Artist GARY FRANK Talks SHAZAM's New Look; Reveals Surprise

Comic fans have gotten a few peeks at art for this month's debut of The Curse of Shazam! but artist Gary Frank said there are still a lot of surprises.

The New 52 version of the "Shazam" character — once star of the most popular superhero comic in America — begins later this month as a back-up feature in Justice League #7. Written by Geoff Johns with Frank on art, The Curse of Shazam! will introduce characters that will eventually interact with the Justice League.

Last week, readers got their first look at the character's new costume, which keeps several elements from the character's original look — like his signature lightning symbol — but with a few striking changes, including a hood.

"I really like the old costume, but I knew from the outset that it is perceived as being dated," Frank said. "We needed something that looked good in a contemporary setting but still felt timeless. The most important thing was that it had to have a magical feel to it so that was always the reference point."

"The book is all about magic," Frank said. "Everything has to remind us that magic is at the heart of the story so the costume was designed to echo that. There are pure superhero elements but there is also the fantasy element. We didn't want another superhero costume, modernized and updated. There's mystery here."

Readers also saw inked pages Shazam when Geoff Johns gave Newsarama exclusive details about the story, which will revamp the origin and identity of the hero known now as "Shazam."

But Frank said the bespeckled boy who's featured on those pages (one of which Newsarama has now acquired in color) is not Billy Batson.

 

"Billy doesn't appear in the pages that have already been released," Frank told Newsarama, adding that Billy doesn't have glasses. "It isn't Billy."

In the character's original story, a young orphan named Billy Batson discovers a wizard who gives him the ability to turn into an adult superhero. All he had to do is say the magic word, "Shazam."

"The original concept was a great, pure piece of wish-fulfillment," Frank said.

While that basic premise of the story will stay the same, Johns revealed to Newsarama in January that the name of the adult superhero will now change from "Captain Marvel" to the word more commonly associated with him: "Shazam."

"You'll see it actually make sense in story, why he's called Shazam rather than Captain Marvel," Johns said.

The cast for Shazam! will also be familiar to fans of the original, including the villainous Black Adam, Billy's friends Mary and Freddie, Dr. Sivana, and the Wizard.

Johns has already revealed that in the revamp, Billy Batson is "a foster kid at a crossroads in his life" and called him a "troubled teenager" who takes an "emotional journey."

"Billy is a complex kid," Frank told Newsarama. "He doesn't see himself as a good kid but he's prepared to try and fake it if it gets him where he wants to go. We'll learn more about him as the book goes on and I really don't want to give too much away so early."

And while the pages released so far have a very fantastical feel to them, Frank said the story is "set in the real world, but there is a lot of fantasy in there."

It's also an all-ages story. "If you're an adult, give it to any kids you know," Frank said. "I think they'll get into it, even if they aren't familiar with the original."

 

The artist said that although he's modernizing costumes and settings, he's still pulling from the original story as he designs characters like Mary, Freddie and Black Adam. "Mary and Freddie are there. Mary hasn't changed much but we've had a little fun tweaking Freddie," Frank said. "There will be other kids, too, and I hope the readers will enjoy getting to know them.

"It's just a great, fun kids' story," the artist said. "The kids themselves are such fun characters to draw. I have two boys so I'm drawing a lot on the way they behave for the book."

But the artist said there are also a lot of updates and changes to the original designs. "This Wizard is most definitely not the Wizard you know," Frank said of the revamp. "We really wanted to give everyone something new and the Wizard is part of that.

"Black Adam is done but we won't see him for a while," the artist added, describing one of Shazam's main villains. "His design is a little different, but similar enough that you'll know it all comes from the same place."

Even though Frank and Johns have the graphic novel Batman: Earth One coming out later this year, the artist said their commitment to the story of Shazam! is long-term.

"We want to make a decent stab at a story," he said. "We're not thinking of it as a back-up strip, but as something that'll make a satisfying read on its own terms, so you can expect us to be at it for a while."

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