First, the bad news: “The Shade” #5 is probably the weakest chapter of this 12-issue limited-series from DC Comics. The good news? It’s still a really good comic.
James Robinson shifts the setting to Barcelona, Spain this month in what initially seems like a simple errand for the Shade to find a sample of his own blood. From there, we quickly plunge into a conflict involving a vampire, pirates and even an inquisitor. Yet, under Robinson’s hand it feels like it all works.
It helps that Robinson’s “Starman” always reveled in the slightly odd side of the DC Universe and “The Shade” is no exception to that rule. “The Shade” opens with a classic scene of misdirection, as you need to figure out who’s the hero and who’s the villain; in a book that stars a former villain, after all, it’s rather apt. There’s a lot of exposition this month as well, in part to set up why the Shade is traveling to Barcelona and also to explain the identity of the woman referring to the Shade as her father. While some parts do slow the book down just a tad, on the whole it’s still entertaining.
Javier Pulido steps on board to “The Shade” for issues #5-7 (with Jill Thompson, Frazer Irving, and Gene Ha still in the wings) and while his art is different than that of Cully Hamner (#1-3) or Darwyn Cooke (#4), I feel like he’s a good choice for these issues. Not because Pulido himself is Spanish but rather because he’s able to bring just the right tone to the pages of Robinson’s script. When the action kicks in early on, it’s a blur of action. La Sangre vaults and tumbles from one panel to the next, in bursts of energy that make you feel like you’re seeing the fight spool out in real time. Flip ahead a couple of pages to the Shade talking to Darnell; the one central image of the two of them, and twelve panels encircling it to move us through their conversation. Not only is it an attractive page layout, but I also appreciate that Pulido drew and re-drew the characters each time. They may look identical at a glance, but peer a little closer and you’ll see subtle differences from one panel to the next. The end result is a page that doesn’t just look smart, but is smart in how it’s put together. Hilary Sycamore’s colors are strong here too; the shade of red she uses as La Sangre smears the blood across the street, for instance, stands out perfectly as Pulido draws it in a squiggle of a tag. And in the conversation spread between the Shade and Darnell, that sickly green hue that she uses as a base is perfect for the mood that Robinson is trying to get across to the audience.
“The Shade” #5 is, once again, a strong issue from Robinson and his artistic collaborators. It’s frustrating to see such a good comic not getting the sales attention it deserves (is everyone waiting for a hopefully-matching hardcover to go next to their “Starman Omnibus” volumes?), because even a slightly-slower issue of “The Shade” is still required reading in my world. It’s not too late; check out “The Shade” for yourself. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.