The Shade: written by James Robinson; illustrated by Cully Hamner, Jill Thompson, Javier Pulido, Fraser Irving, Tony Harris, and Gene Ha (2011-2012; collected 2013): A 12-issue limited series with five different story artists and Starman artist Tony Harris on covers, The Shade looks to have been in production before DC made the abrupt decision to reboot its superhero line in September 2011.
As there was never a WWII-era Golden Age of Superheroes in the Nu52DCU, the continued existence of Starman supporting character Shade seems pretty doubtful, as Starman (as also written by Shade writer James Robinson) was a reluctant “legacy” hero whose father fought crime in the 1940’s and 1950’s, also as Starman. So this series may be the last go-round for the pre-Nu52DCU. Until they bring it back, anyway. It’s an infinite universe. I’m sure it’s still out there somewhere, regardless of what DC editorial tells us.
Shade, a long-lived villain/thief who has gradually become somewhat heroic since he gained his powers in 1838, sets out in this series to find out who’s trying to kill him, and why. The series also gives us more history for Shade than ever appeared in Robinson’s Starman, including an origin in the final issue of this series.
Shade’s an interesting, long-winded fellow with somewhat nebulous powers that involve control of a mystical shadow-force than can do almost anything, but generally functions like an extremely grumpy version of a Green Lantern power beam. Robinson takes the reader on a tour of both Shade’s world and of the lower heroic and villainous levels of the DC Universe, as we meet heroes and villains in Spain, England, Australia, and France. It’s all a lot of violent fun leading to a city-ravaging climax in London, England.
Robinson has always had a knack for imagining heroes and villains in a world that’s a bit more realistic than that found in children’s comic books without creating a book that’s either too grim or too glib. Shade’s more glib than grim, but even he has to get serious when confronted by supervillains and ordinary people with more of a penchant for harming the innocent than the Shade had on his worst days.
The roster of artists is a nice one, and Robinson seems to have structured the story to take advantage of their particular talents. Cully Hamner handles the more traditionally superheroic chapters, Javier Pulido the fantastic action ones, and Fraser Irving the almost psychedelic ones involving alien gods and weird hieroglyphics.
Jill Thompson and Gene Ha do great work on single chapters set entirely in the past — the Decadent Age aptly for Thompson, and a photo-realistically depicted, gritty 1838 London (complete with Charles Dickens) for Ha on the final chapter. It may be the most interesting assembly of art styles DC has assembled on one 12-issue story since…I don’t know. The DC Challenge? Robinson makes sure the story is intelligible to non-Starman readers — one doesn’t have to have read that title to enjoy this one. Recommended.