Hey gang, welcome back to another edition of Pulp! While the year is quickly disappearing (how is it already August?!) my pile of comics is not, so I’ve knocked another one off the list and now y’all get to read my thoughts about it.
With the recent announcement that DC is closing their Vertigo imprint in 2020, I thought it would be appropriate to go back and look at one of the few major Vertigo titles I haven’t read – Shade, the Changing Man, written by Peter Milligan (Human Target, Hellblazer) and drawn by Chris Bachalo (Death: The High Cost of Living). While I’ve previously talked about the Young Animal spiritual successor to this incarnation of Shade, it seemed appropriate to go back to the beginning and celebrate one of the first titles of the Vertigo imprint.
Rac Shade is not of this world. A visitor from the dimension of Meta and member of the Changing Men, Shade has been transported to Earth to fight a rising tide of madness. The roiling mass of insanity is bleeding through into reality and threatens both Earth and Meta. A malefic entity is wreaking havoc across America, and Shade has been trapped in the body of a serial killer known as Troy Grenzer. Desperately trying to stay ahead of the authorities, Shade has to rely on a woman that wants him dead – Kathy George, the daughter of Grenzer’s last victims.
Shade is classic Vertigo fare in the best way. Shade is of the same vintage as some of my favourite comics of all time – Sandman, Hellblazer and Transmetropolitan come to mind – and as such it shares some of the hallmarks of that era. A lot of the Vertigo titles from that era have a very similar art style and often have crossover themes, and Shade is no exception. The artwork in Shade could well have been drawn by any of the artists from across the main Vertigo titles, which shouldn’t be taken as a criticism – it makes them very consistent.
It also goes without saying that Shade, the Changing Man is by its very nature a trippy book. When one of the main plot points involves personified madness tearing the United States a new one, it shouldn’t be surprising when things get reeeeal weird. There’s a fine line between weirdness with a purpose and weirdness for the sake of it, and for the most part I think Shade manages to go all out on the weird factor without losing its purpose. A large portion of the story revolves around the conspiracies surrounding JFK’s assassination, and while it was still engaging, I feel like I got more out of the second story – involving a cursed movie production in Hollywood – than I did the opening story arc.
That being said, that’s likely due to my own personal disconnection to the whole Kennedy mythos and possibly the fact that I was reading the story a solid 56 years after the assassination.
All things considered, if you’re a Vertigo fan, you’ll like Shade, the Changing Man. If, like me, you’ve managed to have avoided the title for this long without reading it, I’d recommend it, but I would recommend buckling up, because you’re in for one trippy ride.
Written by Alastair McGibbon