Must Have: Shazam


When young orphan Billy Batson says the magic word, a bolt of magical lightning comes from the sky and transforms Billy into Shazam, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, an adult-looking, Superman-like hero that has at his disposal abilities like the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, etc. Billy Batson/Shazam looks like he’s cut from the same archetype as Superman, but his purview is the magical threats within the DC universe. He is also perhaps the most misunderstood. Though he has been portrayed as old-fashioned and hopelessly naive, even his nemesis Dr. Sivana refers to him as “The Big Red Cheese,” this is because he is a child in an adult body, which happens to be a popular power fantasy among children who have very little autonomy. Approaching the world with a childlike earnestness, Shazam also operates in a world where magic is real and dangerous, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for fantastical whimsy that’s perfect for kids of all ages. Librarians with fantasy fans and superhero readers will find plenty to love about the World’s Mightiest Mortal (or the Big Red Cheese).

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!: Family Affair

Mike Kunkel

At least a spiritual successor to Jeff Smith’s take on Shazam, this all-ages comic doubles down on the whimsical fantasy, thanks mostly to the artwork and the subject matter. Billy is still an adult when transformed, while Mary transforms into the same girl whose superspeed reflects her own boundless energy. Even antihero Black Adam is portrayed as a boy Billy’s age until he discovers the secret word and then becomes his archenemy.

Appeals to

Librarians (and readers) looking for an all-ages book, fans of sibling dynamics.

Shazam and the Seven Magic Lands

Geoff Johns

Dale Eaglesham

A continuation of Geoff Johns’s story, this book finds Shazam and his foster siblings fighting crime while keeping their superheroic activities a secret. Then the kids discover a train car that takes them to the aforementioned magical lands where they encounter everything from talking tigers to tin men. This also leaves their world at the mercy of villains like Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind. Johns both creates a fun story with high stakes and expands the Shazam universe.

Appeals to

Fans of the movie and of Geoff Johns’s take on Shazam.

Shazam: A Celebration of 75 Years

Bill Parker

C. C. Beck

One jam-packed book that introduces every era of Shazam, from his days at Fawcett to his current movie starring Zach Levi. A collection of some of his best-known stories, this volume has everyone from the Shazam/Marvel family to antihero Black Adam. And at a price point of about $35 dollars (depending on where your library buys graphic novels), it won’t break the budget.

Appeals to

Those who want an overall introduction to Captain Marvel/Shazam, librarians who want to save money.

Shazam!: Origins

Geoff Johns

Gary Frank

The origin story that inspired the movie. Writer Geoff Johns, responsible for most of the current DC Universe, imagines Billy Batson as a brash teenager who still has a good heart, which is why he’s chosen to be the wizard Shazam’s champion. Of course, as he discovers his powers, he also uses the fact that he looks like an adult to buy beer while also doing good deeds. This story also introduces a different kind of Shazam family, featuring sidekick Freddy Freeman and older sister/voice of reason Mary Marvel.

Appeals to

Teens who love magic and protagonists who aren’t squeaky clean.

Content Notes

Appears in the final part of Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years. Also reprinted as Shazam!: Vol. 1 (The New 52).

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith, writer of Bone, offers a retelling of Billy Batson becoming the champion of magic. This series is notable because it presents Billy Batson and Shazam as two distinct personalities who switch places when one utters the magic word. It also offers some charming dynamics between Billy and Shazam, as well as Billy and his younger superpowered sister Mary, while also offering some retro thrills that might remind readers of rollicking adventure comics like The Adventures of Tin-Tin and The Rocketeer.

Appeals to

Kids (and adults) who like adventure comics, superhero comics, and Jeff Smith

Content Notes

Issue #2 is contained in Shazam!: A Celebration of 75 Years

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

Judd Winick

Joshua Middleton

Judd Winick, writer of Batman: Under the Red Hood and Hilo, tells the story of the first meeting between the World’s Mightiest Mortal and the Man of Steel. This book features the oft-repeated ritual of two heroes bonding over battling giant monsters and maniacal supervillains, but Winick, who also wrote the powerful biographical book Pedro and Me, knows how to give the reader an emotional gut punch that makes the meeting between these two heroes all the more sincere.

