More Changes For Shade
Sandman may have been the superstar of Vertigo in its early days, but for my money Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man was always where the real action was. Sandman was mythological, fantastical, larger than life; Shade was personal, a bad acid trip full of awkward sex, identity crises and poetry. Both series were great, of course, but Shade was the one that actually captured my heart.
Geoff Johns must have agreed with me, because Shade is the latest Vertigo character to be assimilated back into the main DC continuity, as leader of a team called the Secret Seven. Naturally, I had reservations about how the return of a character so dear to me would be handled, but learning that Peter Milligan would be be writing Secret Seven set my mind at ease. Somewhat.
It’s great to have Shade back, and it’s great to have Milligan writing the character once again. But that invites comparisons to the Vertigo series, and that’s simply not going to be fair to Secret Seven. At the end of the day, this is a superhero comic, and as such one suspects there won’t be much time for wild hallucinations, bi-sexual love triangles, and all the other stuff that made Shade’s previous run so interesting. That’s not to say it can’t be good in its own right, but keeping an open mind might prove to be a challenge.
Secret Seven #1 confirms that fear. While not a bad book, it is one that gives the impression of not quite being comfortable in its own skin. Milligan does an admirable job of keeping things weird early on, with an appearance from the “ghost” of Black Orchid, some surprisingly graphic phallic symbolism, and even a brief reference to the Vertigo continuity. It’s a good start, and while Enchantress (the only other member of the Secret Seven we’ve met so far) is no Lenny, she does make a pretty good foil for Shade in his more solipsistic moments.
As you might expect, though, things start to go wrong when the necessities of the Flashpoint storyline start bearing down. Milligan is clearly more interested in the relationship between Shade and Enchantress (and her alter-ego June Moone) than the three way battle between Aquaman, Wonder Woman and the rest of Earth’s super-folks. The result is a tie-in that, so far, doesn’t feel tied in at all. Shade and Enchantress almost seem unaware of the events that are preoccupying the rest of Flashpoint's world, despite their conversation with Cyborg in Flashpoint #1. What is the Secret Seven's motivation, if not to join the fight against the Atlantians and Amazons? We don't get even a hint here.
I’m willing to give Milligan a pass for now, as he’s always been given to a roundabout style of storytelling. Sadly, I can’t be as kind to George Perez’s art, which is just too bold and straightforward to work in the context of a book that’s clearly on the weird side. Previous artists handled the hallucinatory powers of Shade’s M-Vest with surrealistic and dream-like imagery. Perez seems to have based his version of the M-Vest on Steve Ditko’s, but he doesn’t push the envelope far enough, even in a scene where Shade pictures himself being ripped apart as he tries to remove the vest.
Secret Seven is the first Flashpoint tie-in I’ve read that actually seems to suffer for having to be part of Flashpoint. The concept is solid, and the relationship between Shade and Enchantress could definitely serve as the anchor for a slightly twisted superhero book. I just hope the characters (when they’re all finally revealed) don’t end up as easy casualties in the crossover’s main conflicts.