Captain Marvel may now be known as Shazam but back in 2007, Jeff Smith, the creator of BONE, wrote and drew a four-issue prestige miniseries featuring the origin of the characters in SHAZAM! THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL.
As we are currently seeing the origin of the character in the back-ups in Geoff Johns' JUSTICE LEAGUE, Jeff Smith told it in a less serious fashion. By less serious, it doesn't mean less important. The current version by Johns and Gary Frank is telling a more mature story in a slightly darker DCU. Jeff Smith takes a more all-age approach.
Just because it's all-ages doesn't mean it's just for kids. It means this is the type of comic everyone can enjoy.
The story starts out with young Billy Batson, a homeless orphan. Forced to fend for himself and avoid the dangers of living on the streets. We witness Billy mysteriously finding his way to the Rock of Eternity where he first meets the Wizard.
With the appearance of Captain Marvel (or Shazam as he's being called today), we see the relationship between him and Billy. There are those moments of discovery as well as Smith's fun natured bouts of humor mixed in with the action.
Don't get the wrong impression. This story isn't just about bullies and hot dogs. With a title like "The Monster Society of Evil," you know there's definitely more to the story.
We also have the likes of Dr. Sivana, Mary Marvel, Tawky Tawny and other familiar faces introduced. The story contains high adventure as monsters begin to attack, just as Shazam is getting used to his return. With Jeff Smith delivering the story and art, it truly is something everyone can enjoy. This is what comics should be about - a great and fun story with great art. My daughter was five when I first read this to her. She loved every bit of it.
You don't need to know anything about the characters going into this story. This is truly the kind of book you could lend to a friend to show the what comics can be like. The hardcover collection (I liked it so much much I bought the four issue prestige comics and then the hardcover as well) does contain extra content. Sketches, notes and a production journal is included. Plus, with the hardcover, the dustjacket unfolds into a giant-sized poster.
We clearly need more comics like this. There is a deep importance in having comics suitable for everyone. We need the youth of today to be able to read and learn about the characters so they can become the comic fans of tomorrow. This isn't a story that's watered down to be 'safe' for younger readers.
Will this story change the face of comic books? Not necessarily. It is a great example of what comics can be about. They don't have to be all doom and gloom and laden with death and despair. Comic books can and should be fun.