Shazam! Power of Hope

Posted: Saturday, December 2
By: Ray Tate
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Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC

Plot: What is Captain Marvel's purpose?

I'll confess. I really didn't believe Shazam! Power of Hope would be any good. Oh, I knew the artwork would be breathtaking. Alex Ross is the N.C. Wyeth or Howard Pyle of comic books. His depiction of Captain Marvel is reminiscent of the stills taken from the Captain Marvel cliffhanger serial from the thirties starring Tom Tyler.

Mr. Ross' sense of realism suits a character like Captain Marvel. The Captain fills out his costume. He looks like a hero. The gold sash around his waist is a signature to Mr. Ross' interpretation's success. The cape does not have a design. Instead, Mr. Ross takes away the gold flower-like patterns dotting the Captain's cape and replaces them with gold rope to give his costume even greater depth.

Kids are difficult to draw. I sketch. I know. Mr. Ross recreates the child in Billy Batson, and thank goodness, he's a bit of a lanky child. He doesn't look like a dark-haired Mickey Rooney. The artist casts a chorus line of kids having distinguishing features, and his artwork just makes me want to toast marshmallows over my burning sketchbooks. I know I can never be as good an artist as he. Nobody can.

Mr. Ross' contribution as I said came as no surprise. The pleasant shock arrived in the form of the story. Captain Marvel for the most part is a redundant character in a universe with a Superman. Super-strength, check. Super-Speed, check. Super-Senses, check. Flight, check. Captain Marvel's powers are magically based while Superman's abilities are scientific adaptations. So what? In terms of power, they may as well have been separated at birth. Mr. Ross reinforces their similarities. We see the Captain plug a volcano and with a teensy cameo by Mary Marvel stop a series of comets from impacting, but we also see him interact with the common mortal crimes. What seems to be a victimless attack against the environment quickly escalates, but the Captain's intervention comes before lives are threatened, and in those actions, we see someone who isn't only interested in saving lives but upholding the law. It doesn't matter that they are powerless, and he is not. He uses his powers for a broader spectrum of law-enforcement, and this makes the Captain more human and grounded than Superman who seems at times above it all. This is the job Captain Marvel was given by the wizard Shazam, and he does not shirk those duties. He has no hubris. He also reacts as a child given this extraordinary gift would react. The story's main theme by Paul Dini drastically separates the Captain from Superman in that the Captain's interaction with the children seems more natural. While we can see Superman doing the same, we cannot see him reacting in the same way. His behavior would be different: friendly to be sure but not engrossed and relishing the activities and sense of wonder of the kids. Ultimately, what Shazam! Power of Hope does is make the Captain once more pertinent. This is a welcome feeling for a venerable super-hero who deserves more respect than he gets.

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