Sina Grace has horror in his blood. Or at least in his mental infrastructure. The comics writer, who burst into the big time with Self Obsessed, his refreshingly honest memoir comic, has spent most of the last five years writing fun, poppy, note-classic superhero books like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Iceman, or winning critical acclaim with his ghost romance book with Siobhan Keenan, Ghosted in L.A. But he’s getting his first shot at DC jumping into the middle of Batman/Superman’s Infected storyline. The Shazam one shot The Infected: King Shazam, the new book goes way harder at straight up horror than anything Grace has ever done as a writer, at least.
“I may not be known for horror, but I did spend years as Robert Kirkman’s Editorial Director at Skybound, so spending all that time around The Walking Dead certainly helped me with understanding how to build tension and dread in a comic book!” Grace tells us. “I’m also a big nerd for Junji Ito and Hitchcock.”
That’s useful background for a book like The Infected: King Shazam. Billy Batson is normally one of the nicest kids in all of comics, but Jokerized Billy, infected with Joker venom by the Batman who Laughs, turns Billy’s personality on his side. “To me, writing an infected Billy Batson was just trying to get back into that headspace of when you’re a teenager and you think all authority is an ***hole,” Grace says, “the knee-jerk reactions you have when being told what to do; the first instinct retorts that your learn to bite your tongues about.”
So Billy spends the issue going through the various pantheons of the DCU – some, like Thor, who aren’t typically present in the DCU, and others, like Rao, who are just big deals. “The most fun I had was getting to go through all these gods in the DCU and have Billy look at them like they’re the ones with the problem,” he tells us. The one who took up a lot of Grace’s attention was probably Atlas, one of the seven Gods who give Shazam his acronym of power. “Of all the gods I got to play with, I think the one I had the most questions about was Atlas. My poor editor Paul Kaminski kept getting some incredibly asinine emails from me about what that guy was up to, where his headspace was at, etc. I don’t think anyone would wanna read my comic about Atlas in solitude, but it could make for a fun back-up or something,” Grace says incorrectly.
The story’s other window into the world of the dark Big Red Cheese is Billy’s sister, Mary. She’s the subject of a pretty serious twist later in the issue, but for the rest of the story, she’s a ray of Marvel family hope trying to find Billy and bring him back to decency. Grace tells us, “The biggest challenge for me was trying to figure out how far to go with Billy’s actions…so much of the issue is Mary trying to find him, hoping she can save her brother. I needed the reader to see what Billy’s capable of, but also believe that maybe, just maybe, Mary can stop him from going over the deep end.”
Grace’s art partner on this book is Joe Bennett, who is currently making a leap to superstardom doing some intense body horror in the pages of Immortal Hulk. His art in King Shazam is every bit as impressive, adding so much mood and doom to the story. “Working with Joe Bennett was a “pinch me I’m dreaming” moment!” Grace tells us. “My editors Paul Kaminski and Harvey Richards were like, ‘’Joe is ultra talented. Give him some room to tell the story on his terms.’” And room he was given: there’s a panel early on (included in the preview pages below) that is just towering tension, and a fight sequence that takes up most of the back half of the issue that lands every punch with added emotional oomph to make the issue take off. “Joe made it visceral,” Grace says “He took what was already an intense and emotional scene, and dialed it up to 11.”
Getting dropped into the middle of DC’s huge line-wide story arc has been a lot of fun for Grace, he tells us, and this isn’t it for him. “It would be a lot of fun to play around with the Shazam world after doing what I did in this one-shot,” he says. “I do know I have another story coming up with DC, but I’m pretty sure I can’t say what it is yet!” Hopefully he gets his wish – his transition into a horror story was seamless, and his Marvel family is as fun as it’s ever been.
The biggestchallengefor me was trying to figure out how far to go with Billy’s actions…somuch of the issue is Mary trying to find him, hoping she can save herbrother. I needed the reader to see what Billy’s capable of, but alsobelieve that maybe, just maybe, Mary can stophim from going over the deep end.