Let’s talk about comics

So RIP has badgered me relentlessly about doing a regular feature on comics (he’s mentioned it at least twice and I’m ready to do almost anything to stop the hectoring). I’m going to do it, but there are rules:

  1. It won’t be regular. I will post when the mood strikes or I have something to say. You may get two posts a week! You may get none! I don’t know!
  2. It will be comic-related. That includes comics, comic-based movies, books about comics, movies about comics, animated series featuring comic characters, or anything else I deem comic-adjacent (we may discuss action figures, we may talk about the comic industry, or the ins and outs of running a shop — I don’t know!).
  3. It’s titled Wednesdays at the Comic Shop because comics are delivered every Wednesday so that’s when the fanboys all flock to the shop. Does that mean it will appear on Wednesdays? Unlikely! I’m reading my comics! The title is meant to suggest the subject material, which is the same stuff I talk to the people at the comic shop about. That said, my inaugural entry will appear this Wednesday, because I like setting bad precedents.
  4. SPOILERS ABOUND. I’ll try to make a note about it if I talk about anything current, but I make no promises! And anything that’s older than five years gets no warning from me. Your ignorance of popular culture is on you. Rosebud was the sled, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and the psychiatrist in The Sixth Sense is a ghost. Don’t @ me ’cause I don’t care!

Today we will talk about a movie: Shazam: Fury of the Gods. HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

Okay, let’s get this out right up front. This is an bad movie. I heard a lot of criticism of Black Adam, but honestly that was head and shoulders above Shazam: FOTG. And I’m highly receptive to comic movies and willing to overlook at lot, but nope, can’t put lipstick on this pig.

The original Shazam movie was fairly cute in its own way. Boy gets super powers from a wizard and has to figure out what to do with them. Zachary Levi (who was great in Chuck) did a good job of selling the “aw, shucks, I’m just a big kid” aspect of the first film.

So where’s the problem? The characters haven’t grown even slightly since the first movie. If you recall, Billy Batson, an orphan, is sent to a foster home with five other orphans. He stumbles across an ancient wizard who has traditionally lent his powers to “champions” throughout history (like Black Adam), and the champions defend mankind against threats. Saying “Shazam” (an anagram of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury, known as “immortal elders” because mythology was not a priority when the character was created) gives the champion a Superman-like set of powers: super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, flight, lightning bolts, and the “wisdom of Solomon” (remember that because I’ll revisit it). In the first movie, Billy manages to extend his powers to his foster siblings, creating a group of six heroes. It’s hinted in the first movie that each of the six has an affinity for a specific power but that’s just completely dropped in this outing.

And we come to our first problem. Dubbed by the press as the Philadelphia Fiascos, the six heroes are bumblers who manage to screw up everything they try. Not only have they not progressed from the first movie, they’re much worse. No real reason is given for the incompetence. It’s just there to create conflict and to contrast them with their opponents.

The opponents? Three bickering goddesses who have vastly different opinions of humanity and very different plans on how to deal with them. They’re ostensibly angry that the Champions (I can’t call them Shazams) have the powers of gods, which is a pretty good motivation, but they don’t all share that anger and they don’t agree on how they plan to address it. I’m also not entirely sure what happened to the rest of the gods that the three “Furies” were part of. So the “why” here is a muddled mess. And things really don’t make much more sense as we trudge through the movie.

Let’s digress for a moment and discuss the history of Shazam! Created by CC Beck and Bill Parker in 1939, the character in the red suit with the lightning bolt on his chest was named Captain Marvel, long before Marvel Comics ever existed. Published by Fawcett Comics, Captain Marvel was a HUGE success, outselling Superman through the 1940s. Captain Marvel was the first comic character to ever make the jump to movies, in a 1941 Republic Pictures serial. His success led to a group of Shazam-powered heroes featured in Fawcett Comics, the Marvel Family, with Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, Uncle Marvel, the Lieutenant Marvels, and even Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. Sound familiar? You know, like Superboy, Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog … yes, the similarities were noted.

