Comics You Should Be Reading: The Shade by James Robinson

There are a great deal of comic books that are released on a monthly basis, so many in fact that some of the best of the lot can fall through the cracks of hardcore comic book fans’ pull lists because quite frankly, you can’t buy everything. So, it’s working under that assumption, as well as weekly beatings from my editor, that I will begin proving you with a somewhat consistent installment of Comics You Should Be Reading. And when I think of a comic that everyone should absolutely be reading, none comes to mind quicker right now than that of The Shade by James Robinson.

The September Relaunch of the entire line of comics from DC Comics caused a huge commotion. Fans were notified that the publishing company would be throwing out all of its continuity, which ended up being more selective continuity than anything else, and while that shocked many of its readership, it provided a whole new landscape of creative possibilities for a wealth of brilliant minds. Fifty-two titles were announced initially, and then came the announcement of a handful of mini-series. Enter The Shade.

James Robinson can be a bit of a polarizing figure to many comics readers as the majority of his high profile work on mainstream comic titles like Justice League of America was panned as being messy, confusing, and just plain bad. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of that in retrospect, I will say that it wasn’t my favorite. Robinson’s work on Starman from the 90s, however, was and will continue to be universally praised as one of the greatest comic book runs of all time. So comparing his work on JLA and Starman, many fans questioned whether the writer still had what it took. Personally, what changed by mind was the incredibly brilliant Flashpoint tie-in series from Robinson entitled The Outsider. Flashpoint: The Outsider was a thrilling reading experience as it took a singular character and developed a world that was both more intriguing and fleshed out than that of its parent series Flashpoint. The Outsider was a bit of a villainous hero who would used his power to crush those that opposed him as quickly as he would help out for the greater good. The writing style of this series can be directly linked to that of its creative descendent The Shade.

The Shade is a character who has been in many different comics throughout DC’s extensive history and was even featured as one of the players in Robinson’s JLA run, but what this post-Flashpoint maxi-series does is take the character and fleshes him out to a point where The Shade has become one of the most thrilling and developed titles and characters in the current DC universe. Throughout its run, the seventh issue came out on April 11, The Shade has told a story of former villain who has moved into more of heroic role while still having the emotional detachment of one that has lived forever and seen it all. The Shade has basically gotten to a point where can neither love or care for anyone in the sense that we are all familiar with. And Robinson sells each of these emotional beats to really hit home that point. Even with all of these serious aspects of the comic, the comic never fails to remind the reader that this is a very cool book.

The Shade is presented as a multi-layered character, but the end result is a dark, supernatural James Bond. He’s suave, he’s charming, and each of his adventures is truly exciting. Robinson has taken this character from a broken relationship with a woman who truly loves him to rediscovering his family, while also showing us an entire DC universe outside of THE DC universe. It’s absolutely wonderful, and moreover as DC Comics fan, I prefer the universe of The Shade to that of any other in which I am currently immersed. The supporting cast of this book is incredibly interesting and with the recent introduction of the Spanish super hero La Sangre, a Catholic vampire who has dedicated her life to saving her city and to God, is a mashup of Andrew Bennet of I, Vampire, Batman, and Azrael, which may not sound like it makes any sense, but it works beautifully. I mean, she even works with a bizarre super team that is just as interesting as she is. And each story arc introduces characters that are just as rich and well developed as that of La Sangre. Furthermore, I really want to see La Sangre get her own mini-series. It may not sell that well, but it will be the best comic each month, much like The Shade. And guys, as good as this all sounds, this is just the story and writing.

The Shade also features some of the very best artwork from some of the very best artists that currently work in comics. In the introductory story arc, Cully Hamner (who doesn’t do that many interiors anymore, but was one of the designers for The New 52 characters) brought his A game by providing some incredibly dynamic artwork that helped build the entire universe within The Shade, and if you remember, the world building of The Shade is one of the most impressive parts of the comic.

Next up on the list of revolving, also genius, artists was Darwyn Cooke. If I have to explain why Cooke is an impressive name to have on a comic, then might I simply suggest that you read a comic with Darwyn Cooke’s art. Cooke brings a very specific classic style that invokes the golden age of comics through his beautiful work. Cooke was appropriate an appropriate artist as the issue took place in the 1940s and told a little bit of the backstory of The Shade, and it did so wonderfully. The comic read as a Golden Age adventure story, and with Cooke, pulled it off. After this issue however was the introduction of La Sangre and the artist Javier Pulido, who has a bit of a non-comic book sensibility that makes his work stand out against many of his contemporaries, which in turn, makes The Shade also stand out. The two artists rounding out the last of the series will be Jill Thompson and Frazier Irving. Jill Thompson is an incredibly gifted artist and painter whose work can be seen in endless Sandman-related comics, Beasts of Burden and her own Scary Godmother work. She’s easily one of my favorite artists of all time, and the issue with her art is to take place in 1901, which is a significant year as was revealed in issue #7. Irving, too, is one of my favorite artists whose grown to prominence through a variety of work including collaborations with Grant Morrison in Seven Soldiers of Victory: Klarion The Witch Boy and the final story arc of Morrison’s Batman and Robin, as well as providing beautiful artwork for the grossly underrated Xombi with John Rozum. Needless to say, I’m incredibly excited about his entries to The Shade, as well.

In case you can’t tell, I’m absolutely in love with this comic book. I think Robinson is at his best when he’s writing a singular character that fits a little bit outside the DC mold of superhero, and I’m glad he had the opportunity to provide us with a wealth of entertainment in these issues. My only complaint is that this series is not an ongoing. Sure, it’s twelve issues, but with the world building and incredibly interesting characters that Robinson and his team of some of the greatest artists alive have given us is a wealth of material for years to come. But as good as this series is, it’s my belief that not enough of eyes are placed firmly upon it each month, so do yourself, and the comic reading public a favor and buy this comic. The Shade is inventive and unique and deserves as much credit as can be given. And if you haven’t been reading this series, go to Comixology for digital versions or TFAW for print edition or hit up your local comic book shop.

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