The Story: This is what you get for dealing in the black market of wild predator cats.
The Review: If there’s reason to be convinced of Shade’s lack of humanity, it’s not so much in his shadowy nature and godlike powers as his emotional distance. He simply doesn’t seem to feel things the way us ordinary people would. When his feelings hit extremes, you can be sure they’re at least some degrees below what any other character would feel in the same situation. This sets him apart from the rest of the DCU, but it also makes it harder to get a handle on him.
This whole mini doesn’t exactly give us a defining image of the Shade, but that seems fair; even after twelve issues’ worth of globe-trotting experiences, he himself doesn’t know what to make of it. We can’t expect to untangle all the complexities in Richard Swift’s development all at once. We must all be content with gaining some slight understanding, a mere impression of how he came to be in his present state. That’s life, you know. I’m grateful to see Swift as human is not radically different from Swift as personification of darkness, despite his supposed faults of naivety and a sheepish habit of getting led by others. The dry humor remains a constant (“…you’re a man with a rare and resourceful talent, Mr. Swift.” “I’m not one to disagree…but I must at least ask to which talent it is you refer.”), as does his intense gallantry (“You…are a wise creature, and the fact that you’re the love of my life is of no surprise.”). Most importantly perhaps, you see the core of his courage, his ability to stay pragmatic in the face of danger, which may be the one truly noble virtue he has.
Is that the reason why he gets “chosen” to receive his powers? We’ll never know. Robinson frustrates us by deliberately keeping that information out, and considering the hurdles this title had to leap to get this far and its tenuous connection to current continuity, how much hope do we have that we’ll get to find out the answers later?
Aside from that one disappointment (and perhaps that of not getting to see a little more of Hope and Opal City before the mini concluded), the rest of the issue reads beautifully. Robinson always had literary pretenses, and the “Times Past” issues let him wax to his heart’s content. He does very well at it. Not every writer can fill so many pages with pure exposition and keep it interesting, and Robinson does it all in the voice of early 1800s Britain. There’s no doubt this is all very niche sort of material, but you can’t deny it works.
Ha is yet another one of those artists who can sink into almost any genre he so chooses and portray it convincingly, like it’s the one he’s meant to draw the rest of his life. Much has to do with his meticulous attention to the details that nearly every other artist downplays: the props, the settings, the costumery. Ha’s pages are filled to the brim with new and unusual things to look at, making them seem less like panels of artwork as windows into another world. For all his bold, assertive lines, he still manages to give them grace. Swift’s wife immediately conveys good humor, common sense, and absolute love, almost without Robinson even trying to write it in, and it’s all thanks to Ha.
Conclusion: Some truly stunning art accompanies a solid resolution to what has been one of the more unusual stories from the Big Two in a while, unusual because it involves a lot of reflection and introspection, things that most comics hardly ever engage in.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Hm…I’d be happy to educated on this, but how do you suppose they had sconces with cups that opened downward back in 1838?
– I have to admit, the connection to Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop and Dick Swiveller is very clever. I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t Robinson’s veiled way of telling us whom he based Shade’s character on.