In 1942, National Comics (which would go on to become DC Comics) debuted a sinister villain named The Shade within the pages of “Flash Comics.” A thief with the power to control shadows and a knack for bothering Jay Garrick’s Flash, at the end of the Golden Age Shade was nearly forgotten and seemed doomed to toil in obscurity in the DCU. However, in 1994 writer James Robinson brought the character back within the pages of “Starman” as a cynical anti-hero, an immortal who can control shadows and the power of the Darklands, a dimension of malleable darkness. Now, ten years after the end of “Starman,” Shade is back and headlining his own twelve-issue comic book series, once again courtesy of Robinson and DC Comics.
Hinted at since last year, “The Shade” finally arrives in October and helmed by Robinson. Unusually, the series also features interior art by not one but six different artists: Cully Hamner, Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, Jill Thompson, Frazer Irving and Gene Ha. According to Robinson, while “The Shade” will tell one continuous story, each part of that story will be broken down and illustrated by an individual artist, taking Shade on a style defying, globetrotting adventure that finally reveals the origin of how he got his dark and eldritch powers.
CBR News already presented an exclusive look at the first issue’s cover, and now we speak directly with Robinson about the series, his thoughts on Shade’s origin, what readers should expect from the twelve issues and the appeal of the Golden Age character.
CBR News: The solicitation for “The Shade” #1 was released yesterday and we have the cover for it up on the site now. What should readers expect from your twelve issues?
James Robinson: Well, it’s one overriding story that is broken down into three arcs interspersed by three Time’s Past. Issues one to three are done by Cully [Hamner], issue four is Darwyn Cooke which is a Time’s Past, issues five to seven are Javier Pulido, issue eight is Jill Thompson, Frazer Irving does the last arc of three issues and then issue twelve, which is the origin of The Shade, will be Gene Ha. And Tony Harris will be the cover artist for all of these issues, not just for the first one.
That’s a really impressive art team you’ve pulled together! How did you go about picking which artist was going to go with which part of the story?
If there’s one word that sums up the whole series it’s family, and we’re learning about The Shade’s family and things in his past we weren’t aware of before. Events present themselves in such a way that he has to go and sort of dig around in his own past, and he finds things even he wasn’t aware of, and that necessitates him traveling a little bit around the world. As a result, the first three issues take place in Opal City and actually in Alice Springs, Australia, and there’s a Time’s Past that will take place in the 1940s. Then issues five to seven take place in Barcelona. It was very important for my editor, Wil Moss, and myself that we found a Spanish artist for that particular arc so there would be an authentic feel to the city that goes beyond what you or I or an American artist would find from Google pictures and things like that. The final arc will take place in England. For some reason it didn’t matter to me as much that the artist be English, but when Frazer Irving said he was available and interested that of course became a huge asset to the third arc, as you’ll see down the line.
It’s an interesting group of artists you’ve amassed as, while they are all widely recognized as some of the best in the business, they all have very disparate styles and tones to their work.
Yes, that’s the thing I find that already very interesting. Cully’s way along with his arc and Darwyn and Jill Thompson are already finished, and Javier Pulido is now working on his arc; just the difference in styles, I think, is something that’s appealing about the whole idea of doing a series like this with artists very much suited to the story. And also just see how they do the character differently, one person from the next, so it’s an adventure for me as much as the readers.
Talking about the twelve issue series in general, what made you decide you wanted to come back and revisit The Shade as a miniseries? Did you always want to dive into his mysterious origin?
No, not really. I’ll be honest with you, it was after the “Blackest Night” Starman issue, which was basically a Shade solo story for all intents and purposes. After that Dan Didio asked me if I was interested in doing a Shade series. I felt that he is a character — and this is true of a lot of characters at DC and I think at Marvel — that a dose of them is better than an ongoing book. I think that twelve issues of “The Shade” is better than an ongoing Shade series. If it’s a success then of course I’ll come back and do something else with The Shade. So it’s just the right amount, whereas when you have a monthly book sometimes you can, I think, bore the reader. I just didn’t want that to happen with The Shade. So I said to Dan I’d rather do it as twelve issues, and if it’s a rousing success then do another twelve issues. But to leave on a high note, and not leave on an awkward note, that was my plan. And after all the stuff I’ve been doing with “Superman” and the “Justice League” its nice to be back in an area of the DC universe that I’m comfortable and I enjoy writing and have fun writing this character.
Yeah, it must be fun going from Superman and DC’s bigger superhero characters back to a character that is morally ambiguous and you don’t have to worry about stark morality or big action superhero fights.
Well, that’s true, but The Shade that you’ll be reading is on this globe-hopping adventure. It isn’t superhero stuff but it’s definitely a big event — it isn’t just him sipping tea and being quippy. Although, ironically, that’s how the series starts off: him sitting around with Mikaal, the blue Starman, drinking tea and being quippy. So there is some of that element to it, but foremost it brings him into the world and gives him a sense of identity in the DC universe beyond this mysterious figure sipping tea.
