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February 24, 2011 9:36 PM   Subscribe

“Rac Shade was born on Meta, an other-dimensional world that is linked to Earth by several junctures known on Meta as the “Unseen Ways”. Metan priests and doctors decided that young Shade was overly emotional and had him subjected to the Metan “confirmation” process, wherein a “holy surgeon” operated on Shade’s brain with the “sacred laser”.” (I'm surprised they didn't use a Cat-Scan or a Markov Chain.) An entry from "DC Who's Who", a tumblr blog of scans from the 1990-1992 "Who's Who in the DC Universe" and NOT including any influential American bureaucrats or lobbyists (NOT THAT DC) or any Scottish Australian rockers (NOT THAT AC/DC). More on "Shade the Changing Man" and other characters from his book: Kathy George and American Scream.
posted by oneswellfoop (36 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
MeFi's own MightyGodKing has been running a Thursday Who's Who on his blog for ages.

I keep meaning to get into Shade the Changing Man, since I'm a big Vertigo fan. think i almost bought a bunch of issues at bookstore. worth reading?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:42 PM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, MightyGodKing. Without you, I would have never learned of the gloriousness that is VIKING COMMANDO.
posted by KChasm at 9:54 PM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lovecraft in Brooklyn:
The problem is that Shade the Changing Man is not collected in trades except for the first 6 issues or so. I think it's a fantastic series, including a second person issue (all the little yellow boxes describe what you see), but to get the entire thing you either need to scour comic stores or torrent the thing and then buy other Peter Milligan products as penance. I own lots of X-Statics trade paperbacks because of this.

Shade the Changing Man was one of the unrecognized great comics of its time.
posted by Hactar at 10:16 PM on February 24, 2011


oh. so when i saw those issues in the bookstores, i should have just bought them?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:17 PM on February 24, 2011


I recently took out two volumes of "Shade" from my local library. At least 18 or so issues are collected therein. That being said, the series lost me after about seven issues. I got the impression that it was just trying to be weird for weird's sake.
posted by TDavis at 10:23 PM on February 24, 2011


The problem is that Shade the Changing Man is not collected in trades except for the first 6 issues or so. I think it's a fantastic series, including a second person issue (all the little yellow boxes describe what you see), but to get the entire thing you either need to scour comic stores or torrent the thing and then buy other Peter Milligan products as penance. I own lots of X-Statics trade paperbacks because of this.

Well, here's your route to legally owning the three 2009/2010 reissue TPBs, which cover the first 19 issues:

The American Scream

Edge of Vision

Scream Time

Lovecraft, if you're already reading Hellblazer, catch up to the Denise Mina and Andy Diggle runs, then go to the Peter Milligan run-- Shade is integral to a good chunk of John's misadventures with marriage.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:36 PM on February 24, 2011


A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the MetaTalk knows. To begin your study of the life of Moderator, then take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Gawking Emperor, Reddit IV. And take the most special care that you locate Moderator in his place: the Metafilter. Do not be deceived by the fact that he was born on IRC and lived his first five years there. Metafilter the place known as Talk, is forever his place.
posted by The Whelk at 10:49 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I totally thought this was going to be a LOLCRAZY post for a minute. Will check out Shade.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:42 PM on February 24, 2011


I just wanted to point out the tumblr blog and its interesting collection with many obscure DC Comics characters, and when I saw it refer to an alien world named "Meta" I just had to play with it. I had no idea that Shade was so interesting that... well, now I'm interested in seeing the original comic...
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:07 AM on February 25, 2011


I got the impression that it was just trying to be weird for weird's sake.

Well, yeah, it was, but the creators came up with a pretty good back-story for why things were weird. Also remember that it was a heady time for creators over at Vertigo. They pretty much had carte blanche, and they reveled in it.
posted by lekvar at 12:40 AM on February 25, 2011


Stick with Shade (probably my favourite comic series) It gets REALLY good after the point that the trade paperbacks have got up to. If memory serves the first storyline (The American Scream) was supposed to be a mini-series, but they decided to keep it as an ongoing). The next section of the story (On the road?) is excellent, and then it just gets better. 'Til 50. Which is the greatest comic that can ever be written (if you've been following the series). 51 til the end is also better than most comics out there, but after the greatness of 50, it feels lower quality.
posted by couch at 12:56 AM on February 25, 2011


