"The Shade" #3 is another winner from James Robinson and Cully Hamner, but more importantly it's a pleasant reminder on what made the "Starman" series so fun back in the day.
The new issue shifts the location to Australia, and at this point I figured we'd be seeing a lot of clichés associated with Australia. And while yes, the Dreamtime and the idea of the Aboriginal deities are in this comic, it's a lot of the little deviations away from those tired ideas that made this issue stand out.
Unlike most stories set in Australia, Robinson has clearly done his research. He knows that different Aboriginal tribes exist and that they're not all homogenous, something that becomes a minor plot point early on. And when the Shade himself travels from Sydney to Alice Springs and then the Outback, we end up with an encounter that avoids a lot of the obvious ideas involving the Dreamtime. Robinson instead writes a clever and beautiful solution to the Shade's encounter with Mangar-Kunjer-Kunja, one that recognizes both the setting that the story is written as well as the Shade's past.
Both of those are, after all, hallmarks of the old "Starman" series. The past is critical to "The Shade," and Robinson shows a great respect to the characters and where they've been, something that's just as important as where they're going. The two are tied closely together in his plots, and while the Shade might be a "good guy" these days, his dark earlier years are not ignored here. And of course, while Opal City was a big character in "Starman," the other locations the book went to also were equally fleshed out. We might be in real-world cities and towns here, but Robinson does his best to make them come to life as well.
This is Hamner's final issue of "The Shade" and I'll be sorry to see him go, even as other great artists wait in the wings. His sharp character designs are top-notch; Pemulwuy's crisp curls of hair moving along his scalp are fascinating to look at, and the Shade's beak-nose peeking out under his top hat is charming. And when we get to the climax between Mangar-Kunjer-Kunja and the Shade? Well, it wouldn't have been half as powerful without Hamner's amazing illustrations. It's a jaw-dropping, elegant moment and it's a reminder of why Hamner's an artist whose work in comics is to be celebrated.
We're a quarter of the way through "The Shade" now and I'm in love with this series as much as I was with "Starman" back in the day. We've still got great artists on deck (Darwyn Cooke for a "Times Past" story next month, and then Javier Pulido steps on board for #5-7) and Robinson is turning out some of his best scripts in a decade. This is a top-notch comic; if you haven't been reading it, now is a great time to catch up.