The first issue of the series comes out in October, but there was talk about it last year and you’ve been writing this for a while. In September DC’s doing their big relaunch — was that something that affected your story at all? Or did you not have to worry about things being rebooted or characters moving around?
Well, and this was honestly all luck and happenstance, the story is one that stands alone so it was able to avoid a lot of that ret-conning and changes. In a small but crucial role we have Deathstroke actually, in the first issue of “The Shade,” and I think the only change was that he has his new costume and his gigantic sword designed by Jim Lee. But ostensibly he’s still the same character. Apart from that, I was off to the races with the story I wanted to tell and really didn’t have to change anything.
You’ve mentioned a couple of characters you’re using and at WonderCon you told CBR News that you would bring in some obscure characters and even some from your Mon-El storyline. Are there any big characters you are bringing back to the story that you are really excited to get your hands on again?
If anyone read that one issue of “Superman,” which I think is one of my favorite issues of that run, where Mon-El flies around the world and meets various characters from different parts of the world, apart from the Rocket Reds and a couple of them I made up a lot of those characters. But they were just one page teases with Mon-El’s captions describing them, not personalities or anything like that. So [I’m] getting into Will Von Hammer’s personality, which is fun because he appears in the first couple of issues as a supporting character. It’s fun I’m doing those with Cully Hamner only because we did “Firearm” so long ago. It feels like we’re doing, not the same character because he’s different in a lot of ways, but at the same time sort of a private detective character. The memory of doing those issues with Cully all those years ago was still fun for both of us. Fleshing out and giving an origin to the vampire character La Sangre, being able to do that and making her origin absolutely crucial to The Shade and who The Shade is, it was also a really great opportunity for me. I’m enjoying that aspect of it, but at the same time I’m being careful and aware that The Shade is the central character at the forefront. This is his journey as he finds these revelations about his past and the past of his family. That is the important thing.
I think a question many fans may be wondering about the series is if Jack Knight Starman will be involved at all, be it a supporting or major role. Can you confirm for us?
I think it’s only fair to tell readers, absolutely not. Jack is in San Francisco. When I first set him in San Francisco I didn’t think I’d end up living there myself, but here I am! So he lives up the road in a much nicer building than mine because he has all of that science patent money. And we pass each other on the street once in a while!
So if we suddenly get a twelve-issue series about Jack moving to Hawaii or Bermuda, we’ll know where you’re moving next?
I like Bermuda. That sounds fine. I wouldn’t mind living in Bermuda!
Because this whole series is about The Shade diving into his past, let’s talk about his comic book past. When you took the character originally he was a Golden Age Flash villain. What made you want to bring this specific character back into the DCU?
What made me want to do that was that I was desperate to find decent villains for “Starman.” He jumped out at me as a little gem of a character that prior to me getting my hands on him, his character was much more goofy looking. You look at the old 1980’s “Who’s Who In The DC Universe” entry and there’s no information. There was no secret identity, he’s just this guy who was never defined, there was never an origin story for him. He was just waiting for someone to see the potential, and luckily for me that person was me. Very quickly he took a life of his own and became this urbane fellow that ambles around named The Shade. The character sort of writes himself a lot, the way he says things and how he acts. I sort of have a plot worked out and then I’ll go, “The Shade wouldn’t really do it like that,” or, “he’ll react differently” or what have you. So staying true to that is very easy because the character is constantly reminding me of how he would act.
Your version of The Shade is an Englishman transplanted into America. As an Englishman transplanted into America yourself, is that one of the things you have fun writing and finding similarities between the two of you?
I think that was more the case when I was first here. I’ve now lived in America now for half my life so even though I still have my English accent pretty much, I do feel very American. He is feeling more and more foreign to me as I write him now than he did when I was first doing it. But there are similarities — I was thinking about the little things that stay a part of my vocabulary where the English side remains.
I think to a lot of fans, from Starman to The Shade and Eclipso and other characters from the past, you’re known as the comic book guy who brings back old comic book characters and makes them cool again for the modern era. What is it about the Golden Age that fascinates you and makes you want to bring those characters into the modern day?
[Laughs] Firstly, Eclipso’s a Silver Age character, and if I don’t correct you someone is going to rag on me for not doing so! But with that out of the way, when I was growing up in comics it was the era of the hundred-page comic book. They used to fill those comic books with Golden Age reprints — it is how I first encountered the Black Condor, it is how I first encountered Johnny Quick, it is how most people and I encountered most of the characters. Obviously there was the Justice Society, but a lot of the more obscure characters you’d learn from the reprints. Len Wein helped things when he brought back the Seven Soldiers of Victory in one of his “Justice League” storylines, and in the following year he brought back the Freedom Four, he created the “Freedom Fighters” which is an amalgamation of the Quality Heroes. That helped too, but mainly it was those reprints. I remember growing up and finding them to be so exotic and interesting and strange. They’ve always just captured my attention and my heart and I guess it’s just stayed with me all this time.
“The Shade” #1 by James Robinson and Cully Hamner with a covery by Tony Harris hits stores October 12.