Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ugly American - Shadowman # 13 review!

Shadowman # 13
Script: Peter Milligan
Art: Roberto De La Torre

I was fully prepared to bail on Shadowman after issue # 12. Then I got the next Previews and discovered that Peter Milligan was taking the reins. Well, crap. Milligan always gets my attention because of the inspired work he did in the 90s on Shade, The Changing Man. That's some of my favorite stuff of all time, and the idea of him turning Shadowman into Valiant's own little Vertigo title seemed like a welcome change.

And that's pretty much exactly what Milligan has accomplished here; he's transformed Shadowman from a polished action book to a grimy horror book about tainted souls. The previous 12 issues of Shadowman weren't bad, mind you, but neither did they connect with me. That particular Jack Boniface was kind of a pretty boy, a little smarmy, and things lined up a little too easily for him. He didn't do a damn thing to earn his power, it was just there for him. Matter of fact, he claimed the Shadowman loa by throwing his mother's protective trinket in the drink during a petulant little rage.

It's not exactly a hall-of-fame origin story. "How'd you become Shadowman? Apprentice for years under a Houngan with an attitude, who made you sacrifice everything to hone your discipline?"

"Nah, it was in the bloodline. I threw a tamper tantrum, and when my necklace came off the spirit took me over. I have no idea what the hell I'm doing at any point, but what I lack in competence I more than make up for in omnipotent supernatural power."

"Huh, sounds great. Sort of. Actually, kind of lame. Good luck with the undeserved might bailing out your utter absence of aptitude."

So once the Shadowman loa hit Jack, he instantly became an object of attraction for all kinds of nasties, who wanted to use his power for their own infernal purposes. There was also The Abettors, the obligatory good guys who want to use the darkness to fight for the light, blah blah blah read it a million times.

Dox was the smart ass mentor, and Alyssa was the dream girl landing in his lap, and of course she was single, and of course their adventures were going to bring them together, and it was just entirely too neat and tidy and Deus Ex Machina-laden. If Jack Boniface ever hit a rough patch, either his possessing spirit or his new-found guardians would just bail him out. While the execution was perfectly clean, I just wasn't into it.

Enter one Peter Milligan. The first thing he did was wipe that little car-salesman smile off of Jack's face and turn him into a psychological wild card. He wakes up in alleys with bodies next to him and blood everywhere. If he strains really hard, he can kinda remember killing all sorts of people, and he started young. Sometimes he hears things that shouldn't be talking.

Because of that little swerve, The Abettors now have an entirely different relationship with Jack. He might just be shit nuts...he's definitely not ready to handle the Shadowman loa. As far as The Abettors are concerned, that's a death sentence for our former pretty boy. And that's infinitely more interesting to me.

I like the fact that we don't quite know whether we should be rooting for Jack or not. I like the idea that Jack doesn't really have any friends any more, except perhaps Alyssa, and that relationship is also made significantly more interesting to me now that there are obstacles in the way. I like the fact that Milligan makes it absolutely explicit that the Shadowman loa is not a nice thing. It's such an asshole that even the other voodoo spirits couldn't deal with it. It's not friendly with Jack, or anything else. It's not there to help. Yes! Give me that!

In fact, the whole engine behind Shadowman # 13 is that Jack just wants the damn thing out because it's mean, and it makes powerful people want to kill him. Alyssa tips him off about a punk mambo, at which point we really kick up the Vertigo flavor a notch and Milligan gives us a punk Mambo, which is all the Hellblazer you could ever ask for.

I think if the Bunnies ever found this book, they'd be really pissed about the fact Milligan appropriated a white Londoner for his Haitian priestess. I thought it was fresh, unexpected, welcome, and entirely respectful. That character isn't shitting on the culture, she liked it so much she dove right in and made it her own. If you really wanted an inclusive world, that's what it would look like - punk chicks from England practicing hoodoo.

I don't think the Fuzzies would tolerate Milligan ret-conning Boniface into a guy with a history of violence, either. They would call it perpetuating the stereotype of the Angry Black Male. I call it Potentially Making the Story Interesting. I don't think we'll know until much further down the road whether Jack really is violent at his core or not, because we can't really trust his memories, and we don't know how much of that violence that may or may not be happening is due to the Shadowman loa. So I would advise the Bunnies to relax, but they're not very good at that, and they also don't listen to me.

I'll tell you where the new Shadowman really won me over, though. In order to perform the separation ritual, the punk mambo requires a human skull. Can't be too rotten, can't bee too new. So he goes to a graveyard and digs until he finds a skull that seems just about right.

At that point, a couple of good ol' boys from Louisiana with shotguns start firing at him. Now, this is where 99/100 comic book writers will take out their propaganda pen and start putting racial slurs in the character's mouths. How else are you going to break your scapula patting yourself on the back over how not-racist you are?

But that's not what happens here at all. These particular rednecky types are just pissed that somebody is making off with their skulls, but then resign themselves to the loss because the one Boniface made off with wasn't really one of the "purdy ones".

He doesn't say so explicitly, but the implication is that these guys are raising up the graveyard material for their own sexual gratification. They aren't racists per se, they're just irritated that somebody might be interfering with their primo masturbatory aids. Now that's a story, and that's how you put some meat on the bones of your story while giving the audience a little credit.

On the way through the swamp, some aboriginal looking dude silently points him in the right direction. No words, no introduction, no clue if that guy even actually exists. He could just be in Jack's head. It's just creepy, and atmospheric.

Speaking of atmosphere, I think the Roberto De La Torre art is a step in the right direction. Gone are the clean lines, in are the scratchy Bill Sienkiewiczy lines. Or maybe they're the Ghost Ridery Texeira lines. Either way, I'm into it. This is not a superhero book any more. This is a Vertigo horror book, brought to you by the fine folks at Valiant.

If you still haven't looked in the direction of Valiant yet, you're making an error. I recommend anybody trying any and all of their titles, because there hasn't been a low-quality offering from the new Valiant yet. In particular, I'm enjoying Harbinger, Bloodshot, and now I'm totally engaged with Shadowman. If you like your comics dark and smart, this is your new favorite toy. If you were a fan of the vintage Vertigo books like Shade, Swamp Thing, and Hellblazer, this was absolutely born to love you.

Shadowman. It's new. It's different. Now is the time to get into it!

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