Fawcett ceased publishing the Captain Marvel-related titles in 1953, largely because of a copyright infringement suit from DC Comics which alleged that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman (insofar as both characters are super-strong and can fly, I guess — suspicions about the case about because honestly the case was weak). Fawcett, however, finally simply threw in the towel and eventually DC Comics acquired all the rights to Captain Marvel and related characters and has attempted to integrate them into its comic “universe” with limited success. By the time DC acquired the rights, Marvel Comics had created its own Captain Marvel (you may recall the movie with Brie Larsen but that Captain Marvel wasn’t Marvel Comic’s first, or second, or third, or … well maybe fourth — that’s another discussion!). So in a convoluted legal resolution, DC was allowed to call the character Captain Marvel within the pages of the comics, which were branded as Shazam! Since then DC has tried to just call the character Shazam, but that’s a problem when saying that word triggers the magical transformation, right? Hi, I’m Shazam (boom — lightning hits and you’ve got a teenager standing there).

Why am I telling you all this? Because tonally the character of Shazam is much closer to the first movie than the second. The “gee, whiz” innocence is definitely part of the character, BUT the hero is. not. stupid. Remember the Wisdom of Solomon? Shazam always knows how to use his powers. Always. I gave it a pass in the first movie because Billy was learning, but in the second movie the ineptness doesn’t make sense, particularly considering the group has been doing this for at least a couple years.

I need to wrap this up, so let’s move to the go-to for Internet writers, the bullet list:

  1. The heroes are bumbling goofs with very few redeeming qualities.
  2. Watching Zachary Levi attempt to use slang is painful. I don’t know who wrote some of these lines but damn, don’t use slang that’s already outdated and then try to have a character that’s as white bread as you can get deliver it. It’s so bad it deserves its own bullet.
  3. There’s a big clash in tone, from a relatively innocent group of heroes to a murdering bunch of gods that rack up a very high body count.
  4. The villains don’t have much of a plan, and the heroes don’t have much of a plan to stop them, and so everything seems thrown at the wall without any significant plot. A couple of the villains change sides, but I’m really not sure why. Well, one likes Billy’s foster brother, so, okay?
  5. There is a literal deus ex machina that ends the movie. It’s a nice cameo but what the hell? It’s like the whole movie was written by committee.

Was there anything good? Well, Djimon Hounsou, Lucy Liu, and Helen Mirren deliver the hell out of their lines, but they still can’t make them make sense in the context of this movie.

So honestly, give it a miss. If you must see it, don’t pay money. It will be easily available in a couple of weeks, I suspect.

There you have it. The inaugural “Wednesdays at the Comic Shop.” Do let me know if you disagree with my conclusions, but I suspect almost everyone chose to NOT see this movie, and the box office total backs me up.



  1. I saw the first movie and agreed it was likable, but I thought turning it into Shazam and his friends was a really dumb idea. Levi was a lot of fun, so why distract from him so much, especially when the rest of them were so similar? It felt like something they did just to reuse a bunch of molds for action figure tie-ins.

    • …iirc…& it’s possible I don’t since they were never really a line I followed…the “shazam family” thing was lifted from the source material…which is itself a studio decision…but not one where they introduced something new for the movie component of what they’d obviously like to end up as a franchise

      …it’s…odd at the very least that DC have such a poor record with the live action stuff when their animation team have a much better track record going back to the mask of the phantasm…even comparing young justice to the comparatively grim-dark titans tv show it seems like they don’t seem to understand how to manage that transition…the animation wasn’t without some arcs that arguably were pitched to an older audience than is commonly associated with cartoons & was well received in ways the live action thing (deservedly in a lot of ways) wasn’t…let alone their brief foray into trying to get a monster-based movie continuity going…which they’d probably prefer nobody remembered they ever claimed to want to do

      …except…I think at this point james gunn is on record as saying frankenstein is going to be one of the first things to get made now he’s holding those reins…& based on some of the comics I’ve read with the DC variant of that character…& the james gunn films I’ve enjoyed…could (fingers-crossed-knock-on-wood-say-a-little-prayer) actually be pretty great…a lot better than the ezra miller flash movie they still aim to release at some point, anyway?

    • I’d agree. As I noted, there’s a long Marvel Family history, but I don’t think shoehorning a rewrite of them into the first movie added anything at all. And it also seriously affects the uniqueness of the title hero. There’s a reason that Marvel/Disney focused on single heroes initially to establish them before bringing them together.

