There are very few similarities between the current incarnation of Shade the Changing Woman and the original Shade the Changing Man. They are both visually inventive narratives inclined to follow whatever impulses seem most important in a given issue. Yet whereas the original was devoted to state control, conspiracy, and individualism, the current series is much more interested in notions of freedom, love, and interdependence. Where the two really match up, especially in the finale of Shade the Changing Woman #6, is a powerful embrace of didacticism.
The issue is populated with actions and tropes of dramatic storytelling. There are tear-filled goodbyes, difficult moments of forgiveness, and heroic sacrifices. Even with all of these elements swirling through the plot, the story never becomes melodramatic or maudlin. They are explained as they occur for the lessons and observations they are intended to be. Every character serves a purpose and coheres into their appropriate ending, walking into the arms of destiny in a very specific worldview.
None of this is to say the story itself is bad; it simply functions as much as a treatise as a fictional narrative. The flatness of individual characters are well-matched by the tones in which they speak and act. Even after 18 issues, there is more of an idea of someone like River than there is an actual character that others might seek to specifically continue. He is a wanderer devoted to concepts of loyalty and friendship, and tells readers exactly what his journey has meant along with a few key illustrations. Reading this finale is to witness the final urgent summary of thoughts from across a semester pulled together in an eager lecture. Definitions of “madness,” “forgiveness,” and “alienness” are all thoroughly chewed over and provided for others to consider.
It's Zarcone’s layouts that keep this fascinating. Even as the simple faces of this cast engage in the thoughtful work of what words mean and what has value, they are enshrouded in a colorful cyclone of action. There is dryness to the dialogue, but a real life and power to what it is addressing, and that passion can be discovered more in the setting than anywhere else. It becomes the essence that is being discussed throughout these pages and connects to the dialogue to the essence of comics. The same flatness that leaves the characters feeling small makes these connected and swirling panels feel much larger than they are. It is an impressive effect and essential for this entire series, especially its ending.
The conclusion of Shade the Changing Woman embraces the language while rejecting the ideas of its predecessor. Like every incarnation of Rac Shade since his initial inception by Steve Ditko, this series has skirted the boundaries of classic superhero storytelling when not outright dismissing them. The result is a mixed bag in this instance. Much of what is said and shown is not particularly poignant, but it all addresses significant ideas and might even provide a modicum of comfort. At the same time, it is all presented in a spectacular packing of far-out grids and tumbling colors. There is a tension between the life on the page and the coolness of its spoken words. While that might not make it the most thrilling or entertaining comic of 2018, it does provide a story that is absolutely fascinating to pick apart and engage with as the reader becomes another voice in the conversation it is hosting.
Published by DC Comics
On August 01, 2018
Written by Cecil Castellucci
Art by Marley Zarcone and Ande Parks0comments
Colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters by Saida Temofonte