Let me just get this out of the way: Dwayne Johnson has HUGE boots to fill.
I’m not some cinema snob who can’t enjoy stuff such as Jumanji – it’s a fun, lighthearted movie, and The Rock brings a level of charm to his performances that’s hard to shake. I like him well-enough as an actor, and he seems like an incredibly sweet person. All of that doesn’t change the fact that he’s going to have to bring his A-game to play the role of Black Adam. That’s not so much a comment on The Rock so much as it is a comment on how surprisingly deep this character is.
I adore Black Adam. Any actor who wants to step into his suit will have to give it their all, because this character is so incredibly layered in ways that are hard to summarize. His story in 52 is one of the most compelling villain arcs I have ever read, and I’m living for how they’re continuing that thread in the pages of Doomsday Clock. Black Adam is more than a villain; he is a man of deep conviction, and of a fixed morality that he lives by every day. That morality may not align with ours all the time – and he IS still a comic book villain – but it’s a series of standards he holds himself to, and it makes him all the stronger a character for it. Black Adam is at his best when he’s written in such a way; and while the book (written by Paul Jenkins and penciled by Inaki Miranda) doesn’t tread new ground, it does understand what make this character tick.
The story is simple enough, and basically acts as a small tie-in to the current Batman/Superman series going on right now (which I’m enjoying quite a bit!). Billy Batson (Shazam!) has been infected with Joker toxin, courtesy of The Batman Who Laughs (god, that name gets cumbersome). Freed of inhibitions and morality, Billy is now free to do whatever his now-twisted mind desires; apparently, that’s to travel to Black Adam’s sovereign nation of Kahndaq, and swing his “cape” around. Black Adam, meanwhile, has to stop Billy from doing any lasting damage to his land, without killing the boy in the process. Jenkins writes a decent “King Shazam”, portraying the arrogance and energy of a young boy with a new, sadistic edge. It’s not hard to imagine this being what Billy sounds like when he lets his dark thoughts float to the surface.
He gives Adam a good run for his money too, in a fight that’s clearly choreographed and fairly well-paced; it’s more of an action-packed conversation with Billy and Black Adam. The titular character is portrayed excellently, and his relationship with his followers is easily the highlight of the issue. Adam is unashamedly portrayed as the hero of the story in this issue; while that doesn’t always line up with how he’s portrayed in the comics, it’s certainly a portrayal that I greatly enjoy seeing. He is a leader who cares deeply for his people, and that goes beyond simply the power behind his fists.
Not much else happens in this issue aside from this fight, and the lesson Black Adam learns from it. There are a few interesting scenes between Adam and some of his citizens, and they’re certainly good moments; but the issue has little substance apart from that. The fight is fine, the dialogue is good, and the portrayal of the main characters is solid; there’s nothing to complain about, though I wouldn’t go into this issue expecting anything of great significance. I feel much the same about the art.
I always want to be careful when I comment on artwork in a comic; when I see panels such as these, how could I ever call it bad? Look at the single feather drifting away from the bird, the gentle glow of the sun illuminating off of the moon, the rays of light painting the desert – these two panels alone would have taken hours, or longer. You can see that effort showing during several points throughout the book, too. I absolutely love how Inaki Miranda illustrates King Shazam, managing to portray a twisted visage of Billy Batson, even when he looks like just a kid.
Sometimes I feel a few panels could have used some more refining, though. They aren’t horrible, but when you see one excellent panel followed by one where the faces are slightly off, it can break the immersion a little. Here’s a good example – this panel of King Shazam slapping Black Adam away is dynamic and impactful, and the poses of the characters leap out at you from the page. It’s checked all the boxes, but it still feels somewhat flat. It could be how the suits are colored, or the amount of white space around the two. It could just be that King Shazam’s chest seems a little too large, or that his neck feels a little off.
Again, the art isn’t always like this; but I think there definitely is a discrepancy between panels, which I think can be improved with a little refining. Whether that’s on Miranda’s art or HiFi’s coloring in this issue is hard to pin down, but they do enough good work in this issue for it not to be a huge problem. What matters is that it effectively told the story – and made for a generally satisfying read.
- Batman/Superman has been enthralling you, and you’re curious about what Shazam is up to!
- You’re a fan of Black Adam, and you’re keen on seeing him represented more as the protector of Kahndaq.
- Geoff Johns’ Shazam! isn’t enough of a fix for you (and is taking too long to get released).
This is a book you don’t really need to read; it’s really just a fight that explains a little more about King Shazam, and gives an excuse as to why Black Adam isn’t that involved in Year of the Villain. But for what it is, it’s good! It gives me pleasant memories of 52 and does a nice job of presenting Black Adam as a hero – stories we need if we want the world to know how nuanced he can be when his movie arrives. Here’s to more like it!
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.