Friday, November 4, 2011

The Shade #1 - A Review

I've been reading comics long enough to have seen James Robinson write a lot of different stories. I've seen him write some of the greatest comics of all time in Starman. I've seen him write some of the worst comics of all time in JLA: Cry For Justice. I've even seen him write a Gen 13 story where Fairchild wound up in more clothes than usual! But as diverse a writer as Robinson is, it's been rare for me to see him write a comic that was instantly accessible to new readers.... until now.

Richard "Dickie" Swift is an ageless man who gained both his immortality and the power to conjure, manipulate and animate shadows as a Green Lantern controls light after an incident he is loathe to discuss. Going by the nom de plume of The Shade, he has been both a super-villain and a savior - frequently at the same time - for the better part of two centuries.

As the issue opens Shade is meeting with Mikhal Tomas (a.k.a. the alien hero now known as Starman), discussing Mikhal's return to Opal City. Mikhal notes that Shade is in a dark mood, even by his standards - a fact that Shade dismisses as being related to the anniversary of his "creation". Shade's girlfriend, OCPD Officer Hope O'Dare, thinks there is something more to it, having noticed the same mood for several months now. She suggests that The Shade should find something to do with himself to shake himself out of his malaise, like go have an adventure. As he ponders this,while taking a walk around town, Shade is approached by the assassin Deathstroke. Naturally the call is not a social one and the issue ends as the fight between the two seems to end suddenly.

Robinson is quick to establish the status quo for those old-timers like me who are wondering the fate of the old Starman series in the Brave New World of the New 52. Rest assured all is as it was! Jack Knight took up his father's name and became Starman and now alien hero Mikhal Tomas (most recently seen in Robinson's Justice League) has returned to Opal City to fight crime under the same name. Robinson also neatly explains away the surprise revealed in the Blackest Night tie-in Starman #81 , which revealed that Shade and Hope were now dating. So even if you're a Starman fan who missed that issue (and if you did, shame on you!), everything is neatly explained away so that new readers and old alike have some feeling for who The Shade is, what he's capable of and who is important to him.

Cully Hammer is a more than suitable substitute for long-time Starman artist Tony Harris, whose duties on this series are thus far limited to several stunning covers. Hammer's art is more stylized than Harris's photo-realistic approach, but it suits the story well. Of particular note is the inking, which is suitably thick and dark as one would expect in a Shade story, but it does not fall into the trap of being dark to the point that it looks like ink was spilled on the page - a trap too many artists working on a weird or (pardon the pun) "dark" book fall into.

Long-time Starman fans rejoice! The James Robinson we know and love is back in force! And for those of you unfortunate enough to only know Mr. Robinson from his more recent work on Cry for Justice, I urge you to give this title a shot. I think you'll be glad you did.

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