Saturday, June 21, 2014
Shadow-Man #1-#6 (Acclaim Comics)
Ever since I played 1999 Nintendo 64 game Shadow Man, I was instantly in love, and was curious and hopeful about what the comics it was based on (Valiant and Acclaim, respectively) were like! Unfortunately...Valiant Shadowman sucks! Acclaim Shadowman sucks! New Valiant Shadowman sucks!
From the game's horrific atmosphere, disturbing visuals and music, interesting Voodoo setting, and one of the most important black video game leads in game history, you can imagine my disappointment in the comic iterations when they all turn out not to be up to snuff, and I thought that all hope was lost...But then I found out about the second Acclaim remake, which as I've found out, is...*gasp*...actually good!
Running at six issues, several months after the canning of Acclaim's first Shadowman series, this is a remake of the franchise. Bafflingly enough, the internet has zero information (that I could find, at least) on what these six issues are. Are they a continuation from the previous Acclaim SM series? Is it a reboot? Is it really the submission guidelines to Unity 2000 posing as Shadow Man, ala Marville #7? Before I bought the issues, I had no idea, and curiousity was really eating me up!
So, let's get into Shadow Man!...
Michael Leroi, a deadpan radio DJ, makes no secret of his occupation as Voodoo protector of the living world from threats of Deadside-the afterlife-but only those who believe in Voodoo know he's telling the truth. One such person is Eugene, a caretaker of Carrefour townhouse, a crossroads between the worlds. He's helping renovator Astrid Lockyer clean the place up, but she inadvertently cleans out spirit jars, unleashing an evil force upon the house...
This is a quite good first issue. It establishes both Mike's role as the Shadow Man, as well as his 'day' job as a radio station DJ (which has many slightly humorous interactions). It could have done a bit more work in explaining what Deadside is though. The story is decently written, and it's actually about genuine Voodoo, unlike other Shadowman incarnations.
Both Nettie and Jaunty have brief cameos, and if you've never played the game, you'll have only the vaguest idea who they are. And even if you do know who Nettie is, you won't know why she's incorporeal here, as the series never bothers to explain. Jaunty here looks very different to his game and previous comic counterpart, but it's only a temporary new look, though.
This issue has some foreshadowing of things to come, which includes a cameo from the villain of the game, Legion. That's my other problem with this comic-He's meant to say 'For we are many', not 'For I am many' as he does here! That's why he's called Legion-He's a gestalt being! And this is a problem that stays with this series, tantamount to the 2012 revival constantly saying The Deadside (there is no 'the'!).
The Voodoo aspects are pretty unexplained, so those not in the know will likely be confused at words like 'baka', po tets, and 'Lwa' (which is actually an alternate spelling for Loa, something I didn't know until I googled it). That's no huge problem though, as it's not necessary to understand those things.
One odd bit is a completely superfluous scene with an Irish tourist being attacked by zombies. This is never brought up again this issue, or any other.
Running at a doubled page length, this is a good first issue to the series.
#2-Lwa and Order
A street graffiti artist draws stylised Loa veves (symbols), causing havoc as the respective Loas are summoned to earth in diminished forms. With the help of Loa of the crossroads Papa Legba, Michael searches out the people responsible for the art before disaster strikes...
There's not a whole lot to say about this issue. It's a decent standalone story, with a little bit of things to come in what happens to the character of Dubois.
It is a bit silly that Papa Legba is a talking chicken here, but it doesn't come across as stupid, and is pretty easy to roll with.
#3-Asylum Seeker and #4-Soul Surviver
The evil being Legion has created Asylum in Deadside-A horrific cathedral to pain where he's unleashing his plans for armageddon. Back in Liveside, Astrid is visiting a serial killer on death row-John Barber. As she's the only one who ever escaped his clutches, Barber has an obsession with Astrid, and will only reveal the locations of his victims' bodies to her. Things go awry however when a riot is initiated, tearing a hole through the veil, leading straight to Deadside and the Asylum...
These two issues tell the story of the game, and it actually tells it very differently, which is a nice departure from simply having the exact same story we already played.
Unfortunately it tells the story over two issues unsuccessfully. I wish it were three, so things would have more time to unfold, progress, and be developed (for example, what we see of the Asylum makes it disturbing, but that's basically just one panel). This story doesn't really have a middle. It has a beginning, and and end, and that's it. Having three issues would also allow the comic to develop Legion more, and ease more easily into the Astrid twin plot point, which as it stands comes across as a deus ex machina.
By the way, funny story-Last night I had a dream about a third issue of this storyline. It was a mix of Lo, Hellraiser, and Shadowman, and was disturbing as hell. It was awesome! And when I woke up, I was actually pissed that it wasn't real!
