For someone who claims to love indie comics as much as I do, you’d think I’d be more familiar with Valiant Comics. For a good while, they were among the heaviest of the heavy hitters in the comic market, and their characters have enough name recognition and nostalgia to justify not one, but two different reboot attempts. I’m not going to launch into a whole history of Valiant Comics (in part because I don’t have the room to do that here, and in part because I am woefully unprepared to speak to that with any degree of authority), however I will say that what I’ve seen from Valiant in the last few years had made me regret not checking them out the first time around, and has sent me diving into many a back issue bin to see what they had to offer.
The problem, though, with Valiant, is that sometimes they lean so hard on the nostalgia that it is hard for new readers to dive into the books. I loved their reboot of XO Man-O-War and grew to love Doctor Tomorrow, but have found other works from them, such as the beautifully illustrated but way too continuity-heavy Doctor Mirage, to be very inaccessible for new readers to get into.
And that’s a real problem for an indie publisher like Valiant. Each week they usually only have a couple of titles on the shelf fighting for space against a slew of other publishers, and so if people can’t get into their stories right away and get on board, it’s a good bet those titles will be ignored and forgotten.
Which brings us to today’s book, Shadowman #1, another Valiant hero brought back into the mainstream by journeyman author Collen Bunn.
Let’s take a peek inside this title and see what it has to offer us. Will it be a harbinger of a brand new era for the character or another forgotten floppy on the shelf?
Here’s the blurb:
From the bestselling master of horror Cullen Bunn (Venom) and bone-chilling artist Jon Davis-Hunt (Clean Room) comes a shocking supernatural odyssey.
Jack Boniface is SHADOWMAN, a powerful protector who keeps humanity safe from the demons that claw at the fabric of our reality.
The forces of darkness are awakening and they are hungry for life. Will Shadowman be able to save us all, or will the darkness devour the world as we know it?
Now, I don’t want to brag, but I am exactly to the demographic that this book is shooting for, and by that I mean I am an indie comic fan who spends way more money than he should on books that catch his fancy. I’m also, as previously stated, pretty unfamiliar with this character, which means if I’m going to get into it I’m going to need the character laid out pretty quickly in a way I understand and want to see more about.
So does it deliver? In a word: yes.
Bunn introduces Shadowman very early on as a guardian figure. I have no idea if that characterization fits past incarnations, but for me, in this issue, it works. This is an archetype that comic readers will recognize and understand, sort of a John Constantine meets Doctor Strange kind of vibe, and as a big fan of Constantine the similarities between them struck me the most.
That being said, it remains to be seen if Bunn can develop in Shadowman any of the same charms that writers like Moore and Ennis brought to John.
The story itself is pretty straightforward. A group of rich toffs, er, sorry, still thinking about Constantine (why DC? Why did you have to cancel that series?!) Where was I? Oh yeah, a group of rich idiots have gathered together for a swanky party where they are going to use demonic blood to enter into a portal to another dimension, known as the Deadside. Doing so threatens to weaken The Veil, the protective barrier that keeps the world of the living away from the world of the dead. If The Veil were to be destroyed, all manner of spooky monsters would flood into our reality, and humans would be in for a bad time.
Enter Jack Boniface, aka The Shadowman, a human possessed by the power of a voodoo spirit that gives him the power to fight against these demons and help maintain the power of The Veil.
Jack is alerted to the party after killing a beautifully vile-looking beast that has come to our world seeing his mate. It’s here that I want to pause and praise the art of Jon Davis-Hunt. I really enjoyed this comic, but even if the story isn’t your cup of tea I still recommend buying it just for the art alone. The character designs alone are worth the cover price, and Davis-Hunt has a real eye for frenetic action scenes that can sometimes be lacking in other writers.
I’ll also point out that from what I have seen of the character’s previous designs, I like this look a lot more.
Having slain the beast, Jack is interrupted by Baron Samedi, the King of Death. The full extent of this character’s background and power set is not fully revealed in this issue, but based on their interactions these two have a history, and not necessarily a good one.
From there Samedi sends Jack to the mansion party, where all hell inevitably breaks loose, and while Jack is able to save the day, in true Constantine fashion it’s not without a heavy cost and a hint that worse things are yet to come.
This first issue succeeds in a lot of ways. First, it does a nice job of setting up who our characters are and what the stakes are in a way that new readers can understand. There are nods to deeper mythology and history for those who want to go back and do the work, but it’s not necessary to understand and enjoy the issue.
The art is clean and interesting, with unique designs and character models for the heroes and monsters alike. All in all, it’s a good gateway book for new readers, and I am looking forward to going on this journey with them.
So if you’re missing Constantine, or are still coming down from the WandaVision high and are looking for your next hit of supernatural mayhem, check out Shadowman #1 and let me know it you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Until next time, Stay Safe!