While Jack Knight was undoubtedly the most remarkable character featured DC Comics’ acclaimed ’90s title “Starman,” no one stole scenes (or panels) like Richard Swift AKA The Shade, the villain-turned-mentor re-imagined by the co-creators of the Eisner Award-winning series, James Robinson and Tony Harris.
Last month, the Shade made his New 52 debut in the first issue of his own self-titled, 12-issue maxiseries, which is again written by Robinson. With Harris returning solely to provide covers, Robinson assembled an all-star cast of artists to explore The Shade’s secret origin in a globe-hopping, centuries-spanning quest that is being promoted as a true game-changer in the antihero’s life.
Cully Hamner illustrates the series’ first three issues, the second of which is in stores today, while upcoming issues will feature art by such heavy hitters as Javier Pulido, Jill Thompson, Frazer Irving and Gene Ha. Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone, the creative team behind DC’s 2006 relaunch of “The Spirit,” are also on board this mega-project, teaming with Robinson for a “Times Past” flashback-style story in “The Shade” #4.
CBR News connected with Robinson, Cooke and Bone to see if they could shed any light on the story of revenge, murder and betrayal featured in their January-shipping issue, most importantly who is the strange woman on the issue’s cover?
The comic book dream team also shared an exclusive look at pages from the issue, including one which finally reveals the answer to why Cooke was posting images of a certain do-goodin’ cowboy to his blog earlier this year.
CBR News: Gentlemen, I must say, you had me at Robinson, Cooke and Bone. Have you been looking to collaborate for some time, because on paper, this looks like a no-brainer in terms of creative accord.
James Robinson: I sent an email to Darwyn a long time ago saying how much I admired “The New Frontier” and that to me, it was the perfect sequel to “JSA: Golden Age.” I told him that there had been talk a long time ago about me doing “JSA: Silver Age,” but I could have never done anything as good as “The New Frontier.”
Darwyn responded that “JSA: Golden Age” was one of the things that he was thinking about when he created “The New Frontier.” We began a correspondence, which led us to becoming friends, but we hadn’t worked together. Then this came up, and while Darwyn is a very busy, busy man, he was gracious enough to squeeze it in. And J. agreed to ink it, thankfully. The issue has turned into a wonderful piece of work that I am very, very proud of.
Darwyn, you’ve made a career of making times past look and feel edgier, slicker and certainly cooler. Is that the reason you wanted to work on this particular issue of “The Shade?”
Darwyn Cooke: Sure — I have a certain affinity for those types of stories. I find there are just a lot better opportunities for stories back in a world before Google.
Everything has moved so quickly that we’re not really taking time to assess anymore. We basically just lived through the change from an analog world to a digital world, and I don’t think anybody has got that figured out just yet.
There is a lot of value to looking at some of stuff from before. Maybe we can get a few cues for our life today from some of those simpler times.
How about you, J.? You are known primarily for your kid-friendly projects. Did you have to channel your dark side to work with Shade?
J. Bone: I would love to do a horror comic in my style, drawing the way I draw. But for me, signing up for “The Shade” was like you said, a no-brainer. I really wanted to ink Darwyn again. I inked him on “The Spirit” for a year, and I didn’t feel I hit my stride until that last issue, which often happens. I really wanted to ink Darwyn again, with more of what I wanted to bring to it. And with this, it’s a dark story, like you say, so I could just go brush heavy and have fun with the pages.
Robinson: I thought what Darwyn and J. did with “The Spirit” was the perfect way to bring the character back into present day whilst keeping the older things that made it perfect in the past. There was a lot of darkness in it, too. It wasn’t always a funny book. It had some drama and some horror and real crime feel to it, so when the idea of J. inking Darwyn came up, I immediately thought of all the great work they’d done on “The Spirit.” And I was very happy.
When [Jack] Kirby is inked by [Joe] Sinnott or when Tom Palmer inks Neal Adams, they don’t ever take away what’s special about the artist and yet, you can see their brush stroke at the same time.
Cooke: Exactly– James just hit it. There’s a notion of giving your work to a guy who is just going to try and reproduce exactly what’s there, as faithfully as he can. In a production environment, that’s all you can expect from a good inker. But I like to work with artists. They’re not tracing so much as bringing what’s special about their work into your work. And J. is definitely a number one example of that for me.
And Dave Stewart, too. Dave is an artist, as well, and what he brings to a project is exciting for me to see because I see myself do my work, my way, and it’s always a lot more fun to see guys who are in the same school but have a slightly different take on it.
