Don’t mistake this for a political statement, but I can’t wait for the Bush administration to leave power. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales and the rest have been incredibly polarizing forces in the United States, perhaps the most polarizing forces since the Nixon Administration. Because it’s hard to not have a strong opinion on GW and his cronies, it’s hard to read any creative work that has a political element as some sort of parable about the Bushies.
In Shazam: the Monster Society of Evil, Jeff Smith has recast Captain Marvel’s enemy Dr. Sivana as the Attorney General and Director of Technology and Heartland Security. The craven, cowardly, war-profiteering Sivana spouts Bush administration lines like “Do you want the terrorists to win?” that are clearly intended to make readers think of the Bushies. Since Sivana seems to be trying to incite a war in order to make lots of money, Smith seems to be saying that the Bushies sent the U.S. into Iraq in order to pad their bank accounts.
There’s a time and place for this sort of statement, but I don’t know that this is the comic to deliver those messages. For one thing, the statements are kind of obvious, to the point where they feel very much like played-out clichés. For another, why have a political statement in a comic that’s intended in large part for kids? The political stuff doesn’t sit well alongside the fantasy elements of this comic.
But even when looking at the fantasy elements of this series, things seem a bit wrong. I feel uncomfortable seeing Billy Batson recast as a homeless boy. Readers aren’t given any indication of what caused Billy to be homeless, but instead simply see him living in abject squalor surrounded by roaches and rodents is pretty darn dark. It feels wrong for this most optimistic of all characters to have such a tragic background. His relationship with his sister Mary doesn’t feel true to life. Even the section that takes place on the Rock of Eternity just doesn’t seem well explained to readers; to me, the reasons for the invasion of the Monster Society of Evil don’t make a ton of sense.
Jeff Smith is still enough of a natural storyteller for this comic to not be a complete disaster. He has a wonderful way of presenting children, and I like his reinvention of Talky Tawny as an ifrit, a wandering spirit that turns from human to animal. It’s cool, too, that there are allusions to a deeper background to the characters, to a feeling that these are spirits that have been on Earth many times in the past.
But I can’t help but feel a deep disappointment in this book. Smith’s series Bone is a real classic of the comics form. In part its classic nature comes from the book’s timeless feel. Like all great fantasy, the story of Bone lived outside the times it was created in, as a story in part of the timeless spirit and life that even non-human creatures feel. Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, on the other hand, feels very contemporary, and that prevents it from being anything other than mediocre.