In "The Shade" #11, James Robinson and Frazer Irving wrap up the Celestial Pharaohs storyline with metaphysical knots and visual fireworks. Irving's splendid artwork alone justifies picking up this title. Robinson's writing is still fresh, but this penultimate installment of "The Shade" is slightly weaker than previous issues.
In his showdown with the Celestial Pharaohs, The Shade proposes, and then disposes, like Man and God in one. Robinson's resolution of conflict through a mystical deux ex machina is unsatisfyingly neat, given that even The Shade doesn't understand what he's doing or how he's doing it. The mythology of the Celestial Pharaohs as "Bad Librarians" is similarly muddy at the end of the issue.
This underdeveloped plotting is served with some heavy-handed characterization. Up until now, Robinson has mostly shown rather than told readers about The Shade's moral development. There was no need for The Shade to reflect out loud to the reader about his journey. A "lessons learned" or "how far I've come" moment is nice, but "The Shade" #11 lacks subtlety, and well, that's un-Shade-like.
Despite these flaws, "The Shade" #11 is still a pleasurable, worthwhile read. Robinson is too talented with phrasing and dry wit for it to be otherwise. The Shade gilds even his moralizing comments with Oscar Wilde-like witticisms and casual dismissals, and maintains his typical weary charm and charisma. There's a delightful exchange between The Shade and his Irish buddy Silverfin at the end of the issue that is more satisfying than any plot threads being tied up.
Robinson also drops in cameos of English superheroes Beaumont, Sunny Jim and Knight and Squire. Kudos to Robinson for resurrecting them -- of course they would turn up for this fiery London shindig, yet their appearances felt delightfully unexpected. Touches like these give Robinson's work a classic, Silver-Age feel. It's hard not to admire Robinson's knowledge of comics history and history in general, and the dignity and reverence with which he approaches it.
It's also tough to criticize Robinson's storytelling in "The Shade" #11 because the most loosey-goosey, disbelief-unsuspending elements of his script are the same mystical elements that afford Frazer Irving the chance to show off an extraordinary artistic imagination. Irving has a surrealist, even abstract image vocabulary for Robinson's otherworldly scenes. Even more impressively, he keeps the transitions between worlds easy to follow. His distinctively intense color palettes shift between settings, but remain consistent within scenes. Against these backgrounds, the inky, swirling tendrils of Shade's powers have never looked more attractive.
This is Irving's last issue on "The Shade," and he has surpassed himself, especially in his page and panel composition. Beaumont's helicopter drop looks as easy and miraculous as a cat landing on its feet. The opening panel has a helicopter framed as if it's going to collide into the next panel, and each panel falls into the next, as Beaumont falls too, down an unorthodox, well-proportioned page of successive diagonals. The dark gloss of Beaumont's boots is in harmonic counterpoint to white silhouetted soles. An iconic heart pops in contrasting red on his chest, looming larger with each descent. The open sky drops into light as Beaumont falls into the farthest reach of the flames, the camera's gaze zooming in as the minutes lengthen and the distance to the ground shortens. It's moving and incredibly well done.
"The Shade" #11 has some uneven storytelling, but the good parts are too good to pass up, and the ending leads smoothly into what will be another "Times Past" installment and final issue.