|How "Shazam Blam" is not the name of some band, I do not know.|
Fantastical Shazam has always been an odd concept to try to fit into the regular DCU. If regular is a word that can be applied to the home of Bat-Mite, Jonah Hex, Wild Dog, Kanjar Ro, Swamp Thing, Starman, and Green Arrow.
|Or even JUST Green Arrow.|
So just as he did with his renovation of Aquaman, Johns has focused on expanding the "subuniverse" to which the character is native. As he gave Aquaman seven undersea kingdoms to immerse himself in,
|That's for those of you who only saw the movie.|
so too has he given Shazam the Seven Magic Kingdoms to thunder around in.
|Eh, why bother to come up with a new idea? I mean, what are the odds that the public is going to be paying attention to Aquaman AND Shazam at the same time...?!|
This is a bit pat and predictable, but in Issue #5, where Billy's siblings Freddy and Mary are sentenced to death in the Wildlands, a place of talking animals where humans have been hunted to near extinction, Johns does his classic trick of hitting you in the face with something you obviously SHOULD have seen coming but didn't (because he lulled you into a false sense of security by being pat and predictable).
|Pictured: Pat and predictable|
In the Wildlands, we learn that tigers, having betrayed the cause during the Great Animal Revolution, are essentially political prisoners, considered untameable and unworthy of integration into animal civilization. Including this one:
Who is cruelly stripped of his clothes (the symbols of being civilized):
the clothes-conscious Tawky Tawny, one of Billy's best friends from the Golden Age.
This is a great test passed. If you can't make the likes of Tawky Tawny and Mr. Mind work, well, then, you probably shouldn't be messing with Shazam in the first place. That sort of inbuilt weirdness and whimsy is part of what keeps Shazam from becoming just another grim and cynical superhero.
|And what kind of terrible person would want that?|
This is classic Johns' character revivification in action: pare a character down to its core historical characteristics recognizable to the public, embrace those aspects of the character, and built outward from them. But with his introduction of Mr. Tawny in the Wildlands, I finally noticed something unique in his approach to bringing back characters....
A regular writer working on a such a character usually says
"What can I change about the character to make them fit into our existing universe?"
Geoff Johns, however, asks a different question:
"What can I change about our existing universe to make the character fit into it?"
His approach isn't subtractive (lessen the character), it's additive (expand the universe). A simple example is "the emotional spectrum" for Green Lantern, which, in retrospect is just a logical rearrangement and extension of concepts that were already in the DCU. With seven colors. And seven emotions. Because... seven.
|Geoff Johns, I publicly dare you to bring back the eight-themed Octopus; |
WITHOUT chopping off one of his tentacles to make it seven.
I've criticized GJ for his awkward storytelling before. Oh, sure, there is almost always an ultra-clever reveal, but too often motives are vague and the plot is some variation on 'then it gets even WORSE and now our hero(es) can't possibly win, except, now they DO, for no discernible reason other than that it is time for them to do so, and um, is this story over now or-- OH LOOK something mysterious is happening elsewhere that must be the beginning of another story!"
|Literally every issue of JSA.|
But with this reintroduction of Tawky Tawny, I've decided to let go of my annoyances at GJ's storytelling. Because Johns ISN'T a storyteller; he's a mythmaker. He (re)creates the worlds and characters that make great storytelling POSSIBLE.
People talk a lot about Great Writers and the Great Stories they write and how Nothing Else Matters If The Writing is Great. If you ask me, great writers (and great stories) come and go. What do you REALLY remember better: individual stories about heroes or the characters and the world they inhabit? Stories are told once. Characters and their worlds, however, go on; I tip my hat to writers, like Johns, who make sure that they do.