Originally a short-lived series created by Steve Ditko, Shade ran from 1977-78 before its sudden cancellation. Like many other Silver Age heroes he got a thorough Continuity Reboot under DC Comics's Vertigo imprint; the alien fugitive with a technological gizmo was replaced by a soulful poet from a parallel Earth who could warp reality.
The reboot was written in 1990 under Britwave author Peter Milligan and then-fledgling artist Chris Bachalo. Like the work of previous British authors Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, the series was highly experimental, combining history, mythology, literary allusions, and genre deconstruction. The series would run seventy issues, reaching its conclusion in 1996.
The series focuses on Shade, a dimensional traveler with reality-altering powers. In the Vertigo title, he is unceremoniously dropped into our dimension, where he becomes involved in the life of a young woman named Kathy, still reeling from the brutal murder of her boyfriend and parents. He soon turns her life upside-down as he fights against physical manifestations of madness, of his own desires, and of the breakdown of American culture. He fights fire with fire by harnessing the power of Madness using the "Madness Vest" (the "M-Vest" in the Ditko era). However, things quickly turn more complicated...
The externalization of shifting ideas forms a central theme throughout the series, exploring belief, creation, madness, and the instability of identity. The focus of the series was usually on character interaction, psychological changes, and human relationships, even as the overarching plot grew increasingly climactic and fantastical. The series never shied away from controversy, dealing openly with transgenderism, homosexuality, murder, and interracial relationships.
The series has a cult following, but the complete series is difficult to find, with only the first nineteen issues having been republished as trades. DC is in the process of releasing individual issues digitally. In 2003, original author Peter Milligan teamed with Madman artist Mike Allred to write a one-off Shade story for Vertigo's tenth anniversary special; in 2011, Shade appeared in Flashpoint as the leader of the Secret Seven, and also appeared in the New 52 series Justice League Dark. In 2013 a one-shot short in the DC Nation block on Cartoon Network heralded his first animated appearance; this incarnation is often regarded by fans as being a (benevolent) Lord of Chaos.
In 2016, DC announced Shade, The Changing Girl, by writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone, as one of the titles under Gerard Way's Young Animal imprint, featuring a female alien, Loma Shade, with the Madness Vest and hiding out in the body of a 16-year-old girl. After the "Milk Wars" crossover, it was relaunched as Shade, The Changing Woman.
Shade, the Changing Man provides examples of:
- Affably Evil: The Devil, who comes across as a civilized, cultured gentleman who eventually stabs Shade in the back. He is the Devil, after all.
- Alternate Universe: Meta.
- Another Dimension: Our hero's unusual provenance.
- Ascended Fangirl: Basically the premise of Shade, The Changing Girl. A Shade fangirl on Meta got her hands on the Madness Vest and went to Earth like her idol.
- Author Avatar: Shade's cultural confusion in America echoed Peter Milligan's own.
- Not to mention the fact that Shade's reality altering powers are presented as an allegory for the authorial act of creation.
- Troy Grenzer and the supermarket gunman in the sheepskin jacket.
- Shade also has a short bout of it during his deal with the Devil.Kathy: You haven't... given up your soul or anything?
Shade: He's not interested in souls. And he's not really the Devil. And he's not as bad as you think. Quite easygoing, really.
- Back from the Dead: Shade at least once, but the distinction somewhat blurs after he begins making trips to the Land of the Dead regularly.
- Beat Still, My Heart: Shade's heart is stolen by a squatter in his home after a battle. He embarks on a half-hearted rescue of it and when he finally catches up to it, has a heart-to-heart talk with it. And then steps on it when he decides he's better off heartless. It appears from time to time, still beating, moving under its own power, and even has internal monologues.
- Canon Discontinuity: Shade's later appearance in Hellblazer seems to confirm that everything beyond Issue 50, the original intended ending, is such.
- Changed My Jumper: On the rare examples of time-travel, it was easily Hand Waved by Shade only appearing to personalities known to stay under the influence of substances, sometimes including hallucinogens. In one unique aversion, all of Hotel Shade and everything inside reverted gradually to earlier analogues and fashions, until they finally arrived in colonial Salem. Constantine mused on the fit of various underwear through history.
- Continuity Nod: Meta's Ditkosian mythology referred to Steve Ditko's work on the title, largely thrown out of canon during Peter Milligan's run.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lenny, who upon losing this ability attempts suicide.
- Distaff Counterpart: Loma Shade in Shade, the Changing Girl.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Shade's earliest incarnation, called sweet and sensitive, faces disappointments with Kathy and abuse from Lenny.
- Dream Land: The Area (originally 'The Area of Madness') is expanded to become the land of dreams, the land of the dead, the place where all human consciousness gravitates.
- Dysfunction Junction: Played straight with some characters, subverted by other characters who are just trying to seem more interesting than their actual background would suggest, and inverted by others who come across perfectly stable in spite of having every reason to go mad.
