The Marvel Universe is full of lesser-known characters—your Spots, your Sleepwalkers, your Solos—that become fan favorites, either despite or because of their relative lack of page time. Four such characters are at the focus of the August-debuting Shadowland: Blood on the Streets, written by Antony Johnston and penciled by Wellinton Alves.
A tie-in to the Daredevil-centric Shadowland event, the 4-issue Blood on the Streets stars Misty Knight, Paladin, the Shroud and Silver Sable. Four characters unlikely to anchor a title, and four characters unlikely to be working together. That's kind of the point.
"When Shadowland was being planned, it was decided to do a bunch of one-shots and miniseries to tie in, as a way to focus on some peripheral characters, and bring back other 'street level' characters that we maybe hadn’t seen in a while," Johnston writes via e-mail.
Johnston is working very closely within the framework of this summer event, co-writing the Daredevil tie-in issues with frequent collaborator and Shadowland architect Andy Diggle. Now installed as leader of evil ninja clan The Hand, Daredevil has constructed an underground prison—the titular Shadowland. These events provide the impetus to get the Blood on the Streets crew together.
"The plot is very simple; the Hand is killing low-rent mobsters, men everyone knows are crooks, but who haven’t been convicted," Johnston writes. "Shroud wants to stop this happening, and Misty gets involved because of her ties to Daredevil. Silver Sable and Paladin become involved for their own reasons, and that gets the ball rolling."
Working closely with Diggle allows Blood on the Streets to fit seamlessly with the bigger picture of Shadowland, but, as is the usual goal for crossover tie-ins, Johnston—whose body of work contains diverse material like Oni's Three Days in Europe as well as his recent superhero output—hopes for the miniseries to stand on its own.
"Everything follows a single timeline," Johnston writes. "Andy Diggle and I worked together on both the Shadowland and Daredevil timelines, and that gives me a great perspective on how to work Blood on the Streets around the events of Shadowland. You’ll see characters and events cross over between the two, as a result. You can’t have one without the other.
"But Blood on the Streets also stands by itself; everything you need to know is covered inside its pages."
Editor Bill Rosemann shares that Johnston was picked for this assignment not just for his working relationship with Diggle, but also a genuine passion for the characters being used.
"Steve Wacker had been raving about working with Antony on the monthly Daredevil series, and how in synch with Diggle he’s been as half of the writing team," Rosemann writes. "Plus he has a true passion for the “underdog” characters like Misty and Shroud. He’s hungry to remind everyone how great they can be."
Johnston writes that he'd been previously interested in using some of the Blood on the Streets characters outside Shadowland, so this opportunity worked out nicely. He calls the book "definitely" an ensemble piece, with all four characters wary of each other—but aware that working together against The Hand makes a lot more sense than working alone.
Paladin first appeared in Daredevil back in 1978, and has a history of working in the past with both Silver Sable and Misty Knight. He's been a part of Heroes for Hire, and, most recently, Thunderbolts.
"What I like about Paladin is that he’s a soldier, a full-on mercenary, but with his own unique code of honor," Johnston writes. "He’s an interesting dichotomy. In this story, he’s all about money. He was hired to do a job, and the Hand’s meddling has cost him his payday. He’s not going to stand for that; he has a reputation (not to mention an offshore bank account) to protect. "
Fairly visible throughout the '90s in Spider-Man books and beyond, Silver Sable comes to Blood on the Streets emerging from a period of relative obscurity."She’s one of a few truly international globe-trotting characters in the Marvel U, with a unique perspective on the world because of her heritage, and I’ve wanted to do something with her for a long time," Johnston writes of Silver Sable. "In Blood on the Streets, Sable is trying to clear her name with Interpol; they hired her to track a criminal, who is killed by the Hand before she can get to him. Interpol suspects Sable may have dealt the blow herself, and she’s compelled to prove her innocence. We’ll also get a glimpse at how her status quo, and attitude towards Paladin, has been shaken up."
Misty Knight—like Paladin, also a product of the '70s—has been quite visible in recent years, leading the most recent incarnation of Heroes for Hire and becoming pregnant with Iron Fist's child. Johnston reports that she's at the center of Blood on the Streets, bionic arm and all.
"Misty is the other character I was already interested in," Johnston writes. "She’s a great character to write, very down-to-earth and level-headed. Misty is the primary viewpoint character in Blood on the Streets, and drives the central narrative, because of her ties to Daredevil. We get plenty of time with all the others, and peek inside their heads a little, but her story is the spine of it."
Things didn't go so well between Paladin and Knight during their stint together on Heroes for Hire—he ended up betraying that team in an attempt to capture the anti-registration Captain America during Civil War—so things are bound to get just a tad awkward. Though there are more important matters to consider than past misdeeds.
"There’s been plenty of water under the bridge since then," Johnston writes, adding that the history will be touched on "a little." "And right now, they have bigger things to worry about."
Rounding out the ersatz team is the Shroud, a perennial cult favorite with access to the Darkforce dimension. Originally conceived in 1976 as an homage to The Shadow, Johnston calls him the "oddball of the group."
"If experience has taught him anything, it’s that he’s not suited to teamwork, and that’s where we first find him; working alone, investigating the murders," Johnston writes. "But it’s also Shroud who gets the ball rolling with some of the other characters. He doesn’t want to be part of a team, but he knows when someone else is better suited to handling a situation than him."
Cops play an important role in the book, allowing Johnston to work with another established character, the most obscure one of all: Misty Knight’s old NYPD partner Lt. Rafe Scarfe."Readers haven’t seen Rafe for a while, but he’s an important part of Misty’s history, and his squad is also investigating several of the murder cases," Johnston writes.
Art-wise, Wellinton Alves might at first seem like a left-field choice for a street-level title, given his history on books like Nova and War of Kings: Ascension, but is resume runs deeper than cosmic capers. Johnston worked with Alves before, on Avatar's Yuggoth Creatures for a "Lovecraftian horror story."
"He’s only improved with time; the pages I’ve seen so far are fantastic, with a combination of great action, storytelling and character acting, and he’s got the noir feeling we’re going for down pat," Johnston writes. "I couldn’t be happier with his work."
Ultimately, though, Blood on the Streets looks to be defined by its cast.
"If you’re one of the readers that complain that all the same heroes seem to appear in every book," Rosemann writes, "then here’s your chance to let the decision makers know you want to see more titles that give the unsung characters a chance to prove why they’re so cool."More on Shadowland: