Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Shadowman #1

Shadowman #1

Writers: Justin Jordan & Patrick Zircher
Artist: Patrick Zircher

Shadowman on the N64 was one of my favorite video games when I was a kid.  I've always had a thing for dark, supernatural characters, probably stemming from my love of Morbius the Living Vampire and of course, Spawn, who everyone was a fan of in the early-to-mid nineties.  The funny thing is though, I didn't even know Shadowman was a comic book character. The only Valiant titles I was aware of at the time were Harbinger, X-O Manowar, Solar: Man of the Atom,  Magnus Robot Fighter, and those Nintendo comics they used to publish.  It wasn't until I was in my early twenties when I discovered that one of my favorite writers, Garth Ennis, had written four-issues of Shadowman, that I became interested in the character.  I've since gone back and read much of the original Shadowman series, and I can definitely say that I am a fan.  As soon as the relaunch was announced, I've been anticipating the release of Shadowman #1 from co-writers Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher, with art from Zircher as well.

Shadowman #1 begins with a very strong opening scene.  It establishes several things that will become important to the series going forward (the Shadowman legacy, the villain, Master Darque, the threat of Deadside), but it's just a fantastic scene in its own right.  It is easy to see why Valiant chose to preview these pages, as they are just breathtakingly well-illustrated.  The first five pages of this comic are probably the best five pages you're going to see this week, if not this month.

After the initial scene, we meet Jack Boniface, and here is where I need to balance my expectations as a fan of the original incarnation of the character to this new version.  The original Jack Boniface was a jazz musician, and as such, he was a wild, unpredictable character who improvised his way through every situation.  That being said, in the original series we never really got to know much Jack very well, and he remained somewhat of a cipher throughout the series.

Shadowman #1 changes things as this all-new version of Jack is a self-described Jack-of-all-trades.  He never holds down a job for very long, we're told, and he's currently working in a museum that houses Voodoo artifacts.  The real depth of Jack's character though, is in his desire to know the truth about his parents.  It was this aspect of Jack's character that made me interested in his story.  Not only because it gave the book some basic human drama, but it brought forward the concept of Shadowman as a legacy or mantle that has been passed down through generations, something that hasn't really been effectively done in comics since James Robinson's Starman.

Jack was orphaned long ago, and the only memento he has to remember either of his parents by is an unusual pendant we see his father Josiah give his mother in the introductory scene.  This pendant is clearly going to be important, as later in this issue, Jack throws it into the ocean, prompting the Voodoo powers-that-be to seek him out again and reclaim his body for the Shadowman.  

We're also introduced in this issue to the major villain of the first-arc, Mr. Twist, a demonic entity composed of miscellaneous organs, teeth, and muscle tissue.  After reading the last thirteen or so issues of Jeff Lemire's Animal Man, I've become pretty desensitized to this kind of gruesome bio-horror, but Jordan and Zircher give Mr. Twist enough personality to make him stand out from The Rot in Animal Man and Swamp Thing.  As an introductory villain, Twist's a nasty looking, but impressively rendered character.  I'm just hoping Jordan and Zircher don't drag his story out for fourteen or so issues, and that we see some other villains in the coming issues that are as freakish and well-drawn as Mr. Twist.

This issue took a second read to really grow on me. On first reading it, I felt a little underwhelmed by Shadowman #1, but understood that was probably because I've been so inundated with preview material since the title was announced that at least a quarter of this book was spoiled for me.  Reading it a second time though, there is a lot to admire in this first issue.  It introduces the hero, gives us some of his backstory while teasing us with the mystery of his origins, and introduces the primary and secondary antagonists, and that's not even mentioning Zircher's excellent artwork.

The only thing that stuck out to me as strange about this first issue was the last page, when Boniface shouts, "I AM SHADOWMAN!"  It was cliched, hokey, and over-the-top. And besides, when did he decide to call himself Shadowman?  And why?  My guess is that is what the spirit who has possessed Boniface calls itself, but it was a little silly and tonally stood out from the rest of the issue.

Shadowman #1 has pretty much everything you could want in a first issue of a new ongoing series.  If you've never heard of the character before, only remember him from the N64 and PS2 games, or if you're a longtime fan of the character, I recommend you pick this up, especially if you've been looking for a new title that mixes action-adventure with supernatural horror. This is a new beginning for Shadowman in the new era of Valiant Comics, and if you're reading this blog, you've got no reason not to check it out. 

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