J. has a way with figures and a way of doing slashing shadows that I really dig, so when he inks me, I am always looking for those little things, which I then work into my own work.
Robinson: Dave isn’t in this interview but he’s done some pretty ballsy things, using different colors and tones that you don’t always see people doing in comics. It’s definitely an amazing feat of coloring beyond the artistry of Darwyn and J.
Cooke: I am always fully confident knowing that Dave is going to make it work.
Bone: Oh, yeah. You know that you are not going to get the traditional colorists’ mistakes with Dave. It’s all going to be perfect.
Cooke: And often, it’s unexpected. It’s something you haven’t quite seen before. But it always underscores the purpose of a scene and it’s always beautiful.
What is about the Shade that inspires you, as an artist, to slip into the character and play in his world?
Cooke: There is a whole rich history with the character that’s already been set out by James and Tony [Harris] and a myriad of other guys. And then there is, of course, his Golden Age incarnation. To be honest, aesthetically, none of that is really my thing, so I dug the idea that we were looking at the idea of him in the forties. Because, day-to-day, if this guy is just showing up on the street or going to talk to somebody, he’s probably not going to look like a Victorian. He would like he belonged in 1945. It was cool that I was able to figure out what this cat would look like if he was dressed normally in 1945.
If you look at the work that J. and I do, guys like us, we very rarely use cross-hatching for little lines or things like that. We like things black or white. There was a lot of graphic decision making about how Shade’s power would emote from him. That was cool, too.
I also love the idea of keeping the black solid in spots, so that suit just kind of comes alive. And his hair just kind of starts to come alive, too. It very slowly and sinisterly forms whatever shape it is he wants. Then, I just hand it all over to J. and let him pull out that big brush. [Laughs]
Bone: I’m not even going to bite on the whole big brush.
Robinson: To me, the thing about the Shade is that he was always very much a part of the “Times Past” stories, all of which had different guest artists. He also had his own miniseries, which was also deliberately done with each of the four issues having a different artist. In this way, I’ve worked with a lot of artists on the Shade, and it’s always exciting to see all the different interpretations of the same character. Now, with this issue, it’s interesting to see how Darwyn depicts the Shade as opposed to how all the other, very different artists on the series draw the character.
With Darwyn, I have to say, it’s wonderful. The Shade appeared in forties’ clothing, I think, once before in the miniseries, but it was nice that in this one issue, we managed to show the Shade in his Victorian clothes and in a 1940s black suit and even in his goofy Golden Age costume. I tried to bring it all together, because I knew we had Darwyn as the artist.
Cooke: If I had one reservation going into this, it was that I knew it was a miniseries and this was one piece of it. I thought this was just going to be a component of a larger story, somehow — a slave to something I don’t really understand. When I got the script, I was amazed at how complete the story was, how you step into it, it builds, it climaxes, resolves and denouements. It’s a satisfying story onto itself, and when I saw that, I got a little more excited about it. I love it when something has a beginning, middle and end that I worked on as opposed to be parting a part of chain.
James, can you tell us a little about this story that Darwyn loves so much?
Robinson: Well, there are things I can reveal and things I can’t, because while it is very much a story that you can read on its own, it is also part of the greater picture. If I tell you too much, it will ruin the enjoyment of Cully Hammer’s second and third issues leading up to it.
But basically, the whole thing is linked together, past and present, so that there is a story in the present, which concerns the Shade’s past and a family you didn’t realize that the Shade had.
Each of the “Times Past” issues play out that way. The first one jumps back into the 1940s, the second one is set in Paris in 1901 and the third one is in 1830s London for the Shade’s origin. Each time, you learn more about the family and more about what is going on. As I did with Darwyn’s story, I took great pains with each of the other “Times Past” tales with Jill Thompson and Gene Ha, to make them stand alone, even though they’re a part of the bigger picture.
Essentially, in “The Shade” #4, you get a story involving an aspect of the Shade’s family. I know I’m being vague, but it’s about the war and it’s about saboteurs. We also have a guest appearance by the Prairie Troubadour, the Vigilante, who is one of my favorite characters.
Cooke: And that’s bad ass. I don’t know about J., but for me it was a lot of fun that I was getting to do Vigilante. And it’s straight-up Vigilante. No continuity nonsense. Just on that red bike. With guns. Fantastic.
Bone: I totally agree. Those are the pages that I have already sort of snuck out to a few friends, just to say, “Check this out.” I think it’s Darwyn’s best work.
