Oct 10, 2011

Fifteen Things You Need to Know About The Shade

It may sound weird, but BATWOMAN aside (which, face it, doesn't count), the only other book in DC's entire relaunch I was (and still am) anywhere near excited about is THE SHADE by James Robinson and a bunch of artists, including Cully Hamner, Darwyn Cooke, Jill Thompson, Javier Pullido, Frazer Irving, and one of my all-time favorites, Gene Ha.

STARMAN by Robinson, Tony Harris, and Peter Snejberg was a cult hit in the 90s, but I refused to read it back then because I was fiercely loyal to the Will Payton version. In 2007, I scanned a paperback in a Barnes and Noble's in Washington DC and found it intriguing, and I bought the entire series in individual issues off a good deal on eBay.

STARMAN took place in one of DC's fictional places, Opal City. One of the main characters in STARMAN is The Shade, and by the end of it, The Shade was Opal City's protector. (I'm not spoiling anything, am I? You don't see Jack Knight running around.) Now, I have no idea how the DCnU affects STARMAN continuity, and therefore THE SHADE continuity, nor do I really care. I AM EXCITED!

So you might want to get into THE SHADE, but you might be confused, because what you might know of The Shade is what you know of him from JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED:

So fear not, loyal Cubers. Here are, as I see it, the fifteen things you need to know about The Shade! Needless to say, STARMAN SPOILERS abound!

15. His real name is Richard Swift. Or "Dick."

Well, there's really nothing to elaborate here. The Shade's given birth name in London, England, is Richard "Dick" Swift.

Hey, it's better than James Howlett.

14. His origin is unknown. 

The twelfth and final issue of this THE SHADE miniseries will be drawn by Gene Ha, and will tell the story of his origin. So obviously, right now, we don't know it. But what we do know of it has to do with a certain magical event in 1838 which claimed at least a hundred lives. There were only two survivors, and Dick was one of them. Before too long, he found out that...

13. He can manipulate shadow matter.

This is The Shade's main power. It involves manipulating an extradimensional mass called the Darklands, and is tied in with other shadow manipulators like Obsidian (the Golden Age Green Lantern's son). To make the explanation simple, think of him as a Green Lantern, except instead of green stuff, he uses shadows. That means shadow demons, constructs, and whatnot. He can also use it to travel using portals, as well as for some limited time travel. (He has, to my knowledge, never used it for time travel. He has, however, used it to send someone else through time.) He can use the shadow matter to repair broken bones, torn tissue, and whatnot, so for all intents and purposes, he may as well be invulnerable.

As such, however, he is vulnerable if hit upon by a strong enough light source that leaves him without a shadow.

12. He is immortal.

Along with his shadow-manipulating powers, The Shade is immortal. Furthermore, his shadow-manipulating powers protect him from all harm. This isn't to say he can't be shot in the head if his shadow powers are drained. Of course, this isn't to say that he can be, either. In the STARMAN "Legends of the Dead Earth" annual, he is seen telling stories to children, many millennia after the Earth has been abandoned.

11. He has a longstanding feud with the Ludlow family.

Shortly after gaining his powers, an amnesiac Dick Swift was taken in by a family called the Ludlows. As it turns out, the Ludlows were a bunch of murderers, who had routinely killed and robbed wealthy businessmen and then killed a nearby vagrant to make it look like a failed robbery/murder. This didn't work with The Shade, and he killed the adults of that family, but their children vowed revenge, starting a feud that would go on for almost two centuries. One of the most notable Ludlows is the Golden Age "hero" (who was actually a villain), Alias the Spider.

One of his sons would also go on to plague The Shade in one of the last storylines of STARMAN. His other son can be seen in Grant Morrison's SEVEN SOLDIERS, going by the name "Spyder."

Another notable Ludlow is Marguerite, with whom The Shade had fallen in love. The love was genuine, but was not enough to take the Ludlow hate away.

Aside from The Spider II, the last known Ludlow declared peace with The Shade right around the middle of STARMAN, in The Shade's own miniseries.

10. He used to kill for money.

And thus he is wealthy. One of his most notable cases was for a young man named Jason Melville (or it may be Mayville. Names changed a lot in STARMAN, unfortunately), who owned a particularly large part of Opal City. In return, The Shade asked for a plot of land, in which he resides to this day, tending to his hidden passion, roses.

He also received 10% of anything the Melvilles made from that point onward, until Jason Melville's death.

9. He was on the side of the allies in World War II.

That's Captain X The Shade's with.

Occasionally, The Shade was altruistic. During World War II, he went to London to protect it from the ravages of war. He got caught in an explosion. This fact is important because you have to know about The Shade's sense of morality. Also, that explosion is important.

8. He has talked down the devil.

In 1995, our time, DC's version of the Devil (well, one of them anyway), Neron, was responsible for what then counted as DC's "big event," UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED. The basic plot was this: Neron would offer to amp up the powers of supervillains, and in return, they would all work for him in trying to capture a very specific soul. One of the people he offered this to was The Shade. The Shade's response?

Image from here.

"This power you offer... will it gain me wealth? I'm already wealthy. Immortality, perhaps? I am immortal. And how would you improve my powers? Make my shadow blacker? More shadowy? Be serious."

In short, The Shade is awesome.

