Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Shade Returns

The Shade is getting his own 12 issue mini-series from DC, due in October. You can read an interview James Robinson gave to CBR here. Ever since Robinson came back to writing at DC again, we've perpetually been waiting for some kind of a return to the amazing type of stories we saw him weave in the pages of Starman. Robinson took an under-utilized hero and gave him kind of rich and expansive history you'd otherwise expect from a character as popular as Superman. From Ted Knight, the first Starman from the 40s, all the way to the modern day with his son Jack taking over as the new Starman of Opal City - every point of Starman's sparse and previously unconnected history was suddenly woven beautifully together. It was simply a master piece, which I feel glad to have even stumbled upon reading in the collected TPBs. Jack Knight, the star of that series, still isn't returning (DC have been extremely gracious in respecting Robinson's decision to leave the character untouched since he wrote him.) Instead, we're getting a mini-series about the Shade.

One of the best additions to the Starman lore was an old Flash villain named the Shade. Not the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen), but the original Flash from the 1940s, Jay Garrick. The Shade was a low rent villain using technology to create shadows to perpetrate crimes. James Robinson stepped in and gave us a wonderfully morally ambiguous character, who while still notorious for being a villain of the elder Flash, became an ally to the new Starman.

No longer was the shade using electronic trinkets for his abilities - this new Shade had command of all shadows, able to make them become whatever he wants. He's also immortal, having lived since the 1800s, which is also why he's often depicted as a proper English Gentleman. All of the Shade's previous history was combined as well, taking the once corny origins of the character and using that as a frame-work against this new dark and sinister version of the Shade. The Shade simply considered his rivalry with the Flash as a time when he decided to simply have fun and engage in comic book-like villainy. (That story goes much further, though, at the end of the Starman series.)

Over the recent years Robinson has been working on some decidedly less obscure titles, like Superman and Justice League of America -- but somehow that Starman-like touch of taking obscure characters still wound up being Robinson's mission. When Superman went off to New Krypton, in his stead he left Mon-El (awakened in the 21st century, before his time with the Legion of Superheroes in the 31st). It was simply an astounding series, even after Superman left -- and Mon-El was given wonderful new depth as a character.

Next Robinson did a 7 issue series Justice League: Cry for Justice, which then spun into a great run on the JLA. Yet, once again, obscure characters became the head-line. Instead of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, we instead had Supergirl, Dick Grayson (as Batman), and Donna Troy. Add in the alien Starman (Mikaal Tomas), left over from the Starman series, and a Giant Magic Golden Gorilla - and you have one of the more obscure mash-ups of characters to ever appear in the JLA since Justice League Detroit.

The Shade made a few brief appearances during Robinson's JLA run - most notably when Eclipso took control of all the Shadow-Wielding Heroes and Villains of the DCU, the Shade included.

The prelude for this mini-series, though, took place in a one-shot issue, during DC's Blackest Night event. Since the dead where coming back alive in the DCU, there was a cleavery marketing idea to revive canceled series for a single extra issue. Starman #81 featured the Shade having to confront the body of former Starman David Knight (the brother of Jack Knight, who first took up the identity, and tragically died at the beginning of the series.) It was really like the Starman series hadn't missed a beat -- and I should know, it was around that time I was finally finishing the final Starman TPB, and saw plot-treads in issue #80 being continued almost a decade later with issue #81. So I really feel confident, that after Superman, the JLA, and Magical Golden Gorillas - we'll finally be getting a true return to the Starman-style stories of old....

...Just starring the Shade, instead.

For both comic fans and non comic fans alike - I think this series will work well for both sets of people. The Starman series was based in super-heroics, but it always felt like a serious drama, more about the daily life of a superhero, and the legacy he was unwittingly inheriting. It felt like a creator-owned title, which I again have to point out DC have respected and not brought Jack Knight out of retirement since. This series was essentially Sandman (Neil Gaiman) level quality. So I'd urge anyone to give issue #1 a try.

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