When an issue of "Justice League" doesn't feature the regular Justice League roster and it winds up being the single best issue of the series so far, there might be something off-kilter with the base concept of the series. Fortunately, "Justice League's" loss is the readers' gain as Geoff Johns and Gary Frank complete their love letter to all things Shazam in "Justice League" #21.
Although this is the final chapter of the lengthy, multi-part Shazam backup story, "Justice League" #21 works quite successfully as a standalone or an introductory tale to the concept of Shazam. Johns packs this story full of characters and their connections to one another, cementing the theme of family throughout this modern reconfiguration of the Shazam legend. Knowing the history and connections from previous chapters makes the full, multi-part story more worthwhile and amplifies the impact of this chapter, but isn't necessary in order to enjoy the thirty-page extravaganza. This issue is such a wonderful primer for the legend of Shazam that it could be handed off to any interested reader. Enjoyment levels may vary, but everything new readers need to understand the legend is presented right here.
Gary Frank delivers the most spectacular presentation of the Marvel family I could have hoped for. Frank is at the absolute top of his game throughout this issue, finishing his own art with Brad Anderson delivering appropriately magical colors. The subtleties Anderson employs in skintone between Shazam and Black Adam are every bit as critical to the story as Frank's depiction of Adam's dubious stare opposed to Shazam's hopeful compassion during their early showdown. That stare-down combined with the broad range of emotions exhibited throughout the issue shows Frank at his very best. From Freddy's celebratory fist-pump to adorable Darla cabbage-patching down the stairs on Christmas morning, Frank puts detail into every aspect of this issue.
In no other book DC publishes are words as important as they are in a Shazam story, but letter artist Nick J. Napolitano is up to the task, making his own contribution to the issue's visual brilliance. Lightning strikes throughout this issue and while the basic sound of "KRAKOOM!" carries the thunder; Napolitano varies the length and tenor through his lettering just as much as all the thunder during a summer storm varies one crack to the next. The word balloons and captions are just as well-crafted, rounding out a phenomenal looking story from a trio of visual masters.
For readers hoping for a great Justice League story prior to the events of "Trinity War," this issue is certain to disappoint. For those enjoying the Shazam arc or simply looking for a gorgeous story with heart and emotion, "Justice League" #21 is a must-have book. DC has caught lightning in a bottle (and maybe a little worm, too) with this creative team and these characters. Hopefully, the powers that be and the creative team are able to figure out a way to continue this magic.