Originally created in the 70’s by Steve Ditko, this revival began in 1990 and ran for six years, until the writer (Peter Milligan) finished all 70 issues. Along the way he utilized a lot of different artists to fit each particular chapter of Shade’s story; as “The Changing Man” Shade is constantly becomming someone new, and as each style shifts and changes, new artists take over. (Very similar to the way The Invisibles was written & drawn four years later.)
Half psycedellic free-for-all, half adventure, and entirely strange from start to finish, this series is the story of how Shade came to Earth from his home planet, Meta. (Yeah. It gets better.) Meta exists in a dimension near (or around?) Earth; between Earth & Meta lies The Madness Zone, the only place that allows passage between the dimensions.
Shade is sent by his superior, Wizor, who had told him to fight the manifestations of “Madness on Earth” in whatever way he can. Apparently, The Madness Zone has begun to leak into Earth’s dimension, and so Shade must combat the leak using a Madness-Vest (or M-Vest for short).
On Earth, when humans catch “The Madness,” their internal obsessions and frustrations are externalized. In the first major story, a JFK obsessed man creates a “Kennedy Spinx” in Dealy Plaza, that asks people, “Who Shot JFK?” If they are wrong, the Spinx eats them. In the second major storyline, Hollywood itself catches the Madness, and soon everyone finds themselves in a movie, within a movie, within a movie, ad infinitum. As Shade travels the Mental States Of American, he runs into huge American Myths that must be kept in check in order to prevent Americans from going crazy. Did I mention Peter Milligan is an English Writer, too?
I fell in love with this series when I was in High School, as it sparked the imagination like few other things I read back then. Now, over 15 years after I first discovered the comic, it reads so vividly and beautifully that it’s hard to imagine it as a “dated” piece of writing. In much the same way that Ditko’s Shade held up pretty well to me in 1990, here in the far-distant time of 2009, those innocent Comics from my High School years carry an impressive amount of punch.
I have all 70 issues of the 90’s run if anyone wants to borrow them, and the 8 original issues of the Ditko series. Neither were “popular” in the usual sense of the word, but for my money, there are few comics that are as well written (or as academically “funny”) as Shade. It’s well worth the read, even for non-Comics fans.