Or – “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu…”

Having been reading comics since the late 1970s, it’s sometimes hard not to turn into a cynical jackwagon, snorting about how everything is stupid, how each new idea will suck, and how I saw this the FIRST time around, and it didn’t work then.  How successful I am at subverting that cliché depends on my mood (and probably the reader’s perspective) but the new Valiant revival has hit all the right notes with me, pretty much across the board.  Now that Shadowman (possessor of the single greatest chest emblem in comics history) is back on the racks, I’m hoping to recapture some of the lost magic of 1992, when Valiant began to reign supreme.  Can the creators pull it off?  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

Shadowman5CoverSHADOWMAN #5
Writer(s): Justin Jordan & Patrick Zircher
Artist(s): Patrick Zircher, Lee Garbett, Stefano Gaudiano and Roberto Delatorre
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Rob Steen
Editor: Jody Leheup
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in Shadowman:  Years ago, before his birth, Jack  Boniface’s father took on the mantle of the Shadowman to fend off the evil Master Darque, who attempted to raise the dead of New Orleans as an army under his command.  Papa Boniface was lost (though I’m not entirely convinced of his demise) and young Jack grew up orphaned, a special amulet being the only thing he has to remember his parents.  When he discards it in a fit of pique, Jack is attacked from all side, mortally wounded by evil forces called The Brethren.  His life is only saved when a mysterious entity merges with his form, transforming Jack into the mystical Shadowman, defender of something that he doesn’t fully understand…  Plus:  Greatest Chest Emblem In The History Of Comics.

A LITTLE OF THE OLD ULTRA-VIOLENCE!

The original Valiant Shadowman book suffered from the proverbial “Third-Issue Switch,” a common occurrence among independent comics in the 1990s.  Originally a vaguely mystical superhero-type, he evolved into a full-fledged arcane avenger of the night and eventually a voodoo-inspired character at that.  This series has the benefit of those rough patches being behind it, as this issue opens with a worshipper of Baron Samedi (an actual personage of Haitian voodoo practices, as well as a stint as a Bond villain) at his altar, lamenting that no one really fears his Loa any longer.  “They will remember,” he murmurs, before launching into a pages-long, super-violent rampage against a member of the mysterious Brethren.  The character’s look is pretty spectacular, with a large chest tattoo that looks MUCH more awesome than the usual comic-book tattoos, and while he shares an enemy with Shadowman, I don’t think that they’ll end up being friends.  The frenetic pacing of the action sequence is immediately followed by a quiet scene of our hero having breakfast, but the creators are quite successful in switching gears back and forth from scene to scene.

DOCTOR MIRAGE LOOKS MUCH BETTER, I’LL SAY THAT…

Shadowman’s respite is a brief one, and more violence ensues, including the on-panel murder of an innocent waitress, whose only sin was to flirt with Jack Boniface in a public place.  Visually, the issue is well-done, with the art team delivering excellent combat sequences, and great facial expressions, even if several characters have extra-craggy, line-ridden faces.  There’s never a problem telling who is whom, and an old Valiant hero makes a reappearance in the issue with a whole new look and gender.  (Or, perhaps it’s actually not a gender swap, but a change of role for the original Doctor Mirage’s wife?  I don’t know enough about the character to meaningfully speculate on this point.)  More violence, though implied this time, and we learn a bit more about the history of the Shadowman through time.  I’m impressed by the resemblance of the new face paint to the media version of Baron Samedi himself.  When Master Darque appears, I have a momentary twinge of fear, as every previous iteration of the character has preceded the publishing company going under.  But the issue gives him an air of menace, and ends things in a way that ties previous events into a dramatic whole, leaving us with an intriguing cliffhanger.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC.

The basic premise here is sound, the characterization makes sense, and the brief appearance of the Shadowman persona in this issue (which takes place during the day) is startling and neatly handled.  Artwise, I was surprised to find so many hands involved, as the whole issue feels “of a piece,” without awkward transitions between artists, and some lovely moments throughout.  I AM worried about Valiant rolling out too much, too soon, with upcoming crossovers in the Harbinger and X-O universes, Doctor Mirage here, the H.A.R.D. Corps in the wings and probably more than I’ve forgotten, but the individual issue in my hands?  It’s good.  Shadowman #5 makes me happy, reminding me of what I loved about the book 20 years ago without being a straight-up echo of nostalgia, earning a well-deserved 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  With luck, this version of Valiant with make it in the long haul…  Finger crossed!

Rating: ★★★½☆

DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!


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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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