Shade the Changing Man (vol.2) #19 (January, 1992)
Writer – Peter Milligan
Penciller – Chris Bachalo
Inker – Mark Pennington
Colorist – Daniel Vozzo
Letterer – Todd Klein
Assistant Editor – Alisa Kwitney
Editor – Karen Berger
It’s been a little while since I read any Shade the Changing Man. I actually meant to give this run a scan-through when I started covering Young Animal’s Shade the Changing Girl for Weird Science DC Comics… but, if you’re a fellow blog-caster, you know how most of our “Reading Projects” go.
I think I got as far as piling them up on my nightstand. Which, to be fair… is further along than I usually get!
Anyhoo… today we’re going to take a look at a darker Christmas story. Let’s get to it!
We open with a hung-over Shade writing a letter to Kathy about how he had spent his first Earth Christmas. He was in a town called Bethlehem, Kansas… which, yeah, is kinda on the nose, but we’ll allow it. Anyhoo, he was imbibing at a local watering hole when he was approached by a strange and excited man named Dave. Dave is in search of a “New Messiah”… and claims that on Christmas this new Messiah will reveal himself.
Before moving forward with ol’ Dave, Shade reminisces about how Christmas was spent home on Meta. It was a day of reverence for the dead… a day in which the bones of loved ones would be dug up and displayed in the home… adorned with flowers, tinsel, and other shiny pretty stuff. Not completely unlike our own Christmas trees I suppose. In a cute bit, Shade laments that “The Day of Bones” on Meta has become too commercial over the years.
Okay, let’s rejoin Dave. Shade and Dave are walking down the street… and our main man is having a bit of an adverse reaction to all the liquor he’d downed. It apparently went “straight to the Madness Vest”… and so, Shade manifests a strange ramshackle Santa Claus.
Well, this is all Dave needs to see to know that he’s met the New Messiah. Shade ain’t buying it, but he’s too drunk to really argue. Dave proudly begins calling himself “Dave the Baptist”, and leads our man into an alley… where he proceeds to kayo him with the butt-end of his pistol.
Shade stirs back to consciousness, only to find himself bound in a room beside a Santa Claus, a pastor, and a young woman.
The pastor speaks up… and winds up paying the price. Dave blows the poor fellas brains out.
He tells Shade that now that he’s found the New Messiah… he’s going to kill him! Dave hates Christmas… because it’s unfair to the lonely. Not only Christmas… but any religious celebration… from any organized religion! Well, at least he’s even-handed in his hatred?
And so, he tapes up all the windows in the room, and prepares to transform it into a makeshift gas-chamber using a cyanide pellet. He claims that he will spring his deathtrap… then amuse himself with all sorts of terrible murder and havoc… by the time he returns, the New Messiah will be dead, at which point Dave can blow his own brains out. Merry merry, everybody!
Dave flicks the pill into a pail… and the room begins to fill with a green gas. At this point, Shade is visited upon by… well, Rac Shade. It’s a bit wonky if this is your first exposure to the character… but he’s kind of a body-hopper. Fans of the recent Shade the Changing Girl series will know all about that. Anyhoo… Rac hops into the “drivers seat” to break his bindings.
He grabs Santa’s coat… and covers the pluming pail long enough to get it outside and smother it in the snow. The day is saved… too bad about the pastor, though.
We rejoin Dave as he is unloading his gun into a loaded Church. Luckily, Shade is right on his tail… and he smashes him with a Madness-construct fist.
Dave high-tails it outside, but finds himself surrounded by the police. So, he does what any lunatic might do… he throws a grenade at a giant decorated tree… which falls on him, killing him.
We wrap up with Shade finishing his missive to Kathy… and it gets a bit, I dunno… “deep”. He asks Kathy how we would even know if the Messiah returned… perhaps he (or she) walks among us even today. He quotes Kafka… which I’m sure tickled several of the high school students who were reading this… and we fade out.
This was really very good!
Sure, it was a bit precious in places… but also, just really good! It was scary, and dark… and the juxtaposition with a festive Christmas scene really gave it an uncomfortable… and “wrong” feeling.
Dave might be a bit of a cliche in his misanthropy and disdain for “organized religion”, however… he’s definitely the kinda guy you can see existing in the real world, just dialed up to eleven. He’s the kinda person we like to pretend doesn’t exist.
The way in which we meet Dave is kinda chilling as well… he comes across as a nice, if not a bit strange, fella. For all we know, he’s just bending the ear of the dude with the weird accent at the bar. We’ve all been there, right? Well, maybe it’s just me. Either way, I’d completely forgotten how this story went… so, when Shade was pistol-whipped and abducted, I was actually surprised!
Dave’s ruthlessness was keyed up during the hostage scene. Learning that he was planning to kill himself after fulfilling his destiny really added urgency to the proceedings. He’s truly a man with nothing to lose… which, obviously, makes him even more dangerous. And, ya know… insane.
The writing does perhaps veer into the purple… but it’s pre-Vertigo Vertigo, so it’s par for the course. And it’s also… like I said, just so damn good! It’s nothing compared to the letters page though… those are positively dripping with chin-stroking pretentiousness. Buuuut… it’s a pre-Vertigo Vertigo letters column, so it’s par for the course.
The art is… amazing. Chris Bachalo is one of my all-time favorite artists, and his work here is absolutely super. One of my favorite pieces of comics ephemera in my collection is a promotional Vertigo announcement freebie from 1992/1993 that is signed by Mr. Bachalo. I’d show it off here if it wasn’t still amid my many unpacked boxes.
Overall… I’d recommend Shade the Changing Man as a whole to anybody! I feel like, of the initial… five or so “Mature” DC titles that made the jump to Vertigo, Shade often gets the short shrift when it comes to “play”. If you come across it… definitely give it a look. This issue (and series) is available digitally.
Precious Letters Page:
On the Sixth Day of Christmas on Infinite Earths, I give to you Shade the Changing Man (vol.2) #19, Action Comics #762! Young Justice #40, Superman: The Man of Steel #109, Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special, and a Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #2 Review.