The Delinquents: A Beginner’s Guide to ‘Shadowman’ and ‘Dr Mirage’
Valiant Comics' shared superhero universe is smaller and less familiar than those of its major rivals, but even a small shared universe can offer a lot to learn about. To help those readers looking to take the plunge into the Valiant Universe, we’ve assembled our own team of delinquents to break things down. Steve Morris knows Valiant inside out; J.A. Micheline is new to the universe. Micheline has the questions, and Morris has the answers.
Last time, Steve introduced JAM to the four main story types in the Valiant Universe: political (books like Harbinger and Bloodshot), sci-fi (X-O Manowar), comedy (Quantum & Woody, Archer & Armstrong), and supernatural (Shadowman, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage). He set JAM the task of reading the first sixteen issues of Shadowman and The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage --- and now they're back to talk about it!
Steve Morris: JAM! Last time, I left you with the Dr Mirage miniseries, as well as the Shadowman run which sort-of sets things up. This makes up the 'horror' section of Valiant --- so what did you make of Shadowman, to begin with?
J. A. Micheline: There are a lot of things I really like about the Shadowman universe --- the character design, for starters. The Shadowman costume is phenomenal. I'm really into the facepaint that takes advantage of the 2D nature of comics. Jack's face actually often appears skull-like, even though you know that isn't really the case. I think it's everything that was kind of meant to be intimidating about The Crow --- or even Sting if you want to take it back to wrestling (this is, by the way, the extent of my knowledge re: wrestling) --- but actually successful, because it's scary but also ties into the lore itself.
And then the logo! I'm a design philistine, really --- easily impressed by bright colors, cool shapes, fun fonts --- but the Shadowman symbol is a stand out. I imagine that creating an image that represents a shadow was really a challenge, but the designer rose to the occasion admirably. I love that they managed to get both a man obscured by shadow due to bright lights and his actual shadow all in one tight logo. Really impressive work. Possibly the strongest superhero symbol I've seen.
Also: that scythe.
Steve: The design was actually done by David Aja! I believe he consulted on a few of the different Valiant characters as they relaunched, putting them together in new ways that'd suit the current generation. Shadowman is still recognisably a human, but he gives off that sense of unfamiliarity that really fits in for the tone of the series. The character has a very strong look --- but what did you make of him as a personality? Did Jack make an impression on you, scythes aside? Or, should I say, scythes ascythe?
I think personality is what's a bit lacking in Shadowman. I didn't find Jack to be a particularly memorable person; he was much more of a parents-are-dead-and-I-am-the-chosen-one archetype. With Mirage --- who I'm sure we'll get to shortly --- I had a definite sense of who she was, how she handled herself, and what she wanted. Jack is a much less compelling lead with less characterization than I would have liked.
I know storytellers are commonly advised to throw readers/viewers right into the action, but that only works if the action serves to characterize and it didn't really happen here. Yes, we did get to see some of his compassion in the scenes with the waitress in the beginning as well as later on --- but that struck me as a little too easy, you know? A tiny flag that's supposed to indicate to me, "hello, yes, this is a good person who you should root for" --- but I think I want more than that. I'm looking for a complexity in my protagonists that I just wasn't getting in the nine issues (oops, sorry, partial credit on my homework) I read.
Steve: Shadowman is one of the more straightforward heroes that Valiant has, and if it's moral complexity you want, there'll definitely be characters we can discuss later who'll be of particular interest, perhaps.
I think you're right that it's a series which has a pretty simple approach to the story --- here is your hero, here is his origin, now it's time for him to run about and live up to his previously-unknown legacy. Your nine-issue run has been noted for the court record, although I do think nine issues is more than enough to establish what you think of a book. It's the better part of a year of story (ideally) after all.
So what were your thoughts on the series as a whole? This was the first ongoing series from Valiant to end a run, and the character has yet to return to his own series or appear anywhere else in a notable role. Your nine issues will show you most of Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher's run, collecting their first two arcs. They have one more together before they close out their time on the series, at which point I believe Peter Milligan, Valentine De Landro and Roberto De La Torre come in. Those issues are a lot more like a Vertigo book than the supernatural-superhero angle of these initial issues, which I suppose is what you'd expect when you let Peter Milligan write about voodoo.
