Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
* * * * *
Written by author and musician Cecil Castellucci (The P.LA.I.N. Janes) with art from Marley Zarcone (Forgetless, Effigy) and colours by Kelly Fitzpatrick (Bitch Planet, Peter Panzerfaust), Shade The Changing Girl is one of DC’s many winning titles from their Young Animal imprint. It’s a fresh series with a modern comics storytelling sensibility, but one that also has a long pedigree at DC Comics. If I can be forgiven a quick trip through comics history: the original Shade, who was a Changing Man, was created in 1972 by Steve Ditko. Rac Shade was an alien from the planet Meta, who wore a piece of sci-fi clothing called the M-Vest which could project a force field as well as an illusory monstrous version of himself to others. It was cancelled after only eight issues, and Shade was off the radar for over a decade. In the 1980s he was discovered in a confusing dimension called the Area of Madness by the Suicide Squad, during John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s now-classic run on the title. By this time, Shade had tweaked the M-Vest so that he could use it to teleport, and eventually joined the Squad on many of their ethically questionable missions. Then in the 1990s, Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo did a new version of Shade The Changing Man, that became a Vertigo cult classic. In this version, Rac Shade became a lovesick poet and the M-Vest became the reality-warping Madness Vest. He also died and was reborn in different forms throughout the series, making the title even more literal. Shade The Changing Girl draws most of its inspiration from the Milligan/Bachalo series, but there are echoes of Ditko in its story DNA.
In the first six issues of Shade The Changing Girl (collected in the first volume, Earth Girl Made Easy), the reader is introduced to Loma, a young Avian on the planet Meta. She’s obsessed with the life and poetry of Rac Shade, who is now deceased for good, apparently, and a bit of a polarizing figure back on his home planet. When Loma gets the opportunity to take an up-close peek at the Madness Vest, she can’t stop herself. She steals the vest, renames herself Loma Shade, and teleports across the universe until she ends up on Earth. There, she wakes up in the body of a young girl named Megan Boyer, who nearly drowned and was in a coma until Loma took over her body. Now Loma has to figure out how to function on this strange new planet, keep her reality-warping vest under control, and also survive the perils of high school in the body of a widely-hated bully. All in all, a terrific idea for a modern comic.
The first six issues are a slow burn, as Castellucci’s story gently unfolds and turns. She drops plot points out like breadcrumbs on a trail, leading the reader slowly and patiently through the story’s many turns. Zarcone’s linework is thin but expressive, and effortlessly shifts between Earth’s mundane reality, the alienness of Meta, and the wild Madness that threatens to burst out at any moment. For me Fitzpatrick’s colours are the highlight, brash and bold, combining the brightness and zip-a-tone old-school aesthetic of old comics with modern shades and gradients. It may have started a little slow for me, but when I caught up on the latest handful of issues and Earth Girl Made Easy drew to its climax, I was hooked.
And then I read issue #7, “Dance Me To The End,” with guest art by Marguerite Sauvage, that opens up Loma’s backstory by giving the reader a peek at her pre-Shade youth, and it broke my heart a little. Then the regular art team returns on issue #8, the first part of the “In The City” arc, where Loma and the Vest go on a tour of Gotham City and the art takes some of its most daring and imaginative turns. I don’t know what it was, if it was just the headspace I was in this week or if it was the series’ slow build, but it finally locked into my brain and I love it with no reservations. Shade The Changing Girl is a rarity among corporate superheroes and a worthy heir in a long line of great comic books. Catch up on the singles or grab the first trade. It’ll grab you right back.
* * * * *
That’s going to do it for the column this week. And next week too, as I’m going out of town for my brother’s wedding. Until next time, surround yourself with the people and things you love. I’ll see you in fourteen days.