If you’re anything like me, outside of vague memories of a tangentially connected video game from N64 days, you’re fairly unfamiliar with Shadowman. Sure, you could probably pick him out on a promo poster for Valiant Comics, but his powers, motivations and basically anything else about the character remained a mystery.
As such, the series’ revival, written by Cullen Bunn with art by Jon Davis-Hunt (an artist I’ve fawned over considerably in the past) seemed like a great place to jump into the franchise. Bunn is a talented author with a good voice for character, and Davis-Hunt’s plotting of action sequences in The Wild Storm kept me hooked on that series for 24 issues, so on paper, this sounds like a team that can’t lose! And after reading the first issue of the new Shadowman series, they don’t lose….but they don’t really hit it out of the park, either.
Shadowman is Jack Boniface, New Orleans-based jazz musician by day, corpse-painted demon wrangler by night. His powers, though ill-defined in this issue, are granted to him by the Shadow Loa, a voodoo spirit that…actually, that too is a little vague. In fact, for the opening issue of the series, this issue definitely assumes a certain familiarity with the character and that can be pretty tricky for readers new to the character. Yes, the groundwork is laid for the latest adventure that Boniface finds himself in, but all we know of the character’s abilities are a magic scythe and the usual strength and speed of your average super person. I’m still not entirely clear what the character is capable of.
This wouldn’t be as glaring if the issue didn’t fall into so many familiar tropes of origin stories. The exposition of Baron Samedi’s lineage folding into a three panel TKO of a group of faceless guards all scream “introductory chapter”, and yet by the end of the issue all I know of Jack Boniface is that he’s a walking badass cliche with the ability to look like Larenz Tate in Dead Presidents.
I’m sad to say that I also have issues with some of Davis-Hunt’s artwork as well. If there was a word to describe this issue, it would be abrupt. Many events and reveals seem like they would benefit from more build than they receive, particularly the opening battle with the Blight. I’m already not crazy about the design of the blight, as it looks like a cross between a skeksis and Giant Gonzales, but the fact that we essentially get a full body shot of what should be a terrifying character on the third page of the book removes a lot of the oomph. The sequence also features a few extraneous panels that were clearly placed there to fill out a layout, but don’t actually add anything to the story.
Similarly, the aforementioned three-way knockout just doesn’t flow. In order for it to work, they each would have had to stay still while their friends are getting knocked out, which is disappointing to see from an artist with such a strong grasp of motion. His figures and faces are still strong. Alas, I do wish the colors from Jordie Bellaire were a touch more vibrant, as many sequences in the book lack contrast — and the fact that Baron Samedi’s color palette is so muted just seems wrong.
I know I just aired a bunch of grievances with this book, but it’s because I know this team is capable of so much more. It shouldn’t suggest that there are no positives, either — I really like Davis-Hunt’s Jack Boniface, and the way Shadowman’s scythe separates into little plates when he’s destroying the extra-dimensional portals is inspired design. I also think the dynamic between Jack and Baron Samedi will make for strong banter as the series goes on, provided the phantasmal Baron leans further into his more colorful proclivities.
Still, as an intro to the character and series overall, Shadowman #1 leaves a little to be desired. It’s certainly not bad, but there just isn’t a lot to set this apart from other similar books on the shelf. Here’s hoping this is just an early stumble, as Bunn and Davis-Hunt’s resumes do lend themselves to fairly high expectations.
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