ROBINSON, HAMNER Bring THE SHADE To DC Fans Old & New

 

This week, DC Comics launches a 12-issue series that fits with the relaunch because of its new #1, but very much ties to what readers love about DC's past.

The Shade, by writer James Robinson, builds upon the author's critically acclaimed Starman series and builds the Shade character's mythology in a similarly reverential way.

The series starts its run with art by Cully Hamner, who had to delay his work on the book because of his recent involvement with the redesigns for DC's revamped characters. But the series launches this week, with Hamner drawing the first three issues, and will later feature art by such luminaries as Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, Jill Thompson, Frazer Irving and Gene Ha.

The Shade was originally introduced in the Golden Age of comics, but was re-introduced by Robinson as a mentor for Jack Knight, the character featured in his Starman series. While he has played the role of villain in the past, the Shade has evolved into a morally ambiguous character with powers over shadows and immortality.

And although Robinson has been living in the United States for years, he's originally from Great Britain, and he's given The Shade a distinctly British voice and dry humor, making him a fan-favorite who has shown up quite a bit in the DCU.

Robinson, who was recently announced as the writer of a Justice Society of America series with artist Nicola Scott, has previously been one of the most notable DC writers left out of the New 52 line-up. But with this week's release of The Shade #1, he's brought back into the DC fold, much to the relief of his loyal fans.

We talked with both Hamner and Robinson about the series and found out they have quite a history with Starman, and both have a love for what they're doing in The Shade.

Newsarama: James, out of all the concepts and characters you explored during your Starman run, you seem to keep coming back to The Shade. What is it about this character that is so compelling not only to your readers, but obviously to you?

James Robinson: Because I didn't create the character — he was actually a Jay Garrick Flash villain — I feel like he's more true to the DC Universe, as opposed to Jack Knight, whom I feel more proprietary toward, and I know Tony Harris does also. So there's that element to him.

 

But at the same time, when I sort of came upon the character as a potential supporting player in Starman, he really didn't have any personality. He had shadow powers. And there is that in the original Who's Who of the DC Universe, but there was no information on who he was or his background or his origin or anything. And he had this goofy costume that was quite a bit Victorian, but at the same time made him look like a buffoonish clown.

Having taken that, and turned him into this amoral, quasi-gentleman villain, I feel like I created a new character from the old cloth of The Shade, so I feel an affection for him.

Also, the English gentleman part of him is something I enjoy coming back to. And as proud as I am of my recent DC superhero work on Superman and Justice League and Cry for Justice — and I want to stress just how proud of that work I am — it is nice to go back to a familiar corner of the DC Universe, away from the continuity. As exciting as writing those books is, there are limitations. There are a lot of things you are aware of, that often readers aren't aware of, when you're working with a book that is tied into so many other books in the DC Universe.

So having a little bit of freedom with The Shade is a real tonic to my stress level and my creativity.

Nrama: Yeah, and we have talked in the past about some frustrations you had about writing both Superman without Superman, and Justice League without most of the characters people associate with the Justice League. At least this time, you've got your lead character in The Shade.

Robinson: Well, I had Superman for the first little arc, and then I had Mon-El for the rest of the run, which I enjoyed doing. I actually don't think I would have changed that. But at the same time, I think readers were anxious to see Superman back in that book. This is really a sidebar here, but I do feel like, if Mon-El had been in a different comic at the time, I think fans would have received it better. That's just my opinion.

Nrama: Yes, but my point is that you have a book called The Shade and you actually do have a character called The Shade in the book.

Robinson: That's true. For once. Absolutely.

Nrama: Cully, what attracted you to this project?

Cully Hamner: I just thought this is a writer that I used to really like working with back in the day. We worked together on Firearm.

So it's a chance to work with James again, and it's a chance to work on a characters that I can challenge myself with. And I've got a good colorist on me in Dave McCaig.

And then, once I saw the script for that first issue, it was another thing that really sealed the deal for me. It was one of those few times when you read the first script and you get to the end of the first issue and you say, "Wow, how is he going to get out of this?" And that doesn't happen to me too often.

 

I think James is in top form here. He's just really sharp on this book. It's just a real pleasure to work on his scripts again. And it's interesting for both of us, because both of us were used to working with the people that we were 15 years ago, and we've both gotten better at what we do. But there are still things that are recognizable from when we used to work together. And so many things that have gotten better.

Nrama: James, did you have to tailor this Shade story at all to the New 52 revamp of the DCU?

Robinson: Well, it doesn't really encroach upon the relaunch much. It isn't something I needed to deal with. The only thing that occurs to me is, playing a small but pivotal role in the first issue is Deathstroke. And his look corresponds with the new redesign.

Nrama: You mentioned that you were proud of your Superman and Justice League runs. Is it kind of weird for you to have both those rebooted in such a major way, particularly with the JLA, coming right off your run?

Robinson: Not really because that's just par for the course in a shared universe. If that was important, I think it would drive you insane. Reboots are a fact of life. These things happen.