7. He keeps a journal.

Just in case you haven't picked it up yet, The Shade has a very Victorian-era aura about him. From his wardrobe, including his top hat, to the cane he carries around, to his manner of speech, to his friends (he has been known to consort with Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens), The Shade is very much a product of that era. So it shouldn't surprise you that he keeps a journal, in which he tells the tales of "Times Past" and his previous exploits. To cap off the entire aura, he writes with a quill pen.

The Shade's journal often took the place of STARMAN letter pages, and with those exploits, it seems The Shade has run into a version of the devil at least three times. The Shade's writing style is ornate and flowery, and actually, The Comics Cube!'s jump break text, "Now read on..." is taken directly from The Shade's journal.

6. He is dating Hope O'Dare.

When the first O'Dare arrived in Opal City from Ireland, he became a cop. Since then, the O'Dare family has been a constant in the Opal City police force. Hope O'Dare is the only girl in a clan of five siblings, and as such, she is the classic Irish spitfire, always ready to jump into the action at a moment's notice. At the end of STARMAN, she said she would ask The Shade out on a date, and during THE BLACKEST NIGHT event, it was revealed that the two of them had indeed been dating, presumably since STARMAN concluded. The two of them have some issues, what with The Shade proclaiming his love for her and her having issues with the fact that she's aging and he's immortal. That, and he used to be a supervillain.

One of Hope's brothers was Matt O'Dare. Which brings us to our next point.

5. He was best friends with Brian Savage, the Scalphunter.

Brian Savage was a white child who was stolen from his parents by Kiowa Indians. He was named Keh-Woh-No-Tay, or "He Who Is Less than Human." As he grew older, he was named "Scalphunter" by those he hunted.

Savage settled in Opal City, wherein he became its sheriff. He held that position until he moved to nearby Turk County to settle down with his wife. They had at least one child: Steve Savage, the World War I hero known as the Balloon Buster.

Brian Savage became The Shade's best friend, and met his end at the hands of Jason Melville, ironically the same guy who was responsible for The Shade's wealth (see item number 9).

Almost a century later, however, The Shade learned that Savage had been reincarnated as Matt O'Dare, Hope's brother, who was also a corrupt cop. Upon learning of his previous spiritual identity, Matt made a big turnaround and became one of the straightest and most trustworthy policemen on the force.

Matt was killed in one of the last STARMAN stories, "Grand Guignol." Before he died, however, he had a vision quest, indicating that he would be reincarnated again — this time 1000 years in the future, as a hero named Thom Kallor, who was a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes named Star Boy. Thom Kallor then would return to the present day to serve with the Justice Society of America as the Starman after Jack Knight.

Still with me? Whew!

4. He is close to Jack Knight, Starman.

Well, this should be no surprise. At the start of STARMAN, The Shade believed that Jack could even surpass his father's legacy. Jack was understandably wary at first, what with The Shade being a former supervillain and everything, but the two of them grew closer and closer as time went on. While Jack would never be as close to The Shade as Brian Savage or Matt O'Dare were, they would form a bond that would be so strong that The Shade promises to be Opal's hero, taking Jack's place, by the time the series ended.

3. He loves Opal City.

There is nothing The Shade loves more than his city, Opal City.  He loves its architecture, its atmosphere, and its culture. And he will do anything at all to protect it. In a recent appearance in JSA during the INFINITE CRISIS event, he was seen saving someone under the pretense of saving the architecture.

Of course, maybe he actually meant it.

2. He used to "play" with the Flashes to scratch his rogue itch.

"But wait!" you ask. "What about all those comics before 1994, when he was fighting superheroes, namely Jay Garrick and Barry Allen, the first two superheroes to bear the name 'The Flash'?"

Well, those stories still happened, but instead of The Shade just being a stereotypical villain with no motivation other than "I'm evil," there's now the added explanation of "It was all a game." As it turns out, not only was The Shade always holding back when he fought the scarlet speedsters, to the point where he had them believe his powers came from his cane; but when Jay's life is in danger, The Shade was the man who saved him. According to The Shade, feuding with Jay in particular makes him feel alive.

1. He once shared his body — literally — with a dwarf.

"But wait, Duy!" you say again. "What about all those stories where The Shade actually does want to destroy the world?"

Well, there's a straight answer for that: a dwarf did it.

All right, I know how that sounds. But it's more awesome than I make it sound! So, remember the "other" survivor of the magical event of 1838 (remember point 14)? That was a little person (called a dwarf by politically incorrect people, such as himself) named Simon Culp. Culp got the same powers as The Shade (which he refers to as "the old inky"), and waged shadowy war with him until World War II, at which point he was caught in the same explosion that The Shade was caught in (see point 9).This somehow placed Culp in The Shade's body, enabling him to take over and control it for short periods of time, making The Shade look like either a power-mad lunatic or a joke.

This all came to a head in the "Grand Guignol" storyline in STARMAN, when Culp framed The Shade for plotting the destruction and taking over of Opal City. He regained his own body in the process, but was eventually killed by the original Starman's arch-enemy, the original Mist.

Since Simon Culp is theoretically the only person who was capable of draining The Shade of his powers, for all intents and purposes, The Shade is now completely invulnerable, immortal, and ready for his next adventure.

I cannot wait.

To read more about The Shade, read STARMAN, available in six omnibuses:

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