The Shade on the Chopping Block? A Comic Worth a Look While You Still Can

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By Todd Allen

I’d been meaning to write something about the new Shade maxi-series, but James Robinson made this a higher priority when he tweeted

If sales don’t improve it may be cancelled before the 12 issues are done.

20477 180x270 The Shade on the Chopping Block?  A Comic Worth a Look While You Still CanICV2 estimated the sales for issue #1 at 30,648, which is above the initial orders for Vol. 2 of Batman: Odyssey and the second issues of OMAC, Static Shock, Blackhawks and Men of War.  Normally, you’re thinking a 30K launch (probably really 33K-36K, adding a bump for UK orders) is decent for a DC launch.  Maybe DC’s got ambitious standards after the New 52 or unrealistic expectations for non-52 launches?  Maybe the advance orders on #3 and #4 aren’t great?  All I can tell you for sure is that The Shade is a better book than most of the relaunched titles and it’s time for an intervention.

The problems with the sales on the book probably are due to the passage of time.  It’s been 10 years since the comic that Shade spun out of (Starman) ended.  It’s been nearly 10 years since the end of the last _recognizable_  Robinson-penned comics: Leave It To Chance and Hawkman.  Robinson is best known to the current audience for a poorly received run on Justice League.  I’m not here to defend any Justice League comics.  I will say that Shade #1 is the first time I’ve recognized the James Robinson so many of us loved in the ’90s.  Which is also the first time I’ve seen a Robinson book outside of extreme editorial mandates in 10 years or so.  (We all know how jerked around Dwayne McDuffie was when he was writing Justice League.)  Get the Justice League out of your head where Shade is concerned.  Different book, different voice.

The second problem, and this is more for the people who’ve read Robinson’s Starman, is whether Jack Knight still exists in the DCU, given a certain Mr. DiDio’s loud assertions that Superman is the first superhero and the Justice Society didn’t precede him.  On that count, I can’t give you an answer.  Everything except Jack Knight appears in the new series.  Even the Ludlows are name checked.  The blue Starman is referred to as “reclaiming the mantle of Starman again.  Opal.  Opal’s hero.”  I’d call that being coy and I’m hoping there really is going to be an Earth-2 to go along with that Justice Society announcement and Robinson isn’t ready to show his hand yet.  But that might just be hope.  Regardless, this is appropriately Starman-esque, should that be the particular fix you’re looking for.

What you have in Shade, is a book that is equal parts dark and whimsical.  Starman is the book that popularized the generational take on superheroes (Infinity, Inc. started that viewpoint) and the most recent take on the Justice Society is the love child of Starman and Infinity, Inc.  As such, The Shade is out investigating a hit ordered on him by someone from his dark and mysterious past who seems to have designs on The Shade’s powers.  His possible sidekick is a German P.I named William Van Hammer.  Naturally, one suspects this is the great grandson of Enemy Ace.  The dialogue carries the book, but the story moves fast enough not to get bogged down and has ample action sequences juxtaposed with the talk.

I’m at a bit of a loss for what to compare it to with current comics.  Unwritten with superheroes?  Animal Man with less gore and more panache?  What if John Constatine were erudite?   (Doesn’t sound remotely like Justice League, does it?)

Please, give this book a chance.  If your local shop isn’t stocking it, here’s the comiXology link (please note, Shade is _not_ on the New 52 page — the promotion, or lack thereof, is separate).  The first issue is $1.99.

If you missed out on Starman, that’s a rare classic from the late 90s.  That’s also at comiXology.  Start with #0, conveniently priced at $0.99.  I’d tell you to get the Omnibus editions, but Vol. 1 appears to be out of print. Better hope your local shop still has one.

Oh, and I guess I am going to be THAT GUY.  Unless there’s significant re-order activity, if you’re a fan of OMAC, Static Shock, Blackhawks and Men of War — a comic above you on the charts is concerned about cancellation.  That’s not a positive sign.  You like those titles, you might want to start talking them up before they dip further.

In the meantime, there’s the question of whether sales on The Shade will sour DC on the previously announced, but not yet scheduled James Robinson/Nicola Scott Justice Society series.

Comments

  1. Loved the first two issues, and am spreading the word as best I can.

  2. stealthwise says:

    What I never understood is why people who honestly love a title, and I mean they truly love it and would gladly pay twice as much to own it just to keep the book alive, don’t buy multiple copies and encourage other die-hard fans of the books to do the same? Trying to get DLers to buy a book seems like pulling teeth, and getting new readers on board on what seems to be a sinking ship can seem like an impossible task. If you really, honestly dig what’s being produced each month, then get out there and pre-order multiple copies and give them away to people to help sell them on the title.