I quite liked the way 51 on felt like a reboot of a TV show - giving Shade a new look and a new cast of supporting characters, even down to the whacky foreign neighbour - although, like a TV show being rebooted, it was also the blazing arrow in the sky pointing towards cancellation. "Nasty Infections" might be my favourite arc, though - especially with Richard Case's lovely, Marc Hempel-ish art.
posted by DNye at 5:02 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that my fellow comics nerds haven't pointed out that Shade was created by Steve Ditko (pic of the Ditko version here) and that Milligan's version is heavily revised and has almost no resemblance to the original.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:28 AM on February 25, 2011


For further nerdery, Shade talks about the "Deetkovian mythology" of his home planet - meanwhile, the Ditko Shade had reappeared in Ostrander's [i]Suicide Squad[/i], up until a few months before the Vertigo run started, so these two characters were if not quite going head to head certainly both being worked on in different sections of DC at the same time. I think there's more resemblance than is immediately apparent, but that's heading into spoilery territory.
posted by DNye at 5:52 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gah! Cursed UBB code.
posted by DNye at 5:52 AM on February 25, 2011


One thing that's wonderful about Shade is that it's part of what you could call the grotesque turn of Vertigo: while Gaiman was twee and faux-Victorian and Morrison was Mondo 2000, Milligan and John Smith on Scarab were weirder, grosser, more hybridic, more David Lynch. For example, Enigma ends right before the final confrontation, the climatic battle scene that's usually the point of most comics; it also includes talking lizards, envelope lady, and a man who kills you by rearranging your furniture. Here's the Milligan thread on I Love Comics.

Re Hellblazer - I thought the Mina and Diggle runs were really awful and even Milligan's run started off being sort of generic, subtext-light, characterization-free Hellblazer.
posted by johnasdf at 6:03 AM on February 25, 2011


What do people think of Human Target? I couldn't really get into it.
posted by johnasdf at 6:04 AM on February 25, 2011


A character that looks like Shade the Changing Man also appears in Planetary #7 at "Jack Carter's" funeral.

holy shit, here I am dropping comic knowledge on the net
posted by Ad hominem at 6:33 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You'd want up to get the end of the Hotel Shade stories, some of the best stuff Milligan has ever done. After that, well, it's a good jumping off point really.

Shade turned up recently in Hellblazer, BTW, returning an early crossover where Constantine turned up in Shade. It wasn't a particularly amazing story but it was nice to see him.
posted by Artw at 6:59 AM on February 25, 2011


I've been reading Hellblazer, I'm up to issue 30ish, so I got a couple to go.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:47 AM on February 25, 2011


Shade is really one of the reasons to watch ebay and the like for auctions. I picked up a near-complete run about five years ago.
posted by mikeh at 8:09 AM on February 25, 2011


I really enjoyed the latter parts of Shade, and always had the impression that the new supporting cast was supposed to feel a little second banana because it's all about Shade getting older and contemplating mortality (the library with every book never written is a haunting image, isn't it?) and learning to accept real adult responsibilities. The people around him in this stage in his life are disappointing, through no real fault of their own--they just don't connect the way Shade-Kathy-Lenny did. The bits where Shade does encounter the stronger characters from his past are more poignant for having learned to live with all those other people.

I like the ending a lot, too.

Shade is one of those things I have a total obsession for, but am never really prepared to have a coherent conversation about because no one has freaking read it, ever. What I really enjoyed about it, though, was the way it's essentially just a coming of age or bildungsroman story, except that the protagonist's subjective emotional experiences are projected onto the objective world. At its heart, Shade is a book about a crazy, impulsive young man prone to daydreams, fantasy and romance who meets a crazy young woman, falls in love, falls into a routine, falls out of love, becomes bitter and misanthropic for a time, then grows up, moves on with his life, learns to live with his own mistakes and shortcomings and eventually decides to reach out to the one person in his life he really connected with again. That's all. The absurdism, surrealism and sci-fi are just a different kind of way of showing us where Shade is in his life. A unique way of shading an otherwise commonplace life.
posted by byanyothername at 8:10 AM on February 25, 2011


DC is strongly hinting that Shade will make an appearance in this summers comics 'Event' - Flashsomething (I forget). Which means I'll probably have to get it. (Its got Booster Gold as well, so that pretty much nails my spending money on it).

I was always disappointed that the promised mini-series (which Vertigo always promised when cancelling a book) never happened. I miss old Vertigo.
posted by couch at 8:21 AM on February 25, 2011


oh, Shade! the Hotel Shade stories are some of my favourite comics ever. description cannot do justice to the bubbling crazy that is this comic, but the series as a whole kind of breaks down into three acts: the American Scream is act one, then there is an interlude (in which Shade dies, and it takes him a while to notice), then act two is the greatness that is Hotel Shade: in which Shade is reincarnated by angels and put in charge of a hotel that he does not want to be put in charge of and an awful lot of weird things happen. it ends badly, of course, because Shade is a screaming lunatic through all of this and it is so fucking great, and then act three involves a more lucid and less fun Shade trying to set things right by going back in time and making sure that none of this ever happened.

