Study in contrasts: Shazam! and Simon Dark, by Charlie Meyerson
Arriving in one press kit from DC, a couple of comics as different as day and night: The deluxe edition hardcover collection of Jeff Smith’s four-issue miniseries SHAZAM! The Monster Society of Evil and the first issue of Steve Niles and Scott Hampton’s Simon Dark, promoted as Gotham City’s other protector.
SHAZAM! is Smith’s brightly colored love letter to the original Captain Marvel comics, a new take on a storyline first presented in the 1940s. It’s yet another relaunch for a character DC has proven unable to handle with any consistency, but it brings Smith’s clear sense of storytelling to a plot that is, in the end, a little too simple. It’s a handsome volume – with a dustjacket that unfolds into “a giant-sized poster!!!” (to quote the enthusiastic cover blurb), and elaborate production notes and sketches. But longtime fans may be disappointed. The story itself is better suited for parents looking to introduce kids to the adventures of the Marvel family.
Simon Dark is something else – and definitely not suitable for all ages. Niles, whose comics miniseries 30 Days of Night has been turned into a movie opening this week, tells the story of a creature who doesn’t know who he is or where he comes from, but who nevertheless pledges to help when I can and protect my neighborhood – apparently regardless of the blood shed or bodies severed in the process. With artist Scott Hampton, Niles moves from the vampires of 30 Days to a character seemingly more in the mold of Frankenstein. But the emphasis is on the word seemingly. The illustrations live up to the series’ name: They’re so dark that substantial passages of the book feel like they’ve suffered a production error, with panels overexposed to the point of inscrutability. I know, I know, Dark is a creature of the night. But does that mean readers must endure panel after panel of impenetrable darkness? Niles’ script is clear enough, and well written. But Hampton’s drawings would have benefited from a touch of Jeff Smith’s clarity.
Charlie Meyerson is senior producer and Daywatch columnist at chicagotribune.com. In one medium or another, he’s been writing about or reporting on comics for more than four decades.