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Judd Winick and the Trials of Shazam (joss whedon mention)

Friday 19 May 2006, by Webmaster

Think of him as one of the repair projects coming out of Infinite Crisis. For years, Captain Marvel, aka Shazam has been seen in a variety of interpretations, from “the Big Red Cheese” to Superman’s twin brother, to well, generic hero x. Also for years, Judd Winick has been itching to change that.

And in August, he gets his chance. Debuting as a preview story in June’s Brave New World, Winick, along with artist Howard Porter will tell of the Trials of Shazam. Following the initial story, the twelve issue maxi series will kick off in August, working to redefine Shazam and the entire Marvel Family for the present day.

We spoke with Winick about the character, and the upcoming maxi series.

Newsarama: First off - what is it with you and this character? Superman/Shazam: First Thunder wrapped up not too long ago, you wrote the arc in the Superman books last year with Shazam, and now - twelve parts with The Trials of Shazam. What’s the attraction and where did it come from?

Judd Winick: You know at conventions, when you do panels - there’s always the question of, “Are there any characters that you really want to do that you’ve never had the chance to do?” For about seven years or so, I’d always say, “Yeah - Captain Marvel.”

About three or four years ago at one of the huge DC panels at a show, I was sitting next to Jeph Loeb, and I say that, and Jeph just turns to me and says, “Why don’t you? I think that would be great.” And Dan [Didio] is sitting back there, chuckling and nodding, because we’d been talking about it for about a year at that point.

NRAMA: So you were already working on your plan at that point?

JW: Kinda. I think it was the very first pitch I made - just after Bob Schreck moved to DC Comics, and everybody that Bob knew in comics called him up and asked him for a job. I hadn’t bugged him yet, so he bugged me. The very first thing I gave him was the First Thunder idea. They didn’t go for it.

NRAMA: Why not?

JW: It wasn’t too long before that they had a Shazam series end - Jerry Ordway’s series. It was recent history to a lot of people,. So they were gun shy about it, let alone that it sounded a little “Year One” ish and it sounded something like a restart...and no one bit.

So, a few years ago, when I was talking to Dan, I pitched it again, and basically sold it to him on the ending. I told him that it was the first time they meet, they talk...and then, I told him the ending where Billy’s friend dies, Captain Marvel tries to exact revenge, and Superman gets pissed off at him, which ultimately cases Captain Marvel to reveal that he’s a ten year old boy named Billy, and Superman freaks. I went right to the last image in pitching it to Dan, Superman’s line of, “My name is Clark.”

So Dan loved it. And then it took three years to find an artist, who was Josh Middleton.

So - long story short, I love Captain Marvel - I’ve wanted to do Captain Marvel for years.

NRAMA: So let’s hit the heady one - who is he to you? There are obviously a lot of versions to take your pick from...

JW: He’s all over the map - as a character, he’s almost an abstraction. Depending on whose hands he’s in, he can become light through a prism - completely fractured. You’ve got the old school approach with talking Tigers in business suits and worms with voiceboxes and goggles; and then you’ve got other people who are treating him like a poor man’s Superman, which drives fans crazy...as well as other folks.

NRAMA: So if he’s been interpreted in so many ways over the years...

JW: He lacks an identity. Part of it is because, like the major characters in the DCU, he’s incredibly old. But he’s never really had an update. He’s never really been integrated into the modern day. Bill Batson is a kid who’s two degrees away from wearing his newsboy’s cap and hollering “Paper, mister?” on the corner while he sells newspapers. So, when we started talking about it, we started talking about what it would take to bring Captain Marvel into 2006, not to start with a Year One on this, but to move him into the modern day.

And I really have to credit Dan Didio on this. All the major characters of the DCU have been tackled within the last several years since Dan took over. He has many charts and posters where he plotted which characters needed to be tweaked, and made his way through all of them, pretty much, but the one that was unfixed was Captain Marvel.

NRAMA: So how does one bring Captain Marvel and his family into 2006 and make it still work?

JW: Well, the biggest hurdle, is that for many years, he’s been another version of Superman. Yes, he says a magic word and gets his powers from the gods, but he still puts on a cape, has dark hair, and is exactly the same height as Superman. He needed his own identity.

And Dan nailed it - all it took was one question from Dan.

NRAMA: Which was?

JW: “If you have the power of the gods, what are you doing stopping bank robberies?” That was the defining statement for me. Shazam shouldn’t be out there fighting crime - he should be tackling bigger stuff - magic. That should be his realm.

Vertigo got to walk away from the DCU with all the cool magical toys a number of years ago, though, Most of the characters in magic, most of the creatures - belong to Vertigo. That’s fine - Vertigo got me back into comics when I was seventeen years old. I’d pretty much given up on them, and Vertigo dragged me back. All the cool magical guys got taken to Vertigo, and all that was left in the DCU was a bunch of guys with torches and robes and incantations. Old school stuff which isn’t that interesting.

