By Jody Houser, Rafer Roberts, Robert Gill, and Michael Spicer
4001 A.D.: Shadowman #1 is an excellent self-contained story that connects the mystical realm to the world of 4001.
Shadowman kicks off with a brief history of how the current state came into being. It’s an interesting tale that whets your appetite for more details. Like the X-O and Bloodshot companion pieces, the story features future incarnations of the title characters, so readers shouldn’t expect to see 21st century Jack Boniface’s Shadowman. What they do get is a surprisingly relatable loa, one with qualities that previous stories did not focus upon. The character is still awe-inspiring, and your first glimpse of the loa is quietly powerful. Artist Robert Gill’s renditions radiate such power that even in moments of stillness, the loa gives you reason to pause.
Writers Jody Houser and Rafer Roberts teamed up for this tale. Told from the perspective of a new but extremely likeable protagonist, the story features timeless qualities such as the lust for power and political manipulation. These qualities ring true today though the resources contested over may differ. They’ve done a good job setting the stage and defining the characters. This, coupled with Gill’s animated character depictions make for rich characters, particularly the villain of the piece. Gill’s work on his facial expressions are perfection. You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of the physical embodiment of “scheming.”
Roberts and Houser build the conflict of the story upon a history that occurred centuries before, linking the Deadside to Earth. The backstory is intriguing and one that fans will love to see them expand upon. The current 4001 setting explores the tenuous relationship further, acknowledging the effect that New Japan has had upon the world by forcing surprising alliances and codependences.
History is written by victors, and the perspective often skewed. The story compels readers to wonder about the centuries-old conflict told of in history and the reasons behind what took place. There are a few subtle lines that should tip readers off about just who actually needs protection. More importantly, the story also challenges what we know of the Deadside and its inhabitants, including our knowledge of the Shadowman loa.
Culturally, many loa have traditionally been syncretized with saints and vice versa, and their purpose is to protect. Houser and Roberts keep this in mind as the current Shadowman is not plagued with the random violence seen in the past but still is willing to deal out a swift justice.
Additionally noteworthy is the amount of thought that the team put into this book. For instance, the implications of the names of the cities, “Gethesemane” and “Sanctuary.” Think about what these names mean: historically Gethesemane can be viewed as a location of betrayal and sacrifice, whereas Sanctuary would imply both sacred and haven. These are easy details to overlook in the eagerness of reading the story, but a closer reading reveals important tells such as these.
Visually, artist Robert Gill and colorist Mike Spicer bring the realm of the living and dead in 4001 “to life.” Gill continues to outdo himself each time out. His characterizations are his strong point. There is never any doubt as to what his characters are feeling and thinking. As mentioned before, his depiction of a political leader’s gestures and movements is so spot on, readers can practically feel the spittle fly off the page during his rabid speech. Spicer’s colors are a good complement. His palette is subdued yet natural, making even the fantastical magic scenes seem grounded.
4001 A.D.: Shadowman #1 is a satisfying read with a surprise for fans at the end, giving the story potential for both a strong prequel and sequel. It is a good companion to the event series and challenges readers to question the definition of “monster.”