Yes, I'm proud of what I did on Superman, but I'm sure that Geoff Johns is very proud of what he did on Teen Titans, and that's gone too, you know?

And in Justice League #60, I tried to give the Justice League a nice little send-off, and they exited the stage with some dignity and a sense of closure.

You just have to go with the flow and move on and try to make your next project something you're even more proud of.

Nrama: With this week's #1 issue, even though you had used him quite a bit in your recent stories, how are you introducing him? Who is he in this new DCU after the relaunch?

Robinson: He's an immortal who got his immortality and his powers in an as-yet-unrevealed origin that took place in England in the early part of the 19th Century.

His morality has fluctuated from good to bad to "I'm not sure if I'm a hero or a villain anymore" throughout the time he's been alive.

As I established in Starman, some of his more outlandish villainy back in the day was due to him being possessed by a malevolent spirit that manifested itself from time to time.

But ultimately, now, he is an immortal who resides in Opal City, which is sadly depleted of its superheroes. I noticed that I left a lot of superheroes in Opal City when I left the book, and they've all been killed. 

He's really the last hold-out, and Mikaal Tomas, the alien Starman that I was using in Justice League.

At this point, a situation beyond his control reminds him of a family that he left behind at the time of his origin. And events involving that family force him to take action and leave Opal City and go on a mini-tour of the world, to fix things and right things and re-effect aspects of his humanity, even if temporarily.

Nrama: Cully, you mentioned that you thought this book would be a challenge. Does this character kind of use different artistic muscles?

Hamner: Yeah. You're talking about a character who is a shape, in a way. He's all in black, and also he wears a tophat. I don't think I'd ever drawn a tophat in my life. This might surprise people, but if you get a character that you've never drawn before, who wears something -- like a tophat -- that you've never drawn, you actually have to sit down for a couple days and learn how to draw that thing.

 

So here's a character who has a tophat and a cane, and also, when he uses his powers, there's this graphic thing that Tony Harris came up with. I can't draw in Tony's style, so I have to re-imagine it the way I would do it, and kind of figure it out in my way of doing things.

Not only that, but there was a certain amount of clarification of what the guy looks like that James wanted to do, that he described in his script and in a couple of conversations we had.

I did a design process and a couple of turnarounds just for my own use, to get down my own interpretation of the character. I showed it to Tony Harris at HeroesCon, and he seemed to really dig it.

I've kind of settled on a very good character distinctiveness with The Shade's look. And it is a bit different from what Tony drew, because Tony had a model in mind when he drew. And I have a different model in mind. But it's recognizably the same character.

Nrama: Solicitations and previews have shown that Hope O'Dare is in this maxi series, and there was previous indication that they were a couple. Anything you can tell us about her role?

Robinson: She's in the comic at the start, but once he leaves Opal, it's very much a story about The Shade on his own.

I made a point in the first two issues, which take place in Opal City, of giving readers a taste of Hope O'Dare, of Bobo Benetti, and of Mikaal Tomas Starman, just to introduce readers to the status quo in that city. Prior to The Shade taking off for his tour around the world, which becomes the story.

Hamner: I had a lot of fun drawing Hope, actually. I wanted to give her a personality. I'm not coloring it, so I'm not giving her red hair -- I'm just drawing hair. So I had to really figure out a way to give her a distinct look and personality.

Nrama: What were your thoughts behind taking him around the world?

Robinson: I feel a bit like what I love about The Shade, besides the quips and the dry humor, is the sense that you're never quite sure how he's going to react in any given situation. He's not a traditional hero. That's the part of The Shade that I enjoy, and that's the part that's a constant, as far as I'm concerned.

I felt that setting him in Opal City, yet again, for yet another storyline, was hamstringing him slightly. And I think I established in some of the past stories that he does travel the world, and he is a seeker of interesting climes. And that was the aspect of The Shade that I wanted to enjoy with this series.

So that was my motivation.

I know readers often want what they're used to, and the fact that we see Opal City beautifully rendered by Cully in the first few issues, and we're not really going to see more of her, might be a little risky. If this series is a success, I promise that I'll come back and do something set exclusively in Opal City.

Hamner: Opal City has a lot of character to it. Tony Harris gave it a lot of personality, and I've had to really re-interpret it into my own style. I had to approach the architecture in a way that was respectful of what Tony did, but didn't rip him off.

But I get to draw a few other settings in my issues.

Robinson: Hold on a second as I have a sip of tea....

Nrama: He sounds like The Shade. I guess James has the British thing down.

Hamner: He gave me a lecture once, a long time ago, about how to properly make tea.

 

You know, there are a few characters James does that are his voice. He's actually a character, you know? And Starman the character spoke with his voice, but interestingly enough, looked like Tony Harris did at the time. So they both kind of personified the character in a way. Obviously, I don't look anything like The Shade, but I still hear James' sensibility and his voice come through very strongly in this character too, maybe even moreso because, like you said, this character has more of a British flavor to him.