You've gone through nine issues of Shadowman --- were you involved in his story?
JAM: Shadowman was definitely a mixed bag. I liked the clear presence of characters of color, women, and women of color. And I went into the character design for Jack's Shadowman, but I also like the design for his father's version, as well as the designs for the villains. All meticulously and compellingly done.
Also, I love Jaunty. Absolutely love him. I was really put-off by the way he spoke initially, but the team anticipated that and handled it in the narrative, which was really interesting and unexpected. (I'm not sure why they had him do it in the first place, but nonetheless, I'm glad it was quickly dealt with.) He's the standout character for me, really, and the one who was immediately identifiable, relatable, and complex. I want to know what a talking monkey with a hat is doing on the Deadside! And I want to know what his deal is, because sometimes he's mostly Team Good Guy, but sometimes Team Bad Guy!
Steve: Jaunty is one of the more well-known characters in Shadowman's back-pages --- it's a bit like Gambit, where he's so well known and liked, and has such broadly stylized dialogue, that he just wouldn't be the same without it. You have to keep a few things sacred!
JAM: Wait, so Jaunty existed before Shadowman? Now I'm confused. I thought this was the first Shadowman... Or is Jaunty a known element of voodoo?
Steve: Valiant existed a few years back, put out some comics, and then shut down. The comics we're seeing now are an entire reboot of the old properties --- so Jaunty appeared in the first version of the Valiant Universe in a very particular way, and also appeared with his Irish accent in the video games. The accent is such a defined part of his character that they decided to keep it for the reboot.
JAM: Ahh, I see! I know even less about Valiant than I thought. I didn't know these were old properties; I thought everything was brand new. I also didn't read Jaunty's accent as Irish, so that is similarly fascinating to me...
Steve: Accents are an eternal mystery to Americans. Justin Jordan's clearly not writing a proper Irish brogue, but he's definitely Irish! He's basically a voodoo version of Garth Ennis.
JAM: A voodoo version of Garth Ennis is absolutely hilarious. But look, we're having an extended conversation about Jaunty, even though the book is called Shadowman, and --- that's kind of a problem though, right? I read nine issues about the hero and his supporting characters, but the only one I want to know more about is a spirit monkey.
On the whole, the series has a really interesting world and rules, but it was the protagonist and the approach to storytelling that's really holding me back. I liked all the moving parts, but not the way in which they were used, you know?
But I can tell that I'm invested in at least some element of what was established in those nine issues of Shadowman, because hearing that Milligan, De Landro and De La Torre let it slide more towards Vertigo than supernatural-superhero is really exciting to me. I'll make a note to track it down because I think that's kind of what I wanted.
Steve: Milligan, de Landro and De La Torre finished off the run with a miniseries called "End Times". Around the same time they also introduced Punk Rock Mambo, a lady with piercings, tattoos, a pink mohawk and lots of leather --- basically the prototypical Peter Milligan female character. She gets her own one-shot. But the character most people took from Shadowman --- and I don't know if you got to see anything of her --- is Dr Mirage. Was she in the issues you read?
JAM: Yes, she was! It was nice to see an old friend, since I actually read the Mirage mini-series first.
I liked The Death Defying Doctor Mirage a fair amount. I loved that an Asian-American protagonist was taking the stage --- and in general loved how much racial diversity I've seen in these two Valiant books --- and I really, really loved the world. I want to know more about absolutely everything. About the house, about her marriage, about the rules of her Deadside --- everything.
I admit that I thought the story wandered a bit more than I wanted it to. It read more like a pilot, where we're being introduced to a world we're eventually going to know more about, than a complete, standalone, story. It could have been tighter, more layered, and in general things went the way you'd expect them to go. That being said, the characters at every turn were so fulfilling and engaging that I definitely let it get away with more than I allowed in Shadowman.
Oh also, something I don't say very often about a comic: the backmatter actually contributed to the series and informed it in a meaningful way. I learned why Mirage sees the queen in a certain way as compared to others --- and, once again, it made me wish there was more! A complex world, one with a lot of thought put into it, has clearly been built, and the miniseries made me feel like we were just on the cusp of tapping into its true potential.
