The Shade #5
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Javier Pulido
Colors: Hilary Sycamore
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artists: Tony Harris (regular)/Javier Pulido (variant)
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
As a fan of writer James Robinson’s Starman series of the 1990s, I, of course, have been enjoying this revisitation of some of the supporting characters from that landmark series. However, this issue stands out as particularly well crafted, and the reason has nothing to do with the Shade or any Starman elements. I had thought this comic marked the debut of a new super-hero, but a quick Google search reveals Robinson introduced La Sangre in the pages of Superman v.1 a couple of years ago. I missed that introduction, but I’m thrilled I got to discover the character here. La Sangre is a wonderful concept for a super-hero — a benevolent, centuries-old vampire frozen in the form of a teenager — but what really makes the character pop is the elegance Robinson instills in her with his dialogue. Adding to the appeal of this issue is the artwork by Javier Pulido, who conveys a number of exotic elements with seeming ease, all while toying with page layouts and figure movement.
The Shade visits Barcelona because an old friend — a ward, really — possesses something of his that might provide a genetic answer to the question of who’s targeted him for death. Barcelona is the stomping grounds of the heroine known as La Sangre, a vampire who does all she can to protect the innocent from wicked men and women. The Shade’s arrival couldn’t have been timed better, as the undead heroine’s greatest and most formidable enemy, the Inquisitor, is back to punish the people of Barcelona, and this time, he may be even more than La Sangre can handle.
Comics enthusiasts who were over the moon over Marcos (Daredevil) Martin’s recent work will appreciate what Javier Pulido has to offer here. They boast similar styles, and Pulido demonstrates the same penchant for inventive page designs. Later in the issue, for example, he shows us the Shade and La Sangre strolling along a winding staircase down from the latter’s penthouse home, and he conveys the motion incredibly well, not only using perspective and panel placement, but also employing duplicate figures in the same panel to reinforce the movement and direction. His layouts don’t always quite work, though. There’s a double-page spread in which the Shade speaks with an ailing descendant. It looks great and the linework reminds me of Tim Sale’s work, but the flow of the panels isn’t clear at all. It looks like one is supposed to follow the panels clockwise around the spread, but it’s still the standard left-to-right, with the center panel interrupting the natural flow.
Tony Harris’ pirate-themed cover is wonderful, reminiscent of the covers he used to provide for the “Times Past” issues of Starman; of course, it creates the wrong impression of the content of the comic. The pirate flashback is a fleeting one. Pulido’s variant cover gives a much better glimpse into the style and appeal of this story. Colorist Hilary Sycamore does an excellent job with the interior coloring. He employs brighter colors, but in more muted shades. The reds convey the concept of the Barcelona heroine succinctly, while the brighter, yellow tones capture the climate of the Spanish backdrop nicely. The sunny look in several scenes makes for an interesting contrast with the two main characters, which are both creatures of the night.
I really enjoyed the pseudo-parental role in which the title character is reluctantly thrust in this issue. It humanizes him further in an issue that otherwise focuses on how far removed he is from humanity due to his powers. Furthermore, the flashback depicting La Sangre’s effectively unsettling and is thankfully swiftly replaced with a more encouraging, familial tone. I also appreciated how Robinson is essentially establishing or reinforcing the notion there are superhumans beyond the borders of the United States. Von Hammer, the Argonaut, Diablo Blacksmith and now La Sangre make for an interesting cultural tapestry, far more diverse in tone than the collection of international heroes we’ve seen in Justice League International.
As I noted at the outset, what makes this issue really stand out is La Sangre. There’s so much potential in the character, and I’d love to read an ongoing, solo title featuring her. I was thrilled to discover she debuted in another title prior to the New 52 relaunch because it makes it far less likely that Robinson has planned her demise in the next issue of The Shade. I love how she’s a study in contrasts. She’s a teenager but she’s lived in three centuries. She feasts on the blood of the living, but she’s a protector. She’s the ultimate pariah who’s nevertheless found acceptance among the citizens of the city she calls home. I suppose it’s ironic La Sangre — whose image, in theory, wouldn’t appear in a mirror, due to her vampiric nature — serves as a reflection of the Shade. Both are essentially immortal thanks to their possession of power stemming from dark sources. Both boast refined, educated personalities that hide the savagery of which they’re capable. Both, despite the nefarious origins of their power, have evolved morally over the years, finding themselves in the role of protectors despite their monstrous qualities.
DC ought to give some serious consideration to giving La Sangre her own title and tasking Robinson with crafting such a series. Given the evidence in The Shade #5, it would be eminently readable and possibly one of the most unconventional, best and most unique super-hero titles the publisher could offer. 8/10
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