I think I've more than adequately expressed how excited I was for THE SHADE right here, because I am such a big fan of James Robinson's STARMAN. I was able to pick up the first issue of the new THE SHADE maxiseries today, by James Robinson and Cully Hamner. As far as I know, the series will consist of three three-parters and three stand-alone stories in an alternating fashion, with each story having a different artist.
The big issue in this comic is that of continuity. THE SHADE was a pivotal player in STARMAN, which is heavily based on the Golden Age heroes, specifically the Justice Society of America. Supposedly, the JSA is now moving to the alternate earth of Earth-2 and no longer exist in the main DC earth, so logically, they'd take The Shade with them. But no, Deathstroke shows up here. So all I'm gonna say is that this is pre-FLASHPOINT and pre-DCnU, and take it as a logical continuation of STARMAN.
I'm not so sure that this comic has to be all that new reader-friendly, as I think it's meant to tap into that cult audience that STARMAN had. I wouldn't call this series new reader-friendly, but again, I'm not convinced it has to be.
This series picks up pretty much after the events of STARMAN #81. The Shade is feeling down because it is October, the month of his creation - obviously leading up to a story later on in which they reveal his origin - and we spend just a good amount of time getting to know The Shade, with scenes where he is conversing with Mikaal Tomas (the current Starman) over tea and a scene where he is conversing with his girlfriend Hope O'Dare after they have been intimate. These are well-written scenes, and this is where it gets tricky.
You see, despite them being well-written scenes, they perhaps give us more of a peek into The Shade's psyche than is good for him. The Shade is very much a man of mystery, much like Wolverine or the Phantom Stranger. In many respects, revealing too much about him takes away from what makes him cool in the first place. It's too early to tell just how much of The Shade will be revealed, and how much of it will be good or bad for the character, so all I can really say right now is that they are well-written scenes with a fascinating character and supporting cast.
The basic plot of the story thus far though is a little bland. Someone wants The Shade dead (the first four letters of his name are "CALD"), and Deathstroke the Terminator shows up to kill him. The ensuing fight scene is a little disappointing in that it is, much like much of what the DCnU has been offering, unnecessarily excessive and gratuitous in its violence, but since STARMAN was doing that in an era when it wasn't common, I'll give it a pass. But the cliffhanger ending isn't much of a cliffhanger. I've spoken before of the problems with going too far in a serial drama and raising the stakes too high. When they're too high, you know the hero's going to win handily. When was the last time the world was at stake and Superman didn't save it? So this, much like the NIGHTWING cliffhanger, doesn't really work.
The book flies by really quickly, especially in comparison to the other comics I got this week, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #671 and BATWOMAN #2 (both of which were majorly awesome), so that was a bit disappointing. But again, STARMAN was always somewhat decompressed, and the beauty of it was always in enjoying the characters, even over the action. The quiet moments were just as special as the action-packed ones, if not more so. And in The Shade, we have a very fascinating main character indeed, so even if it's slow, I'm willing to stick it out.
The art by Cully Hamner is expressive, cartoony, and lends itself to color very well. It is clear and communicative in terms of telling the story. However, I remain unconvinced that his art is the best for someone whom the cover calls "The Master of Dark." It's fun to look at, but I'm not sure that it should be.
Altogether, there's enough in here that's a STARMAN storytelling trademark that I'm going to stick it out, but this isn't the best start to the series. I'm hoping it picks up, and that Robinson finds that fine balance between mystery and revelation when it comes to my favorite anti-hero.