Nrama: James, one of the things people love about The Shade is how he tells stories of "Times Past." That's an integral part of this series, right?

Robinson: Very much so. The series is 12 issues, and it's divided up into arcs of three issues. Each of those is followed by a single issue, "Times Past."

That's how I was able to get artists who couldn't commit to longer arcs, but were up for doing a single issue of The Shade. So those Times Past issues will be done by Darwin Cooke, Jill Thompson and Gene Ha, respectively.

Nrama: Are tailoring stories to the artists who are working with you?

Robinson: I was very inspired by Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin run, where his stories, whilst being part of a big overriding storyline, each individual story suited very much the style of the artist involved. He had that wild, colorful, hallucinatory world that Frank Quitely did, then you had that darker, more noir-type story that Philip Tan did, and so on. And all of them were brilliantly serviced by the talents of those artists.

With that in mind, I was trying to write stories that suited Cully and Darwin and the various artists I've been working with. We very much wanted a Spanish artist to do issues #5-#7, which take place in Barcelona. And we were very lucky and fortunate to get Javier Pulido, who's an artist I've admired and wanted to work with ever since I saw his artwork.

Hamner: Yeah, all I'm doing is the kick-off. There are a lot of other people on the book. And I think it's really cool that they're really thinking about what artists to put on the Times Past stories. It's going to be really cool.

Nrama: And James, you're bringing in some of these new international characters later in the series?

Robinson: Well, they're kind of new. They're existing characters just in the sense that they're characters I created. In the issue of Superman where I had Mon-El flying around the world meeting international characters, I had him meeting Rocket Red and Rising Sun and Congorilla, but at the same time, I created some new international characters.

I feel like DC doesn't have quite enough cool international characters. They have quite a few, but I feel like there could and should be more of them.

It also felt like, every time there was an international character introduced, at least back in the '70s and '80s, if you had an international character, his power and/or his name was directly tied to his nationality. And it would be the equivalent of every American hero being Yankee Doodle, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Captain Stars and Stripes or what-have-you. Kind of ridiculous.

So I just wanted to have a couple of those characters appear in this series as The Shade jumps around from country to country.

 

The first one will be Von Hammer, who is this private detective who is being drawn in the first and second issue by Cully, which is nice. He isn't Firearm, the character Cully and I did many years ago, but it still was nice to go down a similar road with Cully and have a character that was a little bit like the one we had done many, many years ago when we first collaborated.

Hamner: Yeah, there are certain things about Von Hammer that are very Firearm-ish to me. So drawing that character and making that character work is what reminds me about working with James in the past most of all. It was a bit of a deja vu feeling. It was interesting because it's a lot of chase stuff and gunplay and balls-out action.

But then I also got to draw the Shade stuff, which is more in the Starman style, which is the stuff that, to me, is a little more challenging, making that feel right. I didn't create that, but two good friends of mine did, so it's interesting to work within the framework they built, but still bring some of my own flavor to it.

You know, a lot of people don't know this, but when James was first going to do Starman, back in the early '90s, I was actually one of the people he talked to about doing the book. He sent me a pitch for Starman and a pitch for Firearm. And Firearm was the one I kind of responded to.

Starman, obviously, went to Tony. And I honestly think that if I was the one to do Starman, it wouldn't have lasted like it did. Tony brought such a singular style to it, and an ethic to it. And that's what made it work so well. He had a spark that I don't think I was capable of bringing to it at the time. They really made that world work, and I admire it. So I'm trying to do Starman justice.

Nrama: James, will The Shade run into a nemesis?

Robinson: Not just "a" nemesis. He'll run into a few of them as he gets closer to the truth.

There's less of one evil entity, and more of a evil organization that he ultimately goes up against.

Nrama: James, will the tone of the book be more toward what we saw when you were writing Starman? Or will it be more action-packed like your work on Justice League?

Robinson: It will be more character-focused. But it's still a comic book. This isn't a book of conversations. This is a big, exciting story. So there are moments of big comic book visuals. And The Shade will be thrust into situations that you wouldn't normally expect.

But I think readers who like the way I've done The Shade in the past wouldn't feel affronted by how I tell this story and how his internal monologue works in this series.

Robinson: Yes, absolutely. You'll learn all sorts of things: Things he's not particularly proud of, and things he feels he need to redeem now in the present.

Nrama: You've been announced as the writer on a new Justice Society of America book, and while I know you can't talk about that yet, are there going to be more projects from you next year, either at DC or elsewhere?

Robinson: I'm working with DC on some things, and they'll be solicited in 2012. And of course, The Shade continues for 12 issues into next year.

Nrama: Then to finish up, are there any final words for readers who might pick up The Shade this week?

Robinson: I just hope readers enjoy what I'm doing with him now as much as back in the day.

Hamner: I just want to say that, as I read these scripts, it was like James coming home. He's super comfortable with these characters, and he still has a lot left to say with them. I think people are going to like it.

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