One of the oldest superheroes in the DC Universe is Mary, the sister of Billy Batson, civilian alter ego of the mighty Shazam. Introduced during the Golden Age of Comics in the 1940s by Otto Binder and Marc Swayze, Mary received some of her brother’s magical powers which she used to transform into Mary Marvel, a superpowered version of herself matching the abilities of Shazam himself. Upon the Shazam Family’s modern reintroduction by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, Mary was reimagined as Mary Bromfield, the adopted older sister to Billy and their siblings, with whom Billy shares his powers in order to turn their superheroics into a full-on family affair.
Following the events of Teen Titans Academy, by Tim Sheridan, Rafa Sandoval, and Jordi Tarragona, and Shazam: To Hell and Back, by Sheridan, Clayton Henry, Eduardo Pansica, and Julio Ferreira, the Shazam Family finds itself at a crossroads. The Shazam Family has been cut off from access to their extraordinary powers while Billy is trapped inside of the Rock of Eternity to prevent said powers from falling into the wrong hands. That all changes in the new comic book miniseries New Champion of Shazam, written by Josie Campbell, illustrated by Evan 'Doc' Shaner, and lettered by Becca Carey, with variant covers by Gary Frank, with Brad Anderson, and Joshua Middleton. As Mary heads off to college, she discovers her powers may be resurfacing in new ways as she takes point as the new head of the Shazam Family.
In an exclusive interview with the Popverse, Campbell and Shaner share their respective love and appreciation for Mary Marvel, detail how New Champion of Shazam heralds a bold, new future for the character, and tease what readers can expect from New Champion of Shazam when it debuts this August.
If my math is right, this is the first Mary Shazam/Marvel solo title that I can think of. How did the opportunity to put the overdue spotlight on her come about?
Josie Campbell: I do believe there was a Mary series before, during the Golden Age, but for me and DC, I had done some of the Wonder Woman: Black & Gold stories and the Future State: Green Lantern book. We really enjoyed working together so Brittany [Holzherr], our editor, reached out to me and asked if I had any interest in Shazam and Mary Marvel. I screamed because I'm a huge Otto Binder, Shazam, and Mary Marvel fan so I was like, 'Yes! I'm a huge fan and have some ideas! What do you need?! Do you have a library of books I can look at?!'[laughs]
She basically came to me, and I overwhelmed her with my enthusiasm. I was so excited when she was floating some people around [to work with] and she came back to me like, 'Hey, Doc Shaner is interested,' and I was like 'Yes, absolutely! 100%!' There was a lot of DC seeing if I was interested and me showing up and knocking on their window going 'Yes, absolutely! Let’s do it now!'
Evan 'Doc' Shaner: I was finishing up Strange Adventures with our editor Brittany, and she had been floating around a few different projects my way and none of them were really grabbing my interest. Then she asked about possibly doing a cover for a new Mary series and I went, 'Do you have anybody drawing the whole thing because I’d love to!'
I’ve long said, and Brittany knew this, that the only way I’d return to Shazam is if Mary is the lead. The second that she said there was going to be a solo series for Mary, I was hooked, it was a very easy “yes” for me.
With this iteration of Mary being older than her siblings, she has to take on the role of caregiver and give up a lot of her youth. How has that helped inform the story here?
Campbell: A lot of that is what we’re trying to do with Mary. There is a question she is asking throughout this – who am I? I think, by her being so much older, which is a fun reversal of the old Mary who was younger, we get to play so much with identity. Is [she] a superhero, a caretaker, a college student? What is life ahead of [her] now? That works out really well dovetailing into the end of Tim [Sheridan’s] run on Teen Titans Academy, which this picks up after, because life has been turned upside-down for her.
Mary’s also been in foster care, and I think Geoff Johns did a mini with her where she was a runaway, she’s had her life turned upside-down a lot. I think it gives her a sort of resiliency and sense of humor that was really fun to play with: the heart of who is Mary and what happens now that her life has been completely one-upped is central to what we’re doing here.
To go more abstract, who exactly is Mary Bromfield to both of you?
Shaner: She’s everything, she’s been around for so long as the female sidekick, the first sister with powers, she’s so many firsts. I think so much of that got overshadowed because of the publication history with Fawcett Comics. When these characters came over to DC, Mary almost became an-also ran to Supergirl and host of all these other characters. She was such a trailblazer at the beginning, and then she became covered up in a lot of ways for, what is now, the majority of her history. This is our best opportunity to bring her to the forefront and see what Mary can do when that spotlight is on her and her alone.
Campbell: That’s what was so exciting about this, that it was just her. The rest of the family is there but, really, the spotlight is on her in a way that it hasn’t been in decades. I got really into the Shazam stuff in college, I was a big nerd and wrote my thesis on women in comic books. These sources that I was looking at had an old guide on how to draw Mary and this was the first time that I had ever seen her; the guide was like 'She is a lark who can punch you out!'
It was this drawing of a girl floating down from the sky with lightning around her, and I thought it was so cool, with that sense of delight that she’s just fun, sweet, and she cares but she will knock you out to save the day. That, to me, is the core of Mary and what got me so excited about her back then and still even now.
The Shazam Family has been retrofitted into the DC Universe several times across its publishing history. How is it playing in the Shazam corner of the DCU with the current state it’s in, coming off Tim Sheridan’s work with them in Teen Titans Academy and his Shazam miniseries with Clayton Henry and Eduardo Pansica?
