One of the hallmarks of the “Starman” series was its occasional “Times Past” issues. In them, James Robinson would jump into the past for a special flashback story, telling a little vignette that tied into the greater mythology of the series and Opal City in general. So when I heard that issues #4, 8, and 12 of “The Shade” would be “Times Past” comics as well (and each with a special art team), I was full of anticipation. And happily, “The Shade” #4 exceeded my expectations.
With the Shade himself being an extremely old being, Robinson gets the advantage of being able to have his main character star in his “Times Past” story here. “Times Past: 1944” directly connects to the overall storyline by giving us a first meeting between the Shade and someone extremely important to “The Shade.” More importantly, there’s much more than that.
Most comics that opened with a lengthy monologue from its title character would be a misstep, but it’s to Robinson’s credit that hearing the Shade tell about his life in 1944 is a strong introduction. You get a good grasp of the Shade’s character (in case someone decided to give the series a whirl here based on the art team), and it’s also a reminder that pre-“Starman,” the Shade wasn’t always the most beloved of people. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that these pages look exquisite. Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone are a great art team to begin with, but they’re turning out something gorgeous here. The opening splash of the Shade’s library is drool-inducing: the stacks of books, the shelves, the portraits hanging on the walls, the sealed letter on an ottoman, even the umbrella stand holding canes. Then, add in a soft but rich color scheme from Dave Stewart, and a calligraphy font so beautiful that I just knew before I’d even turned the page that it had to be from Todd Klein, and you end up with the jackpot.
And we’re only on page 1.
What’s great is that the entire issue of “The Shade” #4 feels this rich and fully-realized. We’ve got amazing one-off characters like Madam Fatal, who is a great concept that explodes to life on the page, both in terms of what she accomplishes as well as the great art from Cooke and Bone she inspires. Just look at her pointed cats-eye glasses, matched with the perfectly coiffed bun as she whips a cane into a bad guy’s face, or stomps another thug in the chest. I’d buy an ongoing “Madam Fatal” series by Robinson, Cooke, and Bone, quite frankly. We get other old-time character favorites from Robinson making a surprise appearance, exciting new airplanes, even a fake “Life” magazine cover. And every time the Shade’s power is used? Let’s just say that other, past examples are now forgotten in favor of Cooke and Bone’s depiction, with its tendrils that feel like a perfect cross between a serpent and a stream of ink. Watching one lick and twist a little spiral around Mrs. Caldecott’s eye is entrancing, to put it mildly.
“The Shade” #4 is a fantastic comic, one that’s holding up this maxi-series quite nicely. I’m loving everything we’ve had so far, but this issue is a step above the rest. “The Shade” #5 – #12 will have a tough act to follow. Fortunately, at this point, I feel like all the creators involved have it in them. Regardless, “The Shade” #4 is a real gem, and bravo to all involved. If only all comics were this good.