I don't think that Milligan is a good serial comics writer. I've like his work on miniseries much more than on ongoing titles, with Hotel Shade being the exception. though even with that said, I wish the bastards in charge of DC hadn't cancelled The Minx after eight issues. it was just getting good.

(the other amazingly great thing from his Vertigo years is The Enigma, which is available as a trade paperback; so download Shade and buy The Enigma to say you're sorry.)
posted by spindle at 8:24 AM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that I may now end up doing all sort of nostalgic googling today. this is a very nice piece on Shade.
posted by spindle at 8:27 AM on February 25, 2011


(oh, wait -- there's kind of an interlude between acts two and three too, with Shade as a heartless bastard, and I seem to have forgotten about it. I may need to revisit my pile of comic books soon. it had the Mad Mod Poet God issue. I really liked that issue.)
posted by spindle at 8:32 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


(oh, wait -- there's kind of an interlude between acts two and three too, with Shade as a heartless bastard, and I seem to have forgotten about it. I may need to revisit my pile of comic books soon. it had the Mad Mod Poet God issue. I really liked that issue.)

It's still more or less Act Three; Shade is dealing with the emotional fallout from the Hotel Shade fiasco by living in numb denial, before realizing he'll have to inevitably face his trauma and move on with his life.

I've been waiting to say that for so many years.
posted by byanyothername at 8:44 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's still more or less Act Three; Shade is dealing with the emotional fallout from the Hotel Shade fiasco by living in numb denial, before realizing he'll have to inevitably face his trauma and move on with his life.

hmm. if you mark the break between the acts in terms of plot, then the fiasco (oh, the dancing round and round the spoiler without ever touching it!) is it and the fallout is act three for sure.

but because plot is so secondary a thing in Shade, I'd rather mark the shifts in terms of his radically changing personality -- act one is the mopy poet, act two the raging lunatic and act three the reflective penitent. which is, I think, the kind of reading encouraged by the bit about the importance of Shade's hairstyles. and the beginning of the plot act three is very much still in the spirit of the act two raging lunacy, even though, as you say, it has everything to do with being a precursor to the reflective work of act three. hence my thinking of it as a transitional interlude.

I've been waiting to say that for so many years.
me too.

posted by spindle at 9:29 AM on February 25, 2011


oh. so when i saw those issues in the bookstores, i should have just bought them?

Well yeah, but you weren't supposed to actually read them. You were supposed to without opening them, carefully triple bag your comics in acid-free comic bags, and then store them in a temperature and humidity controlled vault, to be sold when the price for the special foil-embossed cover editions hit four figures. That's why so many of the comic speculators from that time are millionaires; next to that profit potential, who cares what's actually between the covers?
posted by happyroach at 9:53 AM on February 25, 2011


but because plot is so secondary a thing in Shade, I'd rather mark the shifts in terms of his radically changing personality -- act one is the mopy poet, act two the raging lunatic and act three the reflective penitent.

If you do it this way, then there are several interludes (including the awesome in concept but disappointing in actuality Shade, the Changing Woman section that I'd completely forgotten about until just now), which I think works gracefully, too. Shade was always more about the fluctuations in life than any specific direction, so there are lots of ways of looking at it.

Shade's hairstyles

Oh gosh I completely forgot to comment on the fashion! No doubt a huge part of why I'll defend Act Three, however you slice it, is Shade's being a crimson haired mod with the single most amazing jacket I have ever seen (f'reelsies). Each incarnation of Shade is attractive in its own way, but the Mad Mod Poet God is something special.

Also, now that I think about it, Shade's look almost comes full circle, doesn't it? His jacket is shorter and the color is gone, he's obviously older, but the fiery Byronic tangles return, albeit with a more haunted look.

Full disclosure: Shade's various "looks" were an embarrassingly huge part of why I read the series.