- Emotionless Girl: The Passionchild, an androgynous pretty boy who incited emotion to the psychotic degree in everyone around him, but never expressed anything. He didn't even speak until Shade cracked into his inner world, and found nothing.Passionchild: I find nothing out there. I find nothing in here too, but it's my nothing.
- Enemy Within: For Shade (thanks to the power of madness) Hades became an Enemy Without and an Ensemble Dark Horse in the same story arc. He also seemed to become less threatening and more helpful, so perhaps it's for the best that he vanished the scene before Spikeification set in.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: Every time Shade dies.
- Gender Bender: Shade's consciousness leaps into the body of a recently murdered woman. Unfortunately, he was unable to alter her body to resemble his old one until he solved her murder and put her soul at rest. This led to various comical scenes with Shade experiencing the Male Gaze, his first period and sex as a woman.
- Shade writer Peter Milligan later wrote the second Infinity, Inc series, in which team member Fury involuntarily switches between genders.
- Genre Savvy: Lenny, later the incarnation of Pandora.
- Green Rocks: The Power of Madness.
- Important Haircut:
- Kathy's came after getting over the loss of Shade and becoming romantically attached to Lenny. The editor confessed in the letters page that she had also gone through several hairstyles of her own while getting over emotional pains. Kathy returned to long, natural hair while pregnant with Shade's child and since she was murdered not long after, that's how she's always remembered.
- And then there's Shade himself, who gets a new haircut every time he dies.
- It Runs on Nonsensoleum: "It runs on pure madness!" Things like Angel Catchers and Time Machines are built from unlikely whirlwinds of parts, arranged in implausible configurations, and powered by Shade's insane faith that they would work. For a time, even Shade's own body was formed and held together with madness.
- Plausible Deniability: In the 1987 Suicide Squad series, Shade told about an incredibly confusing conspiracy that was going on in his home dimension. When Shade and the Squad confronted the conspirators on Earth, one of the Squad members asked what to do when the police arrived. Shade replied to tell the police the truth and they would brush it off as a delusional fantasy.
- Power Born of Madness: Prime example of the Reality Warper ("forge what you need on the smithy of your soul".) He began merely poetic, and therefore only insane to his native culture, so he was able to survive being flung through the Area of Madness relatively insane. With time on Earth, he got much madder.
- Reality Warper: Shade
- Ret-Gone: In the final issues of the series, Shade (and Milligan) attempted to invert this, and remove Kathy's tragic backstory and murder.
- Rewriting Reality: One arc features an inversion: anything that frustrated writer Miles Laimling wrote would be fictional, even if it were true before. Miles drew inspiration from personalities around him, and as their traits became more lifelike in his fiction, those traits would fade from the individuals they were inspired from.
- Sarcasm Failure: Lenny is always good for a snark, no matter how dire the situation. Her Sarcasm Failure was a result of an author, an unwitting personality plunderer, who had written her into his book, and shocked her enough to drive her to a suicide attempt.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The series ends with Shade rewriting history so that none of the events of the comic ever happened, leaving one character (who had gone back in time with him) missing, his son trapped permanently in a female body and he himself unable to reconnect with his lost love. There is a slightly upbeat moment in the last panel, but if you think about it, it's unlikely to have worked out the way he wanted it to... This is actually an improvement over the intended ending in issue 50, which would have ended the series with Kathy and Shade's child dead and the rest of the cast either dead, leaving, or permanently estranged from Shade.
- Split Personality
- Superpower Lottery: Shade can create hallucinations, he can create physical objects, he can change himself, he can change others, he can bring himself back from the dead, teleport, make and grow interdimensional spaces, and even travel through time itself! A few reasons why this worked: Firstly, it's a non-heroic comic book. That means all other characters get no gimmicks, so their character development have to be focused on character. And so you had purely normal, believable personalities who were at least as interesting as the guy with the powers, or moreso. Secondly, Shade's powers are just as often the plaything of his own issue-riddled subconscious. And the more adept Shade gets at using his powers, the more colossally his fucked-up mind can fashion a Mind Screw.
- The Mad Hatter
- The Mentally Disturbed
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body
- Two First Names: Kathy George.
- Weirdness Magnet: Shade and his crew end up living in 'Hotel Shade', which the Angels told him would "draw madness to it like a magnet." Even John Constantine paid a visit.
- Whodunnit to Me?: Story Arc 'The Road'.
- Who Shot JFK?: The second and third issue give us a Sphinx with JFK's head that asks people this question and eats them when they're unable to answer. The JFK-Sphinx's madness is fueled by a Kennedy admirer-turned conspiracy theorist. In the end, he's forced to ask the question, and says we're all responsible, for letting the President's death overshadow his life, but the real truth is confronting the manifestation of his obsession allows him to come to terms with the death of his young daughter, which he can only blame on life's unfairness.
- Who Would Want to Watch Us?: In the final issues, after DC had decided to cancel, Lenny is describing Shade to her father.Lenny's father: What is he, Superman?
Lenny: If he were, his comic would probably be canceled.
[both look out of panel]