Review by Frank Plowright
With magic in the DC universe being redefined, Freddy Freeman has to earn the power of Shazam all over again by proving himself worthy to modern day avatars of Solomon, Hercules, Achilles, Zeus, Atlas and Mercury. The clever aspect of Judd Winick’s opening volume was the updating of classical figures, even if this was at odds with the previous innocent charm of Captain Marvel’s stories. The flaws were that too much was too convenient just because magic was mutating unpredictably, and the unbearably arch and clichéd collected descendants of Merlin, the charmless villains of the piece.
Both the good and the poor continue through this conclusion. Sabina, a Merlin descendent is a nasty piece of work, and as determined as Freddy to collect powers. Volume one concluded with Freddy about to face off against Sabina, and that’s dealt with in an opening chapter also incorporating a look at her past. Sabina recurs throughout this conclusion, and as that’s the case, her role might have been better expanded earlier. Despite the background, Winick fails to differentiate her from any other cold-hearted killer seen in comics, neglecting any real motivation other than power for power’s sake. He’s far better when continuing to come up with imaginative modern world interpretations of the old gods, with the method by which Atlas now holds up the world standing out.
Midway through this collection Mauro Cascioli replaces Howard Porter as artist, and that’s a definite plus. Cascioli has a tendency to oversell some of the action and some problems with anatomy to start with, but his pages are an attempt at excitement absent from Porter’s contributions starting the book. Freddy as almost Shazam facing Apollo looks like what it’s intended as: two gods going at it hammer and tongs, and Cascioli rapidly adjusts to what he’s doing, and each successive chapter looks better than the last. By the penultimate chapter his pages look fantastic, the cast suitably heroic and the action first rate.
It’s a shame Winick’s plot doesn’t keep pace. He throws in more and more guest stars, but there’s little purpose to their use, and anyone keeping count will probably figure out where the ending heads. For all the trials, however, DC changed their editorial mind very rapidly about Freddy being Shazam, and another reboot wasn’t far away.
In 2019 this content is due to be combined with Volume One as The Trials of Shazam! The Complete Series.