Review by Win Wiacek
The 1990s were a slow period in terms of comics creativity. A notable exception was a little outfit with some big names that clearly prized the merits of well-told stories illustrated by artists immune to the latest mis-proportioned, scratchy poseur styles, but one with enough business sense to play the industry at its own game. Eschewing most of the more crass profiteering stunts, Valiant Comics revived some old characters and proved once more that the basics never go out of fashion.
Among their properties was was a voodoo-tainted, New Orleans-based wild man/daredevil named Jack Boniface. As defined by writer/artist Bob Hall, his origins stretch back to the 19th century when necromancer Anton Quigley shared too much of his arcane knowledge with his disciple Darque. When they clash Quigley is merged with the power of the Loa as a Shadowman, yet Quigley was destroyed whilst Darque ascended to a position of unassailable dominance. Over the intervening decades the war stalled until a voodoo woman decided it was time to call forth another Shadowman.
Boniface is a struggling session saxophonist in New Orleans when seduced by Lydia, a mysterious woman he picks up in a club. Her sinister, trysting assault leaves him unconscious, amnesiac and forever altered by a bite to his neck. Lydia has somehow turned him into a violent, driven maniac, hungry for conflict – but only when the sun goes down.
The credits are a lot more complex that they might appear as editor Jim Shooter famously used a communal brainstorming system to create characters and stories. The credits for this collection read “Plotters: Englehart, Shooter, Steve Ditko, David Lapham, Mark Moretti and Don Perlin; Writers: Englehart, Bob Hall, Faye Perozich, Shooter; Pencillers: Ditko, Lapham, Moretti”. That’s before the platoon of inkers, colourists, letterers and production people… The sample art is Lapham.
Jack’s hunger for answers takes him to experts in both medicine and Obeah magic before his Shadowman self drags him into a confrontation with a Bayou axe murderer. Increasingly off the rails, he then tackles mobsters and hit-men before destroying a well-connected super-powered child abuser. We also see a murderous clan of degenerate swamp-dwellers stealing women and children from local communities, drug dealers and encounters with ordinary citizens driven to commit blasphemous crimes for a mystery mastermind.
With his heroic credentials fully established, between those Jack also participates in Valiant’s first mega-crossover event. Unity gathered all Valiant’s disparate heroes – and many villains – in a timeless dimension where dinosaurs and cavemen existed side by side, fighting an endless war against quantum powered threat Mothergod. Sadly, the conclusion isn’t provide here, but Jack returns from the event having learned exactly when he would die.
Bitter, merciless and now completely reckless since he believes he cannot die until his time is officially up, Shadowman is a relentless, remorseless, punishing force of nature. What a pity Boniface is a helpless witness to every atrocity his night-self commits. This collection ends just before Shadowman meets a very old enemy for the first time. There is no Volume 2, but the entire run of the 1990s Shadowman is collected in a subsequent Omnibus.
Combining the best elements of conflicted lone vigilantes and dark avengers such as Batman and Daredevil with an exotic locale and traditional horror elements, Shadowman offers a tense, unsettling counterpoint to the super-science and shining heroism of Valiant’s other titles. Despite the committee-like nature of its creation, it still delivers heaping helpings of moody mystery and arcane excitement.