SHADE, THE CHANGING MANMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1977
Creator: Steve Ditko
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From Spider-Man on, characters created or co-created by Steve Ditko have a tendency to be somewhat quirky. The Blue Beetle, Mr. A, The Hawk & the Dove all quirky, and The Question was quirkier yet. Doctor Strange was quirkier than any two of them put together, and as
for The Creeper, they don't come much quirkier than that. But Shade the Changing Man went beyond mere quirkiness. Shade, which Ditko plotted as well as drew (tho Michael Fleischer, known for Jonah Hex, wrote the dialog), was downright weird.
In DC Comics' Shade, the Changing Man #1 (July, 1977), readers were introduced to Rac Shade, the numero uno secret agent for the government of Meta, an extra-dimensional world with human-like inhabitants possessing high technology, and the love of his life, Mellu Loron, whom he was training to work in the secret agent trade. Mellu's mom, Mira Loron, was secretly Sude, the Supreme Decider (or as we say here, "dictator") of Meta, who, equally secretly, plotted to become ruler of Earth as well.
The plot thickener (as if a world leader who maintains a secret identity, cf. Super President, didn't make it thick enough already) was The M-Vest, invented by Dr. Miraco. This device conferred certain powers upon the wearer, among which was an ability to travel easily between the "Meta-Zone" and the "Earth-Zone". Its other powers were great, but largely unknown. Sude arranged to have it stolen, murdering Miraco in the process. It fell into Shade's hands — secretly, like so much else in this series. Another power it demonstrated was an ability to alter the wearer's appearance, drawing on the fears of whoever looked at him to make him seem monstrous — hence the subtitle, "The Changing Man".
As if this weren't enough to drive a comic book series, Sude framed Shade for a terrorist bombing aimed at her own regime, adding the tinge of outlawry to his persona. Nonetheless, it lasted only eight issues, ending with a cover date of September, 1978.
But that doesn't necessarily mean it didn't catch on with readers — actually, we'll never know how readers would have responded if it had been given a chance, because it succumbed to the same event as Steel the Indestructible Man, Claw the Unconquered, The Secret Society of Super-Villains and many other weaker titles, or ones that hadn't been around long enough to establish an audience. In a paroxysm of frugality, DC's money men suddenly pulled the plug on them all, in what is remembered by comics fans as "The DC Implosion".
But like Firestorm, Black Lightning and quite a few other Implosion victims, Shade was eventually brought back. With a cover date of July, 1990, he was relaunched as part of DC's Vertigo line (Kid Eternity, The Black Orchid), which specialized in more complex comics for more mature readers. There, he was handled by writer Peter Milligan (Judge Dredd) and artist Chris Bachalo (X-Men).
Elements of the original series were only the springboard into this one. In this incarnation, Shade was trapped on Earth in the body of a condemned serial killer named Troy Grenzer, and picked up with Kathy George, daughter of two of his victims and engaged to a third, since committed to a mental institution. They roam America, trying to deal with the effects of an Area of Madness (where his own body was located at the time) that was spilling over into both Earth and Meta. The M-Vest, its power upgraded, was re-christened The Madness Vest.
These reality-bending adventures carried it far longer than Ditko's own weirdness had carried the first. In fact, 70 issues were published, the last dated April, 1996. But in a world accustomed to adult-oriented superheroes like Watchmen and Miracleman, it didn't stand out from the crowd — despite the fact that Ditko's Shade had arguably been a necessary precursor to those others.
In 2003, DC brought out the first six issues of the Milligan/Bachalo Shade in graphic novel form. But it hasn't yet followed that up with the rest.