Cooke: So many comics have obligatory action scenes, and it’s a shame, because a lot of them are treated that way. It’s great to get your hands on a guy like this for five pages, ’cause you can show people just how much fun one of those action sequences can be — a montage of a guy tracking somebody down and doing his thing. It was lot of fun to draw.
Shade was originally introduced as a villain, and over the years, he has shifted his allegiance, at least in part, to the side of good. Or so we’re led to believe. Has he lost his dark edge or his secret origin still pretty chilling?
Robinson: Well, yeah, I believe so. I think it’s very easy to write a dark villain. If you look around, there are lots of dark villains in every comic line; DC, Marvel, Image — all of them.
And in literature; Shakespeare, Dickens, Dumas, whoever. It’s easy to do that. I think a dark, unpredictable hero is much more interesting. This is a very bad analogy, but I’m going to use it just because I know there is a lot of wrestling fans that read comic books. When Jake “The Snake” Roberts [Cooke laughs] was a good guy who messed people up and dropped his snake on their faces, he was way more interesting. He acted like a bad guy but he was actually good guy. But when they turned him into a heel, he just became another heel with a snake. I haven’t watched wrestling in 15 years or so, but that’s always stuck in my head. The Shade, he has a totally amoral quality to him. He’s quite candid about the fact that, in the past, he’s killed people that often didn’t deserve it. You never quite know what he’s going to do, and I think that’s his charm and what makes him fun, honestly.
So to answer your question, I don’t think he’s lost his dark edge, and I think the dark edge that he has now is more interesting than when he was just a villain with shadow powers.
Cooke: I relate to the character in the same way that I relate to Jonah Hex or Parker. He’s the same type of character. You really don’t know which way they are going to jump. They’ll pass their judgment and that judgment wins out, whether you agree with it or not. It keeps the reader interested. If they find the character acting in a sympathetic fashion at one point and a cruel fashion at another point, it makes the character a lot more interesting. I know it does for me.
Who is the woman on the cover for “The Shade” #4?
Robinson: It’s a secret. We can’t say.
Cooke: It’s a secret, but she’s a hot one. [Laughs]
OK. James, how do we even get to the fourth issue? Didn’t Deathstroke decapitate Shade in the first issue?
Robinson: Well, yes — but for me to tell you, it would ruin what happens in the first few pages of “Shade” #2.
Can you confirm he has a head by “Shade” #4?
Robinson: Yes, he does.
Cooke: No head is a depressing thought.
How did you land on having Slade Wilson play such a major role in the series, because he’s not an obvious choice, is he?
Robinson: With “The Shade,” it is a little bit of an experiment in the present day story in that I’m sending the Shade off into the world.
I could have done the Shade in Opal City doing Shade stuff, and that was obviously the first thing that crossed my mind, but I thought to myself, “Well, we’ve seen that.” We have readers that have read 82 issues of “Starman” with the Shade running around Opal City. So I thought, let’s send him into the bigger DC Universe and see how he interacts with the world. As a result, I’ve been able to play with his past, play with the fact that he has been around. He knows people that the reader doesn’t know that he knows. He’s not always meeting new characters, having a fight like they do and all these other sort of conventions. He already knows all these people, so these contacts have been made. It makes the canvas much more broad.
It’s been fun working with Cully for the setup. We end up in Alice Springs, Australia for a big, magical battle with an Aboriginal god, then we jump to Barcelona and explore the history of Barcelona, including the Spanish Civil War and everything else with this vampire character La Sangre that I created in “Superman,” which ties into the past of the Shade and her origin and his origin. It was my desire to just see Shade operate in the bigger canvas of the DC Universe.
Cooke: Short answer: James is a bit of a freak. He likes to bring different characters together for different reasons, and most of them are subversive.
Robinson: That’s right.
I know you can’t give away his secret origin after just one issue, but can you share one thing that readers may not know about Shade’s past but will learn to know in the months ahead?
Bone: His head grows back. [Laughs]
Robinson: How about this? The villain that’s bringing this all about is a worshipper of Scottish Celtic gods.
Cooke: Is it Grant Morrison?
Robinson: Well, Grant is Scottish. Is he a god? Some would certainly say so. Let’s leave that open to debate. The one thing I will say is that during the run of the series, I will be tweeting (@JamesDRobinson) various teases and reveals, so CBR readers should start following me on Twitter if they aren’t already doing so.
“The Shade” #4, written by James Robinson and featuring the art of Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone, is expected in comic book stores across North America on January 11, 2012.