Starman. Even after everything else Robinson has done, even after the flat-out embarrassment of Cry for Justice, Starman has endured as a shining example of many of the best things serialized superhero comics can offer. Jack Knight remains a memorable creation, and the book Robinson built around him stands up well, even to this day. But, for whatever reason, it’s a feat Robinson has never been able to repeat. With The Shade, a 12-issue mini-series launching today, Robinson returns to Opal City and to the morally ambiguous former villain he popularized.
In Starman, one of the great joys of the series was seeing the growing depth of the Shade, an immortal supervillain created as a dapper thief to fight the Golden Age Flash, as he became defined less by his moral ambiguities and more by his uninhibited love of Opal City. We pick up well after the conclusion of Starman, with Richard Swift (The Shade) friendly with the new Starman and in a stable, loving relationship with Hope O’Dare, Opal City policewoman. Despite that, however, he’s in something of a funk: October, it seems, is the month of his rebirth as the Shade, and he’s in a somber, reflective mood. Meanwhile, someone has hired teams of assassins to kill the Shade (as well as German P.I. William Von Hammer), leading the immortal to a tense standoff with Deathstroke.
It’s a simple story, measured, relaxed and with somewhat more nuance than many of Robinson’s recent projects. It never reaches the highs the best issues of Starman could bring, but while stepping back from that series a bit is hard, it’s necessary, and it forces me to say that the issue is a bit lightweight, but still largely enjoyable. The introductory conversation between The Shade and Starman wallows far too much in the misery of Cry for Justice, but it also highlights the essential charms of the Shade – his slow, precise style of speech, his relaxed, slightly morbid attitude, his cultured affectations. A series with a focus on the Shade has a lot of potential, though this action-filled introduction only begins to scratch the surface.
The series promises to be gorgeous, with future issues done by creators like Darwyn Cooke, Jill Thompson and Frazer Irving. Cully Hamner, who handles this issue, does solid work, though his bright, cartoony style gives many of the characters a vitality the script lacks. For an occasionally bleak book about the Master of Darkness, Hamner’s art (and Dave McCaig’s colors) is sometimes distractingly bright, but there’s no doubt: the man knows how to draw action, making Von Hammer’s flee from his assassins engaging.
Ultimately, the issue doesn’t give a lot of hint as to what sort of book we’ll be reading. Beyond the rather bland central hook – who hired Deathstroke to kill the Shade? – all we have is an admittedly fascinating central character. Can Robinson construct a story worthy of his hero? Only time will tell. But it’s a character Robinson understands intimately, and with a superstar team of artists at his back, it’s worth checking out.