Appeals to

Fans of Superman, Shazam, and of comic team-ups in general. Fans of emotional depth in superhero stories.

These titles showcase Shazam’s appeal across different age groups while also keeping the basics of the character intact. Readers might see a lot of themselves in Billy Batson, and they should feel the tiniest bit of electricity when he says his magic word.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions

It is said that a little knowledge is a most dangerous thing, and one defiant magician from the pages of Alan Moore’s classic Swamp Thing inevitably maneuvers past perils standing in his path to sneer in the face of danger. A wise-cracking, double-dealing supernatural detective who escaped the jaws of hell, he is known as none other than the enigmatic and self-proclaimed John Constantine. In DC Comics’s trend of reimagining classic iconic characters, Kami Garcia (Teen Titans: Raven, Beautiful Creatures) and Isaac Goodhart (Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story) conjure forth a younger version of the notorious laughing magician venturing into adulthood in Constantine: Distorted Illusions.

The story starts off in London with an 18-year-old Constantine who, at the beckoning of his stepfather, secretly exploits an opportunity to hone his magic powers from the Lady Maguerite Delphine—a high-ranking sorceress of an elite magician’s society—as an excuse to take a trip to the U.S. Instead of serving as a magician’s apprentice, he would prefer to hook up with his best friend Monica and jam with a punk band dubbed the Mucous Membrane. While hanging out in Washington D.C., he pays a visit to Lady Delphine only to be booted out of her mansion for his reckless curiosity, but not before swiping a book of spells from her arcane collection, thus triggering a series of dangerous misadventures. Constantine teams up with a ragtag group of friends and dabbles with trick illusions to amplify the visual effects for their punk band gig. One spell leads to another until a vengeance spell is unwittingly cast, summoning forth an unspeakable evil that threatens to consume the very soul of one his friends.

This inventive take on the hellblazing magus presents a daring, self-assured Constantine whose heedless actions catapult him into a heap of trouble with deadly consequences, and drags his friends into messy predicaments. Along the way, he falls for a brunette named Luna at a night club, oblivious that she harbors a secret of her own. The plot unravels rapidly across different locales with panels shaded in dark purple and midnight blue, casting a mystical aura. As the action escalates, panel borders twist and bend, creating a supernatural, psychedelic ambience, throwing the characters into pandemonium. Garcia highlights a youthful rendition of Constantine whose impetuous boldness casts him into a whirlpool of misfortunes.

Packed with thrills, intrigue, romance, and deadly magic of supernatural proportions, this chapter in the Constantine saga navigates the delicate terrain of relationships, trust, dangers and consequences of taking risks, and assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Longtime fans will also witness a more down-to-earth and inexperienced Constantine whose moral compass steers him on a path towards redemption. Constantine: Distorted Illusion will add a lively dose of supernatural horror and edginess to young adult graphic novel collections.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions
By Kami Garcia
Art by Isaac Goodhart
DC, 2022
ISBN: 9781779507730

Publisher Age Rating: 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Getting Dizzy

Fifteen year-old Desideria “Dizzy” Olsen just knows she’s destined for greatness. One day, anyway. But so far, it seems like everything she tries—from ballet to trumpet—just ends in total disaster. So when a portal opens up right in front of her when she’s about to toss her roller skates into the donation bin along with the rest of the accouterments from her abandoned hobby attempts, it suddenly seems like everything is falling into place after all!

It turns out that fate (and new mentor Chipper) has a new mission for her: take on the mantle of ‘Burb Defender and use her newfound powers (plus super cool gadgets like the Helmet of Helping and the Blaster Bracelet) to save her hometown from evil monsters known as Negatrixes and their bad vibes. 

