Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Trials of Shazam! (DC)
Where: DCU: Brave New World #1 When: August 2006 Why: Judd Winick How: Howard Porter

Quick Fix...
If you're inclined to glean ahead for a preview of things to come, you'll see this is a double feature none too subtly influenced by one of our fantasy fights; specifically the Round 1 encounter between Captain Marvel Jr and Hercules.

It was while satisfying my own curiosities that I discovered just how unfortunately tilted our efforts are. To regular readers it's no secret that back issues provide a disctinctly Marvel-coloured look back, but it's when observing the cumulative character rankings [Super Stock] that you really appreciate the situation. Marvel characters outnumber their DC counterparts by a little over two-to-one - a pretty damning statistic for fair balance! Made only worse when you consider the registered appearances of members of the Legion!

Ergo; that long winded journey behind the scenes brings us to arrive at an opportunity to induct Captain Marvel Jr into the Infinite Wars proper.

I suppose there's a catch to attempting something like this with absolutely no affiliation with a character. Aside from knowing he wears a gaudy version of the Captain Marvel outfit which supposedly inspired Elvis Presley's wardrobe and moral fibre - I don't really have any reference for the character.

I think my general oblivion boils down a common distain for characters that derive themselves from more successful franchises, without any major differentiation. We've discussed this in the past, particularly for female spin-offs, with notable exceptions being characters like She-Hulk, who have strong identity, and a mythos that has built around them [all hail Slott! - Marionette Mike].

Of course, whilst talking about Trials of Shazam, it occurred to me that I'm inclined to make noted acceptions for a character if and when they inherit the mantle from which they were derived. I could make wild generalizations about the functionality of one version over another, but I think I'm just going to put it down to circumstances. Better ideas come to better writers in better situations.

I don't know if this particular scenario necessarily constitutes the salvation of Freddie "Captain Marvel Jr" Freeman, but as part of the DC $1 80 page sampler, Brave New World, it's well worth a look!

We join our junior hero already locked in mortal battle with a trio of long thought vanquished beasts called Iron Goblins. The specifics of how these blindfolded goblins differ from the garden variety, I do not know, but they're certainly big, bad, ugly, and capable of swatting Cap Jr around like a ragdoll!

A single punch sends Freddie hurtling across the extravagant Prague location where the battle is taking place, sending him into a wall that is no doubt very old, and very valuable. The Goblins quickly descend on him, but the Marvel is far from out of the fight. He leaps over one goblin, delivering a kick to another.

Freddie's turning momentum is suddenly interrupted by the magical lightning bolt that grants (and strips) him of his fantastic powers. Where the blue suited Captain Marvel Jr stood, now stands the casually attired, powerless Freddie!

The youngster desperately cries the name of the friend that grants him his powers, Captain Marvel, but for the first time he finds himself alone.
Unaware of events transpiring elsewhere which have seen the death of the Wizard Shazam; Freddie finds himself on the painful end of a deft blow from the Iron Goblins. He hurtles through windows, alone. and defeated, as the Goblins wander off into the world, no longer interested.

Now, I would have to admit, enjoyable as this short story was, it failed to entice me to the maxi-series it was advertising, which struck more specifics chords away from what I perceive as a dense, but frenetic superhero presentation.
Of this Brave New World preview; we might see more, returning to look at battles involving Mary Marvel, and the big red cheese himself.

On Trials of Shazam; it was browsing over reviews recently that I was forced to pause and reassess my opinion of the book. It was probably that that kept Cap Jr in my mind for the opening round of the DC/Marvel Fantasy Fights, because otherwise it's a series entirely below the broad radar, I think.
For me; particularly off the back of Jeff Smith's niche mini-series; Trials just lacked the glitzy appeal of something more familiar. As a general fan of the golden age, I can't help but feel it's a shame DC haven't been able to dedicate more time to depicting the character in a contemporary-classic fashion, reinventing the character with a similar flavour to books like JSA, or even something like Batman: Year One.

As much as Porter's pseudo-painted CG work was a draw, (while it lasted), for many readers, I couldn't help but feel it highlighted the divide between what I'd love to have seen of Shazam in the 00's, and what was finally being served up.
That said, I think it's incredibly admirable to see the Marvel family more closely associated with versions of the gods from which they derive their powers, and the broad magic corner of the DCU, which probably benefits from the association as much as the Marvels are fleshed out beyond the hokey rogues pre-existing.

I don't know if I'm sold on Trials, despite it's gladiatorial suitability for the Infinite Wars, I am very open minded to the future of the Marvel family, and the prospect of Junior graduating to fully fledged Captain Marvel. I think that's an exciting oppotunity not only for that character, but for the franchise of the "Shazam" characters. Fun!

