By Adam Christopher, Chuck Wendig, Drew Johnson, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Rachel Deering
Balancing the old with the new is often a tricky endeavor. Updating and rejuvenating, while still trying to hold true to the tenents of the original; finding the middle ground between the expressive or the familiar; finagling a tone somewhere between carefree adventure with the somber gravitas the Dark Circle line promises; it’s a tightrope walk that The Shield navigates deftly on feet that are clearly still trying to dig their heels into terra firma. There’s a lot thrown at the reader here and the creators manage to make virtually all of it feel enticing with a book that’ll induce “hell yeah”s and curious brow furrows. It’s early and there are some seemingly incongruent pieces, but if this debut has anything in spades, it’s promise. The Shield is back and it’s a refreshing offering of a classic character that likely holds little meaning or interest for the modern comic reader, but hints at the core elements of what it really means to be the sacrificing hero.
The strongest aspects of Christopher and Wendig’s script are the bread crumbs of a rich and diverse history that’s littered with mystery. Amazingly, with its barrage of ideas and information, it’s all paced beautifully and never once feels overwhelming. It teases so much, but manages to place you firmly in the mindset of Victoria at this particular moment in time and transitions from quiet moments of self-reflection to Run, Lola, Run intensity to familiar street level superhero-ing without a hiccup. One part Assassin’s Creed, one part Orphan Black, and a whole lot of honest to goodness ass-kicking heroine, the foundations are being laid for an eminently likeable and tragic central figure. Considering most of the issue dedicates itself to being inside her own head via captions, that’s a good thing. Victoria Adams is on a search for identity and it’s clear that means discovering both the truth about her past, as well as learning along with the reader what it means to be a soldier in the name of others. It’s far more Brubaker and Epting Captain America than it is Simon and Kirby Captain America, but it’s still striking a clever quiet chord somewhere between the two. This American hero works in the shadows and is herself in a shadow as to her own past and purpose, but there’s an immutable drive of morality that’s made clear. Perhaps that’s the tragedy or perhaps that’s the true glory of what her role will be and it obviously makes for a rich character.
The world she operates in isn’t black and white, that’s the grittier reality that Christopher and Jones are instilling, and the shades of grey are both literal and thematic, but there’s a crystal clear core waiting to be uncloaked. Figuring that out alongside Victoria is the fun part, as is just watching her absolute own anyone that finds themselves in her sights, but unfortunately its the opposition introduced here that completely upends that balance. Obviously, it’s just getting started and the larger picture of what genre’s are being mined here need not be spelled out, but the villain borders on mustache-twirling supernatural fiend to a degree that utterly pulls the reader out of the experience. He’s a radical tone shift that is so far in one direction that all of the ambiguity being played with loses impact. Perhaps it will become clearer, as it is only a two-page sequence that does this at these early stages, and a cohesive tone can be gelled together, but evaluating this issue on its own merits, it’s a discordant distraction. Luckily he’s counter balanced by the potential ally of the detective who’s given some great moments (“I’m gonna need you to punch me in the face”) and slight ambiguity in regards to her motives. Once the genres strike their balance, if they do, there’s a multitude of intriguing themes to explore.
Artist Drew Johnson does a lot of great things here, not the lest of which is blend a classic rending style with modern action sensibilities. The opening sequence is gorgeous and ends with an intense, instantly captivating splash page that features Victoria’s face rife with determination that speaks volumes. That’s how you introduce a new character! The aforementioned smooth pacing can largely be attributed to Johnson’s page layouts that ebb and flow with alternating angles and points of perspective with nary an unfinished or blank background to be found. It’s clear he’s having fun with the “big moments” but he keeps the talking head moments involving with good use blend of close-ups and subject-to-subject transitions that capture the environment as much as they progress the dialogue exchange. Victoria’s revolutionary garb is a particular highlight in the design department as well. Oddly, the inking choices appear to alter the line thickness sporadically, with some panels wonderfully balanced between finer detailed lines and thicker defining lines especially on figures, but those thicknessess vary at will which occasionally alters characters’ appearances. The graphic on Victoria’s sweatshirt was particularly distracting in how it goes from barely visible to plain as day. It’s certainly a nit that’s being picked there, but it’s reflective of a consistency issue that rears its head in these first thirty odd pages. On the whole, it’s a great clean style that balances action and ambiance and will likely have you eager to revisit more revolutionary era cloak and dagger theatrics.
With a steady hand uniting all the madness laid out is Kelly Fitzpatrick and her own well balanced palette of colors. What Fitzpatrick does best here might be the restraint she shows; there’s a ton of depth to individual elements, but it’s largely and smartly flat. It creates a wonderful aesthetic to pair with the hero out-of-time the book centers on and is most prevalent in the large memory-filled spreads, but she balances it with a smooth application to the modern scenes that blends a ton of colors with a very conscience eye towards light sources. It’s never overwrought, but every character has dimension that indicates movement and the blending gradients at play are exceptionally subtle, except when that’s the last thing they should be. The fierce texture of the flames behind Victoria and her target, the aged and dirtied coats, and perhaps most fun of all, the darkened rainy streets of modern D.C. that turn into a chromatic smorgasbord of highlights, are all great examples of enhancing the thematic mood and developing the practical setting. The only time it’s ever muddled is when the pages are cluttered with activity (the sequence of interrupting a home invasion in particular) that there’s so much happening the colors are competing without having a chance to breathe. If this issue is all about finding the unifying balance, it’s Fitzpatrick that shines brightest.
There’s a ton to enjoy in The Shield #1, not the least of which is the vigorous delving into defining the role of a soldier and the price of that responsibility. With a plethora of ideas and potential ideals introduced, there’s certainly room to find its footing, but it commands your attention almost immediately. Victoria Adams is a bold, refreshing take on a character lost to time and one who’s journey looks to be a hard-fought one to accompany her on. Lord knows she’ll be able to take it on with unfettered confidence. USA! USA! USA!