I May Just Be One Shade Obsessed Loony...
...but I think this arc is absolutely top-notch and indeed this return of Shade, the Changing Man in a story by Peter Milligan no less (or should I say Miles Laimling?)* is what my fantasies consist of. And that is why it may be true that my thoughts on this issue should be thrown out the window, maybe nostalgia** has clouded my judgment. But at the same time this means all you Shade fans out there should pick this up just to join in the Shade lovin' because there's plenty to go around...in fact it almost seems like he's looking for some man-on-man action but we all know there's so much more then that (especially if you check out the solicits for upcoming issues).
But here, on to the contents of this issue. Let's begin with the cover. Simon Bisley I have fallen for you, all of your Hellblazer covers have been fantastic and this was in no exception. I feel a desire to go read some Slaine and Heavy Metal Dredd to immerse myself in your work. But enough of that, what you really want to hear about, was the actual story any good? Well let me break it up for you...first the John Constantine stuff (the majority of the issue) and then the Shade stuff (!!!!!!!!!!).
Okay, well John Constantine's story is progressing and you know at first when I read about this upcoming arc I thought Shade would be causing the Madness but it seems John is legitimately insane. And you know what, this is the John I love. Granted I'm still working on reading all the Hellblazer stuff pre-Milligan and I haven't had the pleasure of reading Carey's run, or Azzarello's or Ellis' (even though it was cut short), Diggle's or even the lesser known ones like Jenkin's or Mina's...however, I have read both Delano's and Ennis' and so I know all about John and the establishing of this series. However, the good news for new readers is Milligan's run is completely accessible to fresh victims. The characters are new, the relationships are new, all you have to know is that John is a bastard who lives in England and Chas Chandler is the cab driver who drives him around.
Anyways, John (as the title of the issue suggests) gets a new mental illness attached to his numerous other problems: Apotemnophilia. That is, the overwhelming desire to get rid of a limb in the belief that without it you will be better off. For him, the offending body part is his right arm, that stupid thing just keeps holding him back! But what's really going wrong with Constantine and why all this is happening I haven't a clue which is why I'm very enthusiastic to see where this is going. Plus, what's up with the beard, I mean I know he had one as a homeless drunk but did he really grow it that fast? I'm jealous.
Oh yeah, and Epiphany appears, I really like her, much more then Phoebe at least. Stuff seems to be going on with her but that's all cliffhanger-y and mysterious so I guess we'll have to wait to know what's going on but she's definitely an enjoyable addition to the supporting cast...
And then there's Shade, yep, that vessel of Madness is back! I enjoyed the homages to the original series. You see the JFK Sphinx from Shade's first encounter with the American Scream, the Haight-Ashbury street sign, and of course the return of Empty! Okay not really, but did anyone else notice that just like in Shade #33 (the first issue under the Vertigo label) Shade returns to us by taking over a young black-haired human vegetable in an asylum?
Other highlights included the return of Lenny! Oh, she's just as lovable as ever and...teaching elementary school children? Yeah, I have no idea how she got that job but I wasn't expecting her to appear but it was a very enjoyable unexpected surprise. However, with Shade's return come many questions and I really hope they get answered sometime in this arc or maybe a miniseries because I have absolutely no idea what Shade's doing back on Meta. Or what happened to Kathy. She was seen with Troy Grenzer in Hell in an earlier issue but I didn't know what to make of that at the time. But I guess since Hellblazer is in real-time this means it's been about thirty years since John last saw Shade and fifteen years since Shade last saw John so they have some catching up to do. Basically, this arc is just kicking off and you better jump on the train before you get left behind, kids!
So in conclusion, if this insanity-driven review hasn't sold you, I don't know what's wrong with you but you definitely need to check this out.
*The link is my desperate attempt to make sure someone can figure out what my obscure reference was since I often fear there are no other Shade, the Changing Man readers/lovers out there or at leas they lock themselves in the closet pretty tightly. To all of you I have to say it's not a good idea to keep the Madness inside yourself or insanity will ensue!
**Now before you get the wrong idea, I didn't read Shade, the Changing Man as it came out...it ended with #70 in '96 and I was probably still reading picture books (but not comics!) at the time. However, even though I read the series in the past year I still feel like it's nostalgic because after I finished the comic I saw it had been left at a cliffhanger for over 14 years and only two trades had been collected (at the time, a third one is now on the way in a week!). And let me tell you, that's discouraging. I don't know how it must have been for people who waited those fourteen years and I apologize if you think I have no right to say I'm nostalgic about this because I can't even imagine your pain.