The IRON GOBLINS aren't really a likely returning prospect...The Fix: 3.5 The Story: 4.5
Winner: The Iron Goblins

DCU: Brave New World might not be the New Frontier, but as a bargain priced promotional sampler it represents a trend I'd love to see more of! While most titles featured within are finite, or inevitably to be suspended, I don't think DC should be discouraged.
If you enjoyed the art in this portion of the Quick Fix; be sure to check out the first volume of Trials of Shazam, available at Amazon and featuring all the art from Howard Porter before he was forced from the project due to injury.

Terminus Factor Part III: ... Can Terminus be far Behind? (Marvel)
Where: The Mighty Thor Annual #15 When: February 1990 Why: Roy Thomas How: Herb Trimpe

Quick Fix...
So, like I said, I've had a couple of vaguely obscure Beta Ray Bill stories on the to-do list for a very long time. One of those, a story from the '93 Thor Annual, seemed like a great follow-up to the monster/myth antics at work in Trials of Shazam, but on a whim I grabbed the 1990 Annual just to have a flick through for interesting back-ups.

Lo and behold, rounding out the fantasy fight that inspired this Double Feature, Thor Annual #15 presents a portion of the Terminus Factor starring Thor's Greek demi-god foil, Hercules!

I suppose it's good synergy that I've never been much of a Hercules fan.
I at least have a familiarity with Hercules that I don't with Captain Marvel Jr, but that familiarity only furthers my contempt for the character.

These days he tends to be a parody of himself, and honestly you could be forgiven for thinking that was always the case. His oafish buffoonery was once played straight, but the character seems to be at his best when he's dim-wittedly pledging himself to a charging action shot, or throwing down as the obligatory second-tier muscle in a group. It would be as an Avenger that I am most familiar with Hercules, otherwise relatively disinterested.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and while I might not be ready to consider myself a Hercules fan, I am at least interested in some of the more recent outings by the character. Hercules was among the obscure collective minority that was sympathetic to Hulk's cause during the events of World War Hulk, something you might have thought more characters could've been involved in, but alas, such is the course of restructuring major events.

Post-World War Hulk, Hercules will inherit Incredible Hulk as his own title, with the specifics as yet unrevealed. Our blogging contemporary, ComicByComic, has more than once proposed the interesting prospect of Hercules adopting his own raging alter-ego as a condition of the series, although, that scenario has presumably befallen another character who will be the subject of the Red Hulk title; written by Jeph Loeb and deliciously drawn by Ed McGuinness; but I digress...

So, anyway, if you're a dedicated War Monger you'll know way back in August 06 we touched upon the emergence of the Terminus goo post-gestation from deep within a volcano [Captain America Annual #9].
By the third chapter the Terminus entity has worked it's way through the food chain to be rabid, metallic animals, but when they rampage their way to the Blackrock Nuclear Power Station, they transform into bulky humanoid Terminus creatures with infantile intelligence.

Fortunate for the authorities, Hercules is on the scene and more than willing to tackle the physical challenge of this small mob of six-or-so Termini!

The demi-god finds himself in a position of Samson qualities, but is more than ready to meet the shackled tear of the monsters with superhuman strength! He smashes the two Terminus creatures together, boasting his power as son of Zeus.

Other members of the Termini group descend on Hercules with gusto, regarding the situation with the same primal simplicity of their earlier counterparts.
Hercules bowls through the pack with the staggering power of the punch, but as he makes his charge into battle, the demi-god finds his boots betray him, slipping in the spilt radioactive goop that powered the Termini's evolution.

Violently imitating Hercules' curses, the Termini descend upon the opportunity, tearing and crushing the Avenger into submission. With Hercules unconscious, the Termini begin to squabble amongst themselves like angry children, leading to the shock fourth-stage transformation. Forming into a giant singular entity, the reborn Termini begins to take shape, as Hercules comes to to witness not only the shocking change, but the descent of the original creature - Terminus!

And if you're wondering, for record purposes we're going to regard "the Termini" hive entity as an extension of Terminus. This means, even though the creature can fight itself divided, it will be statistically measured as one Terminus.

With that little bit of house keeping out of the way, I'm going to wrap this one up! It's very late, I think I lost my focus a long time ago, and we've got to gear up for [today's] regular original Friday entry!

While you're sitting tight for that, be sure to check out all of the other fun stuff popping up around the Infinite Wars, including an exciting new poll! If you scroll back up toward the top of the page, you'll find the poll inset into the right-side menu, asking you to predict which company will win our Fantasy Fights!

The Fix: 3.5 The Issue: 4
Winner: The Termini

With Messiah Complex weaving it's way through the X-Titles right now, this kind of vintage crossover event is a topical subject of debate. In the Annual format, we can see how it's far less offensive to pick-up a book starring a supporting (or unrelated) character, but whether or not this has a place in contemporary comics, remains to be seen!

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