Justice League #21When Gary Frank takes over interior art in Justice League #21, the comic will conclude the "Curse of Shazam!" story he's been building with writer Geoff Johns for the last year in the title's back-up stories.
The story is a complete revamp of DC's Shazam character, which debuted in the 1940s to become one of the best selling solo comic book characters of all time. The character was a young boy named Billy Batson who, when he uttered the word "Shazam," would turn into an invincible superhero.
Frank and Johns, who have been re-telling the "Shazam!" origin story since Justice League #7, are also working together on Batman: Earth One, a retelling of Batman's origin that is being released in book-sized volumes. The first volume was released in 2012, with a second volume expected later this year.
As the story of "Curse of Shazam!" culminates in June's Justice League #21, Newsarama talked to Frank about his approach to the Shazam characters and what readers can expect from the issue.
Newsarama: Gary, before we get into a discussion about Justice League, I noticed you and Geoff are donating some time during Comic-Con international in San Diego to raise thousands of dollars for the "We Can Be Heroes" effort through DC. How did that come about?
Gary Frank: I don't know how the whole thing came about but I'm just happy to be able to help. I don't think anyone who has been to Africa comes away untouched by the place. You see a lot of beauty and optimism but you also come away with an awareness of the huge gulf between what most of us have and what most of them have to make do with. Then, every now and then, a famine or a war makes everything a hundred times worse.Justice League #20
exclusive art previewSome of us, when times are hard, have to decide which comic book to drop or if we should keep buying paper comics or switch to digital. I'd urge everyone to check out the wecanbeheroes.org site and see what the people are going through in the Horn at the moment.
Nrama: It's great to see the money you guys have raised. Let's switch gears back to Justice League. Now that you're a year into the creation of the "Shazam!" story with Geoff, what were your overall goals going into the job? And what do you think you've achieved toward those goals during that first year?
Frank: I think we wanted to make Shazam!, first and foremost, a book that brought back some of the magic from the days when books were aimed primarily at kids. That doesn't mean dumbing it down, but trying to create an atmosphere of wonder and discovery that, hopefully, will take adults back and draw kids in. The idea of a kid who turns into a superhero is just so great, so pure. The key is identification and it was important that we made Billy a kid that people can identify with.
Nrama: DC is collecting all the ongoing backup stories into one book. Did you have that in mind at all when you were drawing it? Or is the project more about the short snippets as they've come out?
Frank: I think we knew there was a strong possibility of a collected edition. The "snippets" were there by necessity — and each segment was tailored to stand that way — but I think it'll be more fun to read it all together.
Nrama: Since you've had a year to build toward this full issue, have the visuals evolved as you've been working on the story?
Frank: Not much. I think we both knew from the start how we wanted the book to look.
Nrama: Then let's talk about some of the choices you guys made about the way it looks. Readers have noticed that the lightning seems to be emanating from the chest emblem of the magic characters. How did that idea develop, and what were the thoughts behind its use?
Frank: That just came from the idea that there is a world of magic that we can't see. The Rock of Eternity exists at a dimensional remove from us, so I thought it might be nice if the chest emblem was kind of a window into a magical dimension. What you are seeing is the source of Billy's power.Justice League #20
exclusive art previewIt was also important to make his power look distinctive and all of his own. How many other superheroes can fly and are super-strong? We wanted Shazam! to look like he was powered by magic.
Nrama: Looking back at the "Shazam!" story so far, what's been your favorite scene or concept to develop so far?
Frank: I love the way the kids interact; particularly Billy and Freddy. Those are the scenes that make this story a little special to me. They just feel so real. Too real, maybe. I'm beginning to suspect that Geoff is not entirely grown up!
Nrama: I'm thinking you're right. Shazam comes across as a big kid through Geoff's dialogue, but you've also captured that idea visually. What's the key to making it clear, through the art, that this huge man is actually just a kid?
Frank: I just have a lot of fun with the body language. I have two kids of my own and so I think I'm channeling some of that ungoverned, awkward energy. If I'm drawing a kid, I'll do the same thing but, as a reader, it's what you expect to see so it isn't noticeable. The moment you put those expressions and gestures onto a gigantic superhero you get this striking, incongruous effect. It's a lot of fun.
Nrama: Yet that's being contrasted in the story by the introduction of Black Adam, and his origin is the focus of your upcoming full issue of Justice League in #21. How would you describe the character? And how do you portray his personality through the art?
Frank: Black Adam is a complex character. He thinks of himself as a hero. A great man. He thinks he is doing the things that a great man would do but, in fact, he isn't a great man at all. He is a small man with a lot of power. He may have originally wanted that power as a means to a good end but the thing about power is that those who have it often start believing that they deserve it. The next tempting step is to start believing that they deserve it because they are better than everyone else. I don't think we have to look far for real life examples of this.Justice League #20
exclusive art previewSo Adam is like that. He believes his acts are great because they are his acts. But, inside, there is nothing great about him so he just becomes a brute. And, of course, he cannot share his power because that would mean accepting that he isn't uniquely great.
How does that come out in the art? Well, mainly it's about having him look at everyone else as though they are pond life. Geoff had the idea that he always floats slightly above the ground. He doesn't want to come down to our level.
Nrama: We've talked about Billy and Black Adam, but what other characters are you particularly enjoying as an artist?
Frank: I like Freddy. He has so much character. He's fun to do because he isn't always doing the right thing, but he does the wrong thing only when it's absolutely necessary in order to have some fun.
Nrama: In issue #21, your full issue of Justice League, can you reveal any of what we'll see visually that we might not have seen so far in the "Shazam!" story?
Frank: Well, it's the climax of the story so, of course, there will be some big action going off. We'll see a little more of why Billy was the right one to take this power and we'll see Mr. Bryer is wishing he stayed at home for Christmas.
Nrama: After issue #21, will you still be working on Shazam? Or is there another project in the works that you can tell us about?
Frank: After #21, we're diving straight back into Batman: Earth One. I know DC has plans for Shazam! though.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Shazam?
Frank: He isn't a Superman clone. Read the book. You'll see.