The All Things Fun! Blogs


All the Wrong Reasons

By Glenn Walker

Ad to promote James Robinson's Starman series in 1994. Art by Tony Harris.

People are talking about The Shade, from James Robinson's Starman, recently, but in my opinion they're talking about it for all the wrong reasons. Folks are talking about sales figures and cancellations and the state of the comics industry – but what they should have done is read the new Shade comic and talked about that instead. The book is really good, sales be damned.

James Robinson's Starman is not only one of my favorite comic book series, it is, I dare say, one of the best comic book series ever. Back in the 1990s when most superheroes were being Image-sized and replaced by newer, "kewler" versions of the originals, writer James Robinson and artist through most of the run Tony Harris turned that concept on its ear with the creation of Jack Knight. Jack was the black sheep son of the Golden Age Starman – a legacy character who did not want to take up his father's mantle as a costumed superhero, but chose to do it on his own terms.

Jack Knight was a Generation X cipher that many of us identified with, and he was thrust into a superhero universe that we all both knew and loved – and was yet to discover wild and amazing things about – all at the pen of James Robinson. Robinson and Harris created a fictional city in the DC Comics tradition, Opal City, which became a character in itself throughout the series. They also adapted many already existing characters into his new web of elaborate continuity. Among them were the second Starman from the legendary First Issue Special #12, as well as every other hero to go by that name, such as the Mist, Solomon Grundy, the Ragdoll, Alias the Spider, and most of all: The Shade.

The Shade is front-and-center on the cover of the 1996 Starman Annual (art by Tony Harris).

The Shade was a super-villain foe of the Golden Age Flash, created in the 1940s as a rather dapper man in black with a top hat and a cane that manipulated shadows. He returned in the Silver Age fighting both his old enemy and the new Flash. Later he joined one of the Injustice Societies and fought both the Justice Society and Justice League on several occasions. James Robinson redesigned the villain as a morally vague Victorian immortal named Richard Swift, a native of Opal City, who in the protection of his home, mentored the new Starman, Jack Knight.

In this new light, The Shade quickly became a fan favorite and even got his own four-issue mini-series at the height of Starman's popularity. Whereas previously he was a throwaway super-villain whose only redeeming quality was his Golden Age vintage, Robinson gave him depth and a vast background that made him intriguing and exciting to a whole generation of comics readers. And now The Shade is back in a new twelve-issue maxi-series written by James Robinson, and is unfortunately in the midst of a whirlpool of controversy.

I saw the Tweet that sparked some of the mania. I follow James Robinson on Twitter and saw this on November 26th. The story was further picked up at The Savage Critics, The Beat and Comics Should Be Good at Comic Book Resources. I'll let you read those links if you want, but the gist is if sales don't get better for The Shade, DC Comics may pull the plug on it before it's done.

Convention sketch of The Shade by Tony Harris, 2010

Part of the sales problem (if there is one; reports vary) is that that wonderful Starman series I talk so lovingly of was almost a generation ago. No one remembers it, and those who do, might not be aware of this new series with it being released amongst the flurry of DC Comics' big New 52 relaunch. There also might be the problem of James Robinson's most recent work, Justice League of America, which I talked about here on the All Things Fun! Blogs. It's notable that while I really dug it, not many other folks did. James Robinson's Justice League left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. If they see his name on a new comic, they might not pick it up because of his run on Justice League of America.

The shame of it is The Shade is a terrific book that you should be reading. With art by Cully Hamner, this new series has something for folks both familiar and new to the character. If you're looking for connection to the old Starman comic, there are appearances by Mikaal Tomas, Hope O'Dare and everybody's favorite, Jake 'Bobo' Benetti.

On the new side, we are introduced to new villains Les Diaboliques, and the new character that I have fallen in love with: William Von Hammer, a private detective related to Enemy Ace, the Hammer of Hell. If you dig Slam Bradley, The Goon, or just good old fashioned hard boiled detective stories, you will love this new Hammer. And there's also a must-not-miss battle between The Shade and Deathstroke.

The cover of The Shade #2 shows William von Hammer. Issue #3 (of 12) is on sale next week.

Bottom line, comics industry rumors and cancellation threats aside, you should be reading this title. If you're adventurous so far with DC's New 52, or if you're disillusioned with the never-ending events at Marvel, or if you just feel like trying something new, I highly recommend The Shade. Try it, read it, and you might like it. And talk about it for all the right reasons.