Reviewed by: Joe Mossman
As superheroes go, Shadowman isn’t hugely original, particularly within the Valiant realm. Lacking Archer & Armstrong’s buddy-film quirkiness or X-O Manowar’s novel backstory, he recalls more conventional undead/supernatural anti-heroes like Spawn or Blade. What sets Shadowman apart is the that he really isn’t so much a character as a he is a legacy, a mantle that is passed down from generation to generation, father to son…sometimes without that son’s knowledge.
Issue #1 of the revived Shadowman series focuses on Jack Boniface, a young man working in a struggling New Orleans museum while researching his birth parents. His mother, Helena LeBreton, apparently died in an accident on the way to work when Jack was ten. He knows nothing of his father, who died before he was born. Claiming that Josiah Boniface was a “good man,” Helena gave the ten year-old Jack an amulet inscribed with an arcane-looking symbol and told him to take good care of it. When a private eye finally digs up Josiah and Helena’s past, however, Jack is horrified to discover the two were actually criminals, with long rap sheets that included murder, arson and robbery. Disillusioned, he angrily tosses the amulet in the river.
Bad move. Josiah was the last Shadowman, pulled into a portal by the evil necromancer Master Darque during an undead invasion when Jack was still in utero. The talisman was intended to make Jack invisible to Darque’s forces…without it, he’s a sitting duck.
From there it’s mostly a story of discovery as Jack settles into his destiny as the next Shadowman, first by being attacked by two possessed cops under the control of a demon named Mr. Twist, then by meeting the stunning Alyssa Myles and the Yoda-like (in size as well as in character) Dox, who know the score and take him under their wing. Co-written by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher, the story moves along quick and smooth, with Jack’s background and the rules of the game concisely established in issue #1; by #2 he’s had his first outing as Shadowman, met Alyssa and Dox, and is well on the way to learning the truth about his heritage. The writing and dialogue is solid, if somewhat predictable, and Zircher’s art is what I’ve come to expect from anything Valiant - rich in detail, beautiful when it’s beautiful, and beautiful when it’s ugly too. Whether it’s the shiny, bloody muscle fibers of Mr. Twist (a sort of meat demon made from the flesh of murder victims), Alyssa’s perfect curves, or Shadowman’s streamlined new appearance, Zircher’s work is never boring to look at. The voodoo-inspired mythos is pretty cool as well; described by Dox in a way that makes it sound suspiciously like the Force. Magic in Shadowman is treated almost as a kind of science, with rules and conventions…which should keep it from being too easily abused by the writers as an easy escape hatch.
With so many questions answered in the first two issues, it will be interesting to see where the character goes next. I’m not worried that Zircher and Jordan will run out of ideas. There’s a lot of material to draw on, and I’m pretty confident now in anything that bears the Valiant label.