      Cynically I suspect that since the “family” was created by Geoff Johns, who now holds some top-level creative title with Marvel/Disney, using them was both an ego-stroke and a licensing paycheck for him.

    • …ok…so these posts are clearly catnip for me & I should probably shut the hell up before I start in on the intersection between the legal history of the name captain marvel & arguably northampton’s most famously bearded export, the one & only alan moore…he of the profuse & frequently off-beat riffs on the superhero genre all the way up to the almost incomprehensibly meta supreme…not least when I strongly suspect it’s bryan’s answer you’re after

      …but in terms of burn out…I think what I’ve always somewhat resented…despite it clearly being the secret of marvel’s much more adroit navigation of the cinematic/streaming distribution channels…is that what’s always been a feature to the likes of DC & marvel but an interminable bugbear for many of the people I know who like a good comic is the endless cross-pollination/promotion “tie-in” effect of their much admired continuity…however good the actual movie I just watched was or wasn’t by the time I’ve seen the stinger in the credits it just always seems to have turned into a feeling that I just did the prerequisite homework for something that won’t be out for months or years

      …it’s not as bad as it gets with manga…just ask anyone who burned away innumerable hours watching any of the flavors of the dragonball franchise in the vain hope that something would happen other than a promise that it would if you tuned in for the next installment…but it’s at least on the same family tree?

    • Short answer for me is “no.”

      Longer answer: I’ve been trained by reading decades of comics through thick and thin to keep coming back for more. I like superhero comics, and I like the fact that superheroes are on screen, and I’m willing to overlook a lot to simply enjoy the fact that the two-dimensional characters that I have an unreasonable love for are brought to three-dimensional life.

      Now, I have adjusted my viewing habits. I don’t rush to the theater on opening weekend for much any more. Shazam, for example, I saw two weeks after it released. Same with the most recent Ant-man and Black Adam. I don’t have the same level of excitement I had for the first Avengers movie any more. And if a movie seems sufficiently bad, I could see waiting until it hits a streaming service to watch it.

      Where I am burned out is television. The proliferation of superhero TV series is such that I just don’t automatically watch whatever’s out there any more. I have very little compunction about dropping them when I lose interest as well. It has to have some significant level of differentiation to maintain my interest. Generic superhero stuff has been covered in excruciating detail. I’ll watch batshit crazy (Legends of Tomorrow or Doom Patrol) or black comedy/parody (The Boys) or sheer fun (The Tick in all its wonderful iterations and in a different way Stargirl) but things like Batwoman, Black Lightning, Pennyworth, Gotham, or Gotham Nights are all just the same show with different names run through a blender.

      • Definitely agree, as addressed by you and @splinterrip, the sheer amount of stuff is too much. I have a job, a blog I comment on incessantly and a family, I just don’t have time for a half-dozen new shows every month (and that pool includes this stuff AND Star Wars AND Star Trek AND whatever else comes along … all too much.)

        I also feel like Marvel is a prisoner of its success, in a way. They did so incredibly well to build to “Avengers” first and then to Infinity War and now that the cycle is over, it’s kind of like, I dunno if I’m ready to go another 30 movies to build to something else and I’m not totally invested in side character X’s movie either. But I’m not sure if the quality has declined or I’m just less into it, as the post-Endgame movies have been between “pretty good” and “woof” (OK, fine, that was “Eternals.”) Even Guardians 3 feels real meh to me, and I like the characters a lot and adore the first one.

        • That’s one reason I’m still onboard for movies. It’s a two-hour commitment every few months. Even streaming series like Titans or Doom Patrol are fairly easy to keep up with, since seasons are typically 8 episodes. And I’m watching the Star Trek and Star Wars streaming series as well. But again, mostly it’s 8 episodes.

          But CW series simply don’t really hook me for the most part. I even dropped Arrow and came back in season three. I was psyched for the shared universe of Crisis, but once that splintered apart afterward I didn’t have any reason to continue with a lot of the individual shows. The only one I’ve started and finished after that was Stargirl, because I’m a HUGE Justice Society fan, plus it was fairly light-hearted and fun. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for grim and gritty, but once you’ve got five or six shows vying for that spot, I’m not going to watch all of them.

