For the uninitiated, the Shade series is a long-running saga that involves the adventures of an alien fugitive with a vest. Originally created by Steve Ditko, the character and his powers have become a vehicle to explore fascinating political and social concepts, including reflections on current events and what madness does to one person. The new series, focusing on a new female Shade that found itself in the body of a 16-year-old female bully, launched in 2016 and now culminates in this miniseries, which deals with the aftermath of what took place in the previous ongoing series.
The plot of the story is complex and heavily layered. At its core, the series involves the female Shade (Loma) out of a body and coming to regret her decision to indulge in madness and humanity, all the while guided by the original shade (Rac). As this goes on, there is the backdrop of the essence of the girl whose body Loma possessed coming for her payback and vengeance, and as if that wasn’t enough, there is an additional wrinkle of a pending alien invasion. All of these stories are furthermore tied together by the journey Loma goes on to understand who she is, what is really important in human relationships, and what it means to have a heart — physically and metaphorically. The biggest theme that is explored is that of friendship; what it means to be a friend and also what it means to lose friends, and ultimately what lengths one is willing to go for the ones you care about. Along the way, for fans of the original Ditko series and the re-invention by Peter Milligan, there are numerous callbacks and winks to Shade’s rich and varied history, particularly in the final climax. The door is left open at the end for the series to continue, but for now it is unclear what it will look like.
I’m not going to lie; this series is quite different from almost any other I have ever read. Not having had the opportunity to check out the prior incarnations of the character, I noted the series is so involved and demands your full attention. Every page, every word, every sentence is rich and full of meaning (and in some cases, double meaning). When you read some of the quotes these characters throw out, you could isolate them from the context of the story and spend hours reflecting over their meaning. How many comics get you to do that? I will admit there are times in the series where things seem to get carried away and I feel like I’ve actually become infected with the madness myself. In essence, it is not always easy to follow. But there are also moments, particularly when Loma’s friends are swiftly and quickly accosted (specifically the synchronized swimming scene) that are beautiful and chilling all at once, because they show you the real value and importance of human relationships and also the repercussions that passion can have when taken too far. The ability of Loma to weave in and out of any scene allows a level of exploration that no other series is able to do.
Writing about the visual elements in this series probably won’t do them any justice. The entire palette of colors gets exhausted, particularly in the scenes where Loma and Rac are analyzing her life and then later on, grappling with his past. But it’s more than just these scenes that really hit you; arguably the most memorable scene that visualizes the terror of the madness is where a news reporter is giving an update on its victims and then suddenly, as she is hit with it herself her face gets turned to something that looks like something out of a Picasso painting. It’s this sort of reckless abandon that Marley Zarcone uses to just go all-out. Whether it’s flying hearts, flesh-eating piranhas intended to symbolize drugs, or “friendship flaps,” the caliber of work that is put into bringing such a mind-bending narrative to life is fantastic.
Also included in this collection is the one-shot Shade and Wonder Woman crossover, that uses the Shade madness to draw attention to how much of society and our government views woman today. Perhaps no other issue of the “Milk Wars” saga has further meaning than this one, where the entire focus is on women being reduced to nothing more than producers of milk itself; used to give sustenance to not just infants but household objects. While both Wonder Woman and Shade snap out of their daze quickly enough, I have to admit that to see the powerful and strong Wonder Woman reduced into the pathetic Wonder Wife is scary as hell. It gives a greater appreciation for the ongoing struggles that women continue to face today, especially over the past few years.
If you’re looking to read a comic with a nice, linear narrative, this is the last series you should be checking out. Similarly, the Shade series is not going to have a nice recap and summary for new readers. It’s up to you to figure out the history and context of what is happening. But if you can get past all that, prepare yourself for a fascinating view into human relationships, society as a whole, and where the line is drawn between dealing with emotions and letting them turn into madness.