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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #181

DITKO WEEK morphs into Day Seven with a look at Ditko’s strangest creation. As always, the archive is available here.


181. Shade, the Changing Man

Shade 1.JPG

No, really, I mean it. Stranger than Dr. Strange.

The premise for Ditko’s original Shade went something like this: Rac Shade, a fugitive from Meta, another dimension, escapes to Earth and dons an illegal and experimental M-Vest in order to clear his name– he’s been framed for treason, you see. The M-Vest gave him a force field and also distorted his appearance, “changing” him into a frightening warped figure, depending on the mind of those observing him. It was a marvelously insane little book, featuring pan-dimensional conspiracies, a locale that resembled Stephen Strange’s swingin’ pad, a Clea-like love interest, and truly weird and frightening villains, like the floating, swirling Form, the invisible geometric nightmare Cloak, a giant red Pac-Man-with-arms Sude, which was just a mech sort of thing housing the love interest’s evil mom, the mad Dr. Z.Z., and the “Lord of Destruction” himself, Khaos. Yeah, the book was quite mad, like a crazy love child between Ditko’s Dr. Strange and the Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves, or something.

The Shade page at Ditko Looked Up explains further:

Shade moved along at an a bolt-action pace that was as swift as anything that’s been seen in comics in the last ten years. Characters were introduced and discarded like cards in a game of draw poker. What began as a basically simple plot with several emebellishments soon became a tale of cross and double-cross involving virtually every level of the Metan government. Shade, convicted of treason and attempted murder and sought after for his theft of the M-Vest, was pursued by Mellu, his former fiancee, who believed him to be reasonsible for the crippling of her parents. Mellu was an N-Agent dispatched by the Metan government to track Shade down after he fled to Earth and “negate” him. Her contact in the Earth-Zone (which is how the inhabitants of the Meta-Zone refer to our dimension) was a red-bearded Metan named Wizor, who posed as an occulist, but whose mission was to mantain a receiving station for Metans travelling from one dimension to another. This small cast of characters grew rapidly, until it included Col. Kross and Sgt. Barak (Metan security agents who were Shade’s friends), Dr. Sagan (a research scientist and psychologist, who was also a friend of Shade’s), and a bumper crop of villians: the sinister Col. Lopak, the deadly team of Lt. Emp and Captain Mejan (who helped frame Shade), the bizarre Form, the explosive Khaos, and Sude, the Supreme Decider – secret head of the Metan crime structure who was ultimately revealed to be Mellu’s mother.

Shade only lasted eight issues. Like most visionary DC books at the time, it was a victim of the DC Implosion. A ninth issue had been completed, and also featured a back-up strip introducing Ditko’s wonderfully odd Oddman– this issue showed up in the second Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, along with an unpublished Ditko Creeper story.

Shade 4.JPGShade 6.JPGShade 2.JPG

The first Shade later appeared in Suicide Squad, but his plots were wrapped up there. It would take a different kind of writer to revitalize the concept, and that writer was Peter Milligan. His mature readers Shade the Changing Man series that would carry on to launch the Vertigo imprint was much beloved and lasted an amazing 70 issues. It featured some great art by Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Sean Phillips, and more. And it featured some of the best covers ever, by Brendan McCarthy, among others.

What was this one about? Well, it starts with a girl named Kathy, whose parents are murdered by a psycho. On the day of his execution, the murderer becomes possessed, transformed, by an extra-dimensional being calling himself Shade and claiming to wear a reality-warping M-Vest that brings madness to life. He and Kathy meet up, and over the course of the series, fall in love and go on strange adventures. I haven’t read much of it, but it was definitely a weird– really weird– surreal series. Shade was often killed and reborn into new forms and bodies, including a woman, once– sort of like Doctor Who on Mescaline. The series did quite well and is fondly remembered, yet there’s only one trade paperback out! C’mon, DC/Vertigo! What are you waiting for?

Shade 5.JPGShade 8.JPG
Shade 3.JPGShade 7.JPG

In either of its incarnations, Shade the Changing Man was a bizarre but supremely interesting and innovative comic that pushed at the boundaries of the form and wasn’t afraid to get really, really weird. So whether you want to remember it as an overlooked Ditko classic (much like Kirby and OMAC), or the quintessential Vertigo series under the pen of Peter Milligan, you’re remembering a good comic. Me, I like both premises, and wouldn’t be surprised if we saw yet another Shade reinvention sometime in the future.