          • I threw “Trek” in but I should come clean: I’m a much bigger fan of that and have watched all of it except Prodigy (which I intend to get to soon!)

            Picard S3 is very good and makes me extremely mad that they didn’t just make this to start with.

            • …I haven’t got as far as prodigy…but I’m on the same bandwagon where picard is concerned

              …& also curious…at least some friends with a fondness for trek are more leave it than take it but personally I rather enjoy lower decks

              …would you be including that in the everything-but-prodigy bit…& if so would you be more thumbs up or down on that one?

      • …I found pennyworth hard to get into but sort of interesting…it was somewhat a rollicking mess that might have been able to work on its own terms but the tenuous tie-in to a future batman with a prequel set in some sort of alt-blighty was a sort of sustained dissonance it was hard for me to get past?

        …& although I think I broadly agree with all of what you’re saying…I found the CW family of shows fascinating…legends was the only one I consistently liked (amazing given it-never-had-a-first-season-what-ever-do-you-mean) but at the outset I thought black lightning did a remarkable job on a limited budget & generally pulled off a balancing act in terms of content/allegory/allusion to “real-world” issues that supergirl/arrow/the flash never managed despite trying in a variety of ways to do…so I kind of had a soft spot for that one

        …& I will probably go to my grave remaining frankly impressed that they took a TV budget & decided to shoot for putting crisis on infinite earths onto the small screen…that’s chutzpah for the ages, if you ask me?

        • I am severely annoyed that the Crisis storyline was not collected onto a DVD set. I would love to watch it again, but I’m not going to buy the individual series or dredge through them on streaming to figure out the order. I should check some torrent sites and see if there’s a fan-made collection.

          • …amen to that

            …although it does irritatingly track with the crossover comic model that was ever a crutch to push sales in a flagging title in order to follow an arc that mostly took place in another…personally I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to shell out for whole seasons/box-sets of shows they mostly don’t want just to get the couple or three episodes that form part of the crossover…even if I’d grudgingly accept adding a handful of titles to a pull-list for the duration of a print crossover…at least with that you only paid for the ones you actually wanted/needed to complete the run…& the individual issues ran to a lot less than a box-set/season of the CW stuff?

  2. …I am…needless to say…nowhere near as cool as lester freamon from the wire…but I think he speaks for me on this…the post, that is…& hopefully others to follow…not the shazam sequel…which I think you’re bang on the money about…& it seems maybe so does zachary levi…what with his having posted (to instgram, maybe – I forget as I only saw a couple second-hand so to speak) more than one video in which he rather desperately implores people to pick watching that over, say, john wick 4…which he seemed to make out to be the thing people were staying away from shazam 2 in droves in order to watch instead…it…wasn’t a good look…& may have somewhat streisand-effect-ed the box office difficulties it already had?

  3. I would just like to point you all to possibly one of the best/worst superhero movies ever made, 1975’s “Superman: The Musical”:

    As if that weren’t enough, in 1977 there was this middling Superman disco hit:


      • The screen quality is not very good, sadly. This was the TV movie based on the Broadway musical (a flop, in 1966, but ABC decided to give it another shot.) Its real name is “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!” What’s amazing to me is Loretta Swit is in it, when did she find the time, since M*A*S*H (on rival network CBS) was a huge success by 1975, and they were doing around two dozen episodes a year. Also Allen Ludden is Perry White, and he was still hosting Password then, although it went off the air in 1975, so maybe he had some free time?

        I was predestined to write the Celebrity Sunday Matinee feature, it seems.

  4. I dislike how all the DC comic book movies are just so invested in being dark and serious. Exceptions being the Michael Keaton Batman movies and James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.*

    Anyways, I eventually got around to watching Dwayne Johnson glower his way through Black Adam on HBOMax and was like… when is there going to be a motivation for this character’s actions? WHEN? Oh great, Pierce Brosnan needed a paycheck.

    I’m not saying Marvel hits it out of the park all the time, but being a little more flippant and humorous helps when you’re watching people do crazy things in spandex.

    *which was enjoyable, but was exactly what I would expect if the dude who directed Guardians of the Galaxy was allowed to do whatever he wanted with a rated R movie. Tonally it was basically the same movie, just with lots of cursing and violence.

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