Or – “Nor Do The Wind, Or The Sun Or The Rain…”

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Last November, Stephen reviewed Shadowpact #6, and we were both a little disappointed. Each subsequent month, I’d look at Shadowpact and go “Well, Stephen covered it last November. This one’s his problem!” (The same rationale kept me from re-reading early issues of the new Flash and also saving many innocent brain cells.) Then came Shadowpact #12. Though always a quality book, even when disappointing, Shadowpact leapt back into the “awesome” stack, and I am hereby engaging the “My guy” clause of my contract with MajorSpoilers.com (Section III, paragraph 9, line 4) which states, “Matthew reserves the right to poach from Stephen the recapping duties on any book featuring the following: 3-D Man, Ambush Bug, Aztec Ace, Black Lightning, Brother Voodoo, Green Lantern Mogo, It The Living Colossus, Jay Garrick, John Constantine, Jonni Future, Legion of Superheroes (or component members thereof), Machine Man, The Mimic, Nightmaster, Rod Serling, Rom: Spaceknight, She-Hulk, Ultra The Multi-Alien, Zenith, Zombie Simon Garth and 3 free agents to be named later, known collectively as ‘My Guys.’ ” Sorry, Steve, but I had to do it. It was what Chris Knight would call ‘a moral imperative.’ What’s so special about this issue?

Shad1.jpgFour words: The Death of Nightmaster. Unless that’s five words, in which case my point still stands. The true wonder of Shadowpact is that it spans nearly the entire history of the DC Universe (a pretty impressive feat, when you think about it). Detective Chimp first bowed in 1942, Enchantress & Nightshade in 1966, Nightmaster in ’69, Ragman in 1976, and Blue Devil in the far-flung future of 1984. But it’s Jim (Nightmaster) who’s the focus of most of this issue, and whose history is of personal interest to me. Originally appearing in an issue of Showcase, Jim was a vaguely Mick Jagger/Jim Morrison-esque rock singer who stumbled onto a disappearing storefront, was issued a mystic sword as part of his birthright (the Sword of Nacht, traditional weapon of the Nightmaster, and Jim is the last of that line), and tripped into another world. His swords and sorcery adventures lasted only three issues of Showcase, but he proved notable enough to earn a full page in DC’s Who’s Who in 1986 (at a point where they had given up on completism and were just covering characters who were important, notable, or just plain neat) and a couple of failed revivals in the years after, including an excellent (but certainly not in-continuity) couple of issues of “Swamp Thing” written by Mark Millar in which Myrra (and most of DC’s swords and sorcery titles) were revealed as just a hallucination of Rook. The issue itself starts out with a pretty startling image…

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Impaled on his own blade by Etrigan the Demon, Jim finds that one cliché of dying is entirely true, as his life flashes before his eyes (including the terrible striped bell-bottoms he wore in his first appearance.) His band, The Electrics, have just been approached by a big-time promoter and they’re going to hit the big time. Jim’s only request is that the promoters pay to bring his best girl, Janet along with them. They’re deep in the throes of young love, even though he knows her parents hate him.

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That name, “Oblivion,” that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Upon entry Jim and Janet are thrust into another world, where Jim is giving his blue chainmail costume and the Sword of Nacht, and Janet is taken hostage by evil Warlocks. With assistance from his ever-faithful associates Boz and Tickeytarkapolis “Tark” Troutrust, he routs the schemes of King Zolto. These flashbacks are pretty much verbatim from his run in Showcase 82-84, and they’re a stitch to read. I highly recommend them. However, they DON’T show us what came next…

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Oh, the promises of callow youth. Jim and Janet’s marriage lasted barely 200 days, and she left him alone, with the center of his existence gone. The Electrics went the way of The Strawberry Alarm Clock soon after, and Jim had nothing left in his life… until Oblivion, Inc. reappeared again. Deciding that heroism just wasn’t in his blood, he took residence in the shop, eventually building a book store and wrapping up his sword for good. Only not… When Primal Force came calling, Nightmaster answered, for about 11 issues or so. Then, with the turning of the millennium, came a change in Jim’s life, as he noticed a door he’d never seen before (“The sort of thing one should expect when setting up shop in a magical building,” he thinks to himself. Heh.), and upon opening it, finds himself welcomed, sort of.

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Doctor Fate and Mister Miracle are in the shot as well ( I had to crop it, because it just got too small otherwise), as well as Nightshade and Detective Chimp. With that revelation began a new phase of Jim’s life, relief bartender at the Oblivion Bar. The owner (if the term actually applies) is an extradimensional man name Whomer Boz, and after a year or two, it’s obvious that he’s very ill, returning home for medical treatments and calling them vacations. On the day Whomer Boz didn’t return, the bar was bequeathed to Jim, which is how he was in charge of the place when the Spectre went El Bonzo Seco during ‘Day of Vengeance.’

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Which brings us to how he was spiked on his own blade, and how he’s lain here for several days, with The Enchantress desperately working to keep him alive until some sort of save can be made… a save which isn’t coming. Her spell expires, and she lacks the energy to save him, and Jim Rook dies, his spirit leaving his body and traveling through the bar. Other ghosts (including The Ghost Patrol) can see him as he leaves his body, but it’s one particular ghost who catches his attention. “I shouldn’t wonder that you don’t recognize me, son. I was never home much. I’m your father, Jim.” He asks Dad about the rules of the afterlife, but Rook, Sr. tells him he’s missing the point… He doesn’t have to die. The Nightmaster cannot be harmed by his own sword, but Jim never really channeled all the powers the Sword of Nacht gives you. And Dad would know…

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Jim is stunned to hear that his father had been trying to contact him all these years, but that he just didn’t know how to listen. He agrees to try something, as his friends prepare themselves for their mourning. Ragman and Nightshade carry the stricken Enchantress out, and Blue Devil prepares to tend to the remains, when Jim Rook suddenly sits up straight. B.D. is taken somewhat aback (he’s seen stranger things, but not today) as Jim, apparently deciding to make being a Nightmaster his true calling is filled with energy and ready to roll.

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That was pretty impressive, really. Although in this day of healing factors galore, it may take a tiny bit of the sheen off it, not everybody can just yank a broadsword out of their heart and move on to a party. Papa Rook promises to keep Jim covered, and even to tap into powers he had no idea he could use. “Maybe then I can stop getting my skinny white butt handed to me every other fight I get into.” Heh. But I wouldn’t get too comfortable with that idea yet, Nightmaster, because the cliffhanger has Doctor Gotham and Strega setting a mysterious plan in to motion, and your Shadowpact is probably gonna take the brunt of it.

Shadowpact is a fascinating look at magic and it’s new roles in the DC Universe, and Bill Willingham is just the man to do it. His first major work (The Elementals) took a hard look at superheroics, and turned all the “Comic Book Rules” on their ear. In fact, Doctor Gotham may have something in common with that book’s villain, Saker, in that he’s probably more powerful than all his enemies combined. Whatever is up, I’m suitably entertained, and I enjoy the thought of Nightmaster finally living up to the high hopes I’ve always had for him. Derenick and Faucher’s art reminded me a bit of Paul Pelletier, without the steroidy-ness he can sometimes use to convey his larger figures, and overall, this book was a treat from start to finish. I especially liked the recreation of the first Nightmaster cover, and even though my bias is again showing, I’m going to give Shadowpact #12 4 out of 5 stars.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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