Be back tomorrow for even more Ditko goodness. One week just ain’t enough!


Milligan’s Shade ran 70 issues. I mean, if you can’t do a little research on Wikipedia about things in comics, what do you think you’re doing, huh????

Oh noes I am worst blogger evar!!!

Yeah, I wish they would release more of Milligan’s Shade. I have the one trade and would love to read more.

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 30, 2007 at 9:03 pm

Milligan’s Shade drawn by Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Sean Phillips and Richard Case, and Colleen Doran were absolutely terrific!

Shame on DC/Vertigo for being extremely lax in their tradepaperback reprints.

Aaron Kashtan

June 30, 2007 at 9:19 pm

There is a lot of strong competition for the title of “Ditko’s strangest creation.” How about Mr. A, or The Safest Place, or Static, or that one story (which appeared in Charlton Action, I think) with the device that made people two-dimensional?

I got the first (only?) Milliagan trade out from the library and quite enjoyed the first two issues. Then I got to the third issue and Shade casually mentions that he had a bad dream once where he was a fugitive from the M-zone. I slowly realized that the entire first series (and Suicide Squad issues) had just been dismissed into oblivion. I dropped the book in disgust! Most disrespectful reboot ever! I’m sure it was a fine series, but why name it after a comic you don’t respect?

Okay, I’ve come to a conclusion. For me, Ditko es like Bob Dylan. I don’t like their art, but I like whatever their aasrt has inspired on others.. (i.e Spider-Man, mp3 covers)

yeash.. I’m also drunk… but it doesn’t matter…

Please do read Enigma by Peter Milligan (I’m sure this was a reason to llove comics in the past)

I’m sure it was a fine series, but why name it after a comic you don’t respect?

Perhaps because there were plenty of readers like me who’d never heard of Shade or Ditko but bought this because of Pete Milligan.

The first 50 issues are fantastic but it runs out of steam somewhat after that.

The Kirbydotter

July 1, 2007 at 8:38 am

As an old fart, I too am not a fan of the Milligan/Vertigo Shade.

The original run of SHADE THE CHANGING MAN is the closest thing that approaches the creativity of Ditko in his Doctor Strange work. Weird dimensions, weird powers and “special effects”, and the Doctor Strange elements you have pointed out makes for a pretty close match up.

I don’t know if it’s worth mentioning but Steve Ditko was also selected in the Overstreets Price Guide Hall of Fame in this year edition along with Alex Toth, Bruce Hamilton, Dave Cockrum, Martin Nodell, Jim Shooter, George Perez, Dave Stevens and Michael Turner (??? that last one was a surprise to me! what has Michael Turner done so far in his relatively short career to make an impact on this medium???).

Did Ditko create any cool villains?

I didn’t know anything about the original series when I read the Milligan version, which was one of my favorite series at the time. Yes, further collections of the Vertigo series would be welcome, but what about the original. Any chance of that being collected?

Andrew Collins

July 1, 2007 at 5:21 pm

The Cosh said:
“The first 50 issues are fantastic but it runs out of steam somewhat after that.”

Agreed. Issues #1-50 comprise one of my all-time favorite comics, with issue #50 wrapping up all of the storylines to that point in the series, almost like a final issue. But Bachalo left the series after that, and Milligan kind of floundered, despite some good artwork being turned in by Richard Case and Sean Phillips.

Yeah, but the last storyline, and especially the last issue, are wonderfully done.

I wish that DC would put out more Shade trades – heck, I’d buy Absolute Shade – but you can’t really blame them if the first one didn’t sell.

Then again, for most of the first trade Bachalo looks like a pretty regular artist. He starts branching out into craziness pretty quickly, though, so I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth it to venture a second trade.

Yeah, but the last storyline, and especially the last issue, are wonderfully done.

Yup – That final 3 parter more than made up for the mediocre year and a half that came before it.

The Kirbydotter

July 3, 2007 at 10:00 am

To Mullon:
“Did Ditko create any cool villain?”

He sure did!
Just take a look at Spidey’s main villain gallery:
Green Goblin
Doctor Octopus
Kraven the Hunter
Molten Man
All during Ditko’s 38 run on Amazing Spidey.

On Charlton’s Action Heroes I liked Punch and Jewelee, the Ghost, the Madmen…

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