Although “The Shade” #12 is the final installment of a year-long series, it also serves as a marvelous example of a standalone tale. The DC Universe has changed significantly since the series began and will undoubtedly continue to change now that “The Shade” has concluded, so it was nice to rely on this series to deliver quality adventures that built worlds, introduced characters and connected concepts as wildly diverse as Congorilla and Charles Dickens.
Following one of DC’s many attempts at rebooting their universe, particularly in the form of “Zero Hour,” James Robinson managed to unearth the Shade from the decades of discarded and underdeveloped characters piled up in DC Comics limbo. During his “Starman” run, Robinson transformed Shade from a one-note cipher of a villain to a troublesome character content to play both sides against one another. There and since, Robinson has developed this character into a believably loveable scoundrel whose adventures know no bounds. In searching for a comparison for Shade, the best I could come up with is Han Solo in the original “Star Wars” movie: a character out for himself, devil-may-care and damned be anyone who crosses him. Except under Robinson’s pen, and particularly in this issue, Shade has become someone much deeper than Solo could ever be.
Robinson fills this issue with narrative, ornately represented by Todd Klein’s caption boxes that appear to be lifted directly from “The Shade’s Journal,” complete with discoloring and ink smudges. Dancing between those captions there is a decent amount of interaction between characters of Shade’s origin era to provide recess. While the captions do pinch out quite a bit of Gene Ha’s lovely art, if the captions were completely ignored, the story would desperately suffer. Balancing captions and action (with generous character interaction) is just one of the strengths James Robinson displays in this issue and certainly serves as a fine example for other writers to take note.
The highlight of “The Shade” #12, besides the long-awaited origin of Shade himself, is the magnificent artwork of Gene Ha. A cross between George Perez and Norman Rockwell, Ha’s work is well-suited for the historical origins of Shade. Heck, it’s ideal for any era of the Shade’s story, but as a cap to a wonderful series delivered by topnotch talent, Ha is the proverbial cherry on top.
Drawing the most amazing version of London in 1838, Ha fills the world with stunning detail and his coloring collaborator, Art Lyon, spills ample portions of mood-matching tones onto the story. In no one panel is everything or everyone depicted as they were, but all are filtered through memory and emotion, both beautifully captured and committed to page. The overall appearance of the issue had a faded effect applied, further evoking the historical feeling to this closing chapter of “The Shade.”
James Robinson and his varied artistic collaborators — especially including Gene Ha — delivered twelve hearty issues of the chronicles of Richard Swift. His life and times, his relation with his own family and with those allies and acquaintances made for some great reading, but no other issue of the series stands as strongly by itself as “The Shade” #12. Robinson may have closed another chapter on the Shade, but this conclusion has me hoping that we’ll see the two of them reunited sometime soon.