Review: The Shade #4 by James Robinson & Darwyn Cooke

The Shade #4

Written by: James Robinson
Pencilled by: Darwyn Cooke
Inked by: J. Bone
Coloring by Dave Stewart
Lettering by: Todd Klein

Published by: DC
Cover Price: $2.99

Note: This review is for the digital version of the comic available from DC Comics on Comixology

As much as I love James Robinson’s Starman series, the Times Past issues were always my least favorite. Most of the time while reading them, all I could think was “can’t we get back to Jack’s story?”

So, as much as I’ve been enjoying The Shade mini-series, when I heard that this was a Times Past issue, I didn’t really get my hopes on on this being another great issue.  I will admit, I did find myself wanting them to hurry to get back to the main story, but this ended up being a very good comic anyway.

Summary (contains spoilers): Last issue, we found out that Shade had a great grandson, who was still alive in modern days. This issue is set in 1944, and begins with Shade writing in his journal, talking about his regrets about not getting more involved in the war against the Germans. Shade was plotting a criminal endeavor when he stumbles across information about a German operation called “The Caldecott Affair.” Darwell Caldecott is a wealthy industrialist who has been heavily supporting the United State’s war effort. It seems like someone is targetting him for assassination.  Shade decides to get involved.

Caldecott’s wife has been kidnapped, so Shade recruits a team of heroes including Vigilante to track her down. It quickly is revealed that the wife is actually behind the attempts to kill Caldecott:

Shade and Vigilante rush to rescue Caldecott who has been kidnapped by Nazis. It turns out that Caldecott’s secretary was actually Shade’s other heroic associate, the cross-dressing Madam Fatal. They manage to rescue Caldecott, who we realize is Shade’s great-grandson. Caldecott has lots of questions about who Shade is and how he became the way he is. Shade is reluctant at first, but the issue ends with the two of them walking on the beach talking about their lives.

Review: Madam Fatal is a weird, weird character. That really came out of nowhere. I was actually thinking it was Phantom Lady, and I was expecting to see Robinson tie this more tightly into Starman lore. Instead, he went a completely different way with it. And yes, Madam Fatal is a real Golden Age character, and yes her secret was the same then as well. Robinson has always been great about tying together the strange twists and turns comics have taken over the years and bringing together all the universes DC has bought up over the years. This just happens to be one of the stranger ones…

This story gave a lot of insight into Shade’s character and how he viewed the world back in the 40’s. I loved the idea that he felt guilt for not getting involved in World War II and his pride in his family’s involvement. I also like how he managed to convince each of the heroes to help him on his mission by offering something they wanted. It really worked well and showed the early days of the “sorta hero” he would eventually become.

In addition to all the characterization, I thought the action in this issue was perfect.  What better than a Golden Age style story with a warehouse rescue, a betrayal from a supposed victim, and a battle aboard an airplane?  That all just screamed Golden Age to me.  Robinson’s action packed script was especially helped by  the fact that Darwyn Cooke was the artist on this one.

Darwyn Cooke is the perfect choice to do a flashback book. New Frontier to me was the perfect example of how to make a story appear like it came from a different era while still keeping it new and fresh. Darwyn Cooke pulled off that same magic in this issue.

I love when comics have that sense of wonder and fantasy to them. Sometimes a realistic artist works for a comic (like Ben Oliver on Batwing), but for the most part, I would rather something really look like a comic book should. Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld have always seemed to understand that, and Darwyn Cooke has a very different style, but the same mindset.

This week they announced that James Robinson and Nicola Scott would be doing an Earth 2 series.   I know Robinson got a lot of flack from some of his work in recent years, but his work on Shade definitely seems to still have all the talent I fell in love with on Starman and JSA. I am really looking forward to Earth-2 now!

The Shade continues to be an excellent miniseries shedding all new light on one of the more unique characters in the DC Universe. I am a little concerned about the sales figures on The Shade, and hope that DC releases all twelve issues. This mini has been too good to end early.  I don’t even mind if there are a few more Times Past issues if they continue to be this good.

Final Score: 8.5 – The best Times Past issue I’ve read. Darwyn Cooke is exactly the right artist for this type of story, and Robinson tells one hell of a story here.

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