  3. What, do people still buy monthly mini-series?

    DC should’ve announced it as the first new “ongoing” series after the launch of the New 52 (then “cancel” it at #12, announcing the Robinson has decided to end it). Or hold onto it, to launch along with JSA, Shazam, Plastic man, and (might as well start getting used to it) Watchmen books as part of a “there are other Earths!” publicity stunt.

    Launching something in an obsolete format, featuring a minor villain with little name recognition (except among readers who’ve largely moved on since he was last seen), in the shadow of their biggest promotional venture in years… they should be pleasantly surprised to be seeing orders for 30K per issue.

  4. I’ve been really enjoying this book, but I have to admit, it’s a damn weird time to launch it.

    Anyway, STARMAN fans and anyone looking for a more sophisticated take on action/adventure should check it out.

  5. This is disappointing news. I was assuming that DC would finish the run despite possibly lower sales in order to get another volume to sell to Starman trade/omnibus buyers. Isn’t Starman a perennially steady seller (when people can find it?).

    DC must be due to repackage all the Starman Library trades soon – this mini and the odd Shade specials would make a very nice Volume Whatever – ‘Starman’s Pal, The Shade’.

    I’m buying the new book and enjoying it lots.

  6. Mycroft says:

    Let’s be honest : Starman’s lovers, the 2nd generation at least, bought the omnibuses and is waiting for the HC, that’s all.

  7. thefreakytiki says:

    I agree with Mycroft. That is exactly what I’m doing.

    the Tiki

  8. Justin S. Davis says:

    I was ecstatic about the series, but the last page reveal of issue #1 made me drop it without reading further.

    I’m just sick and tired of DC’s fetish for dismemberment.

    Yes, I know “he gets better” (probably on page 1 of issue #2). But I’m done.

  9. Michael P says:

    I liked Robinson’s Justice League, darnit. I think people mostly slag it because they (rightly) hated Cry for Justice and assume it was just like that, when it was really its own creature, and much better for it.

  10. “Let’s be honest : Starman’s lovers, the 2nd generation at least, bought the omnibuses and is waiting for the HC, that’s all.”

    That’s exactly where I am. I want this series in a hardcover next to my Starman Omnibus volumes. I have no interest in buying single issues that I already know I’ll have to dump when the collection comes out.

  11. Torsten Adair says:

    Actually, the ending of issue one made me want to see what happens in issue two. The series has him venturing around the world, so I’ll be very curious to see where this goes.

    “New York Times Bestseller” (Starman)
    I’d be surprised if DC doesn’t treat this like a Vertigo title and let it run the twelve issues, then make the money back as a collected edition. And as an Absolute Edition, once they collect all of the Starman trades.

    There is a blind spot in DC’s superhero catalog, and that is the many DCU miniseries which are launching IMMEDIATELY after the New 52. Everyone is gushing over the 52 monthlies, but ignoring the miniseries. Penguin, Huntress, Shade, Batman: Odyssey, My Greatest Advenure… has the press noticed these titles? Are stores slighting orders on these titles to fund ordering on the New 52? Is DC giving these titles enough marketing muscle? (Five mentions of The Shade on The Source blog, including preview art from Jill Thompson!)

  12. I definitely encourage everyone to get the word out about this maxi-series. Anyone who enjoyed Robinson’s STARMAN series should find this just as entertaining.

    I agree that THE SHADE would be doing much better if it had been one of “The New 52″ and not announced as a maxi-series. The temptation to just wait for the hardcover is oviously too great for some.

  13. I mean, that’s unfortunate, but maybe if Robinson wanted fans to keep reading his work, he should’ve made sure his output for the last 4 years was higher quality.

  14. Jerry Smith says:

    Zach, I agree with you. I’m such a hardcore fan of Starman and Robinson’s previous Shade series, it broke my heart not to buy or read this one. But the Robinson of Starman is long dead. Not a hater, but I don’t recognize or like this new nihilist Robinson, and I won’t support his work. His Cry for Justice and Justice League were so bad they cast a shadow on all his previous writing.

  15. I was a big fan of Robinson’s Starman, and I liked the first issue of Shade. But I had no idea it was even coming out until it actually hit the shelves, and I was like, “Whaaaat’s this?” Was there any promotion at all? Was it just buried under all the 52 relaunch news?

  16. I think DC’s aware there’s probably a fair percentage of people out there specifically waiting for the HC/trade of this because that’s how they got the Starman Omnibus so they’d be insane not to make it sure it was completed this way first.

  17. You know, the time for a SHADE series (of any kind) would’ve been best served by coming out shortly after STARMAN ended – not a decade later, despite the completion of the Omnibus editions. Robinson’s crappy run on the JLA certainly didn’t help matters any, either – as was the poor timing of coming out during the Big Reboot.

