In Retrospect – THE SHADE #1-12 (2011-2012)

James Robinson’s epic twelve issue maxi-series came to an end, and we’re talking about it. It’s THE SHADE #1-12.

It’s been a while, so a refresher course seems in order. The titular Shade began as a Flash villain during the Golden and Silver Ages, with a cane that could manipulate shadows. Then James Robinson rebooted and incorporated the old guy into his own Starman ongoing. Reinvented as an immortal Englishman with inborn power over darkness, the Shade acted as the mentor for Jack Knight (then the eponymous Starman). The character was fleshed out over the length of the series, to the point where Robinson put him into damn near anything he could after the fact.

I’m of the opinion that James Robinson spent so long writing Starman and the Shade in particular that he has trouble stopping. Given how well he’s done for DC, it made sense they’d give him a maxi-series with the Shade. And as I predicted, it was glorious.

From my perspective, THE SHADE wasn’t just the capstone to Richard Swift, immortal anti-hero with a penchant for wit and morally ambiguous do-goodery. Just for the sake of our collective sanity (we being fans of the pre-Flashpoint continuity), I consider it the last story in the old canon. Because if the Shade exists in the New 52, how much of his time from Starman comes with? Much of that series involved extensive JSA history and guest stars. It’s much easier to say James Robinson just set the maxi-series in the old continuity. The single break from this assertion is Deathstroke the Terminator, who appeared in all of one issue as a cameo in his current incarnation. And I’m prepared to write it off as pre-Flashpoint Slade Wilson trying on a new costume just for that mission.

Because otherwise, things would just get too weird. Half the time it’s too weird that Batman and Green Lantern got to bring their continuity with them into the New 52.

The primary overarching plot of THE SHADE is that our titular hero(?) has an attempt on his life, leading him on an investigation across the world. On this journey, he visits his family, both those descended from him and a vampire girl to whom Swift acts as a father. And really I think the plot can be roughly divided into the three members of his family that he meets: Darnell Caldecott, the aforementioned La Sangre, and Dudley Caldecott; the first and last being his direct descendents. Basically all of the adventures somehow involve one of these three individuals, even those adventures set in the past, albeit sometimes indirectly.

All of the adventures seem to establish something that would come into play near the end of the run. The Shade’s dealings with the Dreaming and his fight against a zealot trying to enact an unholy ritual both come into play in the final fight. So much so that I’m very close to calling it as very convenient, almost contrived. But what’s to be done?

I referred to a final fight in the book, but I want to stress it as not being the last part of the series. That would be the long-overdue origin story for the Shade. It’s an event fans of Starman were teased at or told about multiple times over the character’s history, but it was only now, with the capstone of his story, that we learn how Richard Swift became the Shade. As such, this series is best read as the last piece of a larger puzzle James Robinson started assembling way back in 1994.

Do I recommend buying the inevitable collection? Absolutely. Especially for a fan of Starman. For one such as that, this is essential. On a larger level, it feels like an era really ended with this series. Sure, some characters in the New 52 retain pieces or whole chunks of their history (like the aforementioned Batman and Green Lantern). But they will forever have their histories bent to the lens of the New 52, their details picked and chosen for how well they can be integrated into the present world order. THE SHADE seemed like the last bit of story set in that old time, so it’s end marks the end of that period too. Maybe DC doesn’t see it the same way, but I hope this to go down in history as what it is: the closing of the book for both Richard Swift and the pre-Flashpoint DC universe. And I thank THE SHADE for that.

Now will James Robinson please finally find a favorite word other than “singular”?

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