Friday, October 14, 2011

DAMN Good Comics -- THE SHADE #1

According to The Shade, the month of October brings melancholy.  Perhaps, but it also brings post-season baseball, bargain bags of Halloween candy, and of course, some damn good comics.

When the now-classic Jack Knight Starman series debuted in 1994, I became fascinated with writer James Robinson's depiction of The Shade.  The character had been an unimpressive one-note Golden Age Flash villain until Robinson completely revamped him as an immortal English gentleman with a deep love for the fictional Opal City.  The Shade was a terrific supporting character for the series, earning his own four-issue spinoff mini-series, and when Starman ended in 2001, it seemed like we had seen the last of this wonderful corner of the DC Universe.

Thankfully, Robinson wasn't ready to let go of The Shade just yet.  He included him in his Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series, a special Blackest Night tie-in issue of Starman, and most recently in his run that ended Justice League of America (Vol. 2).  And now, one month after DC Comics' relaunched Post-Flashpoint universe, Robinson's back with a twelve-issue Shade maxi-series and I couldn't be happier.

With the aforementioned melancholy plaguing him, the Shade invites the former and current Starman, Mikaal Tomas, over for tea and reveals that he is at his weakest during the month of October.  It's exactly the kind of conversation Robinson loved to spin in the pages of Starman and if you were a fan of that series as much as I was, it pulls you right back into that world.  Robinson's recent work has received a fair share of criticism for not being up to his earlier standards, but he obviously feels at home in Opal City and it shows here once again. 

He brings back another of his obscure creations, William von Hammer, who previously debuted in the Mon-El era of Superman, and has him fight a group of assassins on rooftops before tying him briefly into the main story.  Then we're treated to the return of Hope O'Dare, still romantically involved with The Shade after the events in the Blackest Night tie-in Starman #81.  And if that isn't enough, the issue ends with a rather gory confrontation with Deathstroke, of all people, with a cliffhanger that can't possibly be resolved but has to considering there are still eleven issues to go.

Jack Knight co-creator Tony Harris makes a welcome return as cover artist for this series, but it's the Cully Hamner artwork inside that gives the series its appropriate tone.  Hamner makes solid use of shadows, a must for this character, but keeps things moving nicely whenever called to do so.  It's just a shame Hamner had to depict Deathstroke in his ugly and overly clunky Post-Flashpoint costume, but that's certainly not his fault.

So all in all, if you loved Starman then The Shade is an absolute must.  And if you've never read Starman (You fool, you), I definitely recommend giving The Shade #1 a try.  If it appeals to you, then you have something wonderful to track down and enjoy while waiting for #2.

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