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Review: The Shade #1 (of 12) by James Robinson & Cully Hamner

by on October 13, 2011

Let’s get this off my chest from the get-go. I absolutely love the DC Comic Starman series from the 1990s. It is perhaps my favorite comic book series. The combination of James Robinson’s writing and Tony Harris’s artwork were the perfect combination. I loved the legacy aspect of the title, and loved the characters within the Opal that made it really interesting.

As for the character of The Shade. Generally, I like him. You have to realize what he is, and that is a writer’s delight. James Robinson took a infrequently used dark magic villain from the 40s, and turned him into a mysterious erudite British slightly tortured but more frequently delighted gentleman with dark magical powers that acts as Jack Knight’s guru, shaman, confidant, and magical deus-ex machina device. So, used in the small doses of the pages of Starman, Shade is lots of fun. But I question the use of The Shade in a 12 issue mini-series.

I didn’t much care of The Shade’s original mini-series in the 90s. To be honest, much like the pairing of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, I found Robinson’s writing much more pedestrian after Tony Harris left the book. It lost a bit of its soul in much more traditional superhero story arcs, including a story arc to the stars that never quite reached the emotional impact that was needed.

And, I’m very curious as to why DC would release this series now? The placement of Jack Knight in the new DCnU is very much in question, as is the whole connection to the Justice Society and Earth-2. And were fans really clamoring for a Shade mini-series, when the original Starman title ended over 10 years ago? And I’m always cautious when a writer decides to return ‘home’ to his greatest success, as it usually doesn’t pan out.

Regardless, in for a penny, in for a pound. I won’t be left behind in case Robinson does capture some of that Opal City magic from the 90s.

The Shade #1 (of 12): Birthday
Writer: James Robinson | Artist: Cully Hamner

So, a very quick rundown of The Shade, as a character. Originally, The Shade was a dark magic wielding villain who was an antagonist of the original Flash (Jay Garrick). In the pages of the 1990s Starman comic book, The Shade was reformed as a roguish character who liked to socialize with both good and evil, but was fiercely devoted to his home of Opal City.

Jack Knight left the city of Opal, leaving behind many people to guard the city, The Shade being one of them. Recently, The Shade and Hope O’Dare have become a couple, and Mikaal Thomas has become the active Starman of Opal City. And that’s pretty much where we open up with this series.

Synopsis

  • The Shade and Mikaal Thomas (Starman) drink tea and talk about how both are melancholy.
  • A man, William Von Hammer, is being attacked by Belgian assasins who are hired to kill him. After finding out who hired them, he decides to find The Shade.
  • The Shade and Hope O’Dare have a conversation in bed about their current relationship status.
  • Deathstroke confronts The Shade in the park, letting him know that he is targeted to be killed. The two battle, with Deathstroke getting the upper hand.

Analysis

Okay, lets hit the good things, and there aren’t many. The story is pretty easy to follow for a lapsed reader of the DC Universe. The characters are known to me, and I was able to pick up on the few bits of new information that were provided.

Secondly, the best thing is certainly the cover by Tony Harris. Someone needs to tell me why he isn’t currently doing a comic book series?

Well, that’s it… onto the rest:

I’m pretty sure that I’m not the first one to say this, but man has James Robinson become one blood thirsty S.O.B. I know the reputation he garnered from his Cry for Justice series, and several other projects that he has written along the way. But the level of violence in this single comic book is rather startling. This is especially true coming off as a spin-off of The Starman series, which showed minimal blood and violence, all things considered. And in this series, we get hands cut off and a decapitation?

And a robot double? Really? I mean did I get transported back to the 1970s? Shouldn’t Doctor Doom be speaking his monologue and raising his fists in the air in hatred. Why not have a thunderstorm in the background too.

I just don’t buy any of the characters in this series. The Shade definitely talks waaay too much. You don’t want a reader to be complaining about the main character of the series. But Shade is waaay too loquacious for the main protagonist of the series. He is extremely arrogant, pompous, and brusque. In the pages of Starman, I wanted Jack Knight to stay and talk to The Shade and learn new information. In this series, I couldn’t understand why Mikaal would want to talk to him or why Hope O’Dare would be in love with him.

Characters do evolve and writers do evolve as well, but this seems so poor in execution that I really don’t know how to handle it. I mean we have a comic book that had nine pages of character development, and thirteen pages of action. But the dialog was so boring, that I didn’t know what to do with it. And I’m a dialogue guy.

But really, the book opens with five pages of The Shade and Mikaal drinking tea. And the conversation isn’t even that interesting.

I mean look at the synopsis, two of the four bullet points are of characters talking. The most exciting thing that happens, doesn’t even happen to The Shade.

To me this book should either be geared towards new readers looking for a new title, or old readers looking to capture the magic from the 90s Starman Series. If it’s a new reader, then I have no idea how anyone is supposed to know who Hope O’Dare or Mikaal Thomas are. Now, as a reader of the original series, then I have to say that these people are strangers to me. Hope is nothing like the firebrand that she was in the 90s book, instead she leans on really bad cliché lines:

Mikaal is no better, as both he and The Shade act like moody emo 20-somethings. Just awful stuff.

The artwork ranges from average to bad. The Shade no longer looks like an ageless all-knowing gentleman, he looks like some 30-something stuck-up (sorry to say it) douche who cares more about bone china and tea getting cold than people or situations (sorry that’s the writing not the artwork), but the art matches the concept. And I don’t think Deathstroke has ever looked worse than how he is drawn here.

And all of this could be forgiven if the story was compelling or different. But it’s not. It’s the same old comic book story that we’ve seen 100 times. Reluctant villain turned hero has someone from his past re-enter his life, warning of a potential danger. But before he can be warned, the hero is confronted by someone who has been hired to kill him.

Maybe I dislike this because I hold the original Starman too close to my heart. That is possible. I don’t see how anyone could think this was great, but perhaps I’m slagging on it too much. I don’t know, but for me, I won’t be spending additional money to watch someone cash in on a creative credit line that was extended ten years ago.

Verdict

James Robinson was once a writer I would gravitate towards, on name alone. He has lost that completely with this series. I really don’t care to read anything that he has to write again. The plot was intelligible, so it gets some points, but this is really bad otherwise.

D+

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From → Comic Books, DCnU

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