Billy Batson isn’t usually one of DC’s horror characters, but in this week’s The Infected: King Shazam, writer Sina Grace got to write a Shazam story the writer calls as “disgusting and violent” as DC allowed him to be.
The stand-alone story, which is a tie-in to Batman/Superman’s “Infected” storyline, features a what Grace calls an “id” version of Billy Batson, a kid with a “chip on his shoulder” that decides to take revenge on some of the gods who give him his power.
As previews of Joe Bennett’s art have revealed, Shazam’s visits to the gods who make up his “S.H.A.Z.A.M.” pantheon will include a battle with Atlas - the Jack Kirby version of the deity who hasn’t been seen in DC publications for awhile.
This is the first project at DC for Grace, who was previously known for books like BOOM!’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Marvel’s Iceman. But the writer revealed to Newsarama that he’ll be writing more for DC next year.
Newsarama talked with Grace to find out more about The Infected: King Shazam #1.
Newsarama: Sina, if there was ever a character who is rarely portrayed as dark and edgy, it's little Billy Batson and his superhero alter ego Shazam. When you were first approached about the concept behind this story, what did you think of the opportunity to really delve into an “infected” version of such an iconically childlike character?
Sina Grace: Writing Billy Batson as a nasty villain was such a pleasure. A lot of what I’ve been working on lately has been about plucky youngsters, so I enjoyed getting to relax and work on a story where the character is not the best version of themselves.
After some back and forth on what the nasty “id” version of Billy would look like, we landed on this kid who’s a little lonely, a lot angry, and has a major chip on his shoulder when it comes to parent figures.
Nrama: Have you been a fan of Shazam in the past, or are you a newcomer to the character? Any comic book runs or media portrayals that formed your own perception of the character, or even the way you’re writing him here?
Grace: I feel like my appreciation for Shazam comes from the same place as my relationship was with Iceman when I began writing that series: I always liked the character, but hadn’t read a singular story that really did it for me.
When I got this gig, I re-read Power of Hope, watched the movie, caught up on what Geoff Johns is doing, grabbed some hardcovers, and also re-read the Jeff Smith book.
My hope is that when folks pick up this book, they’ll see a layer of Billy Batson that doesn’t always get explored and see how much a lesser version of him could resent the circumstances he’s in.
Nrama: The character and his infection has been established in Batman/Superman, but how would you describe the character as you’re writing him? And you mentioned that he’s angry?
Grace: Billy’s mood in this is sort of like The Good Son, but if we stripped away any sense of nuance and added in a free-floating rage. He’s a kid that has seen the worst of “the system,” as it were, and he’s acting out against the gods that he feels have put folks into positions of helplessness.
I had a lot of chats with Josh Williamson about how he’s handling the character in Batman/ Superman, and he helped me land on the voice - sort of being like a teen who realizes for the first time that he can be a bully - an incredibly effective, nasty, and cruel bully.
Nrama: We’ve noticed one of the gods, Atlas, in previews. You mentioned that he’s “acting out against the gods.” So will we see the other gods that give Shazam his power?
Grace: Readers will have to pick up the issue and see who else shows up! The fun thing to look forward to is that Billy kind of goes after whoever he can find, and I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises!
Nrama: Any other DC characters you’re getting to touch upon, or that Shazam interacts with in this special?
Grace: We kept the focus on Billy, Mary, and the pantheon of various DCU gods he beats the tar out of. Readers will get a little glimpse into stuff connecting with the larger “Infected” story, but I already had way too much going on with the Marvel family to try to somehow trick my editor into letting me sneak a random Zatanna scene in.
Nrama: What’s it been like working with the art team on this book? Did you mostly communicate with Joe Bennett via email? What does he bring to the comic book?
Grace: Joe is a frickin’ beast! I always lay my stories out myself before scripting, just to make sure what I’m doing makes sense, and everything Joe turned in was 20 times better than I could have ever imagined someone doing with the story.
For the first few weeks I didn’t even write him in the email threads because I was so respectful and in awe of his work, but towards the end I got the courage to send some compliments. He seems really frickin’ nice!
Hi-Fi handled the coloring, and I had worked with them in an editorial capacity, so it was great to just watch them turn in beautiful work and just send heart emojis over.
Nrama: Now that you’re writing this book for DC, will we see more DC work from you?
Grace: I think all that I’m allowed to share right now is that I have a little something coming up with DC early next year. I’m crossing my eyes, nose, and toes that I can play with a few other characters in the universe.
So far, everyone that’s been on the table has been a character that I resonated with.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about The Infected: King Shazam #1?
Grace: To all the fans out there: I tried to make this as disgusting and violent as I was allowed to within the ratings guidelines. Sorry not sorry.