Some people want to know why I love comic books. Well, Shazam!: Power of Hope is a good a reason why as any.
I have an awful confession to make: It’s been a while since I last read this, despite it being one of my favourite stories of all time. It’s beautiful to look at, tells a great story… and the oversized format of it makes it a pain to keep on the shelf sometimes. Because of this, I have to lie it flat instead of standing it up proudly like all the more regular-sized comic books in my collection. I sometimes overlook it because of this, but that’s not why I haven’t read it in a while.
The story is elegant in its simplicity. After a short introduction of how young Billy Batson gained the power to become Captain Marvel from the Wizard Shazam, we’re shown a series of events that Captain Marvel deals with in a “normal” day, from capping an exploding volcano to stopping a bank robbery. But for Billy Batson, things aren’t so easy, exciting or fun. He takes a sack of letters for Captain Marvel home from work one evening, forcing him to put aside any chance to catch a baseball game and relax.
Billy finds one letter from a hospital asking if Captain Marvel can visit the children there. He considers it and visits the Wizard seeking his advice. The Wizard tells him that not only should he inspire the children but that there is one child in great despair who needs Captain Marvel to bring them hope. Billy heads to the hospital and says the magic word Shazam, summoning Captain Marvel – who turns out to be just what some of the sick children need. He shares stories and adventures with them, inspiring them and making them smile. All except for Bobby, a boy in a wheelchair who wants nothing to do with him.
While Bobby feels threatened by Captain Marvel, he opens up a little to Billy Batson and it’s revealed that he’s from an abusive home. Billy can’t do much, but as Captain Marvel he threatens the boy’s father and hopes that his actions may bring a change. He returns to the hospital and spends some time in the intensive care ward, where he holds the hand of a young girl called Tanita as she passes away. After leaving the hospital he’s troubled because knows he inspired most of the children, but regrets not being able to help them. The Wizard understands, telling him that he’s brought them hope and has helped them – and himself. Finally understanding the true power of hope and friendship, an uplifted Billy cycles to play a game of catch with his new friend Bobby.
There’s really nothing to criticise here. It’s an amazing tale told in simple narrative that gives you Billy Batson/Captain Marvel’s point of view. It’s stunning to look at, with Alex Ross’s painted pages totally deserving the oversized page format, and every facial expression is easy to read. Proceeds from the sale of it went to the Make-A-Wish Foundation too, making it a worthwhile project on every level. It’s heartfelt and probably as perfect a comic book story as you could ask for… which is funny because you forget that it is a comic book.
My earlier confession was that I hadn’t read this in a while and it’s a fact I deeply regret. The reason has nothing to do with it being oversized, because it’s worth it; it’s because of the effect it has on me. It’s touching and makes me feel overwhelmed with emotions. It reminds me that hope is a truly powerful thing and makes me understand how much of it I’ve lost at times. It offers more than despair, and it reminds us that sometimes we need heroes – in any form – to inspire us. And kids, kids need hope even more than we do, which is what some superheroes are supposed to bring.