As I said above, Legion isn't a very well developed villain, and the same can be said for his band of serial killers. That's where the plot could've done with the most work.
The other big problem is the fight between Michael and the three killers-Part of it's offscreen, and is just narrated to us! Grrr!... And there's one really confusing scene transition when Dubois attacks Michael. It doesn't help that the form Legion is in looks exactly like Dubois from the previous panel, but Barber in the Asylum looks exactly like other villain Jack the Ripper! And the transition back to the fight is a mindscrew too, and afterwards, Barber starts looking like himself. What kind of screwup was there in the art room?! And was the caption machine broken?!
As I said before, I was briefly paranoid that this series was merely the submission guidelines to Jim Shooter's comic event Unity 2000. This was because of the statement on the cover of #3, the lack of info on this series on the net, and my knowledge of the Marville series. As for what the statement really means, there's a two-part prologue to the event spread out over two issues of Shadow Man. How is it? Meh. I might go into more detail when I get around to reviewing Unity 2000, but probably not. There's not really much to go into detail about. It's a brief story that's just kinda meh.
These are the two least-best issues of this series, and don't do the game they're based on any favours.
#5-A Twist of Lemon
A group of people roosting in an old fruit estate have tasted the citrus that grows there-Forbidden fruit which leaves them with an unquenchable thirst. Now endowed with superhuman speed and strength, they kidnap people to be like them, and share their malevolent thirst for blood...
This issue offers an interesting and original (as far as I know) take on vampires, which is very much appreciated! Hell, the potential is kinda wasted on a twenty page comic. The story here is ok, but the climax is a bit poorly handled, as it's rushed, and the way the fight scene with the vampires is drawn isn't 'choreographed' very well.
Astrid is absent this issue, and the secondary main character this time round is Detective Dave Bellos, who's pretty decent. I think he becomes a vampire at the very end, which is both depressing, and confusing, given the poor dialogue and structure of that scene, and the fact that he and another character look the same. Things are so confusing that I originally thought the character leaving the estate at the end was kidnapped and initiated gang member Raymondo, which would make sense, as otherwise, all his prior scenes would be pretty pointless character-wise (I say character-wise because those scenes establish the vampires, and their initiation tactics/rites, so they're not a waste of time).
Overall, this is ok, but not all that memorable. It just goes by too quickly to leave an impression.
#6-Masquerade: Part One
The Krewe of Tyresias are a group of immortal libertines who hold annual masquerade parties, where they do whatever the everything they want, and invite whoever they deem worthy. This time, they're in New Orleans, and Michael is worried they might get up to something bad. However, it turns out they are the least of his worries when the villainous Inquisition show up...
Yeah, this is Part 1 of a story, and the last issue of Shadow Man. In other words, Dammit!
This is a pretty neat story, and I'm curious to know where it would have gone. Urgh, couldn't the powers that be Acclaim have kept the series going at least long enough to push out the second part to this story?! *sigh*
This has its problems, mainly the really confusing chase scene, which is compounded by the baffling ending (though I'm sure the latter would cease to be a problem come next issue...if it ever came). The other problem is the presence of Master Darque. Yeah, I know he's already kinda in this continuity with the Unity 2000 prologue in #3 and #4, and this is Acclaim's version of the character, not Valiant's, but just like with Jack Boniface, I have no patience for any version of Master Darque.
Shadow Man is a pretty good series. The plots are decent, with some neat ideas behind them. Franchise characters such as Mama Nettie and Jaunty are very underused, however. Jaunty gets only two scenes across two issues, whereas Nettie has brief appearances in the first three. After that, they're both absent from the remaining issues. Astrid Lockyer makes for a decent and likeable recurring character, but doesn't really have much character to her.
Michael Leroi isn't developed at all in this series, and the only thing we even find out about his backstory is a small tidbit in #1. But none of this matters too much, however, as he's a likeable and fun lead, and interesting too.
The artwork here is a great upscale from the shitty drawing in the previous SM iteration. I'm not saying it's great though. There are parts that aren't drawn quite so good (and there's one scene in #3 that uses the same picture for three panels, as well as inconsistent artwork for the Asylum between issues), but after Ashley Wood's art in the previous Shadowman series, it's a treat for the eyes.
The covers are all good, although 4 and 6's have a bit of annoying cheesecake (not the literal kind). This series also had a set of alternate photo covers, which are ok.
Overall, Shadow Man is a series I recommend. It isn't great by any means, but if you want a Shadowman comic that feels like the game, I'm afraid this is the closest you will ever get...