As the pressure mounts and Negatrixes multiply, Dizzy starts to realize that there might be more to being a Chosen One than potential fame and cool superpowers. With her own personal Negatrix looming, will the ‘Burb Defender and her new friends the Rollers be enough to defend Ruseberg from the biggest threat yet?

A sweet, silly, and action-packed romp that touches on Chosen One tropes, new friendships, and figuring out who you are, Getting Dizzy is a delightful and enjoyable read for teens and tweens. Refreshingly, the core cast of characters is diverse without being didactic about it: Dizzy is Latine-coded, Scarlett seems to be East Asian (unspecified), Payton is disabled (born without a left hand), and Av is Black and non-binary. This cast is a reflection of the world teens are currently living in, and it’s nice to see them just exist, and not have their identities pointed out in any specific way. Specific traits of each member of the friend group come into play in a vital way later on, and are things unrelated to their race, gender identity, or ability. Instead, what’s important about each friend are qualities like always seeing the beauty in everyone or being incredibly smart. 

With the story opening on a younger Dizzy’s dream of ballet stardom clashing with the reality of name-calling at school, the tone is set right from the start. Fiercely independent (just like her mom), Dizzy isn’t afraid to rise to a new challenge. At least, not at first. Like many young people, she’s a big dreamer who probably wishes life was more like a movie montage, especially when learning to fight the Negatrixes means re-learning how to roller skate (and falling. A LOT — an experience writer Shea Fontana is quite familiar with as a former roller derby player).

No stranger to the superhero genre herself thanks to her experience writing for the DC Super Hero Girls series, Fontana infuses the graphic novel with a solid mix of one-liners, goofy idioms, and moments of seriousness. From quick-witted dialogue like Payton’s quip about leaving the rest of her left arm behind when she moved from Seattle to Chipper’s speech about participation trophies and why sometimes it’s the people who aren’t good at something who get chosen, the dialogue helps Dizzy and her friends feel grounded in reality, even when they’re blasting Negatrixes back into portals with colorful magic. While the superhero antics are fun, teens and tweens will likely find themselves drawn to the themes of friendship, perseverance, and figuring out how to fight against our own anxiety and negative emotions, even when it feels easier to just give in.

Illustrator Celia Moscote, known for their gorgeous work on the graphic adaptation of Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, succeeds again here in bringing Fontana’s cast and this imaginative setting to brilliant life on the page. The Negatrixes feel scary in a Pokémon-esque, cartoonish sort of way, keeping the terror lower stakes and accessible for both younger and older readers. Emotions are rendered in great facial expressions, and the visual pratfalls are hilarious. The colors are bold and vivid, especially the magic: that sparkles and swirls give off a magical girl element perfect for our resident ‘Burb Defender. 

A welcome addition to tween and teen collections, Getting Dizzy is a lighthearted but meaningful compilation of an initial run of four comic issues that leaves readers on a cliffhanger and hoping for a potential sequel. Hand it to fans of graphic novels like Sebastian Kadlecik’s Quince, Sam Humphries’ Jonesy, and anyone who enjoys stories featuring magical girls, superheroes, and the power of friendship.

Getting Dizzy
By Shea Fontana
Art by Celia Moscote
BOOM! Box, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158386

Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Latine,  Nonbinary ,  Character Representation: Assumed Hispanic or Latine,

DC Horror Presents The Conjuring: The Lover

People of a certain age might remember sitting in front of their televisions or going to their local cinemas and watching some horror anthology series. Rather than one complete narrative, these series usually featured a collection of stories that all ended with some kind of gory or terrifying twist. They might be connected by one overarching story, but the stories themselves could vary in tone and even quality. DC’s new foray into horror utilizes this format while connecting itself to the latest movie in The Conjuring franchise. However, DC Horror Presents The Conjuring: The Lover can claim itself a prequel to the movie The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, but it owes way more to those classic horror anthology series of the past.

