New To You Comics #64: Into The Darkside In ‘Shadowman V1: Birth Rites’

by Tony Thornley

With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we look at the reboot of a dark hero with a new series coming very soon.

In 2012, Valiant Entertainment relaunched the company’s characters with four of their classic series. However, later that year, a fifth series joined the line-up and Shadowman was a near instant hit. Coming from rising star Justin Jordan, veteran artist Patch Zircher, up and coming colorist Brian Reber and letterer Rob Steen, the series combined horror and heroics in a way that few series ever had.

Jack Boniface wanted to know who he was, where he came from. However, returning to his hometown of New Orleans brings him face to face with his destiny. Jack Boniface is the Shadowman, and he needs to learn what that means fast, before the sinister forces of the Deadside kill him!

Tony Thornley: So with the new volume of Shadowman from Cullen Bunn and Jon Davis-Hunt coming up at the end of the month, we both thought it would be fun to take a look at the relaunch of the series from back in 2012. This series is a pretty perfect blend of both our interests. I remember reading this first volume when it came out and I don’t think I’ve revisited it since. I’m glad we did. What did you think?

Brendan Allen: I honestly don’t know why I haven’t read Shadowman before. Just one of those titles that’s flown beneath my radar, I guess? It’s fun. Occult themes, super cool face paint, demons, action… Good stuff. 

TT: Yeah it really is. Jordan is great at world building. That’s a lot of what this volume is all about. He’s able to do it without a ton of exposition. He introduces the characters mid-action, gives us a glimpse of the threats and the Shadowman legacy. The world here is clearly incredibly dense, just like each of the other Valiant series we’ve looked at so far.

BA: The story’s great. I understand there’s a LOT of Shadowman out there, and I have read none before today. Jordan gave enough backstory to get me oriented without a whole lot of tedious exposition. I liked that the Loa ended up being a legacy deal, but also that there was a device in play that kept Jack from having to deal with it until he was ready. 

TT: Jack’s journey is sympathetic. It’s not very relatable, but there’s a lot that everyone could see for themselves in it. If you were abandoned as a child, with no father, you would want to know. And naturally, finding out that you’re the destined vessel of an ancient demigod, that’s going to mess a guy up. It starts at a place that we could all see ourselves, then step by step it gets more twisted, scary and horrifying.

Speaking of twisted, what did you think of Mister Twist, the monster at the center of it all?

BA: I liked the concept of Mr. Twist better than the execution. A monster made up of the dismembered parts of ritual sacrifice victims sounds really awesome, but stripping away the skin and making him a big meatwad kind of leaves the guy looking like Lord Zedd from Power Rangers. There was a great opportunity there to twist and break body parts and mash them together all wrong. Maybe they were going for a slightly more palatable look?

TT: Yeah, I can see that. I think in CGI or animation, he would have crossed that line you’re thinking of. But I think he was perfect for an opening arc easing us back into Valiant’s New Orleans.

I’m going to be honest. I’m not the biggest fan of Zircher. However, this story arc is far and away his best work in my opinion. His designs are great, especially the monsters. His action is solid. I also really like that his people feel like real people, without leaning too far over the line that would make them feel traced.

BA: The art’s great. Aside from that one note on Mr. Twist. Just a slight miss there, but the rest was pretty spot on. I really like this hero’s look. He’s got sort of a Bawon Samedi thing going on. The jumpsuit works better in some of the art I’ve seen where he’s got a tattered overcoat and a chicken bone necklace on over it, but the face paint is something. Reminds me a little of Charles Wright’s Papa Shango make-up. 

TT: Yeah, and Baron Samedi actually becomes a player in the series later, where the parallel is more obvious. 

BA: Baron Samedi is an actual character? That’s confusing. I guess he’s not wearing a top hat, carrying a staff, or chomping a cigar, but I thought this was sort of a superhero sendup of the deity. Like voodoo Thor or something. So Shadowman is a Gede?

TT: From what I understand of it? Yes. And the loa is a legacy thing, passed father to son over generations. It builds like that over time too. You get hints of the big bad, Master Darque here. You get a trip to the Deadside. There are secret societies in play. All around, this is one of the richest superhero books I think I’ve read in a long time.

Now it’s not perfect. It does start to hint at getting into racism and police brutality, but the cops who are racists become actual monsters. It’s not allegorical. They. Are. Monsters.

There’s also some issues with cultural appropriation that the story dances with, but doesn’t actually dive into. I mean, Jordan and Zircher are white, but they’re doing a story with a mixed race protagonist whose… well, everything is strongly tied to, if not directly taken from, a religion that is heavily African American and still has practitioners today. I think they’re very careful and very deft in HOW they handle it, but I think they push the line a little too close a few times.

BA: And New Orleans Voodoo is its own brand altogether. A hodgepodge mix of the original West African religion and Catholicism.

TT: Yeah exactly. I mean, they do okay and most of it is wrapped up in a fictional magic system that’s tied heavily to elements of the Valiant universe, rather than actual voodoo. But it pushes a little too close to reality a few times.

That said- I like this book. Shadowman is probably the most consistently good concept that Valiant has published since the 2012 relaunch. This series just has a baseline of quality that carries through the volumes that followed it pretty well. I would say of the stories that followed, only one of them isn’t at least “great.”

What do you say?

BA: I like it. I’m really excited to see what Cullen Bunn and Jon Davis-Hunt do with Shadowman next week. Bunn’s already dabbled in NOLA occult with Bone Parish. This is material he’s very comfortable with. Gon’ be good. 

TT: Yeah I got a preview of it for the interview I did with him early this month. It takes a lot of the horror-heroics of this book and ramps up the scary. It’s going to be fun. So what do we have next?

BA: Speaking of Cullen Bunn, we’re going to hit up his Southern-Fried Gothic horror collaboration with Tyler Crook, Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints.

Shadowman V1: Birth Rites is available now from Valiant Entertainment. Be sure to pick up the new Shadowman #1 on April 28th.

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