Glow-In-The-Dark, Holofoil, Chromium and Die-Cut – Comics In The Nineties Weren’t All Bad – Shade, The Changing Man

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The nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches.

For as many reasons as there are to speak in hushed tones when referring to comics in that rather fateful decade, there are many more reasons to shout at the sky in praise. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.

Shade, The Changing Man.

Shade was originally created in the late 1970s by the brilliant, yet career suicidal Steve Ditko. Though his series only lasted a mere eight issues, the Changing Man from the planet Meta popped up in other books over the years, even becoming a member of the Suicide Squad for a time.

Six months after his final appearance in the DCU proper, Shade was back in his own ongoing series. This new version took many of its basic elements from the original, but updated the character and his world for a more mature audience, much in the way Morrison’s Doom Patrol, and other early Vertigo books did. Begun in July 1990, written by Peter Milligan with art by newcomer Chris Bachalo, Shade, The Changing Man would go on to last 70 issues before cancellation six years later. And what a run that was!

This Shade was sent to Earth to stop a growing tide of insanity, its interdimensional “area of madness” threatening both Earth and Meta with chaos. Trapped in the body of convicted serial killer Troy Grenzer, on the run from the law as an “escaped prisoner”, with only one ally, Kathy George, the daughter of Grenzer’s last victims, can Shade defeat the growing embodiment of this insanity: The American Scream?

Originally a part of the mainstream DCU, along with Sandman, Animal Man, and Constantine, Milligan began to bring in more mature and controversial elements such as Transgenderism, the JFK assassination, alcoholism, torture, and the theme of madness itself, partially leading to the formation of the Vertigo mature readers imprint. Everything about this series was uniquely mad, from the psychedelic bad acid trip covers by the awe-inspiring Brendan McCarthy, to the ever more surrealist story lines by Milligan. There was horror, outright lunacy, the epic confrontation between good and evil, and above all a love story that while completely insane still felt more real than most.

This series was groundbreaking, and had come at the perfect time as an antidote for cookie cutter capes and tights books that were cluttering up the comic store shelves. It destroyed the preconceptions of what a super-hero comic could be, and was one of the most interesting books coming out at the time.

Every hallucinatory page was beautifully brought to screaming life, first by Bachalo and inker Mark Pennington, and later Colleen Doran, Glyn Dillon, Mark Buckingham, Richard Case, and many other talented artists. It instantly stood out from the pack, and developed a cult following, as well as garnering much critical praise.

This series easily rivaled the often praised The Sandman for its literate sense, oft times uneasy themes, and some times brutal emotional wallops, yet it is many times forgotten by the comic reading masses. It is a shame this series goes underrated still, as it holds up in its brilliance to this day, especially those first 33 issues. Unfortunately, only three collected volumes have been produced of this longtime fan-demanded series: Volume 1: The American Scream, Volume 2: The Edge of Vision, and Volume 3: Scream Time. Those are a great place to start though, and back issues are not too hard to find if you find yourself wanting a little more madness.

Both Milligan and Bachalo would go on to higher profile books after this, working on some of the biggest comics in the industry for both DC and Marvel, but this is the book that launched their careers, and one of the many reasons it was great being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week, I’ll bring you another.


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