Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Retro Review: The Shade #1-4 (1997)

Overall- You know how sometimes you look so forward to something that it can't possibly live up to the lofty expectations you have for it? Before I read this mini-series, I was expecting so very much out of it. I was expecting perfection. And perfection was EXACTLY what I got! This mini-series took one of my favorite characters(The Shade)out of my all-time favorite comic series(Starman)and delivered an incredibly well put together, satisfying story. If you were a fan of James Robinson's "Starman" series, then by all means, read this comic!

The story opens in 1838 England, where Richard Swift, The Shade, first acquires his shadow powers. He winds up losing his memories after gaining his powers, and is wandering the streets of London hopelessly lost. A man, Piers Ludlow, offers the Shade his home and a place to rest as Shade attempts to regain his lost memories. Ludlow introduces Shade to his family and treats him quite well. Ultimately though, we discover Ludlow and his family are involved in a complicated scheme where he builds partnerships with rich hermits, and kills them, framing vagrants as the culprits in order to acquire the wealth of the dead hermits. Ludlow leads Shade into the home of one of these hermits and the Shade is shocked to see an old hermit dead at the hands of one Ludlow's sons. Before Ludlow can shoot the Shade and therefore frame him for the murder, Shade takes off and hides in the house. Eventually, one of the Ludlow's find Shade hiding, and before Piers can shoot him, the Shade manifests his shadow powers for the first time, killing all of the Ludlows present. Confused and disoriented by his actions, Shade leaves the mansion and wanders the streets of London again, eventually bumping into Charles Dickens, who knew the Shade prior to his transformation. Charles takes the Shade in and helps refresh his fractured memory.

Although Shade killed most of the Ludlow clan, the two youngest children survived and swore revenge upon Shade, reproducing like rabbits and ingraining hatred of the Shade into each child they have. So, every few years, a Ludlow will come after the Shade with a new way to kill him, and every time, the Shade winds up killing the foolish Ludlow family member. The closest a Ludlow comes to killing the Shade is Paris, in 1931. A female member of the Ludlow clan, using an alias gets the Shade to fall in love with her and the two wind up living together. In time, the woman, Marguerite poisons the Shade's meal in an attempt to kill him for her family. However, the decision is tearing Marguerite apart since she has developed true feeling for the Shade. Even though the poisoning is excruciatingly painful, Shade tells Marguerite that most likely, it won't kill him. Since Shade still legitimately loves Marguerite, he tells her that if he recovers, he was willing to ignore the poisoning, provided Marguerite was willing to ignore her Ludlow upbringing and never attempt to kill him again. After a lot of thought and tears, Marguerite explains that her first responsibility is to reclaim her family's honor, and as such, she is duty bound to continue to attempt to kill the Shade. Heartbroken, the Shade then proceeds to kill Marguerite.

After that, Shade continues to periodically run into Ludlow's through the years and continues to kill them after they fail at killing him. We also get some stories about the Shade's "battles" with the Flash(Jay Garrick)during the 1950's, where we learn the Shade enjoyed facing off with Jay, and considered it more sport than anything. The Shade even prevents a Ludlow from killing Jay and his wife, since although they battled on numerous occasions the Shade held no real animosity towards Jay.

The mini-series concludes with Shade meeting with the last known surviving member of the Ludlow family in 1997. This Ludlow was working as a farmer and has a wife and son. However, this particular Ludlow didn't seem interested in trying to kill the Shade, like countless other members of his family had tried and failed. After a conversation, Shade leaves this Ludlow alive, in the hopes that the Ludlow hatred for him will finally cease. However, Shade realizes that although it seems his feud with the Ludlow clan is finally over, only time will tell.

There was so much more I left out of this review, it's crazy. I don't know how James Robinson managed to pack so much great story and character development into just 4 short issues. I wish certain other comic book writers were half as skilled as James was at developing characters and writing fulfilling stories. I won't name any names, but I think it's obvious who I mean... A certain writer with the initials BMB should really take notes on how to write a comic book from James.

This mini-series also got me thinking about the most recent issue of the Justice Society of America. During the "Origins and Omens" portion of that comic, Flash(Jay Garrick)meets a young man dressed in a fancy black suit in Rome sipping a cup of coffee. Jay tells this guy that he knew his father about as well as anybody did, and that he wanted to talk to this guy about the JSA, to which the guy says, "It's about time." After reading this mini-series, I wonder if this black garbed young man could be some possible offspring of the Shade. Prior to Marguerite's betrayal, the Shade seemed willing to still have relationships with women. Is it possible one of these relationships led to a son? The Shade mini-series did show that although Shade and Jay were at times adversaries, they also shared a somewhat friendly relationship... Hmm... Of course, this is just wishful thinking and I'm probably way off, but still, that idea is food for thought. After my glowing review, do I really need to even give this series a score? This mini-series was definitely a 10 out of 10 to me. Please James Robinson, please bring the great characters of Opal City back in some way, shape or form!

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