Campbell: For me, it’s that, in some ways, it’s kind of a clean slate. There are no powers now, Mary’s coming back in and she’s the only one. In a lot of ways, what was so enticing is that it’s standalone and like a jumping-on point for somebody who maybe doesn’t know a lot about Mary and the Shazam Family. It starts with her, who she is, and the hero that she is. That’s what was exciting about Tim’s run, it reset a lot of pieces. It’s not so tied into having to read every single thing. We sum up what’s happened before and it’s new adventures with her in a new role; that’s really fun!
Shaner: We kind of have a blank sheet to work with here. It doesn’t negate what came before, with Geoff and Gary [Frank’s] work. We build out of that and try to expand a little bit. My favorite part of this so far is that it isn’t exclusive, it’s expansive and trying to find some new shades in what’s been built before with Shazam.
Campbell: That’s been my career before, both in comics and animation, taking these really great things that I love and expand, not exclude. Besides building on what’s come before with that Tim and Geoff did with everything that’s more recent, we also got a chance to dive into the old Mary issues to see if we should revisit some of these ideas, concepts, characters, and dynamics. It’s a jumping-on point if you’ve never read her before but, if you have, there’s going to be a lot of Easter eggs and stuff that’s a new take on ideas and characters that we’ve seen before.
Doc, as someone who has worked extensively with the Shazam Family before, what are some of the constants that you see with these characters and what did you want to bring to Mary this time?
Shaner: I’m an artist so a lot for me comes from the visuals. There is so much truly iconic imagery in Shazam and part of that just comes from being around for 80-odd years, being there at the beginning of superhero comics. The lightning, the red suit – I’m not going to get into red suit Mary versus white suit Mary because I’m always going to be a red suit guy [laughs] – there’s so much iconic imagery to play with. It’s very dramatic and has got some of that old school flavor. With Mary, we’re able to bring some new shades to that, and it’s like: What can we bring new to this very old property?
Campbell: The art looks fantastic! The visuals are so good! The lightning especially looks fantastic, and I got chills looking at it! [laughs]
Josie, you were saying there are some common themes here with your previous work in comics and animation. What is it about coming-of-age stories framed with superhero stakes that you find intriguing as a storyteller?
Campbell: With so much coming-of-age stuff, it’s like a tripling of stakes. The world is in danger, you need to save, but also, you’re dealing with your family or moving out. It’s all of the stakes of that family or personal drama and upped a million because, if you don’t figure out how to apologize to your girlfriend today, maybe the world is ending. It also really captures an age group that I like writing for and about, which is young adults because so much stuff is changing in your life, being upended, and so much is about your identity and figuring out who you are. It’s a hard time to live through but a great time to write about.
Combining that with maybe the world is ending or maybe I’ve got superpowers is the genre stuff that I love, the really deep character stuff that feels really fun and enticing for me as a writer.
To put you both on the spot, how has it been working together on this?
Shaner: It’s been really great! The second that Brittany told me more of Josie’s credits, I knew this would be perfect. I’ve watched a lot of the stuff that Josie’s worked on with my daughter, and, having known Brittany for a long time and how she feels about Mary and what the direction was going to be for Mary, I was totally taken by where we’re taking Mary. I was telling Josie last week that I read [the script for] issue #4 and was just like, 'We did it! I haven’t drawn it yet but we did it!' [laughs] It’s been such a good time and I’ve really been enjoying this.
Campbell: It’s been absolutely fantastic. I’ve done some short [stories] for anthologies, but this is the first miniseries that I’ve done and it’s been such a fantastic experience. Talking to Doc is so fun, and we got to collab on Aquaman, which my husband worked on and he loved. [laughs] It’s been a fantastic experience, and I would happily work on Mary with Doc for much longer than four issues.
I’ve always found Shazam’s enemies to be particularly fascinating, from a telepathic worm to talking crocodiles. What can we expect to see how Mary is juxtaposed against them, with her own approach differing from Billy Batson’s?
Campbell: Along with what we were saying about it being a new slate, when we approached the villains, I wanted to take some of the old and put a new spin on it, reinventing and inventing some villains. I think you’ll see that though there are some touchstones on the old characters and dynamics, a lot of how I approached writing it is that these are Mary’s villains, not Billy’s. This is a different threat and people that she’s going up against. Ironically, it goes back to that question of identity in being a hero – this is what Billy did, so how do I do it? Your question will be a question in issue #1, and you should read the series to figure it out! [laughs]
What else can you tease about New Champion of Shazam?
Campbell: From the solicits, we know that a certain bunny is involved, our favorite Hoppy.
Shaner: I was on the phone with Brittany about it last week, and there’s a character that returns in issue #3 that I’m very excited about. We have not seen them in awhile, and they’re one of my favorites. I'm so glad to get the chance to draw them again. Like what we were saying, it’s old time Fawcett but, folks of Jerry [Ordway’s] run in the ‘90s will get a real kick out seeing them come back.
Campbell: This is Mary as you’ve never seen her before. She’s more powerful than she’s been than she’s been in the past, and we’ve expanded the scope of what she can do a little bit. We really played with her powers and her power set. The first issue is actually bringing in a villain who shares a name with a really old Fawcett villain that’s really fun. This is a new Mary, with expanded powers and role, taking on a world of villains that Billy never has. These are all people Billy has never interacted with, setting up her own rogues gallery and world.
To read the adventures of Mary Shazam, New Champion of Shazam #1 goes on sale August 2 from DC Comics. The series is written by Josie Campbell and illustrated by Evan 'Doc' Shaner.