Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Shade, the Changing Man #5, which was published by DC and is cover dated November 1990. Enjoy!
Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo combined on the first two-thirds or so of Shade, the Changing Man (with some guest artists thrown in), and they really had a wonderful relationship going that made this comic such a classic. Issue #5 doesn’t have the greatest first page, but let’s check it out, shall we?
The first thing readers need to know is that this is a movie set, and all the characters are speaking their lines. So, yes, the fact that Guy Fable (Rick) says “Kalenshkekov” in Panel 3 is addressed. It’s a bit disorienting to begin the issue this way, but it only lasts two pages before the director stops it, so it’s not too bad. Discerning readers can pick out the archetypes – the hot chick, the nun (as the “ugly” woman who is also the smart one), the tough guy, and the older dude. It’s a classic monster movie set-up, and Milligan makes sure everyone says what’s expected of them: the hot chick is terrified, the nun is calm and trusts in God, the older dude is pragmatic, and the tough guy spouts clichés. The actual dialogue isn’t very good, but it’s not meant to be – Milligan is using short-hand to establish both the characters and the actors who play them, because these actors have fallen so far into the roles of being actors that their real lives have fallen away, and in this story, Milligan brings all of their secrets out into public. So we need to get both a sense of the roles their playing but also to understand that they’re playing roles in real life, too. It’s not the most original idea, no, but that’s what Milligan is going for. (Milligan, as I’ve pointed out quite often when writing about his comics, is extremely interested in identity, so it’s not surprising that’s a theme of this story and this comic in general.)
Bachalo lays out the page so that it looks like a film reel, hence the black borders between the panels next to each other but the use of white gutters to separate the rows. The thicker borders on the top and bottom of the rows help the effect, too. He begins the page with a close-up of “Candy” spluttering because she thinks everyone is going to die. The reason this panel is so large and prevalent is because “Candy’s” right, although she doesn’t know it yet. From the extreme close-up, Bachalo has to pull back, and he does so to introduce the rest of the cast, from the nun to the older dude to “Rick.” Of course “Rick” is standing, dominating both panels in which he appears, while the older dude and the nun almost cower before him, acknowledging his macho leadership. Bachalo does a nice job with “Rick’s” facial expression in Panel 4 – the heavy brows (inker Mark Pennington’s influence?), the dark eyes, and the slightly open mouth all imply that “Rick” isn’t much of a thinker. Bachalo indulges in horror-movie clichés in Panels 5 and 6, much like Milligan does, as the nun stands by the window and tells “Rick” that killing is not the answer just before she’s grabbed by a monster crashing through the window. It is, of course, a good final panel, because even if we know this is a movie, it’s still a tense moment, and Bachalo does a nice job in both the panels of leading our eyes toward the right and the second page. Daniel Vozzo does a nice job, too – “Candy” has red hair and a green shirt, because redheads must wear green, it seems, while the older dude wears a cheery yet submissive yellow and “Rick” sports camo pants. Vozzo doesn’t have a lot of places to make an impact, but he does it well.
This early in the series, Milligan was still finding his footing (as Charles J. Sperling – remember Charles J. Sperling? – points out in the letters page of this very issue, the Rolling Stones did a better job in two lines explaining the Kennedy assassination than Milligan does in dozens of pages), but this shows the potential that would soon make the series so amazing. In the same way, Bachalo was still working out his style (this is a bit rougher than his debut in Sandman that we saw a few days ago, but it’s also more angular and is moving toward his classic style), but there’s no denying his talent. I don’t know if DC is ever going to finish bringing out the trades, but the ones they have out are definitely worth a look.
Next: One of the funniest single issues I have ever read. Our Dread Lord and Master likes it, too, so you know it’s high-quality! Find some books that ODL&M (probably) disapproves of in the archives!