by Justin Jordan, Patrick Zircher, Lee Garbett, Neil Edwards, Roberto De La Torre, Lewis LaRosa, Diego Bernard, Rocco Martellacci
I concluded at the end of my review of Shadowman vol. 1: Birth Rites by saying that the series had promise, but needed to demonstrate improvement in the next volume. Unfortunately, not only does the second volume fail to fulfill that promise, Shadowman takes a massive step backwards. If anything, Darque Reckoning demonstrates that the series has no clear, coherent direction. What’s worse, the presence of 7 different pencilers over the course (including five separate pencilers on the final issue alone) almost guarantees that the art will further deflate the story. Altogether, this is easily the most disappointing trade published by Valiant thus far.
Before I begin with what might end up being nothing but a bunch of negative comments and rhetorical questions, let me first state that I absolutely adore nearly every comic that Valiant Entertainment publishes. Further, while I don’t personally have any real attachment to the Shadowman character, I can certainly see the potential and understand why others do love him. So believe me when I say that when I criticize this title, it’s coming from a place of love, from someone who would love to read a great Shadowman story.
As I alluded to, the biggest problem with Shadowman as a whole is that it lacks any kind of clear direction. The actual plot structure of Darque Reckoning has been used many times before, however, everything begins to fall apart the moment the reader asks any questions. For instance, why does Darque want to get to Earth? What will happen if he does manage to reach Earth? Why have the Brethern chosen to support him, and what do they hope to gain from this support? What exactly are the Brethern even doing to help Darque? The answers to these questions are not minor details; our investment in the story is dependent on them.
Admittedly, the art of comic book writing (and serialized storytelling in general) requires that the writers never lay all of their cards on the table. That being said, there is a basic level of information that the reader needs to possess in order to invest in the story, one of which is motivation and the other is some kind of consequences. The plot of Darque Reckoning could work if either of these were present, but instead the characters only do what the plot requires of them and, in terms of consequences, all we are given is vague threats.
To be fair, it is perfectly acceptable that Justin Jordan doesn’t spell out exactly what will happen if Darque does make it to Earth, because it’s clear that that’s what he is building towards (presumably, since he’s a devilish figure, it will apocalyptic); however, when Baron Samedi urges Jack to join him to take down a Brethern stronghold because it will help foil Darque’s plan, and Dox tells Jack that he shouldn’t, the reader needs to be aware of what the ramifications of Jack’s actions (or inaction) are. Since we are not privy to any of that information, their argument amounts to nothing more than characters shouting clichéd dialogue at one another.
Also ill-defined is Shadowman’s powers (and his purpose, outside of battling Darque). In the original series, writer Bob Hall kept the nature of his powers somewhat vague (they came and went, sometimes he could use them, sometimes he couldn’t) to great effect. Here it simply seems that Shadowman can do whatever the story needs him to.
Many Valiant readers have complained that Jack Boniface is unlikeable. Regarding this, I beg to disagree; to be unlikeable would require Jack to actually have a personality. As of now, he continues to be a cipher who basically does what any other generic action hero would do. His only flashes of characterization come when he’s arguing with Dox or Alyssa, where his responses seem to be a childish “I’ll do what I want to!” Jack is not alone in this regard, as none of the characters has been properly developed into anything more than a one-note stereotype. The only ones who are remotely compelling are Darque, who at least has some nefarious monologues, and Dr. Mirage, in spite of her limited appearances. Regardless, the latter’s presence was (justifiably) a source of consternation among fans, because she’s introduced in an interesting way, only to disappear the moment she fulfills her function in the plot.
If there were concerns about the art rising above the poor story, those fears disappeared with one look at the credits page; over the course of five issues there are 7 different pencilers. This is not damning in and of itself, as Valiant often makes use of multiple artists per trade, but normally their contributions are organized in a well thought-out manner (I just finished reading Bloodshot vol. 5 which used 6 pencilers, and the art was strong). Here, it’s haphazard at best, and the worst offender is the final issue, which has some of the most jarring transitions between artists.
There are several talented artists who contribute to this volume, and some of them even turn in good work, but it’s clear that many of them were rushed. I had heard that Valiant had lined up an artist to draw this arc (Patrick Zircher possibly?), but, for whatever reason, that artist couldn’t complete the work, and they were forced to turn to so many artists in order to meet deadlines. Given the result, it probably would have been better if Valiant had instead opted to delay publication and give their artists more time.
It’s quite troubling that many of the errors which plague Darque Reckoning are some of the most fundamental writing principles. Justin Jordan has written many good comics in his career, which why it’s so surprising that he could turn in as poor an effort as this. On the other hand, this also would indicate that the series is due for a turn around. Likewise, the art can only improve from here. I, like many other readers, desperately want good things for this series, but, at present, it’s hard to recommend it to anyone other than the most die-hard Shadowman fans.
Originally from ValiantCentral.com