Saturday, 28 August 2010

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder #4

Good gravy, how the time flies. It's been a busy old week over here behind the scenes. There have been more than a few distractions from the actual business of writing about Superman. As well as the already linked podcasts (Amazing Spider-Man Classics Episode 13 and Teenage Wasteland: An Ultimate Spider-Man Podcast Episode 37), the Amazing Spider-Man Classics team wrangled the next episode into shape, added in some extremely dodgy renditions of various television theme songs, and released it as Episode 14. As before, I joined the team, and had a great time whilst doing. it.

In addition to this, a twitter papertrail led me to the SFX 200th Issue Celebrations. I started collecting SFX with issue 37 (Uma Thurman on the cover, promoting Gattaca), and stopped about 100 or so issues later. It's a big part of how I became a SF fan, and I think it's fair to say that without the magazine's glowing coverage of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which started long before the series made its way to the BBC, I may have overlooked the brilliance that was and is Joss Whedon until a lot later. A more direct influence on my comic reading is the article they did to celebrate the finale of Preacher, which turned me onto that series, and in turn to the idea that comics didn't have to be about men in capes and tights. The linked site is a special even they did for their 200th issue, whereby they link one feature from each of their issues. It's a great piece of nostalgia, especially for any Brits out there. Remember the days when the best we had in the UK was Bugs?

Anyway, that's enough distractions. We have some serious business to get down to.


First Thunder Part 4: Men And Boys! Gods And Thunder!


Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Joshua Middleton
Letterer: Nick J Napolitano
Associate Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Artist: Joshua Middleton
Cover Date: Febuary 2006
Release Date: 21/12/2005

Back in Metropolis, Clark relaxes in the Daily Planet newsroom, fending off questions from Lois Lane concerning his scoop from Fawcett City. Meanwhile, Dr Sivana is relishing the fact that he is about to rid himself of Captain Marvel. He doesn't care that this involves murdering a child, and that there is a possibility that the child being targeted might not even be the right one.


In the subway, Billy Batson changes into Captain Marvel, who shrugs off a hail of bullets. He leaps into the attackers, making quick work of them. Turning back to make some lighthearted banter with Scott, Marvel is shocked to see his friend unconscious, with a bullet wound to his chest. Marvel takes Scott to a nearby hospital. The doctors and surgeons work long and hard, but are unable to save his life. At the Fawcett City police station, Spec is being grilled by two detectives. Suddenly, Captain Marvel appears, ripping the door to the interrogation room off of its hinges. Ignoring the policemen with their guns on him, Marvel demands to know who sent him.


Dr Sivana is drinking to cover his disappointment at not having Captain Marvel killed. Marvel appears at the window, shattering all the glass in the penthouse. He grabs Sivana by the throat, wondering whether or not to let him live. When Sivana passes out, Marvel drops him to the floor and leaves. Coming to, Sivana decides to leave Fawcett for good.


The next morning, Clark sees reports of Captain Marvel's rampage. He flies to Mount Everest and finds Captain Marvel sitting in their spot. Superman demands answers as to why Marvel put so many lives in danger, but is taken aback to see him crying. Marvel tells Superman about Scott, that he was his best friend. Superman doesn't understand, and Marvel realises that he has to reveal his secret. He says 'Shazam' and turns back into Billy Batson, telling Superman that he feels it's too dangerous to be Billy anymore. Superman asks who did this to him.


A little while later, Superman confronts Shazam in the Rock of Eternity. He is angry that the wizard has given this responsibility to a child, removing the gift of childhood from Billy. Shazam tell Superman that Billy is a boy who needs guidance. Later on, Clark goes to visit Billy in a run down building. When Billy asks if he is from social services, Clark unbuttons his shirt to reveal his identity. Sitting down, he introduces himself to Billy.

Way back, in my coverage of issue one of this series, I teased in reply to a comment that I don't react to this series in the way I normally react to a Judd Winick comic. I normally find Winick to be a heavy-handed writer, fond of championing social issues but doing so with about as much subtlety as the time Darth Vader decided to use the Death Star to do a spot of light pruning in the garden of his holiday home on Coruscant. Wether dealing with homophobia in Green Lantern, or HIV in Green Arrow, readers have found themselves lectured by the comics they have read. Here, the social issue is homelessness, but instead of making it a focus of the story, Winick uses it as flavouring, an element to enrich the story without having Superman tell the readers that kids living on the street is A Bad Thing. It helps that the homelessness is an element of the original origin story for Captain Marvel.

Although the first three issues of the series don't do much for me, this fourth issue is far stronger. I can really get behind Marvel'sMarvel's driving seat, seeing the fears of a small boy in Marvel's actions comes across well on the page. I particularly like the way Superman redirects his anger when he sees Marvel crying, angrily defending a child's right to be a child to Shazam.


And then we get to the end of the issue, which ends with Superman stripping off to share a bed with a young, emotionally vulnerable boy. Yeah, in context of the issue it almost works as a moment where Superman puts the needs of one of his allies over his own desire to maintain a secret identity. But let's face it, there is a very uncomfortable and more-than-likely unintentional subtext to this scene that is completely wrong for the two characters involved.

The Geeky Bits: In this current age of the multiverse, Earth-53 has Superman as a fugitive, hunted by the JLA for crimes against minors. Or not...

Next on World of Superman: Superman gets locked up in Arkham Asylum. Have I taken the opportunity to skip 15 years of comics and jump right into Emperor Joker? Or have I just reached issue 3 of World's Finest?

5 comments:

  1. Michael Bradley (omike015)29 August 2010 at 03:34

    As I said before, I strongly disliked that ending.

    Anyway, I've been meaning to ask... I know you're going chronologically by continuity, but where did you get the order you're using? Is it from another site or your own personal sorting/legwork?

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  2. Interesting question, and one with an answer that would take up more space than it should do in the comments. In short, it's a personal judgement taking into account a number of different sources. Some of it is arbitary, some of it requires some Holmes-ian lengths of deduction. All of it is fun.

    I'll expand these ideas into a longer post at some point in the next few weeks.

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  3. When Kurt Cobain was asked to censor the cover to Nevermind he applied a sticker to the "offending" area that read: if you find this offensive then you're probably a paedophile.

    The implication being that if you look at a naked baby and the first thing you think of is the sexual context, well draw your own conclusion.

    So when I read this I saw Superman revealing his secret identity to a confused young superhero who needed support. Because he's SUPERMAN and not A CATHOLIC PRIEST.

    This is one of the MANY reasons comicbook fanboy annoy the living piss out of me.

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  4. I saw no problem with the ending. It only shows a fatherly care of the child. Nothing sexual about it. I did the same with my boys when they were little, shared a bed with them on camping trips, when they were scared of the thunder and lightning. So what is wrong here, other than some stupid Christian do gooder who cant keep their mind out of the gutter and thinking every one is out to do sexual things to kids. Just like Jerry Farwell did on Tinky Winky. Idiots all.

    ReplyDelete