The American Scream : Peter Milligan – “Shade, the Changing Man”

ABOVE: AAAACCCCKKKK

What surprises me about the Vertigo artwork of the mythically grungy 90s, (as seen in Sandman, Lucifer, Swamp Thing, and Hellblazer) is that I now find it half-assed and amateurish, when at the time it felt like the height of sophistication. There are exceptions, like Steve Dillon’s clean, simple designs for “Preacher,”  but mostly there’s a certain hurried feel to it all that I once thought was artistic and now find suspect. For instance, look at this sample from Peter Milligan’s (otherwise excellent) “Shade the Changing Man.”

Shade

Superficially, it’s all cool: there’s perhaps too much text (Vertigo was seriously aiming for literature) but  JFK’s photo-realistic image works well. However, look closely at the face of the man in the middle panel. That’s a face that only looks like it’s well drawn if your eyes are flying over to JFK’s presidential grin. Read any slower, and the drawing reveals itself as inferior: look at the unnecessary sooty lines by the temple (fake grit), the hair sticking out where it shouldn’t, and particularly the weird indent of that anatomically suspect cheekbone. It’s a bad rushed drawing.

… And a fairly typical look for “Shade the Changing Man.” (Not knocking Chris Bachalo’s work, but being prolific takes a toll.)  Originally a Steve Ditko creation, Rak Shade is a nebulous character donning a “madness vest”; his counter-cultural superpower seems to be the ability to make comic pages go all psychedelic.

His nemesis in the early issues is “The American Scream,” a mad disruption of reality that brings to life all the “American” stereotypes  that Milligan (a Brit) probably gleaned from Twilight Zone re-runs, documentaries on McCarthyism, and JFK assassination pamphlets.  Fans of “Hellblazer” will find Shade to fit comfortable alongside that trench-coated figure… matter of fact, Shade and John Constantine are currently fighting the ambiguously good fight together in “Justice League Dark.”

ABOVE: Pink Heaven That You Painted Black? Uh-huh…

RATING: COOL!

POST-SCRIPT:

Jamie Hewlett (best known for “Tank Girl” and the Gorillaz) designed a few of the typically synapse-exploding covers.

 

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