Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shade, The Changing Man: The American Scream

Listed in "500 Essential Graphic Novels" as: Superheroes (Best of the Rest)
Contains: Shade, The Changing Man #1-6
Year: 1990
Publisher: Vertigo
Writer: Peter Milligan
Art: Chris Bachalo (Penciller)
        Mark Pennington (Inker)
        Daniel Vozzo (Colorist)
        Brendan McCarthy (Original Series Covers)

Back again, fellow Comics Questers, and this time I've done an unintentional Vertigo two-fer!  I didn't realize when putting these in order to review (which, in truth, is kind of random, anyway) that I had two Vertigo titles in a row!  That's definitely good as I tend to enjoy Vertigo stuff.

Anyway, let's delve into the madness that is Shade, The Changing Man: The American Scream. (You may scream at this point before reading the review, if you'd like...)

We open with a girl walking down a street clutching a bottle of alcohol to her chest.  She's narrating and we find that her name is Kathy and that she's bugshit nuts.  We can discern this from all the insane, swirly, astral beings floating around her as she continues her walk.

She gives us the reason that she's so crazy by recounting a bit of her past for us.

She once was happy with her boyfriend.  She tells of a time where they set out to visit her mother and father, stopping along the way in a field to make love and stare at the sky.  It's the last time she was truly happy because as they conclude the trip and arrive at her parents' place, she sees them brutally murdered.  If this wasn't enough to drive the poor dear insane, police assume that her boyfriend (apparently because he's black and this is the South) is the one that had broken in and killed her parents.  They shoot him dead before her very eyes.

The killer was a man named Troy Grenzer.  We get a peek into his story next.

Troy is all tough in his last hours.  He's to be executed for killing Kathy's parents.  In the final moments, though, Troy's tough exterior cracks.  They pull the switch to electrocute Grenzer and he doesn't die...  because Shade, The Changing Man has taken up residence in his body, the first body he could inhabit when travelling from his dimension to Earth, to fight an ever-growing madness called The American Scream.

This book is weird...  And I come to you telling you this as someone who unabashedly revels in and often enjoys weird things.

It's got explicit killings, JFK conspiracy theories, the delusions of insane folks, spillings-in from other dimensions, psychedelic imagery, and all sorts of crazy things.

When we get right down to it, though, I think we can see where Milligan and crew are going here.  We Americans are going mad.  Mad with violence, mad with substance abuse, mad with film stars, mad with examining the things that cause our madness.  Mad with everything that we will let madness get the upper hand with.

This madness spun into a being, although a scary, trippy, crazy looking thing, is the American Scream.

Shade, Kathy and several supporters and detractors dance around with the American Scream in this book, fighting it, eluding it, reveling in it.  Kathy's madness is the insanity brought on by the murder of all her loved ones.  A character named Duane Trilby's madness is the poring over every bit of information he can find about JFK to find his assassin and also the dealing with the death of his little girl.  Pieces of society go mad on TV... 

Really, that's what I get from this book.  It's seemingly an examination of America and everything that we obsess over, worship, kill ourselves with, indulge too much in and addict ourselves to...  to the point of madness.

Shade has come to battle against all that.

The artists handle this whole vast and strange concept magnificently.  Bachalo and crew's work pops when an electric chair comes alive into a snarling demon, when a giant stone bust of JFK tears through the pavement and begins asking questions, when Shade transcends dimensions.

The original series covers are pretty sweet, too.  From psychedelia to horror to iconic superhero cover, cover artist Brendan McCarthy brought his A-game.

While a work that didn't have me blown away as I turned the last page and sat it down, even an hour later, upon further reflection, I'm beginning to realize how many levels it works on and wanting to go back and study it more.

Mr. Kannenberg's rating: 4 out of 5
My rating: 4 out of 5
17 down, 483 to go

Hey kids, it's October, so come on back next time and join me for a work that's listed in the "Horror" section of the book with Charles Burns' Black Hole.  It may be a few days, cuz that sucker's huge, but I'll try and come back as soon as I can for all you faithful.

Be well until then, guys. :)

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