    All that aside, as much as I love Robinson’s earlier renditions The Shade, this one is sorely lacking – lending considerable weight to the ‘you can’t go home again, dummy’ school of past glories. And then, there’s the ‘new DC’ additive of sexy wimmens in various stages of undress & over-the-top ultra violence that passes for actual storytelling – like there was a crying need to see a nitwit character like Deathstroke to chop Shade into bloody tidbits for a first issue “cliffhanger”.

    That felt about as out of place as Archie & the Riverdale gang meeting KISS 35 years after their heyday…

    …uh… okay. Perhaps that wasn’t so far-fetched as far as metaphors go.

  18. Diamond still has a couple of hundred Starman Vol. 1 HCs in stock.

  19. MBunge says:

    I picked up the first issue after having read only a dozen or so issues of Robinson’s Starman. The ending was surprising enough to get me to buy #2, but that’s it. If there’s one thing editors should be good for it’s preventing creators from turning in this sort of Mary Sue work.

    Mike

  20. John Smith says:

    Wait, someone in the last DC sales post told us The Shade was an unquestionable smash hit, whose success was being ignored by MOF, the source of all evil in the world! What gives?

  21. Chris Hero says:

    I used to love Robinson’s Starman way back in the day. Then I re-read the run a few years ago. I felt it did not age well…at all. I should have left nostalgia well enough alone in that one.

    BTW – This article totally talked me out of any desire to try again. I don’t know any of that continuity (Enemy Ace? That’s a real character?) and don’t want to be overwhelmed with continuity minutiae.

  22. Mo Walker says:

    I agree with the responses listed above, The Shade was a victim of the New 52. I wished DC mixed in a few mini-series with the new ongoing titles. Obviously, a few titles are going to be replaced at some point. On the flip side, DC probably felt like they needed some number ones for October.

    I am a huge fan of Robinson’s Starman run. Unfortunately, I totally forgot about this book until a week before the first issue was released. I thought it was already on my pull-list, but I was wrong. I chalk it up to DC 52 overload. Hopefully James Robinson’s press/twitter tour will get more people purchasing the title.

  23. Plus why not do a six issue mini, see if that has an audience, and then if so, come back and do a follow up.

  24. MBunge says:

    “Wait, someone in the last DC sales post told us The Shade was an unquestionable smash hit, whose success was being ignored by MOF”

    I don’t believe anyone did any such thing, but you know that. When you feel the need to suck up troll for Frisch in threads he’s not even tangentially involved in, you should probably find yourself another internet superstar to crush on.

    Mike

  25. I had no clue this existed. Just bought them on Comixology. Whoomp!

  26. Justin H. says:

    One of the couple of books I’m even entertaining a purchase from DC at this point. I’m sad that it could go away.

    I’m also sad that, as a purchaser of monthly comics, I’m again apparently responsible for subsidizing a trade. If you like a book, please buy it.

  27. John Smith says:
  28. MBunge says:

    I really have no idea why you linked to a comment that says nothing like what you stated. There’s nothing there about Shade being a “smash hit”, merely a question of how anyone could say “That’s about what I expected such a book to do”.

    Mike

  29. I’m loving the new Shade series as well, but didn’t realize it was coming. Agree that DC should release #1s in bunches so it’s easier to track.

    The only (partial) correction I’ll make to Todd’s post is Robinson did the oddest Mega Event mini-series ever with “The Outsider” (as part of Flashpoint). All of his Starman-like strengths were on display at the periphery of this DC universe. Outsider was a 21st century character much like Starman caught the 90s. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t reappear some day. Make sure you pick it up.

  30. Same here. I bought issue 1 because it was heavily discounted and am now waiting for the hardcover collection to go right on my shelf next to the six volumes of the Starman Omnibus. Perhaps DC should have released Shade as a complete deluxe hardcover from the start instead of single issues?

  31. The only singles of Starman I bought were the Legion issues (mmm, and the Blackest Night #81 issue), but I bought the whole set of TPBs. So naturally I plan to complete the set with the eventual collection of this.

    As for the lower New 52 books, I Static Shock was the first one I dropped. Don’t like the art. I expect Firestorm and Hawkman will follow in another issue or two. Now, if we could get the Blood Syndicate or Shadow Cabinet back…

  32. For those who expressed that they’re not buying this because of the last four years of Robinson’s output being, in their opinion, shite? I thought all of what I read from him over that period was shite, too.

    But this? The first issue of The Shade was pure gold. The book is a totally different animal from what he’d been trying to write the last four years and much more akin to what he had built up such a fanbase writing in the past.

    Give it a shot.

  33. Yeah, I understand feeling burned by his JLA output, too, but the new Shade mini feels like it could’ve been concurrent with the original Starman.

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  2. [...] a bevy of high-profile guests like Darwyn Cooke, Frazer Irving, Javier Pulido, and Jill Thompson. The Beat’s Todd Allen has written a supportive post, noting along the way that certain New-52 titles which are selling below The Shade #1′s level [...]

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