by Peter Milligan, Roberto De La Torre, Al Barrionueva, Brian Level, David Baron, Matt Milla, John Rauch
With a new writer and artist in place, Shadowman vol. 4: Fear, Blood, and Shadows represents the first instance of stability for the title since Birth Rites. Unsurprisingly, this helps contribute to what is easily the best installment of the series thus far. Writer Peter Milligan takes the title in a new direction with a plot that more closely resembles traditional horror stories such as The Strange and Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and David Cronenberg’s The Fly than the superheroics that were present in the previous volumes. While the overall result is quite strong, there seems to be something missing which keeps it from truly being great.
Fear, Blood, and Shadows focuses on Jack’s internal struggle to maintain control of the Loa. He frequently finds himself waking up with no memory of the night before. After visiting a mamba, he learns that the carrying the Loa is a curse which will slowly consume him. Meanwhile, the remaining Abettors have come to believe that Jack is unsuitable for the role of Shadowman and plot to kill him in order to transfer the Loa to another in the Boniface line, and another rogue Loa is on the loose in New Orleans.
Given that until now there has been no real characterization Shadowman cast, it’s a pleasant surprise to see an entire trade more or less devoted to almost nothing but characterization (to the point where the battle between Tremble and Shadowman in the final issue felt like it had been tacked on). Ironically enough, Jack is still rather bland, but the Loa is incredibly well-defined, and their struggle represents one of the most compelling aspects of this trade. I like that Milligan took the time to write a detailed backstory for the Loa, particularly in a way that casts the Loa as a curse rather than a blessing (and not in the way that, say, Spider-Man’s powers are a curse; this is an actual curse with the potential to consume its host). This gives the dynamic between Jack and the Loa something like that between Kevin Costner and William Hurt in Mr. Brooks, in which a community pillar struggles with his serial killer alter-ego. Due to this, casting both the Loa and the Abettors as the primary antagonists of this volume makes for an interesting story, even if the plot itself isn’t particularly remarkable. To his credit, in addition to the Loa’s history, Milligan has also littered Fear, Blood, and Shadows with potential story hooks for future volumes, indicating that the series finally has a long-term direction in place.
While most of the characterization is strong, the sudden romance between Jack and Alyssa felt forced. It’s left ambiguous whether Jack, at this point, reciprocates Alyssa’s feelings, but, prior to her indication that she does harbor feelings for him, there was no sense of this present in their interactions. Thus, the whole thing comes off as telling rather than showing, and it’s one instances of Milligan displaying a weakness in writing fundamentals. On the other hand, he ought to be applauded for his ability to create atmosphere–a vital component of any horror comic–and his dialogue. In previous trades exposition was dumped on the reader in the guise of dialogue, but here we are given information in a way that feels natural and organic.
In spite of these positives, there’s something missing from the fourth volume, something which I can’t place my finger on. Although the book itself is fairly interesting, I wasn’t able to connect with this story in the same way that I am able to for every other Valiant title. I’d be interested to hear if other readers have had a similar experience.
After needing a small army of pencilers and inkers to draw the previous two trades, it’s refreshing to see Roberto De La Torre draw almost the entire issue (Al Barrionueva and Brian Level assist on half of #15). His style uses softer lines in order to present the reader with blurrier images. It’s an approach that is perfectly suited to a traditional horror story such as this. He’s aided immensely by fantastic coloring from David Baron, who often colors panels in a single shade to represent a mood or strong current of emotion. Unlike in previous volumes where it seemed like the writer and the art team weren’t on the same page, the collaboration between the entire creative team is readily apparent. There were panels that where it wasn’t entirely clear what was happening at first glance, but things become more apparent with a more careful second read. It’s a flaw in the art, but a minor one.
Although this is a massive step forward for the title, there are still flaws. More importantly, although the writing is strong from a technical standpoint, there appears to some intangible that’s missing; while I did admire Milligan’s skill, I was unable to really become invested in the story. Four stars is probably too high a rating for Fear, Blood, and Shadows, but the book is also much closer to being a four star-book than a three-star one.
Originally from ValiantCentral.com