Retro Comic Review: Valiant Masters: Shadowman Vol. 1

This book collects Shadowman #0-7 from Valiant Comics’ 1992 run and some character info from Darque Passages #1.

Shadowman is an interesting comic. It has a hero in New Orleans, in the Bayou, dealing with the swamp, the nightlife of the city. He’s definitely of that “dark vigilante” bent that came out of Frank Miller’s Batman and Daredevil in the 80s, which has almost become a cliché as we’ve seen every hero go through that phase. I do have to remind that this is from 1992, when these ideas still were fresh to the market, and the changing superhero dynamics show as the character settles into who and what Shadowman is over these issues.

I picked this up because I was so impressed with Valiant’s recent release of X-O Manowar #1 that I wanted to learn about the Valiant comic universe more. When I was a kid, I missed this as my allowance only stretched so far for comic books, and by the time I got older, Valiant comics were out of production. They came back again in 2012 but just crossed my radar recently. Dom over at Heroes and Villains Comics in Pleasanton recommended the new Shadowman from the rebooted 2012 universe, and I wanted to get a sense for who the character was in the beginning.

The book has an array of writers and artists even over the first 7 issues, many co-writing with Jim Shooter, of whom I am a pretty big fan of his Marvel work. It seems like Bob Hall settled in as the regular series writer toward the end (I haven’t researched enough to confirm), and he has a great track record as well.

The book follows Jack Boniface, who is a jazz saxiphone player at a nightclub by trade (a cool profession) who has some strange woman seduce him, and finds himself drugged and thrown into this strange world of shadows. By coincidence or design, when he flees her apartment, he finds a mask which gives him strange powers at night, turning him into Shadowman. The powers and what they do are a bit undeveloped in the first arc here, which we learn a bit more about in the #0 issue and in the summaries at the end of this book, but it’s clear enough that he’s a vigilante with super-strength and speed and that mask sorta takes him over and has a consciousness all of its own.

The first couple stories are Shadowman beating up some baddies – child slave traders, drug dealers, that kind of thing. I sort of liked that we had that real world bent to it where it’s not a strange monster of the week, but he fights actual crime that we’d see.  Each issue does tell its own story, which is nice, and something we don’t get with modern comics. The dialogue, especially internal, can get a bit cheesy at places, definitely an older comic storytelling, but it didn’t throw me out of any of the stories.

What surprised me was the Unity crossover issues – which they flung this character into after only a couple of issues – actually intrigued me. I hate crossover events with the bigger companies, as they often make it very hard to follow what’s going on in the tie-in books. Shadowman here had his own story in the future, got involved, fell in love with this gal Elya in the future over a course of several months there, and then a couple issues later pops back out in the swamp to find that he ahd only been gone a few moments. For the next issue, he pines over Elya, and then I don’t see any more info about here again after that. I am not sure if that gets pursued later, but that would make for quite an excellent storyline in my opinion, having found love in the future and being willing to do anything to get her back. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s any other shadowman collected editions of those comics so I won’t get to find out if they did pursue it.  That was the most interesting storyline of the whole book, and it also gave this looming prophecy that Shadowman would be killed in 1999, which is interesting.

I mentioned Shadowman’s powers and history gets retroactively developed in later issues and the #0, where we meet this evil spirit-vampire-something dude Darque who has been plaguing humanity for ages. He has a sister who’s involved in the occult, and they appear to be pretty interesting characters and foils for Shadowman as well. With the end of the collection, we see their origin in a sense, but we don’t see how the character plays out for Shadowman and how important he is. Judging from the 2012 reboot, I’m guessing Darque played a big role in later comics as well.

The art is of varying quality, something I’d just say is “okay” for the early 90s, and wouldn’t be all that acceptable today. I know Steve Ditko did some work, which is nice, but a lot of the drawings look a little stiff and there’s too much of a grit-teeth factor for realistic faces and the like. I notice a lot of the action kinda happens “between panels” too like we’ll see Shadowman leaping, next panel the baddie is down. It takes away some of the tension because of that.

I also don’t know if the original colors were like this or if it’s just a bad scan – but the whole book comes off as a little grainy and not right. It’s still readable and legible, but definitely gives an appearance of lower quality than the outside jacket which looks awesome.

Overall, I enjoyed Shadowman, had fun with the book. I like the character and the world and I would read another collection if this if there was one, mostly to find out what the deal is with Elya from the future.   7/10 overall.

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