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 Home > Wizard > Features
THE STRATEGEM OF SMITH
The Bone-maker turns his talent to Captain Marvel with tomorrow's Shazam! Monster Society of Evil debut... and provides us with a sneak peek at the second issue!

By Brian Warmoth

Posted February 6, 2007  3:15 PM

Billy Batson commands the wisdom of Solomon, but DC’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil harnesses the comic-book lightning of creator Jeff Smith this week. As an indie comics dynamo whose trademark series Bone crackled through bookshelves like electricity through a grounded object, Smith steps into the role of writer and artist for Shazam! after a long road of planning and preparation.

“I got a call in the fall of 2001 from Mike Carlin at DC Comics wondering if when I finished Bone—because everybody knew I was getting near the end—if I wanted to do a superhero comic,” Smith recalls. “I asked him what superhero he had in mind, because Batman and Superman have been done pretty well, and I couldn’t picture myself working on those characters.”
 
Captain Marvel, however, was precisely the bait DC needed to pique Smith’s interest in molding his first superhero book, a four-issue, prestige format miniseries.

“I still think he’s one of the more pure characters that really comes straight from that Golden Age, and I mean that in the broadest sense of the term,” Smith explains. “It’s that pure moment at the beginning of comics when superheroes really defined the medium.”

In preparation, Smith looked to the superhero comics of the 1940s, when Captain Marvel was a sales juggernaut for Fawcett Comics, to determine what about the hero resonated with readers then, and whether that could register again today.

 
“One of the very first things I did was go buy a bunch of those old Golden Age Captain Marvel comics from the heyday. They aren’t cheap,” he chuckles. “I read some of the archives that DC puts out. But I also watched all of the old Fleischer Superman cartoons, and I watched the original Republic movie serial [‘The Adventures of Captain Marvel’].”

Smith found inspiration in Billy’s command of such astonishing powers as a small child and the perspective youth casts on such superpowers. “The main thing was just how little Billy Batson, a little kid, how simple it is that he has this magic word that he says and he’s invincible—he’s Captain Marvel,” Smith says. “I really tried to play up the use of the magic word, to make it fun again, to make you almost wish you had a magic word.”

The Monster Society of Evil emerged as Captain Marvel’s elite alliance of foes, including such 52 cast members as Mr. Mind, Dr. Sivana and Black Adam.

 
As the last issues of Bone dragged out, becoming what Smith calls “the most painful experience of my life,” the Captain Marvel project’s launch was postponed. While Smith was detained, Dan DiDio replaced Carlin as DC’s executive editor and Judd Winick stepped up to begin re-devising Captain Marvel’s place at DC. Continuity swung away from Smith’s vision for his Captain Marvel project, and the window almost appeared to have shut.

The tides of Infinite Crisis rolled in, however, and as Winick follows Freddy Freeman in The Trials of Shazam! right now, DC’s spotlight is once again ready for Smith to shine on Billy Batson.

 
The Monster Society of Evil goes back to Batson’s early years, and Smith has ensured the book won’t be labeled an alternate history or imaginary tale. “When I was asked to do it, I was asked to relaunch Captain Marvel, and I have a clause in my contract saying that this is continuity,” Smith states. “This is continuity. This is not an All-Star version.

“As far as tone goes, I’m treating it like Indiana Jones,” Smith says. “I’m not doing some silly, lighthearted version or whimsical version of Captain Marvel.”

As he demonstrated with Bone, Smith is more than capable of placing starry-eyed, cleanly designed characters in tales of hefty pathos and struggle. Pivoting out of his creator-owned international success, Shazam! shifts his writing gears into a deeply rooted property that challenges a different set of gears.

“I started it, and once I started it I wanted to finish it,” Smith explains. “I wanted to do something after Bone that was completely different, and I think this is.”

 


Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #1 hits shelves tomorrow... Go pick up a copy!

 
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