First Thunder

Author: Judd Winick
Artist: Joshua Middleton
Titan Books
RRP: 6.99
ISBN 1 84576 296 7
Available 25 August 2006

Witness the first meeting of the Man of Steel and the World's Mightiest Mortal! While Superman has to stop members of a cult stealing ancient artefacts from the Metropolis Natural History Museum, Captain Marvel battles giant robots rampaging through Fawcett City. These separate events lead the heroes to cross paths, and a mighty friendship is formed as Earth's most powerful defenders team up to tackle such menaces as Lex Luthor, Dr Sivana, Eclipso and the monstrous Lord Sabbac...

Yes, this really is the first meeting between Superman and Captain Marvel, because this tale takes place during the first year of the respective heroes' adventures.

These characters and their powers have been compared over the years (indeed, during the early 1950s, DC Comics successfully sued Fawcett Comics, the then publisher of the Captain's comic-strip adventures, for plagiarism of the Superman strips). However, this graphic novel (which collects the four-issue miniseries of the same name) also explores the heroes' crucial differences. For one thing, Captain Marvel is powered by magical forces and therefore has an affinity with magic, whereas Superman is vulnerable to it (the recent graphic novel Strange Attractors reminded us how much the Man of Steel hates magic). For another thing, the Captain is even more of an innocent than that farm-boy Clark Kent, because his alter ego is a young boy, Billy Batson. Just as the Batman comics of the 1980s and beyond have questioned the morality of a vigilante using a child as his sidekick, writer Judd Winick touches on the ethical implications of the wizard Shazam propelling Batson into a terrifying adult world.

One thing that the two heroes do have in common, though, is their bald-headed archenemies: respectively Lex Luthor and Dr Sivana. The latter resembles a cross between George Burns and Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons. (Perhaps the villainous Mr Burns was inspired by Dr Sivana.)

First Thunder is a very quick read, light of dialogue and heavy on the distinctly cartoony art of Joshua Middleton. However, things get more serious during the dramatic final chapter, which makes for jaw-dropping reading.

This is more a Captain Marvel story than it is a Superman tale, but there's enough here to satisfy fans from both camps.

Richard McGinlay

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