The most recent book to return from Valiant, Shadowman started a second arc this week, with issue #5 from Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher. The series has made an effective return, with some good character work and world-building – although the book is struggling to lift all the different storylines it has weighing it down. There are around four different ongoing storylines at the moment, all of which are currently working separate to one another.
This is only a setup issue for the second arc as a whole, but we have a lot of different things to keep track of here. Whilst lead character Jack Boniface learns a little more about the mantle of Shadowman, the villains make some moves – both on Earth and in a place known as ‘deadside’. Then there’s a new character, Dr Mirage, who also seems set to get involved in things somehow. The stories are starting to pile up, and it’s working fairly well so far.
Each section – Boniface, Dr Mirage, the villains on Earth and villains in Deadside – all have a different artist on them (I believe!), although there’s only one clearly different artistic style. That would be Roberto De La Torre, who is an inspired choice to draw the Deadside section. His work highlights something which has slowly come to dominate the book: the effectiveness of the villains. The fact the book is managing to deal with having several unconnected storylines at once is due to the way in which the villains are written. They plan against each other and with each other in unexplained and interesting ways, and are very hard to predict and track. That’s making for an unnerving effect on the book as a whole, and is the best part of this series so far. Here we get an opening section with one villain, bookended with a final sequence following a second villain, and tying him to the first.
It’s all very interesting, and the ways in which Jordan slowly connects bits of the story is making for a great ongoing narrative here. The book doesn’t get a chance to slow down, because so many people are involved in so many different things. The new character, Dr Mirage (who I’m told is a re-imagined classic character) gets a great showcase, with the best sequence of the book devoted to her. The writing doesn’t rely on readers recognising the name – we get to spend several pages with the character, to establish her role in the story going forward. There aren’t many character moments involved quite yet, but she fits so well into the overall tone of the series that it doesn’t really matter.
Characterisation is rather variable in this book so far. Some characters get to have fun and show off to the reader, while others are more restrained and held in place. Shadowman himself falls into the latter category, mainly filling a role rather than living as a fully dimensional character in his own right. After a first issue which built him into place very well, he’s mainly been stuck in an everyman loop, repeating his character definition issue after issue. He gets a few moments here, but is for the most part outpaced by the other characters. There’s a fairly abrupt sequence here which was designed to give him a bit more purpose and depth, but is cut off quickly by the need to fill in other stories – he’s the character most short-changed by the decision to stack so many plots on top of one another.
Actually, though, my only real concern with the book comes through in the colouring. Jack Boniface has been growing paler and paler in every issue of the series so far, to the point where he looks like a white man in this issue. Whilst Zircher is drawing a black character from New Orleans, the colourist doesn’t appear to be following through with that particularly well. I bring this up because Shadowman is one of the most well-known black characters in comics, and it seems a shame that he isn’t being represented as strongly as he could be. That aside, the work done in this issue is great, with some excellent work done in the Deadside setting in particular.
Shadowman is a fascinating series, with a brilliantly established central tone and style. The book is interesting, and three of the four stories here are great fun to follow. The lead character is struggling for space amongst the more interesting villains, but hopefully once he starts to cross over into the other storylines then things will spark up for him again. I’m really enjoying Shadowman as a whole, and it’s an excellent addition to the Valiant line. It’s wildly unpredictable, and very good fun.