ailments even his great power cannot overcome. It grounds him, making him even a more powerful hero because he knows where the real battle is.

A Template for Grounding Stories

Most movie goers and comic book fans appreciated the early movies from DC's movie universe. I'm thinking of the Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series. I, for one, loved it. These films came to be the template for all subsequent films, with the governing philosophy of this is how these super-heroes interact in a "real world."

But there are other ways of doing it, and Power of Hope is a different template. You can still have super-heroics with a story that's grounded in reality but not be so grimdark. This comic shows the way and, frankly, the new big-budget movie does as well. There can be a sense of wonder with smiles while still fighting the bad guys.

Let's hope DC picks up on what it stumbled upon and keeps going. Because the answer to how you make a real-world super-hero movie was staring them in the face with this gorgeous tale by Paul Dini and Alex Ross.

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