Shade The Changing Man #19 – Reviews Of Old Comics
This week I’m actually presenting a review especially for the holiday season. There was a time, in 1992, when I was really engrossed in the DC Heroes Role-Playing Game. I even subscribed to Mayfair Games’ newsletter that about this time (as I recall, it could have been a later year) that among the new character stats that they sent out was Santa Claus. I used those stats and put them on an index card for easy reference. I’m not certain that I still have it, but if I find it in the next few days, I’ll share it here.
Writer: Peter Milligan
Penciller: Chris Bachalo
Inker: Mark Pennington
Colorist: Todd Klein
Shade is writing a letter to Kathy George about what happened to him over Christmas in the town of Bethlehem, Kansas.
In a bar, he met a guy named Dave who was convinced that the new messiah would appear in that town on Christmas. After talking to the man some more and deciding that he’s slightly, but amusingly insane, Shade finds the alcohol affecting his powers and conjures a grotesque Santa Claus with a candy cane beard that threatens a nearby priest. This convinces the man that Shade is the new messiah. Shade argues with him until, in order to get him to shut up, agrees that he is the new messiah. Dave then hits Shade in the head, knocking him unconscious.
Shade wakes up with Dave telling him that he drugged Shade prior to knocking him unconscious. He’s also kidnapped a young woman, a priest and a Santa Claus. When the priest protests, Dave kills him. Drugged and drunk, Shade’s effort to conjure something to knock Dave out just produces feathers. Dave tells Shade that he hates Christmas and religion in general. Now that the new messiah has surfaced, he will kill him and massacre many others in town. As he gets his rifles and ammo, he drops a cyanide pellet into a bucket of water to produce a cloud of cyanide gas to kill the remaining three of them.
As the cloud of cyanide gas begins to expand, Shade’s darker side of his personality that is the Madness asks for control to save them both and in doing so gains control of Shade’s powers. He then relinquishes control back to Shade so he can stop Dave from massacring the midnight mass. Shade stops Dave from shooting anyone. When Dave, fleeing from the police lobs a grenade at the town Christmas tree, it falls on him, killing him. Shade ends his letter to Kathy by pondering if the messiah really did arrive that night, unrecognized by the commotion surrounding Shade’s battle with Dave.
This story clearly reads as an interlude, despite being completely within the continuity of the series. Shade is a character that has his control over his powers limited by his own psychosis and neuroses. The Shade we see here is depressed and exhausted by his adventures. It’s obvious that the affection he feels for Kathy gives him a lot of guilt over her situation, which we see being oddly pedantic, given how Shade seems to feel about their separation. The threat posed by Dave is planned to be horrific, but is entirely normal and achievable by anyone with enough psychotic rage and weaponry. This makes a story of holiday domestic terrorism work in a book featuring a character that should be able to get out of this situation easily, had he not put himself in this spot by his guilt and depression.
Dave’s rant about religion is very general, but entirely understandable to a troubled mind. Dave blames his lot in life on being excluded by the believers. He has targeted Christmas, but hates all religions. It’s often these type of arguments that are taken to extremes by the religious, but this story shows that this type of violence is not limited to those with faith. A rigid lack of faith can be just as dangerous.
The art by Chris Bachalo is the basis for an art style that evolved into one that was highly designed and here, he is experimenting with methods that turned into what we later saw from him at Marvel. It’s still a refreshing style, but doesn’t carry a design theme through. The forms are too rigid at times, but the times that they are fluid are so gorgeous that they flow very nicely.
This issue was collected in Shade the Changing Man Vol.3: Scream Time (ISBN: 1401227686). You can also read the issue or collection on Comixology. If you want to find a copy, it shouldn’t be too hard, and shouldn’t be too pricey. Heck, you might even find a copy in a bargain box.
FINAL RATING: 8.0 (out of a possible 10) Even early Chris Bachalo is good to read. Peter Milligan is a really good writer and is using this story to make an alien character more human than most “normal” people that we see as characters in fantastic stories.