The main story, written by David L. Johnson-McGoldrick and Rex Ogle, focuses on young Jessica who is having a tough time adjusting to college life. Not only does Jessica miss her best friend, she feels a supernatural presence following her, one that is making her paranoid as well as isolating her from friends and family with terrifying results. Along with the main story, there are small stories focused on the artifacts found in the artifact room of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the protagonists of The Conjuring series. These stories, written by popular comic writers like Scott Snyder and Tim Seeley, range from tales of cursed music boxes to a wedding dress with a dark history.

One problem with anthology series featuring different writers and creators is the quality of each story typically ends up uneven; there might be some good stories sprinkled among the lackluster ones. However, the stories, both the main tale and the multiple artifact stories, are all pretty solid. Johnson-McGoldrick and Ogle’s story is a textbook example of slow burn that comes dangerously close to too slow for many readers, but the writers give Jessica enough layers and create enough of a sense of tragedy that she garners the readers’ sympathies. The other stories make use of their limited space and tell complete, forceful narratives that deliver sickeningly satisfying twists.

Garry Brown’s artwork in the main story feels very familiar to fans of the Conjuring movie series, with long panoramic views of rooms where Jessica is in one corner and something sinister is hiding in the other corner, which is draped in shadow. The artwork in the Artifact stories, though done by varying artists like Denys Cowen and Kelley Jones, all rely on slight variations of a realistic, painted style that makes the book almost feel like a Vertigo comic from the 1980’s. But what really plunges this book into bloody nostalgia are the spoof ads scattered throughout, all of them presenting the dark humor of many of those shows the overall book draws from.

Though this book says it connected to the Conjuring, serving as a prequel of sorts, it is in the most tangential way. Many of the stories in this book could simply stand alone in a horror anthology.This book is not only for adult horror fans, but for horror fans that fondly remember anthology series (or are younger and just now discovering them). If they are checking out DVDs of Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside, this would be a great recommended read.

DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover
By Katie Kubert, Editor
Art by  Steve Cook, Design Editor
DC, 2022
ISBN: 9781779515087Related media:  Comic to Movie

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

The Lords of Invention

The Lords of Invention

I’m always impressed by creators—whether they are artists or writers or something in between—who have the wherewithal to sit down and create something new. Creativity is hard work. It takes time, energy, and patience. I’m in awe of writers especially who can sit down and put a plot together, create characters, and tell a story.

Because of this, there seems to be a disconnect when I praise the work but don’t find the finished piece, well, very good. It feels traitorous somehow. I have never written a book or painted a picture so who am I to judge?

But that’s the thing about critiquing: you may not have had the experience creating but you do have experience in appreciating creative endeavors and also figuring out what appeals to you. 

All of this is to say that Lords of Invention, a self-published work by Trenor Rapkins, does not appeal to me. It is neither good nor bad, it’s just fine, but it is not something I would recommend. There seems to be a disconnect with the author’s intent and the final result which is a shame because the period of history (early 20th century) and the concept are ripe for picking. 

The Lords of Invention is a take on Edison vs Tesla. If you’re not familiar with the rivalry, Edison and Tesla were two inventors at the turn of the 20th century who competed against each other, notably Tesla’s AC current for electricity vs Edison’s DC current. (Tesla “won.”) It wasn’t just about electrical currents, but it was about anything really that powered the scientific mind. Edison ended up with over 1000 patents to Tesla’s 300, but some argue that Tesla’s work held more importance to science than Edison’s.

In The Lords of Invention, the main character, Augustus Scott, is a world-renowned inventor who sails to Europe to demonstrate his new inventions. While he is gone, his house is robbed and the robber kills Scott’s wife and daughter and then burns the place down. The hint is that a man named Levi Pickett is to blame. Pickett is an inventor himself who works at manual labor and can’t quite get the funds or interest to fuel his work. The rest of the story is Scott’s determination to prove that Pickett is responsible for the death of Scott’s family and stealing Scott’s work.

