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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 364: Shade, the Changing Man #70

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. As it’s now December, I will be examining the LAST pages of random comics, so watch out for SPOILERS! Today’s page is from Shade, the Changing Man #70, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated April 1996. Enjoy!

Awwwww

Shade probably should have ended at issue #50, but that would have been rather bleak, and Peter Milligan tried to soldier on with the title for a while until he finally called it quits with issue #70. In that time, though, he managed to bring Kathy George back to life, sort of, by having Shade go back in time and stop Troy Genzer from killing her parents. Kathy’s death was a traumatic event in the series, so Milligan obviously wanted to go out on a high note rather than a downer. With this final issue, he succeeds.

Shade has arrived back in his present after going back in time, and five years have passed since he killed Troy Genzer and saved Kathy’s life. He tracks Kathy down and knocks on her door, trying to convince her he’s not crazy. On the previous page, he managed to get Kathy to take his diary, in which he writes about his feelings for Kathy, and even her own diary that she kept when she knew Shade. She does think he’s crazy, but then she decides to take the books. So on this page, Shade is standing at the closed door, wondering what he should do. Then he looks at his son, George, who encouraged him to come this far. Kathy, obviously, finds something in the diaries that strike a chord within her, and she invites Shade in. George, naturally, is pretty happy about this. Why is George a woman? Why is George so old when he was just born recently? Well, it’s Shade, so it’s pretty complicated. Don’t worry about it!

Richard Case drew the final issues of Shade, and while he’s not as distinctive as Chris Bachalo, who began the series and defined its look, he does a pretty good job. He really doesn’t have a lot to do on this final page – he needs to draw Shade standing in front of a door for three panels, but his pose in Panel 2 is pretty good. This isn’t a great page visually, though, because of Panel 5, as Case doesn’t quite get George’s expression. He’s supposed to be happy, but his smile and his eyes make him look like he’s a mongoose about to attack a snake. It’s unfortunate, because the sentiment of the page is powerful, but Case’s drawing of George doesn’t get across the right tone of happiness and satisfaction that George is feeling at that moment. And if he’s not supposed to be feeling that – if he’s supposed to be grinning evilly – then there’s absolutely no reason for him to be feeling that way, and Milligan doesn’t imply it in the pages leading up to this one. Milligan would probably not end with George looking up at the stars if he wanted this to end cynically, yet Case’s drawing doesn’t really communicate a terribly warm tone. It’s not a badly drawn face, but it just feels wrong for the situation.

Even with that, Case does a nice job leading up to this page, which makes it more unfortunate. However, the way Milligan ends the series is so sentimental without being sappy that I can forgive the odd facial expression. A little. It’s just so nice that Shade and Kathy get a happy ending. Don’t we all like happy endings?

Next: Yet another final issue, one that DC has surprisingly not messed with even though they could. Restraint? From DC? I know! Once again, I’ve already featured this series in the archives, if you care to check them out!

11 Comments

I love Shade, particularly from about issue 30-50. Still, there are several high points leading up to and coming away from the series peak, and this last 3 issue story was one of them. It was a truly perfect ending from every point of view.

I would almost balk at the end being spoiled, but Vertigo can’t seem to drum up enough interest in reprinting the series to even get to where Milligan, Bachalo and the series fully earned their reputation. Even the Comixology release of it seems to have hit the same wall the trades did.

One of my top series of all time. Glad to see it get some attention.

Patrick: Well, I DID warn about spoilers …

I was never going to drop Shade, but I did wonder what Milligan was doing in the issues after #50. It did seem like he didn’t realize what he was doing when he killed Kathy, and suddenly he had a series without a direction. But he did pull it together really nicely for the final story.

It’s just a shame that the series hasn’t been collected and that it doesn’t seem like DC cares to do so. Dang.

I agree with everything said above. In terms of writing and art, A Season In Hell was the zenith of a great series – the only 80s/90s Vertigo title other than Sandman that I followed from the beginning to the end. The last twenty issues wouldn’t be the last time that I would think ‘what the heck is Milligan doing?’ but it does lead to a satisfying ending. I’m glad Shade is back in the DCU, but it will never be the same or mean as much to me as that series did for me as a teenager.

(Two more days of Scratching to go – 366 days will be an amazingly disciplined achievement. Greg, do we have a new daily concept in store for 2013 or will you be collapsing in exhaustion?)

Drancron: Yeah, the latter. It’s surprisingly hard to do this for an entire year. I actually finished a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve just been trying to sit down and read a lot, because during the year, I had to put everything aside quite often and keep up with the daily posts!

I don’t have any good ideas for another project like this, either. If I have one, I might try it again, but definitely not in 2013!

The story that I heard – and have no idea how true it is – is that Milligan intended to end the series at #50, but DC was unwilling to end it since it was doing well, and I guess Milligan didn’t have Gaiman’s clout. So he kept on it rather than handing it off to another writer, but sales dropped and DC ended up canceling it, with enough warning for Milligan to give us a pro proper ending at least. Like I said, no idea how true, but Milligan makes some references to being cancelled in 68 or 69, so I think that part is at least true.

As for Shade itself, it’s probably one of the best Vertigo series of all time, and it doesn’t get enough recognition as such.

I say Spectre for tomorrow. I don’t think they’ve put Jimmy C. back in booties, yet.

Da Fug: Sorry, not the Spectre. That’s not a bad guess, though!

Shade is one of my all-time favorite comics, probably my favorite long-running Vertigo series, and easily my choice for most underrated comic ever. Such a shame that it’s more or less forgotten, while far lesser books like Transmet remain in print.

Milligan admitted in the Comics Journal that he’d made a mistake in killing Kathy, and didn’t quite understand that she was the heart of the series. The post-Kathy issues meander a bit, but the series does manage to end on a high note. I have to say, though, that I always strongly disliked Richard Case’s artwork, and I think the book really suffered from his involvement (I think the same thing about Doom Patrol).

I miss Richard Case. I enjoyed his Doom Patrol and Shade runs.
It’s a shame he’s not doing any more series. Unless I’m wrong?

This blog will be missing in 2013. Auld Lang Syne, Mr. Burgas! ;-)

sorry, that’s “missed”, not missing.

I’ve got an uncooperative keyboard. ;-)

Add me to the list of people who treasure this series. I picked it up with issue #1 back in…wow, 1990…but really fell in love with it during the “Edge Of Vision” story from issues #11-13. I’ll agree with Patrick Joseph, too, that the book really hit its stride with the switchover from DC to Vertigo and the lead-up to issue #50.

It’s a shame more people haven’t picked up on it, especially with names like Milligan, Bachalo, and Case attached to it. Of the six “founding” Vertigo titles, it’s definitely gotten the least love and recognition, both of which it really deserves.

The issues past the third trade top my list of Vertigo books that have inexplicably remained uncollected, along with Mark Millar & Phillip Hester’s run on Swamp Thing, Paul Jenkins’ Hellblazer, and the remaining issues of Sandman Mystery Theatre…

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