With Shadowman #4 from Valiant Entertainment, a compelling character gets substantial backstory. Well, depending on how you look at it, you could say that he gets “pre-history”. Not all that many characters in comics can claim an origin in time immemorial, and Shadowman reveals himself to be one of those characters via his inhabiting “loa” spirit, who moves between bodies generationally, as we’ll discover in this landmark issue from Andy Diggle and Shawn Martinbrough. Issues #1 through #3 of this return of the character in Valiant’s ICONS line have already been rather ground-breaking, introducing a substantial female partner in a heroic role, exploring the weaknesses and strengths of a character who has erstwhile seemed fairly enigmatic, and establishing the worlds of the living and the dead that he straddles as remarkably compelling.
As Jack Boniface, aka Shadowman, struggles against the King of the Deadside, Baron Samedi, in issues #1 through #3, illustrated by Stephen Segovia, and as we, as readers, learn of the Shadowman’s long and compelling history in issue #4, illustrated by Shawn Martinbrough, the mythology and relevance of the character as his loa come to the fore for readers in all new ways. And the compelling quality of this re-introduction is apparent in the multiple printings necessary for issue #1 of this arc.
Andy Diggle kindly joins us here today to talk about Jack Boniface’s return to the scene at Valiant, and the revelations inherent in the 4th issue of this series.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Though this is a really general statement, it seems like the earlier modern Valiant series about Shadowman focused a lot on establishing the Deadside and its relationship to “normal” reality. Is it fair to say that this series of Shadowman focuses on the character and loa in a more intense way, defining the character?
Andy Diggle: We’re starting off with the core concepts before we widen the perspective to bring in other characters from the Valiant Universe. The action won’t all be confined to New Orleans and the Deadside. We’ve seen various different iterations of Shadowman over the years, so I thought we should start by locking down this version of the character, examining his relationship with the shadow loa and its connection to his family history. Jack’s really been kicked around, and I want to give him his own agency, let him become the master of his own fate, rather than always being a pawn in someone else’s game.
But first he has to overcome his own worst instincts, and get to grips with the ugly truth about the Shadowman legacy – his ancestors who were bound to the loa against their will. So while we will see him in the Deadside, and even traveling through time to experience previous versions of the Shadowman, his real journey will be one of self-discovery and self-empowerment. Plus monster-punching. The monster-punching is very important.
HMS: Is Jack Boniface the most death-focused character you’ve ever worked with? How do you approach a darker kind of character and arc without it becoming too grim?
AD: I do tend to lean toward the dark side, especially on books like Hellblazer. But this is Valiant, so you want plenty of humor and action in there, too. It has to be fun. It’s all about the mix, highs and lows. Nobody wants to see the hero feeling sorry for himself the whole time. So our Shadowman run might start off pretty dark – it kind of has to, given his recent history – but it’s heading toward more upbeat, heroic action. Shadowman’s going to level up, and become much more vitally connected to the wider Valiant Universe. He’s heading for the light.
HMS: Alyssa has played a big part in Jack’s return and in this first new arc. How common is it within Shadowman tradition for him to team up with allies outside of the stable of Valiant heroes? I wouldn’t call her someone without powers, though, since she has some skills, clearly.
AD: In the past, Shadowman didn’t often cross over into other characters’ books, with the notable exception of Rapture. But going forward, you’re definitely going to see him interacting more with other Valiant heroes. He’s already crossed paths with Ninjak and MI6 – and now that those relationships have been established, I can have fun throwing them into the mix in unexpected ways. Shadowman’s going to be front and center in major events that will impact the entire Valiant Universe. And Alyssa will absolutely be a part of that. For one thing, she’s one of my favorite characters to write!
HMS: With the reaction to Avengers: Infinity War in the air, and general consensus being that fully fleshing out a villain has been a big win for the story of the film, how fully fleshed out do you think Baron Samedi is at this point? What were some ways you made sure he was “solid” enough to build a strong story?
AD: I thought Marvel did a great job of making Thanos a compelling villain, and the same was true of Erik Killmonger in Black Panther. They each see themselves as the hero of their own story. You can understand and even empathize with their motivations, even if you can’t condone their actions. That’s how I’m approaching Baron Samedi. In the voodoo tradition, Samedi is lewd and crude and irreverent, but not necessarily evil. He’s more of a sly trickster, and his true motives are hidden for now. Shadowman assumes Samedi just wants to kill him, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. You’ll have to keep reading to find out what! But here’s the thing – the real villain hasn’t even appeared yet. It’s not Baron Samedi, and it’s not Nicodemo Darque, but I’ve dropped clues into the first few issues that hint at where it’s all going. We’re playing the long game, here…
HMS: Based on previews, there is some seriously surreal and awesome art from Stephen Segovia when Shadowman returns to the Deadside in issue #3. What’s it like working with Stephen and how do you feel he builds on your script ideas?
AD: Stephen is an incredible artist and a joy to work with. It’s a rare talent that can bring this level of quality to dynamic action, moody horror, and character drama all in one book, and I’m so fortunate to be working with him. His visual storytelling is just sublime. He sends me thumbnail page layouts for feedback, and I do a final dialogue pass based off his art, so we’re always in sync. We have a great working relationship, even though we live on opposite sides of the planet. I can’t wait to see what he does with our third arc. Things get pretty crazy!
HMS: Issue #4 of this series (which we are previewing alongside this interview) is going to take us on quite a journey through history, along with the people who have played host to the loa and become Shadowmen. What was your favorite part of working on this unprecedented look at Shadowman’s pre-Jack history?
AD: A big part of the appeal was portraying Shadowmen in other time periods – 1940s New York, the Old West, and prehistoric Africa – while still having the benefit of Jack’s present-day perspective. He’s not just a tourist – these stories impact the present day because Jack’s learning new things about his own connection to the loa. He’s been struggling against it all this time, but the more he learns about it, the better he’ll be able to control it – and the more powerful he’ll become. But my favorite thing about it is the chance to work with amazing artists like Shawn Martinbrough, Doug Braithwaite, and Renato Guedes. These guys are the best!
HMS: What do you feel that Shawn Martinbrough’s art in issue #4 brings to the Shadowman mythology that we haven’t seen before?
AD: It’s great being able to tailor each script to the gifts of each individual artist, and I lobbied hard to get Shawn on our noir issue. I had a blast working with him on Thief of Thieves, and he literally wrote (and drew) the book on How to Draw Noir Comics. His use of deep shadow, and his innate gift for visual storytelling, really brings old Manhattan to life. The term noir refers to the use of shadow, so what better artist to render the noir Shadowman?
Thanks very much to Andy Diggle for taking part in this interview with such extensive answers!
Shadowman #4, “Dead and Gone, Part 1” arrives in comic shops on June 20th, 2018.
SHADOWMAN (2018) #4
Written by ANDY DIGGLE
Art by SHAWN MARTINBROUGH
Cover A by TONCI ZONJIC
Cover B by DAVID MACK
Interlocking Variant by DAVID LAFUENTE
Shadowman Icon Variant by DAVE JOHNSON