The Man Of Tomorrow and The World’s Mightiest Mortal have a great deal in common (especially if you ask Nation Periodical’s lawyers in the 1950s.)  But there are a few things that make them very different…  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #4 awaits!

SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: FIRST THUNDER #4

Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Joshua Middleton
Colorist: Joshua Middleton
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00

Previously in Superman/Shazam: First Thunder: While he doesn’t like to think of himself as special, Superman is kind of the gold standard for the heroes of the DC Universe, but he has found himself surprisingly grateful at the appearance of Captain Marvel, who shares an understanding of what it’s like to live with great power.  The Big Red Cheese and The Big Blue Boy Scout have struck up an unusual friendship, but they’ve also gotten a lot of unwanted attention, including that of Doctor Sivana…

Captain Marvel’s activities have led Sivana to believe that he is somehow tied to young Billy Batson, a homeless young man squatting in a Fawcett City hovel.  As such, Sivana (after consulting with Lex Luthor, who is equally angry about the flying man in his city) has dispatched gunmen to dispose of Billy in the hopes of drawing out the Captain.

He has no idea how well that is gonna work for him…

The magic word means Billy wins fifty dollars from Groucho becomes immune to gunfire, and he wades into the oncoming horde of Sivana thugs, remarking that he’s done being the nice guy.  I have to say, I love Judd Winick’s dialogue, as he gives us a Captain Marvel who is at once confident, amazed at his own powers, and a little bit irritated to have to deal with the annoyance of high-caliber bullets, a wonderful combination that feels very ‘Shazam’ to me…

Dispatching his attackers, Captain Marvel jovially tells his friend/fellow squatter Scott that they’re going to have to leave the Fawcett City subway after all, before turning and realizing that, while he was bouncing bullets off his chest, he wasn’t paying attention to where they were going…

The abject horror in that final panel is why I love Middleton’s art.  Billy is horrified by Scott’s injuries, rushing him to the nearest hospital with the speed of Mercury…

….but still arriving too late.  Scott dies from his wounds, and an incensed Captain Marvel makes his way to the Fawcett City Police department, consumed by a very uncharacteristic rage.  Forcing his way past the police, he smashed his way into the interrogation room where one of his assailants is being grilled…

Cut to Sivana Industries, where a very drunk Doctor Sivana is bemoaning his hired killers inability to kill for hire, not even caring that an innocent boy was gunned down at his word.  Looking up, he sees Captain Marvel outside his office window before a single punch shatters the bulletproof glass.

“…except your life,” snarls Captain Marvel.  As Sivana’s air supply is cut off, Captain Marvel argues with himself about the basic superhero question: Can he allow Sivana to continue hurting people and killing innocents?  Can he live with that?

It’s a beautiful sequence, in both writing and art, as he finally loosens his fingers and lets the twisted old man fall.  Not long after, Superman hears about Captain Marvel’s rampage, and tracks him to the top of Mount Everest, where they previously had a meaningful superhero pals talk.  Superman confrtons his colleague, demanding an explanation, only to stop short when he sees Marvel’s tears…

Confused by Marvel’s words, Superman is stunned when he says one simple word and transforms back into teenage Billy Batson.  Billy tearfully wonders if it’s too dangerous to even be human anymore, but Superman stands silently, before asking a single question:

“Who did this to you?”

This is one of my favorite Superman moments of all time, to be honest, as the Man Of Steel confronts the wizard Shazam, demanding an explanation for why he would put such a heavy responsibility on a CHILD.  Middleton’s art is once again superb, showing us a Superman who is genuinely angry, who cannot believe that anyone would be so cruel…

“He’s just a boy,” laments Superman, and Shazam agrees, his face for the first time showing regret at the burden he has place on  Billy.  “He is a boy…  a boy who could use guidance.”

Cut to a dilapidated flophouse, somewhere in Fawcett City…

Removing his tie, Superman/Clark reveals his costume…

It’s a lovely moment, made even more so by a previous conversation where the two heroes bonded over super-stuff, only to have Clark pull back, hesitant about sharing too much about his real life.  This scene is clearly the point of the entire limited series, that huge sequence that sold the whole miniseries concept (in case you’re wondering why we’re reviewing #4 instead of #1) and the lynch pin of what I imagine the Superman/Cap friendship to be like.  This issue is a quick read, showing off Marvel’s heart, Superman’s compassion and an amazing response to finding out what Shazam had done, leading Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #4 with a well-above-average 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s another good example for people who say that Superman is boring, emotionless or can’t be challenged by anything but brute strength, and it is a much better modern Superman/Captain Marvel moment than the battle that ends ‘Kingdom Come.’

[taq_review]

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About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

1 Comment

  1. My youngest son is Batson’s age. Thinking of him having to deal with that makes it real hit for me. Also I could hear Tim Daly’s Superman voice throughout this review.

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