Steve: As a company, Valiant are rather good at offering diversity within their comics --- they seem to be making some attempts to improve this with the people they hire to make their comics too, although that could certainly be a little wider-reaching. I think Jen Van Meter writing the series certainly adds something different to the Valiant Universe as a whole, simply because she's so selective in the comics she writes --- she comes in for brief runs on various stories, then moves out again, and it means her particular voice as an author feels unique and different. There's a bit of power in that, certainly.
She's also a writer who leans towards complex characters, and I think you see that quite clearly in Dr Mirage. This has been the most well-regarded comics that Valiant has put out to date, I'd say, so you've started with one of their best comics before we move across to anything else they've done.
As you did like this, but felt it was just set-up for something more... well, that's true, happily. There's going to be a second Dr Mirage miniseries coming up in a few months time, with the same creative team.
JAM: Yes! I heard about this and I'm looking forward to seeing the same team work together, because the art is also really, really gorgeous. The version I read was a digital PDF, but I later sought it out in print to see if it looked better, and it absolutely did. (This is the kind of thing that makes me paranoid about reading comics in digital as well.) The lines and colors are really crisp, but at the same time kind of establish this ethereal atmosphere that really suits the content.
Steve: De La Torre seems to be an artist who doesn't get the credit he deserves --- he's worked all over, but I still remember a brilliant-looking run on Daredevil that he did a few years ago. He was perfect for that, and he's able to shift his style in subtle ways and translate it to something like this.
So, overall, we're saying Dr Mirage was something that worked for you? Shadowman you were fine with, but Dr Mirage you actively enjoyed and want more of?
JAM: I definitely would be interested in more Dr Mirage. I want an ongoing Mirage book, a TV series, a movie deal --- I want it all. It needs more. I need more. I'm almost to the point where I love it and I want to get there. A second mini-series with the same team is hugely promising. I don't know if it's Van Meter's style to do ongoings, but it's something I'd like to see because there's an enormous amount of room for something like this in the market. Shan is character who I want to follow along with, and her world is something I want to see more of, please.
Steve: Valiant's attitude seems to be "we will put out issues when the creative teams are ready." There's a series they have called Rai, where they do an arc, pause for a few months so artist Clayton Crain can catch up, and then return. There are massive gaps between arcs as a result, but you do get a coherent creative vision for the character as a result. I think that may be what is happening with Dr Mirage? I'm really not sure, though! It might be that they weren't sure if the character could sell her series.
She'll definitely be back, though, is the thing to keep in mind.
JAM: Well, I am very much pro-this method of publishing, even if it means I have to wait a while. I'd rather wait for something that the team is doing when they're ready to do it.
Steve: I want to pull a few things together that you've mentioned above, though. The first is your interest in a real moral conflict, characters you can't trust and where right and wrong get intertwined in a tricky, impossible way. You're also interested in how Valiant handles in-universe diversity. To me? That means one thing: it's time we take a look at Harbinger. This is a series about 'psiots' --- kids with special abilities --- and the people who look after them.
JAM: This is sounding really X-Men-y, and --- but? --- I can dig it.
Steve: It's going to introduce you to Valiant's biggest character, Toyo Harada, and it'll also be the property that kicks off Valiant's move into a cinematic universe. There'll be two Harbinger films, two Bloodshot films, and then a crossover that ties the two together.
Which, handily, is what happened early on in the comics! So if we say the first two volumes of Harbinger, the first two volumes of Bloodshot, and the Harbinger Wars crossover volume? Five volumes of reading, yes --- but they form up to one complete story, which forms the foundation from which you can jump across to some of the more recent stuff.
JAM: Lots of homework for the next two weeks, but I trust you! I had a good experience with Mirage, and even though I thought Shadowman was just okay, even then, I don't really want to shut the door on it because there was heaps of potential. Even though I'm not in love yet, I am definitely liking what the Valiant Universe has offered me thus far.
To be continued…
If you want to read along with our Delinquents, check out Harbinger volumes 1 and 2, Bloodshot volumes 1 and 2, and Harbinger Wars, and join us back here in two weeks time!