Pick of the Week
What did the
Art by DARWYN COOKE and J. BONE
Cover by TONY HARRIS
Variant cover by DARWYN COOKE
Size: 32 pages
Given our history of praise for the work of James Robinson, particularly on Starman and his family of characters, and that of Darwyn Cooke, it should come as no surprise to many of you that when Robinson and Cooke come together, they’d make something pretty special. And special is exactly how I would describe The Shade #4. As Robinson embarks on this 12 issue mini-series focused around the character that he may not have created, but very much defined, The Shade, he’s borrowing a page from his old days on Starman by providing us with a “Times Past” issue. A one and done story, set in the past, focused on a single character to provide more background and depth into that character. For this “Times Past” issue, Robinson takes us back to 1944 and who better than to join him than Darwyn Cooke, joined by long time artistic collaborators J.Bone on inks and Dave Stewart on colors.
For the, hopefully, many of you who have listened to us rave about Robinson, Starman, The Shade and Cooke, this review may not be for you. Rather this review is for those of you still out there who haven’t discovered the greatness of these creators and/or these characters, I hope you take the time to take notice with this issue. The Shade #4 costs just $2.99 and is a single comic book story that stands as one of the best issues released this week. It looks amazing and reads just like a good comic should. So take notice if you haven’t as of yet.
You might be wondering what it is about The Shade #4 that has me raving. It’s simple really. When a group of such talented creators work together on a solid and compelling story, it’s hard not to take notice. We’ve been long time fans of James Robinson’s work on Starman and the announcement of The Shade mini-series was one that had us excited, since we’re hungry for more from that world. But when the artists were announced that would be supporting Robinson, it was a bit of a dream come true. The first 3 issues with Cully Hamner were great, but being such a big Darwyn Cooke fan, it was issue #4 that had be waiting with baited breath. Luckily for me, it delivered on numerous levels.
I’m actually pretty pissed at Darwyn Cooke after reading this comic.
I mean, it’s really not a surprise that Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone and Dave Stewart would deliver. We’ve seen numerous past comics from Cooke such as DC: The New Frontier, The Spirit and most recently his story in Rocketeer Adventures, and we’ve been drooling over his work on the Parker graphic novels. But what pissed me off about The Shade #4 was that it was SO GOOD that it reminded me how great a monthly book from Cooke would be. I found myself missing the halcyon days of The Spirit. I would gladly read a Cooke drawn Shade ongoing series. I’d gladly read any sort of ongoing series by Darwyn Cooke, even Deadpool. The Shade #4 was just a punch in the gut reminder of how good he can be. There wasn’t anything particularly splashy or different with this issue, just the high level of quality we’ve come to expect from Cooke with his cartooning. Sure, it plays to his strengths that the story took place in 1944, so it had a bit of a classic retro feel. But even looking beyond that, it’s another case of the solid storytelling. I can’t think of a better artist to pay a visit to Opal City and beyond than Darwyn Cooke, so it’s great to se it come to life.
In fact as I struggle with my lack of ability as a writer to come up with adjectives to praise the book, I keep coming back to “elegant.” Cooke’s art style is just so elegant which is a strong compliment to the elegance that Robinson brings to The Shade. As previously mentioned, Robinson may not have created The Shade, but it’s through his work with the character that has brought him to life as one of the richest characters at DC Comics. I loved every page of Starman, the characters and Opal City and the vibrant history. But, for me, it’s always been The Shade that brought it depth. The Shade, straddling the line between hero and villain, without ever becoming an anti-hero, is probably one of the most compelling and fun to read characters I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long time. Robinson’s words dance off the page as it creates such a well rounded character and a story that has me engrossed with every new chapter. Every new layer or new revelation, or even just a simple conversation amongst characters, makes this character consistently one of the most fun characters to read. A mix of clever wit and humor with a wholly unique approach to having powers and the motivations that come with them makes The Shade just so damn compelling.
This particular issue may have ties to the greater mini-series as a whole, or it might not. It doesn’t matter. Robinson sets up the scenario through The Shade’s journal entry and takes us back to 1944 to a time of World War II and gives us a great team up of The Shade and the golden age Vigilante, a cowboy on a motorcycle. Does it get any better than that? Oh, it does…they’re fighting Nazis. Come on, it’s not even fair! But it doesn’t stop there, no, we also get a cross-dressing hero! Factor in the tie to The Shade’s personal narrative with the introduction of another Caldecott, The Shade’s great grandson and you get a treat for the long time Starman/Shade fan.
The balance between elegance, fun and engaging is not one that is easy to maneuver, but Robinson and Cooke come in and make it look easy. It’s comics like The Shade #4 that remind me how awesome a simply enjoyable a single issue of a comic can be. The Shade #4 is a perfect balance of engaging story, action, humor and consequences that other comic creators should take notice of, because Robinson and Cooke just schooled everyone in 22 pages.
“Not when I’m done with these Nazi varmints.”