New Shazam! Series Sends Billy Batson to the Underworld

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Writer Tim Sheridan sent Billy Batson to hell—literally—in Future State: Shazam!, and he’s teaming with artist Clayton Henry to bring that story into the present in a new four-part Shazam! miniseries, debuting this week.

The series not only picks up on threads foreshadowed earlier this year in Future State: Shazam!, but also in the current ongoing series Teen Titans Academy, also written by Sheridan. When the story picks up, Billy is out for answers—why was the rest of his adopted family cut off from the power of Shazam? Why are his own powers becoming increasingly unreliable? The search for those answers take him and Teen Titans Academy’s Dane on a search for the Rock of Eternity—leading them straight to Hell, and face-to-face with Neron, the lord of the underworld.

Sheridan talked with DC Nation about how Shazam! fits into the larger story he’s been telling across the DC Universe, what it means for Billy Batson to grow up, collaborating with Clayton Henry, and his own background as a Shazam fan.

You’ve been telling a wide-ranging story throughout 2021 at DC. How does Shazam! fit into Future State: Shazam! and Teen Titans Academy?

Billy Batson could be—could be—the key to the whole thing! Future State showed us where the Teen Titans Academy path is heading: an unnamed student, with the help of the mysterious Red X, will be responsible for unleashing the Four Riders of the Apocalypse from Hell! That itself would be bad enough, but then we looked even further into the future to see how Billy’s innocence, typically his greatest strength, can and will be used against him in order to bring about a threat even larger and more consequential than Armageddon!

That future is our prologue and it brings us to Shazam!, where we’re now asking: Is tomorrow written in stone? Or is it possible that Billy can upend fate and bring about a better outcome than the one we’ve seen? That’s a lot of responsibility for anyone, let alone a kid Billy’s age.

Between Future State and this upcoming series, it’s clear you’re looking to push Billy Batson into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Without delving into spoiler territory, what’s exciting for you about that challenge? 

Like every teenager, Billy’s life is changing fast. How many of the carefree days of childhood has Billy spent in the body of a full-grown adult, with duties far greater than those of a less mighty mortal? A lot. Maybe too many.

The unfamiliar place we find Billy in when we begin this series is that he’s growing up…for real, not just by saying a magic word. And, because he’s just like the rest of us, that’s freaking scary for him.

Clayton Henry is one of the most distinctive and expressive artists around. What’s been most exciting for you to work with him on this story?

I’ve been so fortunate that since my arrival on the DC scene, I’ve gotten to work with artists of monumental talent and application. Rafa Sandoval, Eduardo Pansica, Steve Lieber and more. They each have a distinctive voice they bring to the party and the biggest joy for me is when their voices are mixed with mine and those of the rest of the team to produce something gloriously and surprisingly (in the best way) harmonious.

I don’t think I’ve experienced a cleaner version of that than I have with Clayton. And then, if I may say, particularly beginning with Shazam! #2, where I feel like our styles really melded to produce that harmony.

I hope there are people who will look at his work on Shazam!—paired with, may I add, the rich, sumptuous work of colorist Marcelo Maiolo—and feel, like I do (as a fan myself), that the bar’s been raised in new and exciting ways.

Beyond the groundwork you’ve already laid for this story, are there any past interpretations of Shazam that informed your take on the character?

I’ve been a DC fan my entire life, but I grew up in a time and place where Shazam wasn’t front-and-center. There had been a TV series, but I was too young to have seen it, and of course tons of comics. But for a kid living in a remote part of rural New England in the ‘80s, very little was available to me.

I think my first real memorable exposure to the character was in my late teens with Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come and, if you read Future State: Shazam!, I think you get a good sense of just how formative that take was for me. As I’ve said, Billy’s is a story about growing up (like, all the time, over and over), so exploring grown-up Billy/Shazam stories is just logical for the character. I think telling those darker future tales helps us to appreciate, in relief, the glorious fun of Shazam in the present.

Speaking of, I think what Geoff Johns has done in recent years for the character will go down in history, as will the big feature films from Henry Gayden and David F. Sandberg. These are some of the shoulders I’m so fortunate to be standing on as I try and add my little voice to the chorus.

Can you tease anything about the villain in this story—or is that even the right question to be asking for this series?

One of the unique things about beginning your story with a glimpse into the future is that we’ve already met and fought (and fallen to) the villain. In Future State, we saw how the Titans unleashed the biblical Four Riders of the Apocalypse and how, with Billy’s help, Raven absorbed them into her being, then absorbed the power of Shazam to become the unstoppable Unkindness, who would go on to consume the entirety of existence in Future State: Black Adam. (Deep breath.)

So, we know what Billy and the Titans are up against in this series, even if they’re not aware of it yet. What I can tell you is that this is very much a Man-vs-Nature story. It begins with Billy hellbent (heh) on salvaging the Rock of Eternity from its fiery tomb, but along the way, the nature of the “nature” he’s up against will shift. I can also tell you that, even without knowledge of the events of Future State, Billy’s up against the clock. The instability of the power of Shazam is, for at least one person in Billy’s life, an immediate mortal threat, and if nothing else, his failure to right the ship could result in a terrible personal tragedy.

How much do the other students on Titans Island play into this story? Will we see the other members of the Shazam Family?

I can tell you that issue #1 takes place almost entirely at the Academy. We’ve gotten to know some of the new kids at school, but there are still a few who are shrouded in mystery…and one of them has a big part to play in Shazam!.

As for the family, for reasons I won’t go into here, Billy is no longer sharing his powers with them, and let’s just say that has created some major complications…
 

Shazam! #1 by Tim Sheridan, Clayton Henry and Marcelo Maiolo is now available in print and as a digital comic book.

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