Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Shade by Various Artists (But Really Starring Javier Pulido)

Shade by Robinson and
Hamner, Pulido, Irving & more
DC Comics, 2013
Shade - not Ditko's Changing Man but James Robinson and Tony Harris's re-imagined golden age DC super-villain - is best known for his enigmatic appearances in Robinson & Harris's Starman opus. A twelve issue mini-series featuring the character, written by Robinson, with story arcs illustrated by various artists is an inspired choice and a good value for just $20. But it is a very inconsistent read, with the focus inevitably shifting from the mediocre story to the great lineup of artists chosen to tell it.

Shade, the immortal and extremely powerful Richard Swift, is a somewhat reformed villain who has a sharp wit and a mysterious past. He's nigh invulnerable and can wield a dark shadow force that can do all kinds of Unpleasant Things to people. What foes he does run into throughout the twelve issues he tends to dispatch with complete ease, his strength representing the story's biggest weakness. Despite his colorful vocabulary and his connection to Robinson's modern classic Starman, the story here - some descendant of his is trying to kill him and he runs into various adventures along the way - is honestly rather dull. Thankfully, the art is anything but dull.

The initial three issues by Cully Hamner are rather uninspired. Thankfully issue four features art by the amazing Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone in a wonderful World War 2 era flashback story. Stuff like this is Cooke's home turf and the one-shot shines compared to the content of the overall story itself. The book also features serviceable one-shots by Jill Thompson, and Gene Ha (doing the sadly anticlimactic origin end-piece). But before the expectedly moody three-issue arc by the inimitable Frazer Irving is the story's unintentional centerpiece and one of the best superhero stories put out last year featuring the art of Javier Pulido.

Pulido's three issues make him the star of this book, and between this and his superb Hawkeye work with Matt Fraction he has had the best year of his career. I would not fault the casual observer in noting that at first glance his stuff seems like a Marcos Martin clone, and to be fair some of his early work was with Martin or immediately following him. But starting with his recent Spider-Man work of the last couple of years, he has been making his own name, one that readers sat up and took notice with Hawkeye. And in Shade, he blows everyone out of the water with his trilogy of issues. In a story with vampires and zealots, Pulido's penciling possesses a mastery of shot-framing; bold inking creating stark, energetic imagery; and fluid, naturalistic action. It really is quite a wonder to experience and makes the whole package worth the price of admission.

For those more familiar with Shade and the DC Universe, I'd imagine the overall work would be more entertaining, alas for this reader it is just too uneven. But the artistic contributions make it worth the trip home, and again, at $20 for 12 issues it's a pretty good value for your comic-buying buck.

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