Except, we don’t really get that impression that Pickett is indeed the person who burgled Scott’s home and killed his family. We get a shadowy character caught by Mrs. Scott one evening but there is no suggestion that this is Pickett or any indication that would tie Pickett to the dastardly plan. Could it have been someone else? This is the biggest downfall of the book is the plot is haphazard and all over the place. It is often slow and events are not tied together in a coherent way. I found the “is it Pickett or is it not” plotline to be confusing. The book is self-published and there is no nod to an editor, which this story definitely needed to get the plot moving and cohesive. 

The art is also done by Rapkins as a digital painting. Rapkins has a several page addendum to the story as to how and why he created the work as well as how long it took him. He chose digital painting to give it a steampunk feel and I can see that but it’s very subdued. I found the art to be strong in some places and weak in others, especially with shading and coloring. The lettering is the Blambot typeface which is to give it the comic book style appeal. Again, an editor and an actual letterer would have been a plus for this book, since the placing of the font was inconsistent with the story and some of the color choices faded in with the background making it hard to see. 

Digital painting also gave the figures and objects a very flat appearance. The figures seemed to be blocky and their movements stiff. They didn’t feel, well, human.

The Lord of Invention looks and feels like a school project and not a professional piece of work. Rapkins has some talent, and it pops here and there, but ultimately not enough to make this book a success.

The Lords of Invention
By Trenor Rapkins
Art by Trenor Rapkins, 2021
ISBN: 9781736425916

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)

Batman and Robin and Howard

Jeffrey Brown sets Batman and Robin (Damian Wayne in this iteration) in an everyday, real-world setting to hilarious and heartwarming effect in this fresh take on the world of Gotham.

The story opens on Batman and Robin’s nighttime surveillance. When Robin mistakes a couple locked out of their car for criminals and attacks them, a frustrated Bruce Wayne tells his son he needs to work on his patience and observation skills. To help him with that, he takes Damian out of his fancy private school and enrolls him in Gotham Metro Academy.

Howard, a Black boy who loves comics and superheroes, is one of the most well-liked kids at Gotham Metro and with good reason: he’s friendly and caring, he’s smart, and he’s the most gifted athlete in the school. Kind kid that he is, he takes Damian under his wing, but Damian, who sees Howard as a competitor, is immediately suspicious and acts like a jerk.

In alternating viewpoints signaled to the reader with different colored narration boxes, Damian and Howard tell the story as they see it: Damian thinks Howard is out to get him, and Howard doesn’t understand why the new kid doesn’t like him. In a nice contrast to the usual brooding Dark Knight, Batman is played for comic relief. When he over-analyzes a simple crime and lands himself in trouble, Damian and Howard must put their differences aside and learn to work together.

A diverse group of good-natured kids help ground Gotham Metro in a realistic middle-school setting, with lots of casual chat and banter packed into the smaller format book. Most pages are uniform with six panels, but the clean lines prevent the detail-filled artwork from feeling cluttered, and those details show readers an ordinary side of Gotham City that we rarely see. The art has a classic comic feel in that Batman and Robin’s costumes are in the brighter, pre-1990s blue/gray and red/yellow, with a colorful palette in what appears to be water color giving it a soft, fresh look.

As he did in his Jedi Academy series, Brown makes it easy for readers to imagine extraordinary heroes in ordinary circumstances. Just as you’d expect, Batman is kind of awkward when it comes to dad stuff, and Damian, who can be insufferable in the DC canon, is really just a regular insecure kid. Howard is a great addition to the team. Share this title with kids who like their superheroes with a good dose of humor!

Batman and Robin and Howard
By Jeffrey Brown
DC, 2021
ISBN: 9781401297688
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Representation: Black