Also also, if I happen to adore Shade but have never read anything else by Peter Milligan and generally refuse to touch anything with superheroes on principle, what else is good? Enigma seemed readworthy, but I could never find a copy in the pre-Amazon days when we ventured forth in search of books and I'm not sure how I'd respond to anything similar now, as an adult... Was there anything else?
posted by byanyothername at 11:51 AM on February 25, 2011


while Gaiman was twee and faux-Victorian

Oh, that's so spectacularly dismissive I can't let it slide. Sandman started and often maintained it's tone as a fantastic horror comic. The initial storyline culminates in a horrific bloodbath of self-annihilation at the controlling hands of a lunatic, after a journey through hell and a surreal addiction to the ultimate narcotic. The later storylines in the series vary in tone somewhat, but the lurking horror of nightmare is a recurrent and often brutally unsettling theme. Summing the series up as 'twee', i think, comes more from judging the fans of the mid-nineties than from the work itself.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:16 PM on February 25, 2011




If you do it this way, then there are several interludes (including the awesome in concept but disappointing in actuality Shade, the Changing Woman section that I'd completely forgotten about until just now), which I think works gracefully, too. Shade was always more about the fluctuations in life than any specific direction, so there are lots of ways of looking at it.

what I really, really loved about Shade was what happened after Milligan got the opening story arc out of the way (which I think in the end was just there to introduce everybody and get things moving), how after that the story just wanders aimlessly around in this perpetual escalation of weird stuff and then more weird stuff happening. I think that's what the book is, for me: it's about the consequences of all of that happening, how it sticks, how it shapes a person, how you become what happens to you. no matter how unbelievable it is you can't help but be swept up in it.

I especially liked the one-off story from fairly early in the series that had Shade trapped in a parallel universe and replaced by an exact duplicate of himself. and the original Shade is killed at the end of the issue and that was that, no harm done, on to something else happening.

...but the Mad Mod Poet God is something special.

the issue with the MMPG on the cover was the first issue I bought, if I remember right. (I might not, it makes too much sense to have actually happened.) I discovered Vertigo in a flea market in my hometown, oh so many years ago, and Shade comics were always my most treasured finds. mostly because of how very cool that jacket is, which I admit without shame. and I read them piecemeal, in the order I found them, and didn't read the whole of it until just a few years ago when I found a fantastic comic shop down the road from my new apartment in a new city.

Also, now that I think about it, Shade's look almost comes full circle, doesn't it? His jacket is shorter and the color is gone, he's obviously older, but the fiery Byronic tangles return, albeit with a more haunted look.

in-world, if I remember right, first and third act Shade are Shade with his heart, and act two Shade is as far gone as he is because first the angels stole the thing, and then he decided that life would be better off without it, and then Lenny forces it back into him and that leads to the return of the Byronic tangling. full circle. but I secretly suspect that it only happened because the book was about to come to its end and somebody thought it would be a good idea to wind things up and for there to be some sort of closure. because of this I will never, ever forgive act three Shade. how dare he bow to the cruel whims of the marketing department like that! he could fight off the angels, why not the suits too!?


Also also, if I happen to adore Shade but have never read anything else by Peter Milligan and generally refuse to touch anything with superheroes on principle, what else is good? Enigma seemed readworthy, but I could never find a copy in the pre-Amazon days when we ventured forth in search of books and I'm not sure how I'd respond to anything similar now, as an adult... Was there anything else?

The Enigma is absolutely brilliant and in a very Shade sort of way, I cannot recommend it enough, even if a comic book about superheroes figures prominently in it. Girl and Face are also brilliant and well worth getting, though they're not as much like Shade. all are miniseries or one-shots (8, 3 and 1 issues of each, respectively, if I remember right) and The Enigma is available in trade paper. and if you can find it, he started another monthly series after Shade called The Minx that would have been even more awesome than Shade had it not been cancelled after a mere eight issues.

Grant Morrison's Vertigo work is also worth reading -- he's as weird as Milligan, but not as sensitive, if that makes sense. there's also a neat connection between the two: Morrison's first job at DC was writing for Animal Man and Milligan took the title over after him. Morrison's magnum opus is The Invisibles, his Kid Eternity and Filth miniseries are well worth tracking down, as is his work on Doom Patrol. (do not be dissuaded that Doom Patrol claims to be about a team of superheroes. it's really not.)
posted by spindle at 1:34 PM on February 25, 2011


I don't think that Milligan is a good serial comics writer.

Hmm... I would disagree there, but since Shade 50 I would say his work has been of variable quality - I loved the Human Target GNs, for instance, but didn't much care for the series.And there’s been long stretches where he’s not been doing much comics work at all – I think film and television has been luring him away, but without much in the way of significant results. He seems pretty on form with Hellblazer though. X-Force/X-Statix was phenomenal, but died from horrid corporate neglect.