So, this will be the new playground of Captain Marvel - the realm of magic. And it allows us to bring back magic into the DCU in the least antiquated way possible. A little bit of Hellboy, a little bit of Joss Whedon, a lot of Neil Gaiman, the cleanest version of Garth Ennis’ magic stuff. We’ll try to tap into those things to make it cool as well.

NRAMA: With all of your plans going on behind the scenes, were the major moves with the Wizard Shazam, the Rock of Eternity and all the other “Marvel” moves in Infinite Crisis and Day of Vengeance orchestrated, or at least, closely watched by you?

JW: Yeah - this all goes back to January of 2004, when Dan, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Eddie Berganza and myself got in the crappiest room on the Warner lot and came up with Crisis and the stories that would lead up to it. One of them was Shazam - we were thinking of relaunching the series, and we came back to it being a maxiseries later. But one of the key points during the Crisis was that the Wizard Shazam would die. The Rock of Eternity would be destroyed. And the void this would leave in the world of magic in the DCU.

It was one of those things on our list of seminal catalytic events, and there were many of them. But yeah, Bill [Willingham] got that from us - the death of Shazam in Days of Vengeance was all part of a larger plan. The beauty of things have come together with Crisis is that they’re paying off now. “Let’s do this here, and in six to twelve months, we’ll be able to do this.”

NRAMA: So - with everything set up, and the Wizard dead...explain the splash page in Crisis #7 as it relates to the Marvel Family - you’ve got a guy in a white Captain Marvel costume with a hood, and the guy in the traditional Captain Marvel suit has long hair, reminiscent of Captain Marvel Jr., and you’ve got Mary Marvel. What gives?

JW: It’s interesting, huh?

NRAMA: So there’s a shakeup in the family?

JW: There is going to be a shakeup. Thing will change. Everything is saved by a good story. I always fall back on the story - that has to be what’s there at the core. No matter how drastic a change you’re introducing, if it’s good in the telling, and it makes sense, and is truthful and honest to the characters, I think people will be fine with it.

Now - on the other side of that, there have been other times where they’ve tried to relaunch Shazam, where they’ve told the origin of Billy Batson and how he got the powers of Shazam, and start from square one. But with this, we want to shake things up. And the maxi series format allows us to be sort of self-contained, and to feel out how it’s working.

My big quote on this is that, “’the big red cheese’ is dead,” meaning that the silliness and the ridiculousness that have surrounded Captain Marvel is gone. We’re not looking at him that way. You keep that in there, and people end up not taking him seriously. “Oh, it’s just Captain Marvel,” they say. Hopefully, they won’t be saying that when they see what we’re doing, and where we’re headed.

NRAMA: Speaking of the family though - since you’re looking at redefining them for the modern day...there are a lot of them out there. How many will we see?

JW: Don’t get ready to see many more than Mary, Jr and Captain Marvel. I know - it was a huge family at one time...up to an including “Tall Marvel” who’s only distinguishing characteristic was that he was taller than Captain Marvel...nah.

NRAMA: So how are you addressing that? Ignore, or just quietly assume that the full Marvel Family was tragically lost on Fawcett Earth?

JW: We’re going to talk about it in a blanket way - so it will be addressed. In reading issue #2 - those paying attention will see it and understand why Tall Marvel won’t be showing up. It’ll be taken care of. We’re cleaning house - no fat guys in red suits with their guts hanging out flying around! There’s only one fat guy in a red suit that flies around, and that’s Santa - not Uncle Marvel.

NRAMA: There are probably die hard fans who can be convinced of Uncle Marvel not showing up, but come on...Talky Tawny? As dumb as it sounds from the objective point of view, a talking tiger can work in this world...

JW: ... he’s a rough one. He’ll be back. He’ll be in here, but slightly...re-imagined. There is something cool about Tawny in there - it’s a matter of finding it and making it digestible in the now, rather than in 1956, when he fit in a little bit better. A dandy who’s a talking tiger just doesn’t cut it today. I want to be faithful to the original, but at the same time, make it work now.

NRAMA: And if people do like what you’re doing...you’re good to roll on after the maxi series?

JW: Absolutely. The very businessman answer is that we’re “rolling it out” this way for a reason. I don’t think any of us, and this goes all the way up to Paul Levitz, I’d bet, have the heart to launch a Shazam series again, and then end up canceling it. It’s just not worth it, and I don’t think we could stomach it any more. I think we wanted to create a safer route of doing things, and that’s the maxi series way. We’re telling a big story, taking some risks, but it will end. If the response is as strong as we hope it is - and we do feel very confident about it - from story to Howard Porter who’s just doing amazing things on the art - Shazam will be something that keeps going on.

Oh - and one more thing with Howard - this approach he’s using - we’re doing monsters and magic, flying guys and bolts of energy, and his approach really, truly works.

So this is where we start.