By: James Robinson (writer), Cully Hamner (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist)

The Story: Props, man—anyone who can pull off a top hat in public today is pretty legit.

The Review: I mentioned not too long ago that while Robinson’s efforts at writing the Justice League left me completely unimpressed, I thoroughly enjoyed his work on Starman.  Aside from the tremendous development he gave to the titular hero, Robinson also wrote a formidable Shade.  As a result, the villain-turned-“hero” gained a background of mythic proportions and one of the more complex, inscrutable set of motivations among DC personalities.

This issue captures Shade’s appeal very well: erudite, rugged, and charming, living in the lap of luxury (Starman: “I could give [the tea] a warming nudge with my power gem.”  Shade: “Not with my best bone china, you won’t.”), and tops in the metahuman ranks besides.  For the Bronte fans, Shade is pretty much Edward Rochester with superpowers.  Be prepared, though, for some obscure references: “Why don’t we skip the tea entirely and watch an Ingmar Bergman film?”

The Rochester parallel comes even stronger in Shade’s scenes with Hope O’Dare.  While he projects a very private figure, a master of understatement, he has no qualms speaking lavishly of his affection for Hope, who, like Rochester’s Jane Eyre, doesn’t find that kind of romancing all that romantic.  She tells him, quite perceptively, that there’s nothing sexy about Shade turning into her neutered beau and that he ought to look into taking up some adventurous hobby.

It seems like adventure is out to find him, however.  Amidst Shade’s many scenes of quiet contemplation, we catch a glimpse of German agent William Von Hammer, who in Bond style singlehandedly dispatches a whole motley crew of killers.  It’s an impressive sequence, for all that it doesn’t feature our star.  Against a thug in a rocket pack, a beast-man, and several goons in nifty armor, Von Hammer takes them all down with a single pistol.

The result of this elaborate, bloody chase is a half-word, “Cald—”  Whatever or whoever it refers to, it’s apparently worrisome enough for Von Hammer to believe the Shade should be warned.  But considering we’re dealing with a mega-powerful, not to mention immortal, player here, you have to wonder what could be so dangerous as to merit Shade needing warning.  Then again, as Deathstroke’s guest appearance demonstrates, Shade can feel some hard knocks too.

But possibly the most intriguing part of this issue are faint hints that we’ll finally learn something more than vagaries about Shade’s origins.  And not only does Robinson want to look at the character’s past, he wants to explore some new directions for Shade’s future.  Hope brings up a good point; while everyone appreciates a reformed villain, they often lose a bit of their street cred in the process.  Robinson must find a way to keep Shade in the light, but still himself.

Hamner has a clean style with enough flexibility to draw and sell pretty much anything he wants.  He can deliver remarkable character designs, from Shade’s Victorian opulence to Deathstroke’s edgy armor (making it look credible for the first time).  His action sequences have an old-school, in-your-face energy, using tight shots so you can see the damage and tension up close.  And he adds great little nuances to every setting, whether it be Hope’s badge and gun on the nightstand by her bed, or the art deco architecture of Opal City.

Conclusion: A very strong start to a title focusing on one of the more eccentric and original characters in the DCU.  Fine writing and terrific art sure work wonders, don’t they?

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – “Crime?  It’s exciting, but like opium and interpretive dance, once back upon that path I fear it might lead to ruin.”  Come on, you just can’t beat lines like that.  Gold in text.

– Not too many comics writers can pull off purely elegant prose, but Robinson gets a few lovely bits in there: “…the pigeon-gray sky and the sun’s demise…its final defiant hues of amber and vermillion…”