by Justin Jordan, Jim Zub, Ales Kot, Christopher Sebela, Duffy Boudreau, Neil Dvorak, Roberto De La Torre, Mico Suayan, Lewis LaRosa, Diego Bernard, Andrea Cuneo, Miguel Sepulveda, CAFU, Matthew Southworth
Shadowman vol. 3: Deadside Blues is easily the most bipolar trade released by Valiant. The first two of the four collected issues are excellent, and demonstrate that the title was finally being given a direction. However, the final two issues, both of which are one-shots, are some of the worst comics that I’ve read this year. The end result is frustrating. If there is a good to come out of this volume, it’s that it is the last trade before Peter Milligan assumes writing responsibilities.
The first two issues, #0 and #10, take place in Louisiana around the time of the Civil War and serve as origins for both Master Darque and the Shadowman Loa. Much like the first two volumes, the plots of these issues are fairly formulaic and predictable; however, the creative teams invests them with a wonderful sense of atmosphere and strong, compelling characters. The first sees the early childhood of twins Nicodemo and Sandria being brought up in magic by their father, whose motives for doing so are more selfish than loving, while the second sees Sandria, now a grown woman, fleeing from her brother, who is terrifying in both his growing power and is obsession with her.
Every one of my complaints from the previous trade has been addressed here; each of the characters is well-defined with clear motivations for their actions. In doing this, Justin Jordan has given the reader a reason to invest in the conflict between the characters. There’s a deep sense of tragedy in both stories as in both characters must turn against former loved ones in order to protect someone else. The battle between Darque and the various Shadowmen has also been given deeper meaning due to the way in which the Loa and Darque have been tied together here. While this doesn’t necessarily make volumes 1 and 2 better in retrospect, it at least gives the series a better direction for future issues. The only real problem with these issues is that Jack Boniface is not present in either, which begs the question, would Shadowman be better off without Jack? Personally, I don’t believe that there is anything inherently wrong with Jack, only with how he has been portrayed up to this point (or lack thereof, given that he has no discernible personality). That said, the series could greatly improve simply by tying Jack into the legacy that has been established here.
If the trade had ended after the second issue, it would have been the best trade of the series; unfortunately, there were two more issues collected. Reading #11-12 was a very surreal experience; I don’t mind to be sarcastic, but after completing those books, I couldn’t help but wonder how something that bad could even exist. To be fair context is important here. According to Josh of Valiant Effort Podcast, the editors understood that fans were not connecting with the series, and thus brought in Peter Milligan. However, there were two months in between Justin Jordan’s final issue and Milligan’s first (I don’t know whether leaving the title was Jordan’s decision or Valiant’s). Thus, Valiant was forced to either halt the series or publish two months’ worth of filler. The quality of these issues is indicts that they made the wrong decision.
Frankly, I don’t wish to discuss these issues in detail, because they really aren’t worthy of the time. I am not opposed to one-shots or even multiple stories appearing in a single issue (essentially, that’s what the anniversary issues of Archer & Armstrong, Bloodshot, Harbinger, and X-O Manowar have been ), but in order for these types of stories to work, they must establish characters and plots quickly in way that makes the reader care. Suffice to say, none of these accomplishes this.
Unfortunately, Valiant was still unable to nail down a permanent artist for these issues (only one, #11, only has a single artist). That being said, the majority of the art in this volume is reasonably good. Perhaps, it’s due to the strong script, but the artwork is surprisingly strong. No doubt much of this due to a heroic effort from David Baron and Matt Milla, the colorists for these issues. Many of the images in these issues are genuinely creepy, and each of the twelve (which, yes, is still far too many) artists—pencilers, inkers, and colorists—involved puts forth a solid contribution.
The art seems to decline after the first two issues, although that could simply be due to bias on my part. That said, it’s hard to argue how Dr. Mirage ridiculous cleavage in #11 could in any way be considered good art (regardless of your stance on cheesecake in comics, the depiction of Dr. Mirage is just atrocious). Much like the last trade, there are talented artists involved in the final issue, but the poor script makes the art more or less irrelevant.
The one-star rating is a bit deceptive in this case. Half of this trade comes highly recommended, but the other half is both terrible and pointless, meaning that the reader will save both time and money by simply purchasing Shadowman #0 and #10 individually. As such, it’s impossible to recommend Deadside Blues to anyone other than the most die-hard completionists.
Originally from ValiantCentral.com