Also, you guys, holy shit, check this thing out:

The Complete Bad Company

That's the strip that got me reading 2000ad right there, and one of the best things they've ever run. Milligan at his utter best, tons of mad ideas and Brett Ewins and Brendan McCarthy doing some of their best art. Cheap too. If you're at all interested in Milligan you should pick that thing up.
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on February 25, 2011


Hmm... I would disagree there, but since Shade 50 I would say his work has been of variable quality - I loved the Human Target GNs, for instance, but didn't much care for the series.And there’s been long stretches where he’s not been doing much comics work at all – I think film and television has been luring him away, but without much in the way of significant results. He seems pretty on form with Hellblazer though. X-Force/X-Statix was phenomenal, but died from horrid corporate neglect.

really? I love Shade, but even I have to admit that the quality of the writing was all over the place, even before #50. brilliant moments and character work, but not so much in terms of over-arching structure. in contrast, the mini-series that he did for Vertigo were spectacularly well-written -- both intricately and tightly plotted and with a focus completely missing from his work on ongoing series (which is what I meant by 'serial comics', sorry if I am making words up). it's sort of like the constraint of working with a definite end in mind does wonders for him.

though in saying that, I have to admit that I am not as familiar with his recent work or his work on mainstream titles. I've read his take on The Human Target (and like you, I thought the two mini-series were better put together than the ongoing series), but not as many times as his earlier Vertigo work, and I never got into X-Force/X-Statix beyond the first trade paper so I can't comment on that. I have not been into comics so much recently.
posted by spindle at 2:21 PM on February 25, 2011


to elaborate a bit on what I mean by over-arching structure: Sandman and Preacher, which I single out because they were roughly contemporary to Shade, had really well worked out story lines that held those series together from beginning to end. they read as a single story worked out over the course of the whole series. The Invisibles did too, though that series was incoherent in so many other ways. Shade didn't. and in a lot of ways Shade was brilliant because it didn't, but I always had the feeling that storyteling on that scale was not Milligan's strong suite -- and, like with Shade, there's a way that that contributes to what makes him so very good, but it also means that his longer work is clunky in a way that his contemporaries' -- I have Gaiman, Morrison, Ennis, Ellis and Moore in mind -- work isn't.
posted by spindle at 4:06 PM on February 25, 2011


to elaborate a bit on what I mean by over-arching structure: Sandman and Preacher, which I single out because they were roughly contemporary to Shade, had really well worked out story lines that held those series together from beginning to end. they read as a single story worked out over the course of the whole series. The Invisibles did too, though that series was incoherent in so many other ways. Shade didn't. and in a lot of ways Shade was brilliant because it didn't, but I always had the feeling that storyteling on that scale was not Milligan's strong suite -- and, like with Shade, there's a way that that contributes to what makes him so very good, but it also means that his longer work is clunky in a way that his contemporaries' -- I have Gaiman, Morrison, Ennis, Ellis and Moore in mind -- work isn't.

I can't find it right now, but I remember at least a decade ago reading an interview with Milligan where he seemed genuinely thrown by the idea that an ongoing series should build to an ending. As far as he was concerned, a series ended when the publisher canceled it. This, of course, is completely anathema to the way that Vertigo (and many creator-owned comics) came to work, particularly after The Sandman's ending; it's really much more like television in its outlook. But Peter Milligan never had the popularity of Gaiman or Morrison, and can I think be forgiven a more pragmatic take on working in comics (especially since this is the take just about everyone working on corporate comics had until about the mid-'90s) -- what were the odds that he'd be given another seventy-issue run on anything, you know? And indeed he never has been. So I can forgive him for staying well past its sell-by date with a book that was probably doing a whole lot to keep his lights on. Even though I think we can all agree that Shade really ended in #50.

That said -- and I know I've given a long version of this treatise here before so I'll skip that this time, but -- I think The Sandman, The Invisibles and Preacher were all pretty messy in their second halves, and if anything showed that none of them had overarching storylines that were well worked out in advance at all. Although this sounds like a damning criticism, it's really less a reflection on the creators than it is a statement about how basically impossible it is for someone to embark on a years-long creative project with what amounts to a thesis statement that they intend to pay off six or seven years later. (The only comics creator I can think of who spent a decade working on a project that reads seamlessly when taken from beginning to end is Charles Burns, with Black Hole -- and even there, Burns was probably helped by the comparatively limited scope of his series. ...And even there, AVOIDING SPOILERS FOR BLACK HOLE WHICH EVERYBODY SHOULD READ OKAY, it seems likely at least to this reader that the solution to one of the book's central mysteries occurred to Burns late in the game. If you've read it, you probably know what I mean.) Anyhow: I think 40 issues is about the max for any creator on any series. And really, Milligan had at least ten solid issues past that, so hey.

PS: Hotel Shade is about a year and a half of my favorite comics. Happy to see this here.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:03 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


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